Is the Labour Party a Broad Church Any More?

On a day when John Woodcock resigns from the Labour Party with an attack on the leadership notably for tolerating anti semitism and Margaret Hodge is investigated for a similar attack on Corbyn and the anti semitic issue, while Another Europe is Possible (AEIP) announces more anti Brexit rallies after the end of July, the state of the party internally is worth investigating.

With Corbyn unassailable and his supporters in control of the NEC, the situation is similar to that  when Blair was in his prime after 1997. But he was Prime Minister, and not really concerned with party control. There was an effective coalition of soft left (Labour Reform) and reasonable hard left (CLPD) which formed the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance in 1998. Thus the 6 (then) CLP places were never purely under the thumb of a leadership faction and Labour First, backed by Progress, never had it their own way. Today the hard right are in dire straights and as the nominations for the 2018 NEC 9 places shows, they are unlikely to reverse the slide into the abyss which they suffered in 2016. Here are the nominations.

Hard Left Momentum (Momentum/CLDP) Hard Right (Labour First- Progress)
Ann Henderson 192 Eda Cazimoglu 38
Claudia Webbe 232 Gurinder Singh Josan 65
Darren Williams 210 Heather Peto 43
Huda Elmi 237 Jasmine Beckett 43
Jon Lansman 229 (237) Johanna Baxter 64
Nav Mishra 219 Lisa Barnes 38
Pete Willsman 238 (228) Luke Akehurst 49
Rachel Garnham 236 Marianne Masters 22
Yasmine Dar 248 Mary Wimbury 47
(Labour List Stat)
Ann Black 174
Eddie Izard 44

There are 6 other candidates with 5-15 nominations.

Nominations are controlled by meeting attenders and OMOV votes are not totally reflective of the activists. However it is very unlikely even Eddie Izzard can beat the Momentum machine and only Ann Black has a chance of winning. The top priority is to secure this victory. However to do so something more than defending an individual record is needed. There has to be a wider debate to open up the long term issue of a more balanced and representative NEC.

The Labour First idea of a regional element is really a non starter, making the NEC bigger is not attractive, though an intermediate level council which could meet quarterly to discuss more broad brush issues is worth pursuing to keep issues of breadth on the agenda. The issue of dominance by metropolitan areas is one such issue. The small towns will define the next election and are not showing the swing to Labour of the big towns making this is another key area to keep on top of. Youth is equally vital. Its rarely understood that two thirds of the students of 2017 have graduated. Who is in charge of college  recruitment which could be run as part of a voter registration drive?

Affiliates versus the individual member party.

While these are not factional issues, MOmentum’s desire for a member only party certainly is. Jon Lansman’s failed attempt to become General Secretary overshadowed the policy of making members the only players, its still playing out – in Wales the electoral college for leader is controversial. This raises the question of whether Labour should have affiliates – notably the unions, but anyone listening to the socialist societies knows that they are unhappy at being ignored and want direct representation on the NPF.

The issues here are not just about organisation. Does the Labour Party want to continue, as it has been since 1900, as an affiliate based political grouping – even conference remains based on affiliates – or abandon this and rely on membership, which would open the way to a US democrat style party? Which was the direction Ed Miliband was heading in? OMOV is fine for decisions which can be handled by single transferrable vote (if there are more than two options), and leadership is one such. But policy and strategy is not in that category, and Blair’s system of having yes no votes on documents at conference has rightly been abandoned. On this issue, Momentum are pointing the way to the dissolution of the Labour Party as it has been since its formation, and here clear water lies between a soft left and hard left position.

And there is more to come. Mandatory reselection  is back on the warpath, though Corbyn has been notably luke warm. And for good reasons. The drive for an internal regime of control freaks is not a vote winner, and Labour needs to focus on winning the electors, not internal battles. CLPS have the right to deselect, and this is constitutionally sound. Even Churchill faced deselection in the 1930s*. But for Labour, its political masturbation and the soft left needs to oppose.

With the NEC elections now imminent, these may not be the headline issues to focus on. But there is a wider contest coming over the horizon – is Labour still a broad church? Momentum is in pole position for the NEC elections. The task now is to lay foundations for a wider confrontation than just winning the NEC constituency elections this year.

*by his Epping constituency, for opposing appeasement

Trevor Fisher, July 2018.

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