In Praise of Ann Black — The Mythology of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance

The battle for Labour’s soul has now moved firmly into the arena of Labour’s National Executive Committee. Not content with winning all of three of the new NEC constituency seats, Momentum’s Leadership have not their sights on un-seating Ann Black — a founding member of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance — in the forthcoming NEC elections. Momentum’s actions under the leadership of Jon Lansman seem to be not only unnecessarily aggressive but designed to heighten the current state of factionalism within the Party. If there has been anyone, over the last twenty years, who has championed the role of the ordinary Party member it is Ann Black. Throughout her twenty years Ann has tried to work on a non tribal basis and Labour’s members have much to be grateful for.

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Momentum And The NEC Victory

As I noted in early December, the decision to have three extra NEC places  up for grabs meant that  in the absence of a regional element there is no doubt Momentum would clean up. However while the result was forseeable and Momentum maintained its 2016 supremacy, a closer analysis shows that it may have peaked — and if the broad opposition can ever get its act together the future can reverse the flow. But first things first.

The December  nominations showed three patterns – 3 Momentum, 3 independent (but backed by Labour First) and 3 local candidates who had no chance as having no national organisation. In the table below I put the vote and  the constituency nominations against each candidate.

In December it was clear  that the three candidates supported by Momentum and the CLGA (Centre Left Grassroots Alliance) easily outnumbered the other 6 candidates in constituency nominations. The figures for vote are in the 2nd column. NB even if all the Donovan votes transferred, Izzard would have been c10,000 short.

Nominations Votes
Yasmine Dar 205 66,388 Elected
Rachel Garnham 187 62,982 Elected
Jon Lansman 181 65,163 Elected
Non Momentum
Johanna Baxter 87 27,234
Eddie Izzard 71 39,508
Gurdiner Singh Josan 55 25,224
Nick Donovan 8 11,944
Nicola Morrison 7 7,551
Sarah Taylor 11 7,011

The NEC Elections 2016

The comparison with 2016 is illuminating with italics for candidates standing again in 2017. In 2016 the full 6 places went to candidates backed by the CLGA, Momentum and CLPD with no success for Progress or Labour First.

Ann Black 100,999 Elected
Christine Shawcroft 97,510 Elected
Claudia Webbe 92,377 Elected
Darren Williams 87,003 Elected
Rhea Wolfson 85,687 Elected
Pete Willsman 81,863 Elected
Ellie Reeves 72,514
Eddie Izard 70,993
Bex Bailey 67,205
Joanne Baxter 60,367
. Parmjit Dhanda 53,838
Luke Akehurst 48,632
. Peter Wheeler 44,062
John Gallagher 22,678
Amanat Gul 14,693

The 2017 election mirrors the 2016 result and confirms Momentum’s success in the 2016 elections, but the turnout is down although we do not yet have the turnout figures for 2017*, but in 2016 boosted by the leadership elections the figures are:

Number of eligible voters 373,443
Total number of votes cast 182,020
Invalid 2,533
Valid Votes 179,504
Turnout 48.7%

* The official membership is unknown, but in his NEC report on December 10th last Pete Willsman said that “membership is set to end the year at 568,500 – up 25,000 on 2016 and the highest figure since the party kept accurate records”. Thus the 2017 turnout on a larger membership over half a million appears to have been 20% and lower in absolute terms as well. This election did not mobilise the members. Momentum’s impetus lessened after Conference.

The Constitutional Arrangements Committee Elections 2017 

This was not the case in the run up to the  2017 conference as the election to the Constitutional Arrangements Committee (CAC) results last September showed. There was support from the grassroots for Momentum candidates and continuing  lack of support for the party establishment. For this crucial committee, two Momentum candidates, Seema Chandwani (secretary of Tottenham Labour Party) and Billy Hayes (Ex Gen secretary of Communications Workers Union)  beat candidates linked to the party establishment, Gloria de Piero and Michael Cashman. De Piero is MP for Ashfield, Cashman a member of the House of Lords after being an MEP. The latter were backed by Progress and Labour First according to Labour List, while Momentum backed candidates were also backed by CLPD. There is now a pattern of CLPD/Momentum in tandem.

The results were:

Chandwani 109,763 Elected
Hayes 92,205 Elected
De Piero 55,417
Cashman 50,439

Thus in the autumn of 2017 Momentum backed candidates were scoring nearly twice the votes of the establishment candidates, and there was no soft left or centrist candidates to give a fuller picture. It is however vital to note that in this election the slate was backed by Momentum and CLPD, with no involvement of CLGA which has never in my recollection stood candidates for CAC elections. At first glance the NEC three just elected follow this pattern, but with a much lower turnout. Perhaps because this was an ad hoc election out of sequence. Or perhaps because soft left members saw little to vote for.

Parliamentary And Other Selections

The pattern of internal party elections is polarising between the strong Momentum vote and weak establishment votes with no successes for Labour First, still the only voice of the old Right,. and the Blairite Progress group. However  it is clear that not all the Momentum activities are successful as the current round of parliamentary selections indicates.

On January 17th Labour List reported that of selections to date, Momentum backed 5 of 24  candidates selected, while the Financial Times 6 of 22 selections..Notably Momentum had a high profile candidate in Watford after the NEC forced him onto the list, but members preferred the candidate from 2017. Owen Jones threw his weight behind Katie Jones who lost in an All Women’s Shortlist to Mhari Threlfall in Filton and Bradley Stoke,. The FT also reported that in Manchester only 8 of 96 candidates for the council are backed by Momentum. There are certainly hotbeds of Momentum activity like Haringey and some big cities, but on the whole at the moment there is a different picture to be taken on board.


Soft Left Strong But Disorganised

The big picture is a soft left party whose members consistently vote for hard left leadership as the old right is bankrupt and there is no soft left organisation. In the twenty years since the LCC closed down nothing apart from the false dawn of Open Labour has emerged to replace it. The internal elections reflect this pattern. However this is an unstable situation, since either the factionalism of the hard left will drive out members and they win by default, or a soft left organisation of young activists will be created. Those are the only alternatives.

Trevor Fisher

January 2018



Ann Black’s NEC Report: 21st March 2017

National Executive Committee, 21 March 2017 National Executive Committee, 21 March 2017

The NEC paid tribute to members who had died recently, including Van Coulter, an Oxford city councillor and activist who was only 57 years old and my neighbour and comrade, a sad loss to us all.

Giving his leader’s report Jeremy Corbyn said that good behaviour was important in meetings at every level of the party, including MPs, and there must be zero tolerance of personal abuse on social media. He welcomed the government’s retreat on national insurance (NI) rises: there were now five million self-employed people, and they deserved fair treatment. NEC members commented that some used self-employment to avoid NI contributions, while in construction and other areas people forced into “self-employment” lost basic rights such as maternity pay and were exploited by umbrella companies. The latest twist was making casual workers meet the cost of cover if they were sick, on top of withholding their own pay. Matthew Taylor was reviewing employment practices in the modern economy and it would be sensible to consider his recommendations on the rights of self-employed workers alongside any changes to NI rates.

This Way Out

Theresa May was expected to trigger article 50 on 29 March, starting the process of withdrawing from the European Union. Labour’s priorities continued to be tariff-free access to markets, and protection for European citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in Europe. The “great repeal act” was likely to be short, and accompanied by several parallel bills which would involve everyone in the shadow cabinet.

Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely clear that Labour opposed a second Scottish referendum, though he still believed that a veto by Westminster would play into the SNP’s hands. There was now a £15 billion gap in Scotland’s economy due to falling oil prices, and the SNP did not even use their current tax-raising powers. NEC members added that the SNP voted against austerity at Westminster, but did the exact opposite in Scotland. There were fears that the next referendum would be fought on cultural identity rather than rational argument. Divisions were growing among the four nations, and the Tory government did not care about the integrity of the United Kingdom. Jeremy Corbyn suggested that people voted Leave for many reasons, including their sense of community, and this had implications for the shape of English devolution.

United We Stand …

Pete Willsman spoke for many when he criticised Peter Mandelson for saying that every day he tried to undermine the leader, particularly unhelpful just before critical by-elections. Although Labour held Stoke and lost Copeland the 37% vote share was almost identical. Jeremy Corbyn had been campaigning around the country, with the Scottish conference as the highlight, and found much agreement on policy, including investment in infrastructure and quality public services. Our greatest support came from those who searched online for information, the lowest from readers of the mainstream media.

I raised an anonymous blog which claimed that the general secretary had cut funding for staff in the leader’s office by 50% compared with Ed Miliband’s time. Jeremy Corbyn said this was news to him. In fact there were 25 funded posts in 2013 and 28 in 2014 and there are now 32, though four were vacant and another three people have left his office in the last few days. Not everything on the internet is true.

Deputy leader Tom Watson had also been campaigning relentlessly. All NEC members welcomed his joint statement with Jeremy Corbyn on the need to strengthen party unity, and asked for words to be turned into deeds. There were exchanges on whether Momentum differed fundamentally from Progress and Labour First. Labour First has frequently called me a dangerous hard left character and provided lists of “moderate” candidates for subscribers to promote instead. Momentum are doing much the same, if more effectively, but I’m uneasy about tactics which they describe as “a massive step towards bringing the local party more in line with the values of Momentum as a whole”. It should be the other way around.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell thanked all colleagues for support in the budget debate, which was followed by Philip Hammond’s U-turn. The budget failed to mention Brexit or the school funding crisis, and this was the fifth time that broadband rollout had been announced. Labour would provide an extra £10 billion for the NHS and £2 billion for social care, and restore the educational maintenance allowance. All commitments would be funded, with £70 billion raised through the bank levy, reversing cuts to corporation tax, inheritance tax and capital gains tax, scrapping the married person’s allowance and bringing back the 50% tax band. Free childcare and phasing out tuition fees would be implemented when finances allowed.

I deplored limiting child benefit to the first two children except for multiple births and where the pregnancy resulted from rape. Apart from the ghastly rape clause, children would suffer for their parents’ decisions. Others, noting that women would bear 84% of the budget cuts, asked for equalities and economic policy to be joined up. John McDonnell also praised Labour councils for their work in difficult circumstances.

Nick Forbes gave the local government report. The extra council tax would only cover the cost of the national living wage for next year, and the forthcoming green paper was expected to focus on older people, whereas most money was needed for those with learning disabilities. Devolving business rates to councils could lock inequalities in for decades. The association of Labour councillors was looking at ways to support councillors under pressure, particularly those with mental health issues. Councils were working closely with unions, defending facility time and recognising the demoralising effect of government pay freezes.

Standing Up For You

Andrew Gwynne and Ian Lavery had taken over from Jon Trickett as national campaign co-ordinators and gave a presentation of the challenges in May. The 33 county councils and eight unitary authorities were last contested in 2013, when Labour’s national vote share was 29% against 25% for the Tories. All councils in Wales and Scotland were up for the first time since 2012, with Scotland complicated by sweeping boundary changes and multi-member wards which used a single transferable vote system. Two city mayors, six new metro mayors and a new MP for Manchester Gorton would also be elected. If current polls were correct Labour would have to reach out beyond the traditional core vote.

Campaign messages would be designed around the theme “Labour: Standing Up For You” and draw on Jeremy Corbyn’s ten pledges. Labour would promise a real living wage of £10 an hour, employment rights from day one, a national investment bank, giving the NHS the money that it needs, joining up health and social care, opposing more grammar schools, safer neighbourhoods with stronger community policing, homes which people could afford to rent or buy, an end to letting fees, and security for private tenants. They recognised that there were hundreds of different local elections and the centre would support but not dictate, with a range of print materials and sophisticated digital and communication aids.

Finally the NEC was assured that should Theresa May decide to call a snap general election Labour would be ready. She would have to circumvent the fixed-term parliament act, and while there were mechanisms for doing this, not everyone agreed that Labour should collaborate at the present time.

Talking Among Ourselves

New policy documents were now at and submissions would be accepted up to 31 May, ahead of a national policy forum on 1/2 July – see here for a guide. As most local parties have paused for elections that would probably mean more individual comments and fewer collective contributions. Cath Speight was congratulated on her election as co-convenor of the joint policy committee.

Membership stood at 483,000 paying members with another 40,000 up to six months in arrears. The decline seemed to be partly last summer’s joiners dropping out and partly Brexit-related, but I would welcome feedback. On the bright side I finally managed to get more money returned to constituencies, up from £1.63 to £2.50 per member, indexed to inflation, to be implemented “as soon as possible”. The value of items paid centrally – election insurance, the Euro-levy, contact creator and a conference pass – had risen from £1,218 to £1,405, and if membership fell below 300,000 the position would have to be reviewed.

Looking Abroad

Labour had hosted a successful meeting of the party of European socialists, but Glenis Willmott reported that the atmosphere was becoming increasingly difficult because of Theresa May’s intransigent approach. She was pleased that Geert Wilders’ far right party failed to win the Dutch general election, but sad that our sister socialist party now held only nine seats, down from 38 last time. Asked if the government had a plan to prevent a hard border with Northern Ireland, she said No. And no plan for anything else either.

Future Developments

The NEC has agreed changes to disciplinary procedures which I hope will be published soon. In future most allegations would be investigated without suspension, with rights withdrawn only where necessary. Members would be entitled to see evidence and to appeal on grounds of fact and proportionality, and there would be explicit timescales, though last year’s backlog would take a while to work through.

The women’s conference will be held on Saturday 23 September. For the first time delegates from constituencies and affiliates will be able to vote on policy issues, with work continuing on the mechanisms. Consultation showed a preference for standalone women’s conferences in the spring, but a decision has not yet been taken on whether this is affordable. Finally, annual conference will as usual discuss amendments submitted last year. These include a proposal to reduce the proportion of MPs required to nominate leadership candidates from 15% to 5%, and I would be interested in your thoughts.

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