How Tom Watson tried to reverse Labour democracy

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Tucked away in a September 2016 report by an alarmed eyewitness to that month’s NEC (National Executive Committee) meeting is some remarkable information that points a finger squarely at one senior Labour figure for attempts to roll back the ongoing re-democratisation of the party in what amounts to a disenfranchisement of the largely pro-Corbyn membership – and a move that stacked the NEC against the party’s leader in spite of the efforts of delegates at last year’s party Conference.

At the Liverpool Conference in September 2016, the right of the party made a successful and unlawful move to lever two additional, anti-Corbyn members onto the NEC. Labour’s rules and procedures were ignored or trampled in order to force through a ‘pre-packed’ rule change adding one unelected member to the NEC for each of the leaders of Scottish and Welsh Labour. Pro-Corbyn Irish Labour was not included.

These events were covered in detail by the SKWAWKBOX at the time.

Willsman’s September 2016 report details how this move was forced through at NEC level and reveals that the party’s deputy leader – who was elected in 2015 on a promise of support for the leader – was the driving force behind the Scots/Welsh NEC member move that stacked the NEC against the leader.

And more besides.

Here are the pertinent passages from Willsman’s report:

National Executive Committee 20 September 2016


The main business of the meeting was a ‘blockbuster’ paper from Tom Watson. This made a whole series of fundamental proposals, mostly involving putting rule changes to annual conference in 5 days time. In all my 36 years on and off of all four of the Party’s national committees, I have never seen one paper making so many far reaching proposals. The first time some of us saw Tom’s paper was when we sat down at the table

Deputy Leader’s Report


3. The ‘blockbuster’ paper.

Tom’s omnibus document included several proposals that had been discussed by Party Reform Working Groups but it also included proposals that the NEC had never discussed. Alongside his proposals, Tom recommended that in 5 days time there should be rule changes on many of the issues, e.g. on increasing the number of NEC seats… A summary of the proposals in the paper are as follows:

D. A seat with voting rights to be allocated to the leader of each of the Scottish Labour Party and the Welsh Labour Party.

G. In order to maintain the balance on the NEC there should be two further seats for trade unions, increasing the trade union representation from 12 to 14. (However, there was no proposal to increase the CLP seats from 6, this despite the doubling of our membership to over 500,000.)…

H. Election of Shadow Cabinet. The paper argued for a rule change in 5 days time and two options were put forward.

a. Option 1: Shadow Cabinet to be elected by the PLP.

b. Option 2: ‘Hybrid Shadow Cabinet’ to be elected by 3 equal voting blocs – MPs/MEPs, members (by OMOV), and appointments by the leader.

I. Return to the old electoral college system to elect the Party leader. The paper asked the NEC to bring forward rule changes in 5 days time for one or all of the following three:

  • Remove registered supporters from voting.
  • Move to an electoral college with an affiliated section covering TUs and affiliated societies.
  • Move to an electoral college which would include a section for MPs/MEPs (as in the past).

Discussion of the ‘blockbuster’:

I made the point that it is totally unacceptable to make decisions of this far reaching nature without more detailed consideration. This issue of irregular process was also raised by Ann Black, Diana Holland, Jennie Formby, Martin Mayer, and Jim Kennedy. I pointed out that in the past when CLPs have requested more seats for CLP reps, they were always told that the NEC had been put together after much thought, and was a balanced and long term settlement. This description could hardly be applied to Tom’s proposals.

The argument that was made by many members (including me) was that faced with so many far-reaching proposals it was important to have sufficient time for consideration and considered discussion, in order to arrive at a balanced structure that would be generally acceptable. Others wanted urgent action. The discussion on this basic division lasted for rather a long time.

..During the debate [on the additional NEC members for Scottish/Welsh Labour] Kezia made an impassioned speech of which Gordon Brown would have been very proud. Kezia informed us that the whole Party in Scotland was united behind this proposal, that it was urgent, and that it would be a vital way of our Party showing its commitment to Scotland. On being put to the vote, the proposal was carried 16-15, and thus there will be rule change at Liverpool to give NEC seats to the two Leaders.


Controversial comments by a former NEC member.

Not being much of a Tweeter myself, I have had a second-hand report that Luke Akehurst, the secretary of the hard-right Labour First caucus, tweeted the following immediately after the NEC meeting:

“I think control of Labour’s post-conference NEC just changed to a clear non-Corbyn majority – Scottish and Welsh frontbenchers will get a seat each on the NEC. Two extra non-JC supporters. So the new balance is now 19-16 against JC.”

Corbyn was able, through a clever counter-move, to redress some of this gerrymandered imbalance.

But Willsman pins the blame for the anti-democratic ‘ambush’ that led to the deliberate unbalancing of the NEC against Corbyn firmly onto Tom Watson – the man who promised hundreds of thousands of Labour members that he would support whichever leadership candidate was elected.

Not only that, but Watson tried to restore the ‘electoral college’ system for electing future Labour leaders – a system that gave a few hundred Labour MPs as much voting power as hundreds of thousands of party members and as much as the millions of members of affiliated unions.

Another NEC member confirmed to the SKWAWKBOX that Willsman’s report is accurate and added:

Even the two extra trade union seats Watson proposed were not a sop to the left, as they’re highly likely to go to unions that have, so far at least, taken an anti-Corbyn position – Unison and USDAW are both pushing for one each.

Wendy Nichols is not even on the Unison exec but she’s been nominated by Labour Link and Keith Birch, the political officer for Unison. [Unison General Secretary Dave] Prentis is making some more pro-Jeremy noises, but it will be interesting to see what actually happens on the NEC. Union reps are supposed to carry out the wishes of their union but there’s been no correlation between the noises coming from Prentis and the actions of Unison reps on the NEC. The same goes for at least one of the GMB reps.

TULO (the national Labour trade union liaison) voted for the Scottish/Welsh reps, but only if they were elected – but that was undone by trade unions who should have known better, so the rule change that was pushed through at last year’s right-wing-stacked Conference allowed the Welsh and Scottish leaders to just appoint.

It is widely agreed – and described in detail in Alex Nunn’s excellent book The Candidate – that the change to ‘one member one vote’, brought in under Ed Miliband’s leadership and supported by right-wing factions was a key change that allowed Corbyn not only to stand for election as party leader, but resulted in his resounding win.

Watson attempted to push through rule-changes to return to the old, stacked system – and a further attempt to do so is likely to be made at this year’s Conference in Brighton, where it’s essential that member delegates and unions defeat it and push through the McDonnell Amendment to concretise the democratisation of the party.

Emily Thornberry is said to be on the verge of making a challenge to Watson’s deputy leadership, with Dawn Butler ready to do so if Ms Thornberry does not go ahead.

It needs to be done without delay – if you have a Labour MP, make sure they know you expect them to throw their support behind the challenge and not the person trying to deprive you of your say within the party.

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  1. the secretary of the hard-right Labour First caucus,

    ‘Labour first’

    ‘America First’

    ‘Britain First’

    Is it just me, or is there a pattern here? Maybe the ‘hard-right’ gives us a clue…

  2. Emily Thornberry should be aware that she will have the overwhelming support of the membership should she decide to act in the interests of the party by standing as a candidate for the position of the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

    You can take that to the bank, Emily.

  3. Let’s get rid of the big fat duplicitous tub of Tory-lite lard that is Tom Watson. Come on Emily!

  4. What does this report mean when it talks about “pro-Corbyn Irish Labour”?

    Of course they wouldn’t be included as the Irish Labour Party operates in a foreign jurisdiction (Eire). The Labour Party doesn’t exist in Northern Ireland either.

  5. No surprises here. Watson is a duplicitous alt Right career politician. He is Corporate Labour through and through. Only interested in personal power. No loyalty to the Leader or Members. Essential he is replaced as a matter of urgency.

  6. Without doubt, we need a deputy leadership election. Some say this will cause disunity prior to a possible snap GE but all the time Watson and McNicol – who should also be replaced, are there, they are adversely affecting Labour’s chances of success.

    1. I would personally be delighted to see Emily Thornberry replace Watson as deputy leader. However, timing is everything in politics. In the run up to a possible GE in Autumn, a dep. leader election would focus attention back on party in-fighting at a time when it desperately needs to CONTINUE imposing the discipline on all its MPs of projecting a united front. Polls WILL nose-dive again at first sign of in-fighting. DON’T give the media a self-inflicted excuse to shift attention away from the bread and butter issues of the manifesto back on to ‘all the old crap’.

      1. Don’t forget, they belong to the caucus which stated they would rather have a Tory government than one led by Jeremy Corbyn. If left alone, they will pick their moment to do maximum damage – no prizes for guessing when that would be. They rely upon hiding behind the timidity of the ‘tactical’ hesitation of their detractors. He who dares etc

    2. Bear in mind also that yesterday attention-seeker Blair was trying to inject poison of in-fighting back into Labour’s discourse. Best thing to do with him is totally ignore him.

      While I am here, make sure you all check your in-boxes today for the VITAL Conference Arrangements Committee ballot paper (electronic) and vote for JC-supporters Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes. The CAC sounds monumentally boring I know but it decides what is debated at Labour’s annual conference. Don’t let the right control the conference agenda again this year. Tell all your pals about this election and HYPE it on social media so all our friends are clued up!

      1. It’s done, at least at CLP level, Seema and Billy got our vote.

  7. A couple more names in the hat for Deputy Leader, Barry Gardiner and Angela Rayner.

    1. Very shrewd calls, the both of them. Gardiner’d be ace in any one of the ‘big 4’ positions.

  8. The whole lot need to be investigated completely & concisely. If it’s illegal then get police must be involved. It stinks frankly of corruption

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