In a typically bizarre article for LabourList, Labour First’s Luke Akehurst somehow tries to claim Labour First’s recent losses were a slap in the face for Momentum – and to claim the ‘unity’ high ground while promising a relentless fight against measures designed to re-democratise the Labour Party:
Labour First appears eager to grab any crumb of comfort, making much of the selection of a right-wing candidate for the Lewisham mayoral contest, in spite of concerns of local members about how the result was achieved. Akehurst also claims that the selection of right-wing council candidates in various parts of the country shows that Corbyn supporters are voting for right-wingers – which ignores the fact that Local Campaign Forums have engineered shortlists in many parts of the country to prevent left-wing members having a candidate to vote for at all.
But the most interesting parts of Akehurst’s article are his claim that the landmark National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting earlier this week was a disaster for ‘Momentum‘ – and his admission that his organisation expects the Labour right to be hammered in key votes at the party’s annual conference, which starts on Sunday.
Akehurst describes the NEC’s decision to ask Conference to vote for a reduction in the threshold for leadership nominations from 15% to 10% of members of Parliament and of the European Parliament as ‘a slap in the face’ for pro-Corbyn campaign organisation Momentum, while claiming it’s ‘welcome’ from a right-wing perspective:
Yet he goes on to admit not only that his faction would like the threshold to be higher than 15%, but that right-wingers want to go back to the old ‘electoral college‘ system that would give MPs/MEPs as much voting power as all the nearly 600,000 party members combined:
We think it is essential that any Labour leader should be able to demonstrate the support of at least 15 per cent of their closest colleagues in the PLP prior to election, and the confidence of the PLP once elected, to avoid the conflict between Leader and PLP seen in 2016…
In fact we would like to see a return to the electoral college system where the three main stakeholders in the party – members, unions and MPs – each had an equal say… If this was returned to then there would be no need for a threshold as the PLP would have another way of having their input.
According to Akehurst, the ‘conflict‘ in 2016 wasn’t the result of a bunch of short-sighted, self-important MPs refusing to accept Corbyn’s massive democratic mandate from members and union affiliates, but rather the fault of the system for not letting MPs and MEPs have their own way in the first place.
Are they toddlers?
The right in the party doesn’t want ‘input’ – any threshold at all gives right-wing MPs ‘input’. They want – still – an effective veto over who can stand, in spite of the clear evidence of the General Election that there is enormous appetite for Labour as a real alternative to the Conservatives.
Yet the decision to reduce the threshold to 10% – and to look to extend it to union affiliates and party members – is a slap in the face for ‘Momentum’.
It’s Conference, Jim – but not as they know it
Of the greatest interest to most members will be the right-wing’s expectation of its voting power at Conference, although the admission is arrived at circuitously.
Akehurst wanders off into musings about a pined-for ‘alternative universe’ in which former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale had not resigned until after this week’s NEC meeting, in order to vote against the rule-changes that have been welcomed by a huge majority of party members. He goes on to lament that the real universe did not match this right-wing vision:
In reality, Kezia sadly did resign a few weeks too early so there would have been a one vote majority in favour of the leadership’s positions. To its credit, the leadership held back from pushing through rule changes that would have deepened divisions in the party, such as mandatory re-selection, and instead put up a relatively restrained package that the whole NEC felt able to vote for in the interests of unity. As major trade unions usually vote with the NEC recommendations, and hold half the votes at conference, these positions are likely to pass by hefty majorities.
Mr Akehurst is incorrect. The whole NEC did not vote for the ‘restrained package’ – at least three members couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the rule changes but didn’t have the courage of conviction of vote against and so abstained.
But the last sentence is the most telling. At the beginning of this year, the Labour right confidently expected that it would be able to organise and dominate the ‘Conference floor’ of voting delegates, as it did to anti-democratic effect last year.
By late spring, this had changed to an expectation of being ‘competitive’.
But the left learned its lessons from Conference 2016: that it had to match and beat the right on organisation in order to let its superior passion and vision take effect and prevent anti-democratic attempts to stitch up party structures.
The left’s drastic improvement in that area was demonstrated in the huge win for Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes in the recent elections to the Conference Arrangements Committeee (CAC) – and has now led to a situation in which policies that will empower members and improve democracy within the party are expected, even by the right-wing determined to ‘fight and fight again’ against them, to pass ‘heftily’.
So much so that Akehurst even describes the expected outcome as ‘pre-ordained‘.
Akehurst rounds off by complaining that local councillors – who in many places are currently fighting tooth and nail to prevent their replacement by candidates more representative of Labour members – were not given more places on the NEC.
Presumably that’s another slap in the face for Momentum.
So things are looking far, far better for the vast majority of Labour members and supporters as far as Conference is concerned than they did at last year’s in Liverpool – but there is absolutely no room for any chicken-counting.
Delegates of good will toward the leadership and the party’s direction under Jeremy Corbyn need to be alert, informed and diligent. Every vote will count and there can be no ball-dropping – the job has to be seen through and nobody will be surprised if the right attempts ‘sleight of hand’ manoeuvres in Brighton to achieve measures that most members will consider damaging.
By all means enjoy the thought of a Conference likely to reflect the wishes of Labour’s membership – but make sure we get the job done in Brighton over the coming few days.
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