The contest for the three additional places for member representatives on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is heating up and tighter than many might have predicted.
The places have been welcomed, rightly, as a huge opportunity for the majority of Labour members, who are solidly behind Jeremy Corbyn and his vision for the party and the country – but the waters have been muddied by the candidacy of Momentum founder Jon Lansman and of comedian Eddie Izzard. Mixed feelings among some members about Lansman’s desire to be on the NEC, combined with the personal popularity of Izzard and his recent statement of support for Corbyn, have “concertina’d” what would otherwise have been expected to be a straightforward win for the left ‘slate’.
Whatever Izzard’s personal stance, he is backed by the strongly anti-Corbyn factions Progress and Labour First, who fought against Corbyn in his leadership bids, against recent democratisation rule changes and whose supporters were involved in the 2016 Conference attempt to stack the NEC against the Labour leader.
However, Izzard’s personal political history also contains aspects that may trouble Labour members considering where to cast their vote.
In 2008, when Gordon Brown was PM, Eddie Izzard was interviewed by the Guardian for an article titled ‘Straight Talking’ and his interviewer recounted:
Izzard is a Labour member and major donor who has defended the cause on Question Time and on Newsnight, appeared with Neil Kinnock arguing for a federalist Europe, recorded a podcast with Tony Blair for the Downing Street website, and was spotted at the last Labour party conference engaged in a fierce argument with James Murdoch.
He’s a social democrat rather than a socialist; when pressed (a tricky thing to do – one interviewer, memorably, compared “trying to get all Paxman-like on Izzard” to “round[ing] up bush babies with a cattle prod”) he describes himself as more Blair-ite than Brown-ite
In 2008, of course, Jeremy Corbyn was a little-known back-bench MP, so Izzard’s options for describing his politics would not have included ‘pro-Corbyn’. However, when offered the chance to define himself he apparently distanced himself from socialism and claimed to be more aligned with Blair’s politics than with his slightly more traditionally-Labour successor Brown.
Of course, nine years is a long time in politics and people’s political views can change. But to Corbyn supporters who are finally enjoying some room to breathe and advance after two years of constant Blairite attacks and subterfuges, the reminder of Izzard’s 2008 choices is likely to be a huge warning flag.
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