Right will immediately start disempowering members if it wins
The news that party chair and ex-miner Ian Lavery will not be standing in the Labour leadership contest has triggered a wave of disappointment among grassroots members and activists – and has seen some threatening to leave the party.
But those who want ever to see a working-class leader representing genuine socialist policies cannot afford induglence or gestures now.
High on the list of priorities for the right if any of their candidates wins the leadership race will be to unroll every change intended to democratise the party and empower members – and in particular, the rules for leadership elections that give members the power that their numbers deserve.
Before the 2015 election, Labour leaders were selected under an ‘electoral college’ system that gave a handful of MPs equal voting power to the party’s entire membership. A couple of hundred right-wingers supporting a right-wing candidate could ensure that the members were essentially voiceless:
Could they do it?
Could the Labour right succeed in forcing through a change back to the old system? They have already tried.
In 2016, as the right lost another leadership election and Jeremy Corbyn gained an increased majority of the vote, Tom Watson attempted to push through a return to the electoral college – as part of a package of measures that would have put power firmly in the hands of right-wing back-benchers. Watson even recommended – as others have since – that the party’s shadow cabinet should be elected by MPs and not appointed by the leader.
The NEC (National Executive Committee) resisted the changes because of the short notice before the party’s annual conference – and by the following year, the Labour left had organised to ensure the balance of delegates at the 2017 conference reflected the membership.
But a right-wing leader would have the power to instantly change the balance of the NEC by appointing new MPs to represent the Shadow Cabinet, removing one major obstacle to a reversion to the old system.
All that would then remain would be to get the changes through the party’s conference – and any exodus of left members lowers the bar for the right to seize the delegate places it would need to wave through the change.
If that change ever goes through, then the right – as it surely wants to do – will be able to bar the gate forever against any genuine left-winger, especially from the working class.
If you ever want to see such a person leading the party that is supposed to represent the working class, don’t just stay in the Labour Party. Organise and fight – and don’t stop until you have what you want.
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