Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Taking back control

Conference Arrangements Committee is another piece of party machinery in the hard-left’s hands

The election to the Conference Arrangements Committee of Momentum’s candidates makes your insider’s well-worn line – that Corbynistas have not completely taken over – harder to hold water.

Billy Hayes and Seema Chandwani take up their places as constituency Labour party representatives after this year’s conference, having replaced Gloria de Piero and Michael Cashman. The results mirror Labour’s last period of prolonged opposition: the hard-left Pete Willsman, now on the National Executive Committee, enjoyed a spell of well over a decade on the committee from 1981. Representing the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, his regular missives to CLPD meetings were later described by one fellow traveller as ‘like reports by meat inspectors about what went into the sausages’.

Momentum share CLPD’s ideology – unsurprising, given founder Jon Lansman was once a CLPD leading light – and its desire for power, not democracy. In the late 1990s, Labour’s general secretary Margaret McDonagh proposed the introduction of all-member meetings to boost local party memberships. CLPD opposed the ‘undemocratic’ change. Many of the Labour members of parliament who face attempts by local Momentum activists to move to all-member meetings in order to push for deselections will be familiar with the hypocrisy.

Sausage-making or not, the CAC is another piece of party machinery in the hard-left’s hands. After years of bemoaning ‘undemocratic’ and ‘elitist’ party conferences, decisions over how it is run are now firmly made by the Bennite-left. The recent swing to Jeremy Corbyn on the party’s NEC – due to Kezia Dugdale’s departure as Scottish leader – bolsters his strength over how Labour’s set piece event operates.

Your insider is therefore looking out for a dramatic change in the leader’s relationship with conference. Backbencher Corbyn was part of the Bennite awkward squad which demanded Labour’s leadership show respect to conference. Now in power, Corbyn ignores conference’s policy decisions with impunity: remember that party policy is to support Trident’s renewal and membership of the single market.

Sadly, despite the challenges facing the country, Labour’s policy offer takes a back seat at this year’s conference. Having gagged half the shadow cabinet and Labour’s mayors, the Corbyn machine has left little to talk about in Brighton other than rule changes. Ever radical and innovative, Momentum have a new conference app so that delegates can receive ‘helpful recommendations’ on how to vote.

Rule changes will not be about the ‘democracy’ the hard-left is so keen to promote. The ‘McDonnell amendment’ is about ensuring the Corbyn project survives after Corbyn, not giving members more choice. Pushing for more CLP reps on the NEC is about securing a permanent Momentum majority.

Similar power grabs will be cooked up ahead of next year’s conference now that control has been handed to Momentum.

Your insider wishes Hayes and Chandwani all the best on the CAC, and at least has high hopes for the written quality of their reports to members. Thankfully it appears the latter has prepared well for the role. In June she wrote a fascinating blog where she demanded an apology from moderates following the general election result. It was hard to tell at first who she wanted an apology from, but the word ‘Judas’ was a real giveaway. In unity, comrades!

Learning from Bernie

The Corbynisation of Labour headquarters at Southside continues apace with the departure of Patrick Henegan, whose full title – executive director of elections, organisations and campaigns – is an indication of how important his role was, and how highly coveted it now is.

A reshuffle of Henegan’s responsibilities may follow, and a candidate from the left of the party is likely to take on the role of organisations chief. Ask anyone in Westminster about it and Sam Tarry is the candidate of the new establishment. As the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association’s political officer, owner of Momentum and Corbyn’s second campaign manager he is the name that keeps appearing. Having not wanted to fight a marginal seat – Thurrock is near his council seat in Barking and Brighton Kemptown is where where is wife lives – and only the ultra-safe Hull West in 2017, he lacks the full trust of the inner circle.

Whichever Corbyn ally is appointed, the result will be a closer working relationship between the top of the Labour party and Momentum. Momentum’s strategy since Corbyn’s re-election last summer has been to run an adjacent operation ready to be transplanted on to the Labour party.

It is a strategy learned from Momentum’s work with activists from Bernie Sanders’ (losing) campaign in the United States. Sanders – who still is not a member of the Democrats – has regularly blamed the ‘Democratic establishment’ for his failure.

In the period running up to the election, Momentum attempted to carve out a role for itself as a ‘campaigns incubator’, working again with those Sanders activists to develop new campaigning models. That explains why many voters will have seen provocative, often comic, videos appearing in their Facebook feeds – from Momentum to promote Labour.

It is these new campaigning models that Momentum and Corbyn hope to put at the front of Labour’s next general election campaign. However innovative they are, the focus will be on a distinctly unoriginal idea: getting more young people signed up to vote. Such is his belief in the notion that Corbyn now regularly tells people he meets that he would have won with votes at 16 in place.

Labour staffers are rarely in the spotlight, but Henegan’s departure is a critical moment for the party’s future – his departure means experience will be replaced with experimentation.


Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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