Some of the faces of the new ‘democratic’ movement look suspiciously like the old ones – our insider provides another dispatch from inside the Westminster village
The creation of three new places for Labour members on the party’s National Executive Committee was seen as a victory for the grassroots, in this new age of party democracy.
Naturally, last month’s email from Momentum head office to members detailing how they could apply to be on the hard-left’s slate was met with enthusiasm by those signed up to the Corbynista movement.
Here, finally, was a chance for ordinary members to have their seat at the table alongside Jeremy Corbyn. After two years of frustration and resignations, and the parliamentary Labour party throwing its toys out of the pram, ordinary members would now run the show. Forty-eight members applied for a position on the slate – admittedly not a huge return on Momentum’s 30,000-strong membership, but a decent number fancying their chances.
So warm congratulations to plucky ordinary member Jon Lansman, who was one of the lucky few endorsed by Momentum’s national coordinating group. The bearded Bennite has finally stuck it to the establishment and showed that if anyone is capable of representing the new and young grassroots, it might as well be a veteran of the hard left who has sole ownership of Momentum’s membership data and is so far inside the new establishment tent he has effectively taken up position as a permanent tent pole.
Of course, the national coordinating group is the same one set up and hand-picked in early 2017 by Lansman after he crushed internal Momentum opposition. The final few flames of dissent were stamped out recently when a number of local Momentum groups were ‘unverified’ and told to stop using the organisation’s name.
The hypocrisy of a ‘grassroots movement’ being directed by a command and control leadership is nothing new. It is the season for a bumper round of constituency Labour party and ward elections, and the moderate cause is being helped in many constituencies where Momentum’s attempt to impose candidates has rubbed people up the wrong way.
Lansman will not much care how his crushing of grassroots members in order to take up a place as an NEC power will look. After years in the hard-left wilderness, Corbyn’s man will reckon he is on course for an official role at the heart of Labour’s new establishment.
21st century brocialism
That new establishment is not that different to many other establishments in that it is predominantly white and male – just scruffier. Amid the pre-conference hype about the Corbynistas total control, some hinted at forcing through a rule change to ensure gender balance in Labour’s top team.
Naturally, the real goal was to ditch Tom Watson from his role as deputy by mandating that that role had to be occupied by a woman (unlike, say, the actual leadership). Any progress towards gender equality in the party was just a happy coincidence.
That Labour has made it to 2017 without an elected woman leader should shame us all, but with recent weekly interventions from the 21st century ‘brocialists’, it is not hard to see why many are put off.
Almost every Labour woman who has been to a constituency Labour party meeting will know how it feels to be shouted down and patronised by men who should know better. And no side of the party is particularly better or worse than the other, we acknowledge with regret. A new ‘LabourToo’ initiative, encouraging women to share their experience of abuse, harassment or discrimination in the Labour party, has been set up to show women they are not alone. It is brave and courageous but utterly damning that it is still needed. But be in no doubt that it is very needed.
Rayner’s rising stock
The effects of such a culture are being felt throughout the party, particularly in leadership positions where women make up just three in 10 CLP chairs, and just 16 per cent of Labour council leaders. It is at the top, though, that a women leader is most sorely needed.
Your insider has long had a bet that when the red flag does come loose from the rally, it will be Angela Rayner who gets to it first. There is plenty of talk about her ‘great backstory’, but many would-be heirs in the past have fallen when their own backstories are rendered useless, with nothing to say beyond the usual bland platitudes.
Rayner’s stock is rising among her colleagues. She is naturally collegiate, not factional. But partly it is because in a PLP not exactly alive with leadership competition, she does not hide when the question of leadership is put to her.
Any mistrust in her as a true Corbynista believer may be understandable, but is receding among her fellow members of parliament. The easy path for a shadow education secretary to take is promising to slash tuition fees, but Rayner does not take the easy path – in shadow cabinet she has argued against the hard-left populism of spending £12bn on tuition fees, and for prioritising early years funding instead.
Critics will see a touch of the 2015 Andy Burnham, who she backed for the leadership, in such a position – and this column has been particularly critical of such posturing. But in 2017, rigid dogma and stubborn ideology is rife in political leadership across the spectrum. And ideology, as Rayner says, does not put food on the table.
Cartoon: Adrian Teal
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