Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Permanent revolution of the office door

Are Momentum’s candidate contracts as short-lived as those in the Labour leader’s office? Another dispatch from inside theWestminster village

When Jeremy Corbyn called the prevalence of insecure work in the British economy a ‘crisis’ during his budget response last month, caused some raised eyebrows among those paying attention to the roll call of employees in the Labour leader’s office.

The turnover of staff in the two years since Corbyn became Labour leader is something to behold. Many high-profile hires have lasted just a few months in their roles. There was internal pushback against the appointment of Jayne Fisher, poached from Sinn Féin’s less-than-bustling Westminster office, as the leader of the opposition’s stakeholder engagement manager last December – but despite taking the hit and standing by her, she had gone by March. Word reaches your insider that Fisher had the kind of reasonable views about the role of an unnamed former Labour prime minister in securing peace in Northern Ireland that some of her colleagues find unpalatable.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, Simon Fletcher, Neale Coleman, Laura Parker, Steve Howell, Mike Hatchett, Anneliese Midgeley and Nancy Platts are some of the others who have been in and out the revolving employment door at Norman Shaw South. But even they are just the biggest names to have come and gone in that time, and for those who remain, the colleague conveyor belt does not just affect those around them; disgruntled juniors report that even the location of staff members’ desks within the leader’s office are moved around on the whim of superiors. No wonder so many find themselves wanting to move their workspace to somewhere else entirely.

One of the latest departures from Corbyn’s ever-rotating inner circle is Katy Clark, who has jetted off to Labour’s Southside headquarters to take up the role of running the party’s ‘democracy review’ full time.

But will she return to the Labour leader’s side once the party’s structures have been reformed? Her ‘political secretary to the Labour leader’ title has already been advertised as vacant. Corbyn’s supporters have long talked up his success as a ‘revolution’ in the Labour party. Perhaps permanent revolutions require permanent internal reviews of bureaucratic structures.

Privatising Labour politics

The revelation that Momentum has drawn up a contract which Labour parliamentary candidates are expected to sign has left your insider a little stumped.

First of all, it is fairly common practice – ubiquitous, in fact – for Labour candidates to sign up to a prescribed set of beliefs prior to entering parliament. It is just that those beliefs are the values of the Labour party, not a factional group within it. Among the 13 points of the accord is a commitment to uphold ‘the values, energy and enthusiasm of the Jeremy for Leader campaign’. Demanding ‘energy and enthusiasm’ is a strange new expectation of our politicians, and while calling for their loyalty to a specific leader is not new, having to make it contractual definitely is. However, it is neither desirable nor particularly fitting with the Labour party’s history as a broad church.

That Labour members of parliament support the manifesto they were elected on is similarly old hat, if not previously made quite as explicit. In fairness, that expectation has not always been universally respected: during the 1997-2010 government, one backbencher voted against the party whip over 400 times without facing breach of contract. Who the individual was does not matter, what does is that he applied his best self in parliament and used a critical mind to push issues in parliament and, on occasion, speak truth to power in both the party and the country. This must not stop with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Some members may even find themselves a little galled at the idea of such demands from a private company that is not affiliated to the Labour party. That Labour candidates be held to account in this way is a little odd; while Momentum officially changed its rules to only allow Labour members to join earlier this year, founder and owner Jon Lansman was recorded telling a meeting that he had no intention of upholding those rules. While Labour candidates are expected to swear allegiance to Momentum, there is apparently little expectation that all Momentum members should feel a similar pull towards the Labour party.

A conservative institution

Those of us hoping that recent public conversations about the nature of sexual harassment in politics might lead to a culture change in Westminster may yet be disappointed. When a list compiled by parliamentary staffers of Conservative MPs accused of harassment leaked, one Tory named on the sheet took to the members’ watering hole, the Strangers, to protest his innocence to anyone within earshot. ‘I have never been inappropriate with women’, he moaned to a group by the bar, ‘as much as I would have liked to!’

That some feel so comfortable displaying their lack of self-awareness suggests there is plenty of work to do to fix this systemic and cultural problem in politics.


Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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