Another dispatch from inside the Westminster village
Building blocks to democracy
Your insider would like to begin this month’s column by extending congratulations to Lara McNeill, the new youth representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee.
If you are reading this before mid-March, you could be forgiven for thinking that the result has yet to be announced because, well, the election is not yet over. That is technically true.
But before Christmas a change was made to the way Young Labour members elect their NEC place. Out went the delegate structure, where the representative was elected by those who attend the Young Labour conference – which included regular young members, as well as delegations from affiliated trade unions and Labour Students – and in came an exciting new one member, one vote system. It is fresh, forward-looking, and befitting of a mass movement in the modern age, with all ballots cast online.
Well, not quite all ballots. In fact, it is not really an OMOV system; it is more one member, half-a-vote. The votes of young people only count for 50 per cent of the final result. The rest is good old-fashioned trade union block votes.
Each union gets a block vote relative to its size, with Unite, the United Kingdom’s largest trade union, getting the largest share. There is no course of action available to the Labour party to ensure that the unions’ decisions are taken by their young members.
Before voting opened among Labour’s young members, the affiliated trade unions had already decided on which candidates they were backing. All but two plumped for McNeill, the Momentum-backed candidate.
Only one, as far as your humble insider is aware, polled its own young members online before casting its vote (this new-fangled technology will never catch on in democracy). That union, Community, supported McNeill’s opponent, Eda Cazimoglu.
But the votes of other trade union general secretaries means that McNeill only needs the support of around 26 per cent of Young Labour members to join the party’s governing body.
This looks like exactly the kind of undemocratic stitch-up that might be dealt with by Katy Clark’s current review into Labour party democracy. Except that the change allowing this to happen was perplexingly rushed through ahead of that review taking place.
Perhaps the system will still be reformed to something more obviously egalitarian. Who knows? But that would raise further questions as to why the likes of Len McCluskey were effectively handed the power to choose the Young Labour NEC representative for the next two years. This is despite there already being 13 NEC places for the unions, including two for Unite, which also has a third position in treasurer Diana Holland. Did the success of moderate candidate Jasmin Beckett at Young Labour conference two years ago spur a short-term solution that would make this specific election a foregone conclusion?
Could it be that the next two years on the NEC will see some sort of contentious vote – on wide-sweeping reforms into the party’s democratic structures, for example – that cannot be left to chance?
More NEC shenanigans are on their way. Buckle in, because all nine member-elected representatives are up for election this summer.
Currently, eight of those nine slots are held by Momentum-backed candidates, with the exception being Ann Black, who is re-standing despite being unceremoniously booted off the Momentum slate, having topped the vote in 2016. More on her later.
Your insider is more interested in the absence of Christine Shawcroft and Rhea Wolfson from the hard-left slate. Rather than another round of purges, it seems the two have decided to step down from the top table.
Leaky Corbynistas suggest that to be considered for the Momentum slate this time around, candidates had to pledge they would not seek election to parliament during their two-year term, either via a convenient byelection or another snap general election. Those in the constituency Labour party of the NEC must give up their seat at the table if they join the green benches during their term. The committee place then goes to the losing NEC candidate with the highest number of votes.
Should Momentum sweep the board, that place would go to a moderate, and hard-left leaders apparently believe this would be a foolish way to allow centre-left voices a say on whatever controversial votes may or may not happen in the next two years. But who knows what they will be?
Sit the NPF down
What do you do if you cannot stitch up an election? All together now: you cancel it!
Members of the National Policy Forum turned up to a meeting in Leeds last month, with the first item on the agenda the election to fill the vacant chair position, and soft left Ann Black (her again!) the runaway favourite against Momentum-backed Andi Fox.
Upon arrival, delegates were bemused to discover that the election had been cancelled by the NEC’s officer group in an early morning conference call. The forum decided to carry out the election anyway, at which point NPF vice-chair Katrina Murray was forced to give up the lectern to NEC chair Andy Kerr, who made it aggressively clear the election would not go ahead that day, with reports of some choice words about where Murray could seat herself. The NPF’s insolence may well have been noted by those with influence over the Clark review.
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