Progress | Centre-left Labour politics
a woman holds a sign at a protest against antisemitism

More say for members! (Coming soon)

An enforced silence of Labour members could follow a mysterious silence at a recent NEC meeting – and is this the end for all-women shortlists? Another dispatch from inside the Westminster village

Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union is causing deep splits inside both major political parties, your insider understands.

Okay, so as scoops go it might not be that exclusive, but it is all anyone talks about in Westminster’s many watering holes these days.

While members of parliament are away over the summer recess, their staffers tend to slouch off to these establishments earlier and earlier in the day – meaning that by the time your diligent and hardworking insider arrives for a single well-earned half, lips are looser and tongues more wagging than they might otherwise be.

Sadly, the only topic of conversation is what will happen with Brexit. Labour do not want to make a big move until the direction of the Tories is clear; Theresa May wants to wait until the intentions of her internal opponents are clear; May’s internal opponents do not want to make a move until the European Union has formalised its response to the Chequers’ plan; and, frankly, Michel Barnier is in no rush to jump through hoops to prove an unworkable proposal is unworkable. It is enough to drive even the most reliably remoaning ‘Remainer’ into the arms of teetotalism in order to avoid the pub chatter.

Perhaps those setting the agenda for Labour party conference have suffered the same kind of summer. Because, once again, Brexit is nowhere to be seen on discussions for the conference floor. With only six months left before we are set to leave, members will be denied a chance – just as we were last year – to set Labour’s policy.

Do not worry, though, as the star of this year’s conference has already been announced: the final report of Katy Clark’s ‘democracy’ review! The raft of proposals drawn up by Jeremy Corbyn’s former political secretary will ensure that more power is put into the hands of ordinary grassroots Labour party members, and cement annual conference’s status as the most important policy-making body. Plenty of time has been set aside for delegates to debate these reforms in Liverpool, which must be the unfortunate and important reason that room to discuss and vote on Brexit could not quite be found.

Or will it? Members across the country have passed motions in their local parties, putting forward Brexit to be discussed as a contemporary motion. Manuel Cortes, a leading Corbynista and general secretary of the Transport and Salaried Staffs’ Association, has been championing this move from the left of the party. While he and the TSSA maintain close relationships with both the Momentum leadership and the Labour leader’s office, their frostiness on this subject is plain to see, and would rather see Cortes use the conference season to talk about their party reform package. It seems unlikely the firebrand Gibraltarian will be restrained that easily.

Katie Clark presenting Labour's democracy review. Manuel Cortez trying to intervene with Jeremy Corbyn behind him trying to stop him.

All quiet on the Willsman front

This summer’s weather may have broken sweltering records, but by the time September rolled around, Satan must have been donning a jumper at the chill, while checking the forecast for airborne porcine.

There can be no other explanation for the meeting of Labour’s National Executive Meeting on 4 September, where Peter Willsman – of ranting about Jewish ‘Trump fanatics’ fame – said nothing at all.

Willsman, chair of the so-called Campaign for Labour Party Democracy group and known to his friends as ‘disco Pete’ due to his predilection for dancing, is not generally recognised for his breviloquence. Despite the meeting carrying on for around six hours, and covering a topic which excites him so much – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance antisemitism definition – he apparently maintained a studious silence throughout.

‘I don’t think he said a single word,’ one shell-shocked NEC member told your insider afterwards. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’

Perhaps Willsman was shocked himself. Having made an apology for his previous comments, he promised to attend some antisemitism training, to better understand the issue. But, having not yet attended the training, general secretary Jennie Formby prevented him from taking part in the same day’s NEC disputes panel meeting. Imagine his surprise to discover that actions have consequences.

AWS well that ends badly

Collegiate Labour MP Chris Williamson has been recently touring the country on his deselection, sorry, ‘democracy’ tour to drum up support for a measure high on Conservative central office’s wish list: the removal of popular local Labour MPs. The motion he has tied his motorbike to has been proposed by an interesting CLP: Labour International – the association of Labour members with no Labour MP because they live abroad.

Whoever the author was has not received the memo about how progressive Britain has become. Despite neoliberal Labour legislating for all-women shortlists (twice), this measure is being undermined by Momentum’s big wigs. It turns out that, as feminist chief Jess Phillips tweeted in response to Corbyn support group’s newly launched campaign, ‘These plans of being able to open up shortlists have conveniently forgotten about all-women’s shortlists. What a surprise.’ The Williamson-backed proposal would allow a Labour MP selected under an AWS to be challenged by any member – any man – in the local party.

Has there ever been a man in Labour who has reacted badly to Labour being progressive toward women’s representation? Let your insider think. Maybe in the past. Nothing like that would happen in Corbyn’s Labour party.

But there is little doubt: women will bear the brunt of these reforms. Even without a rule change to kill AWS, it is already the sisters that get it worse: look at how Phillips is treated by the trolls, how Luciana Berger and other Jewish women MPs get targeted and how Diane Abbott gets more abuse than anyone. As well as bringing antisemitism to Labour’s top table, institutionalising attacks on women MP and turning back improvements in women’s representation is another great legacy of Corbyn’s great leadership of a once great party.

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Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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