The headline news item is one of intense relief among Labour Party members. The National Executive Committee (NEC) decided that Jeremy Corbyn should be automatically on the leadership ballot paper. In fact the bigger picture is one of obstruction and skulduggery aimed at cheating the wishes of Party members.
172 Labour MPs voted no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn. The fact that more than a quarter of a million members and supporters voted for him as leader less than a year previously apparently counted for nothing.
The first question is why did the coup plotters act when they did – immediately after the Brexit referendum result? After all, they have been sharpening their knives from day one of Jeremy’s leadership. The short answer was that, as fellow members of the Westminster bubble along with Cameron and co, they complacently assumed that the vote to Remain was in the bag. Confronted with Brexit, a new Tory Prime Minister and the prospect of an immediate general election, they panicked.
What was their strategy? Where would they go if they split the Labour Party? They showed the strategic nous of headless chickens. First the prospect of an imminent election was put to rest as the Tories closed ranks around Theresa May. After Leadsom’s Tory leadership bid self-destructed there was no prospect of a realignment in British politics, with centrist politicians including right wing Labour MPs forming a new pro-EU party against a right wing Eurosceptic Tory Party and Labour led by Corbyn.
But the coup threat continues. Let’s be clear. These bumbling buffoons are doing permanent damage to Labour’s credibility and Labour’s electoral prospects. The NEC’s decision to spin out the contest over months of uncertainty was absurd. The campaign is far too long. The Tories were back in business within a few days. The right wing coup plotters will argue that the delay till September was ‘in the rules’. There is plenty of evidence that the NEC made the rules up as it went along.
The Tories have regrouped. The failed policies of austerity that have dominated the agenda for almost a decade have been thrown out of the window, yet the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in disarray cannot claim any credit for the U-turn. The Tories and the British political scene are in crisis yet it is the PLP that is in meltdown. What a missed opportunity!
Before the NEC met, deputy leader Tom Watson was in ‘negotiations’ with trade union leaders such as Len McCluskey of Unite. These were strange negotiations since Watson was demanding unconditional surrender and the withdrawal of Corbyn from the selection process before a shot had been fired. Above all, no democracy! This was treachery. McCluskey was incandescent.
At the time of writing there are two alternative candidates to Corbyn – Angela Eagle and Owen Smith. Smith’s ace in the hole is that nobody has ever heard of him or knows what he stands for. This arrangement is absurd, but the PLP will ballot on who should stand against Corbyn. This is yet another constitutional ‘innovation’. There is no precedent for this procedure.
Most of the report on the NEC below is taken from an item in the ‘Huffington Post’, clearly informed by an insider.
The NEC’s first major decision was to take votes in secret. This is unprecedented. It is profoundly undemocratic. Even in parliament our MP’s votes are public, since otherwise we would not be able to hold them to account. Johanna Baxter blubbered on Radio 4’s Today programme that this was to stop ‘bullying’. We are all against bullying. Jeremy has had his share of death threats. But Baxter’s plea was in effect for members such as herself to be voted onto the NEC without anyone knowing what they stand for. Is that democratic? Surely trade unionists are entitled to know that the representative of their union on the NEC actually votes in accordance with union policy?
Next Corbyn, who is an NEC member ex officio, was ordered out of the room and only allowed back when votes were to be taken. How generous of them! As Andy Kerr, Deputy General Secretary of the CWU, noted the NEC was acting against its own rules.
The role of Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, has proved to be controversial and downright sinister. He is supposed to be an unelected neutral ‘civil servant’ to the Party. In fact he appears to have been pulling strings on behalf of the plotters behind the scenes. McNicol, it should be remembered, nominates the members of the unelected Compliance Unit. This body has been running round suspending Party members for indefinite periods without due process on the basis of secret evidence, if indeed there is any evidence against them at all. It is a Court of Star Chamber.
McNicol withheld legal advice from Mike Mansfield QC in the interests of the coup plotters. He has received a devastating indictment from Howe and Co, acting for Jim Kennedy of Unite and other NEC members:
“You may be aware that releasing confidential Labour Party data/ information to the press, in a manner which may prejudice the Party (including the leader for example) may be a potentially serious disciplinary matter...
“When you met with the leader earlier today you did not inform him that you intended to call a special meeting at 2 pm tomorrow. It seems you went to great lengths to conceal your intentions from the leader and the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
As Rhea Wolfson pointed out (‘Labour’s NEC: Coup Attempt Latest’ on this website) very important restrictions on voting rights were smuggled in at the end of the marathon NEC session after several members had left. These items were not on the original agenda:
- About 130,000 Labour Party members who had signed up since January 12th were summarily deprived of the right to vote.
- Registered Supporters, who could vote for the leader on payment of £3 last year, now have to stump up an extra £25. Members disenfranchised by the January 12th ruling can also retain their vote by signing up as Registered Supporters (For an extra fee! How cynical). Moreover they all have a very narrow 48 hour window in which to register their support.
Rhea comments: “This seems like gerrymandering. Jeremy’s opponents are trying to rig the election to get the result they desire.” These rulings are so irregular they are bound to be subject to legal challenge.
Robert Peston agrees. We quote him as he cannot be accused of Corbynista sympathies:
“.....at the end of the meeting, after a couple of pro-Corbyn members had left, and Corbyn himself had gone, a vote was taken on a motion not on the agenda, to exclude from the leadership vote anyone who joined the party in the past six months. So the 130,000 who signed up since Brexit, most of whom are thought to be Corbyn supporters, will be unable to vote. Now whatever you think of Corbyn, this looks and smells like gerrymandering by his opponents.”
After the NEC ruled that Corbyn should be on the ballot, it has received a legal challenge from Michael Foster, who has donated £400,000 to the Party in the past. Who put him up to this, we wonder? Clearly this millionaire thinks he can just buy political parties
The right wing actually shows the greatest contempt for democracy since Edmund Burke described the common people as “the swinish multitude.” ‘Rule or Ruin’ is their motto. Their behaviour has just goaded Unite’s Policy Conference to pass the following resolution:
“Conference welcomes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader as a reflection of the general mood in the labour movement against austerity. We endorse the union’s support for him.
“However, we condemn the attempts of right-wing Labour MPs, in concert with hostile sections of the media, to destabilise and remove Jeremy from his democratically-elected position despite his overwhelming mandate from party members, affiliated and registered supporters. We believe these attacks are designed to return Labour to a pro-austerity position.
“MPs have not got ‘jobs for life’. They represent their constituency but ultimately they are selected by and accountable to their Constituency Labour Party. To ensure democratic accountability and the rights of party members to select candidates that reflect their views, conference supports the need for mandatory reselection of Labour MPs in each Parliament as essential.
“We also call on Unite to support moves to bring more democracy into policy making by returning powers to the Party Conference.”
The latest news is that Brighton and Hove District Labour Party democratically elected a broadly Corbynist slate of officers on a huge turnout of more than 6,000 members. The NEC responded by suspending the DLP and annulling the results. On what grounds? They won’t say.
Scheduled Party meetings, that the NEC demanded be cancelled till the leadership campaign is over for no good reason, are going ahead anyway. There is fury in the Party ranks at all these blatant stitch-ups. The battle for Labour Party democracy goes on.