A leading Labour activist has hit out at Momentum “lies” about her and warned that voters will be turned off the party if it is run by “shouty men waving rulebooks”.
Ann Black, who has sat on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) for 18 years, spoke out after MPs complained of macho bullying and intimidatory conduct at the party’s main policy-making body last weekend.
Black was on course to become the new chair of the National Policy Forum, before senior members of the NEC postponed the election amid fears she would defeat a rival backed by allies of Jeremy Corbyn.
The veteran activist, who lost the support of Momentum last month, said that the grassroots group had falsely accused her of robbing 125,000 members of a vote in the leadership election of 2016.
She countered that in fact Corbyn himself was to blame, after he appeared before the TV cameras instead of backing an NEC move to enfranchise thousands of members in that year’s ballot.
Writing on her personal blog, Black also warned of the “deep damage” caused to local Labour councillor morale after an attempt by some on the NEC to order Haringey Council to ditch its public-private development plan.
After Momentum turned against her in recent weeks, the Oxford-based campaigner was replaced as the chair of Labour’s main disciplinary panel in January and pulled from its ‘slate’ of local constituency party candidates for the NEC elections due later this year.
In her blog on Tuesday, Black let rip about the group’s stance, saying she wanted to “nail the lies” that she had sought to prevent new party members from voting in the leadership contest in 2016.
The ruling NEC infuriated Corbyn supporters that year when it voted to impose a ‘freeze date’ of January for eligibility for the ballot.
But Black said that she had proposed amending the cut-off date to June but her plan failed because the vote was tied. Corbyn and fellow MP Jon Trickett left the meeting to give TV interviews about winning an earlier vote to put the leader automatically on the ballot paper
“If Jeremy had stayed, many thousands of additional members would have been able to vote,” Black wrote. “I may have committed other crimes, but that is not one of them.”
She also spoke for the first time about last weekend’s incident at the National Policy Forum in Leeds, when NEC chair Andy Kerr grabbed a lectern and effectively stopped a vote on the forum’s new chair.
“Sadly Labour is at its worst when having rows over stuff that almost no-one understands. Voters can appreciate passionate debate on issues that affect their lives. Shouty men waving rulebooks, not so much,” she said.
Black laid bare the blunder at the heart of the row, revealing that Corbyn’s office had been set to allow the NPF election to go ahead because it had wrongly judged the level of support for her rival, TSSA union rep Andi Fox.
“The leader’s office were ringing trade union general secretaries…a friend told me that staff in the leader’s office had numbers showing that Andi would win by a majority of two to one, and suggested that I should withdraw to avoid the embarrassment of losing.”
But it became clear hours before the vote that the leadership had badly miscalculated the level of support, and Black was on course to win. To prevent her gaining the role of chair, the election was cancelled just minutes before it was due to take place.
Black pointed out that she had long been on the Left of the party and was a constant thorn in Tony Blair’s side during her NEC days.
She said that the NEC’s recent treatment of Haringey Council – urging it to pause its public-private plan if mediation failed - reminded her of the “lack of trust” shown by Blair to party members.
“The way it was handled has done deep damage…The message that the NEC can over-ride decisions made by democratically-elected councillors has not gone down well in the local government family,” she said.
“Two weeks later Jeremy Corbyn spoke at their conference, where uniquely he was met with polite applause and the entire audience remained seated.”
“Councillors are the backbone of community campaigning, in much of the country they are the only level where Labour is in government, they do a hard and often thankless job in circumstances not of their making, and they contribute significantly to party funds through their allowances. It is not smart to upset so many of them.”
Black has told HuffPost she intends to run for the NEC again in its new election this summer. If an election for policy forum chair takes place in the next few weeks, she is expected to win the ballot.
In her blog, she warned Corbyn not to repeat the ‘control freakery’ errors of the Blair era.
“Having spent twenty years on the NPF in a small and lonely minority, from Durham in 1999 to Milton Keynes in 2014, being ridiculed, patronised and ignored for voting for policies which Jeremy Corbyn has brought into the party mainstream, the idea that I have turned into a Progress stooge is ludicrous.
“Labour First and Tony Blair’s people worked against me for many years. My personal politics have not changed, although I have always believed that all positions and all arguments deserve respect, and it would be sad if the current leader was less tolerant of diversity than the Millbank of old.”