Jeremy Corbyn supporters have won a significant victory after a knife-edge vote to give Labour conference the right to unpick future party policy documents.
In a move that delighted the Left, conference defied the party’s ruling NEC to approve a change in the rules that will mean future policies can be voted on line-by-line.
The change, which the party revealed on Tuesday had been passed by 51.52% to 48.48%, follows a decisive shift behind the policy by trade unions.
The unions, led by Unite, appeared to have switched tactics by dropping plans to reject another major constitutional change, to expand the NEC with new places appointed by the Scotland and Wales Labour parties.
The new constitutional amendment states that “Conference has the right to refer back any part of a document without rejecting the policy document as a whole...”
The Left has spent years fighting for the change, but it was always rebuffed under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.
The new rule means that any delegates can unpick whole policy documents rather than be forced to vote on them on a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ basis.
Delegates were furious on Tuesday when the NEC decided that all of its rule changes had to be voted on as a package, rather than subjected to individual votes.
But on future policy, they will now be able to do just that. On defence policy, for example, conference will be able to single out Trident renewal or other details, without rejecting the rest of the policy package.
Centrists fear that the shift will mean future party conferences will be dominated by rows and get bogged down by the ‘trench warfare’ Corbyn says he wants to avoid.
The main business of conference speeches could be derailed daily by lengthy debates on policy if delegates push their concerns, some insiders claim.
Some 58% of unions voted for the rule change, and 42% against. Among constituency Labour parties, 46% were for and 54% against. Under the complex ‘block vote’ of conference, that led to a wafer-thin result in favour overall.
The Liverpool conference has been dogged by battles between ‘centrists’ and the Left, both behind-the-scenes and in the conference hall.
The ‘moderates’ were pleased that the new NEC chair chosen on Tuesday was MEP Glenis Willmott, despite speculation that leftwinger Christine Shawcroft would run for the top spot.
It won the vote on the overall package of NEC rule changes – which included ensuring a sitting leader does not need MPs in a leadership challenge and new moves to prevent illegal council budgets - by a huge margin in the end, by 80% to 20%.
And on another internal vote, Corbyn ally and former MP Chris Williamson lost his bid to get onto the NEC’s National Constitutional Committee. GMB veteran Maggie Cosin was re-elected instead.
During the heated debate on the extra NEC places on Tuesday, Young Labour’s Max Shanly said: “The package going forth will gerrymander the NEC, and allow for the decision made at the weekend to be vetoed by Parliamentarians who are not accountable to this movement!”
Leigh Drennan of North West Young Labour added: “I shouldn’t have to support what is effectively a stitch up by the NEC”.
David Flack of Rayleigh and Wickford Labour Party added that he was “appalled at the gerrymandering and the lack of democracy that’s gone on in our party”. He declared: “Comrades I’m a militant. I’m a militant democrat”.
Momentum and others on the Left of the party believe that their influence can only increase, despite the NEC victories for ‘moderates’, as every year constituency party delegates will more resemble the mass membership who voted for Corbyn.