POLITICS

Jeremy Corbyn Boost As Labour NEC Approves Plan To Hand More Power To Members

Three more seats for rank and file on the ruling body.

19/09/2017 16:15 | Updated 20 September 2017
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

Jeremy Corbyn’s mission to hand more power to Labour members has received a major boost after the party’s ruling body agreed his sweeping reform plans.

The leader’s plan to ‘democratise’ the party was approved by the National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday, and will now go forward for a vote at the annual conference in Brighton.

Under the changes, party members are set to get three extra seats on the 35-strong body, with an extra place for trade unions too.

The move will further embed Corbyn’s vision for Labour and underline its leftward direction since he became leader in 2015, attracting more than 250,000 new members to the party.

His reform package, which included a plan to reduce MPs’ veto over future leadership contenders, was adopted by the NEC with no opposition.

A wider review of party structures, to be led by former MP Katy Clark, will now take place with everything from one-member-one-vote leadership rules to regional structures and new policy-making powers.

The only reform not on the review list is mandatory reselection of MPs.

Labour
The priority items in the review.

Fresh moves to create more female Labour MPs were also set to be adopted, with more all-women shortlists for Parliamentary selections ahead of any snap general election.

A new plan to crack down on anti-semitic and racist abuse was also approved.

Expanding the NEC to include 39 members is a key move in ensuring it reflects the Corbyn-supporting membership. At present, just six seats are reserved for Constituency Labour Party (CLP) representatives, while 12 go to trade unions.

Under the changes, there will be nine CLP reps, and an extra union seat, to reflect shopworkers’ union Usdaw’s large membership.

Key ally and Momentum founder Jon Lansman told the Indepdendent this week: “Out of 35 members, half a million members have just six representatives. It’s absurd.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Jeremy Corbyn and office director Karie Murphy after the June election.

The ruling body also backed moves to reshape the annual conference to give more debate time for the rank and file, and less for Shadow Cabinet ministers.

As reported by HuffPost UK, neither London Mayor Sadiq Khan nor Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham will have speaking slots on the platform in Brighton.

The NEC was until this summer finely balanced between pro-Corbyn and ‘moderate’ wings of the party, but it is now set to shift much more in his favour.

Under a ‘compromise’ plan first revealed by HuffPost UK this month, the proportion of MPs and MEPs needed for a leadership bid would be reduced from the current 15% threshold to 10%.

The change in rules - first proposed by the TSSA transport union - all but guarantees that Corbyn’s successor will be from the Left, as it lowers the bar for the Parliamentary Labour Party’s (PLP) veto on candidates.

At present, 42 Parliamentarians are needed for any new leadership candidate, but if the change gets the go ahead, just 28 nominations will be required. Once MEPs are abolished after Brexit in 2019, just 26 MPs’ nominations will be needed.

PA Archive/PA Images
Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn.

In a significant shift, deputy leader Tom Watson told Corbyn in July that he would not stand in his way on party reform, although allies warned the leadership to focus on taking on the Tories than ‘faction fighting’.

Katy Clark, who is now Corbyn’s political secretary, will lead the wide-ranging structural review.

A senior source at grassroots group Momentum told HuffPost UK: “The review is a very promising first step towards a Labour Party that is election ready and fit for the 21st century.

“I’m sure the 500,000 members who showed such energy, enthusiasm and dedication during the last election will welcome having more of a say, and we’re glad that every wing of the party is recognising the huge contribution they make.”

But Richard Angell, director of Progress, Labour’s centrist pressure group, said: “Today, Labour’s new establishment bounced the NEC in private session into a series of reforms that amount to a factional power grab and more roles for members in London and the south-east.

“It is a missed opportunity to not give members in every corner of the country a voice by regionalising the NEC. 

“In a bizarre turn of events Corbyn’s political secretary will be leading a review into party structures rather than working out how to beat the Tories and run the country. It is a warped set of priorities when a general election could take place at any point.”

Pete Willsman
Labour NEC member Pete Willsman

The NEC meeting on Tuesday was not without debate, with member Pete Willsman, of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), at one point declaring that “some of our MPs deserve to be attacked” for disloyalty.

Labour MP Neil Coyle told HuffPost UK: “Today’s discussions have all been about navel-gazing around a party conference that risks being turned into a celebration of losing the election.

“The Government is at its weakest after seven years of damage to the country, and my inbox is full of resident’s worries about police and crime. And some people are just determined to foster division with infighting instead.

“Where we are in government, in London and in Manchester, it looks like our Mayors are not even going to be speaking at conference.”

Yet Laura Pidcock, MP for North West Durham, tweeted her support for the changes.

Corbyn suffered a mass walkout by his shadow ministers in 2016, and was challenged by Owen Smith, amid fears among MPs that he could not appeal to Tory voters.

PA Archive/PA Images
Former Labour MP Katy Clark, now Corbyn's political secretary.

But he won a second landslide leadership election and went on to deprive May of her Commons majority in the June general election this year.

Some ‘moderate’ figures in Labour said that they were relieved that more radical plans - to create a second female deputy leader and to cut the leadership nominations to 5% - will not be voted on by the 2017 conference.

But with many constituency Labour parties (CLPs) now sending Momentum-backed delegates to the conference, further change is expected next year when the gathering takes place in Liverpool.

One ‘centrist’ source said that the increase in CLP seats on the NEC could come back to haunt the Left, if its members one day drifted from the party after Corbyn’s reign.

A spokesman for the Labour leader said: “Jeremy welcomes the decision of the NEC to back expansion of democracy and participation in the party. Labour’s membership has nearly tripled in the last two years - and the enormous benefits of that were felt at the General Election.

“Our members have the talent, energy and skills to win elections so that we can transform our country for the many not the few.

“Jeremy is delighted that the NEC backed plans to tackle discrimination in the party. As the party of equality, there can be no place in Labour for prejudice. Jeremy thanks all those involved with drafting this motion, including the Jewish Labour Movement and Shami Chakrabarti.”

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