Momentum-backed Rhea Wolfson Fails In Bid To Stand For Labour's NEC

Local party declines to back her

01/06/2016 11:35 | Updated 01 June 2016
Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

A young left-winger who hoped to replace Ken Livingstone on Labour’s ruling body has failed to win the required backing of her local party, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Rhea Wolfson, who was backed by Momentum and the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance, was effectively blocked from running for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) at the meeting of her Scottish constituency party on Tuesday night.

Eastwood CLP declined to nominate Wolfson after party members felt that Momentum was too ‘factional’ and expressed concerns about “its role within the party”, local members told HuffPost.

Under party rules, anyone who fails to win their own local party’s nomination cannot stand for the NEC.

The move is a blow to hopes on the Left of the party of securing as many seats as possible on the ruling NEC, in a bid to underline Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots popularity.

Rhea Wolfson
Rhea Wolfson

At the height of Labour’s anti-semitism row, the Grassroots Alliance and Momentum dropped Livingstone as their candidate after he was suspended over remarks about Hitler and Zionists.

Wolfson, who is Jewish and a former president of Oxford University Jewish Society, was seen by her supporters as the perfect replacement for the former Mayor of London.

She had won support of other CLPs across the country, along with fellow leftwing slate members Ann Black, Pete Willsman, Christine Shawcroft, Claudia Webbe and Daniel Williams.

One option is for Wolfson to move home to another CLP, a move that has been used in the past by candidates who feel they have been blocked by their local party.

In a Facebook post, she said she was "considering my options going forward".

Wolfson said her NEC bid had attracted a "broad spectrum of opinion" from across the party. "I am now concerned that a faction of the party are trying to take that option away from the membership," she posted.

With just three weeks to go before the NEC election, it is possible she could switch her address to her boyfriend's home rather than her parental home in Eastwood - and get a more friendly CLP to back her.

Nick Hopkins, chair of the Eastwood party, told HuffPost UK: “We don’t usually nominate to the NEC, so we decided to give special consideration to Rhea’s nomination as a member of our constituency.

"The first concern was about factionalism generally and not endorsing a faction.

"The second concern was around Momentum in particular and its role within the party at the moment.

“The third thing was the party felt it wants to get to know Rhea better as an individual. She presented her thoughts very well, people were impressed by her. But I think at the end they just decided not to go with her nomination – or any nomination. We certainly weren’t going to nominate anyone else in that context.”

David Cheskin/PA Archive
Former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy

A year after former Cabinet minister Jim Murphy lost his East Renfrewshire seat in the general election, Labour’s MSP Ken Macintosh lost his seat in the Scottish Parliament elections last month as the party slumped from first to third in Eastwood.

Some party members said that Livingstone’s remarks had had a significant impact on the Jewish vote for Labour in Eastwood – which has the largest Jewish community in Scotland.

Hopkins said: “It did come up on the doorstep with a number of people. Ken Macintosh deserves a lot of support within the Jewish community but there’s no doubt there were people who felt they couldn’t do so this time.”

Wolfson, a 25-year old GMB union branch secretary in Glasgow, has suffered a spate of online abuse for her own Jewish roots.

“At the end of the meeting we passed a resolution expressing solidarity with Rhea given the hideous stuff she’s experienced online on Twitter, some vile abuse, which seemed orchestrated by American neo-Nazis," Hopkins said.

"Rhea is now our fundraising officer and we are delighted to have her on board.”

Another party member who attended the meeting on Tuesday was more scathing.

They told HuffPost: “Last year we didn’t back Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership and last night we didn’t want to back a pro-Corbyn faction that is doing the Labour party so much harm. It’s time for the Labour leadership to call off its Momentum faction.”

One insider said that the Eastwood party knew that its decision would result in Wolfson being ineligible for the NEC election.

In her Facebook post, Wolfson said that former MP Murphy had appealed to the meeting that it would be inappropriate for her to be supported by the local party. The reason was her link to Momentum, "which he claimed has a problem with anti-semitism".

"This was a deliberate plan to block her. They weaponised the 'home CLP' rule for factional ends," one Momentum activist told HuffPost.

Pro-Corbyn supporters pointed out that the rule had not been used by the Left to block 'moderates' in the NEC election. Ellie Reeves, Luke Akehurst and Bex Bailey were all nominated by their local CLPs, despite having large leftwing memberships, one said.

"It's totally disgusting to say that Rhea should not be nominated because of the anti-semitism row. She was the only Jewish candidate on the ballot and has a strong record on Jewish leadership boards."

However, one unnamed MP today hit back, saying that Bailey only won her nomination in Walthamstow because "the Left just didn't have the numbers".

The MP also pointed out that any CLP switch by Wolfson may not be possible in the short time-frame remaining.

Momentum has repeatedly denied it acts as a “party within a party” or that it wants to deselect MPs who disagree with Corbyn.

Under party rules NEC candidates need to be nominated by their local party, but also by two CLPS in different regions of the country.

Christopher Furlong via Getty Images
Jeremy Corbyn

Wolfson came under fire from some Labour MPs over a blog in which she said: “My belief is that winning 2020 should not be the priority of the Labour party. This belief comes from a further belief that the Labour party is a movement above and beyond anything…”

With Corbyn still facing criticism from his own MPs, the ruling NEC is seen as crucial in the power struggle between those who see the leader as an asset and those who fear his appeal is too narrow to win a general election.

A fierce battle is underway for the constituency elections to the NEC, with ‘moderate’ group Labour First and others backing their own slate of candidates.

The left currently holds four of the six CLP posts on the NEC but its opponents hope their number could now be cut to just two.

Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Eddie Izzard

Comedian Eddie Izzard, who is not backed by any faction, is also running in the elections.

Under party rules NEC candidates need to be nominated by their local party, but also by two CLPS in different regions of the country.

The Left argues that Progress and Labour First are themselves ‘factions’ and that it wants to rebalance the party in favour of all those members who voted for Corbyn in his landslide victory last year.

Although CLP nominations aren’t always a guide to the eventual success of candidates, the ‘non-Momentum’ camp are doing well so far in securing a number of local parties’ support.  

NEC stalwart Ann Black is in the lead, but ‘moderates’ Luke Akehurst, former MP Parmjit Dhanda, Johanna Baxter, Ellie Reeves and Bex Bailey have all won key backing.

Nominations for the NEC election close on Friday 24 June.

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