POLITICS

Corbyn Boost As Momentum-Backed Candidates Elected To Conference Arrangements Committee

Key body decides which motions selected for debate.

11/09/2017 12:43 BST | Updated 11/09/2017 17:05 BST
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Jeremy Corbyn supporters are set to control the agenda of Labour’s annual conference after a comprehensive victory for Left candidates in a key party election.

London activist Seema Chandwani and former postal workers union chief Billy Hayes beat their ‘moderate’ rivals, MP Gloria de Piero and peer Lord Cashman, for posts on the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC).

In the election, which was open to the party’s mass membership, Chandwani and Hayes won by a margin of more than two-to-one.

The CAC is in charge of the crucial process of selecting and prioritising motions for the annual conference, and its finely-balanced composition has now shifted decidedly leftwards until 2019 at least.

The new members, who have a two-year tenure, take their seats after this year’s Brighton conference ends, and their impact will be first felt at the 2018 gathering in Liverpool.

But both have vowed to create “a more democratic Labour party” and motions on reselection of MPs and other moves to get members more involved in party decisions are expected to now be tabled for next year.

Chandwani and Hayes were supported by the grassroots group Momentum, and their success underlines how influential the left-wing campaign has become with the rank and file membership.

Under Corbyn, Labour’s membership has more than doubled since the 2015 general election, and the ‘Corbyn surge’ at the 2017 election has driven his supporters to take more elected positions in local parties.

One moderate source said: ‘We expected defeat, but not those kind of numbers’. 

A Momentum spokesperson said: ”This result reflects the overwhelming desire among the Labour Party members for a more democratic, grassroots party where they have a real say in how it’s run and what it stands for.

“To double the vote for Corbyn-supporting candidates in just one election cycle shows both the strength of the movement and the support Jeremy has across the party.”

The key committee had a 4-3 balance of ‘moderates v Left’, but that will now be reversed to deliver a ‘pro-Corbyn’ majority. Other members of the CAC are Unite’s Jayne Taylor and Mick Murphy, plus USDAW’s Fiona Wilson, Unison’s Bronwyn McKenna and chair Harry Donaldson of the GMB.

The move follow similar successes for the Left and Momentum in electing local party representatives for this year’s conference, where the number of delegates is set to be the highest since the 1980s.

Blairite group Progress and allies Labour First, which had backed de Piero and Cashman, are also hoping to defeat moves to reduce the number of MPs’ nominations needed for future leadership candidacies.

As Corbyn supporters tighten their grip on the party, a leftwinger is expected to be installed at Labour’s HQ to succeed its outgoing elections director Patrick Heneghan, as revealed by HuffPost UK.

Labour First’s Luke Akehurst told HuffPost UK this summer that “the CAC is the thin red line stopping Momentum making conference a free-for-all where every fantasy politics piece of ‘revolutionary socialism’ gets debated”. 

But Momentum has said that “for too long, successive CACs have sidelined the opportunity for members to take part in basic democratic discussion at the party’s sovereign policy making conference”.

After the June poll, Chandwani blogged that it was time for the party to discipline the “Judases” in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) who had publicly criticised the leader over the past year.

“We saw MPs use their position of profile to obtain access to the media to attack ordinary members and call them names like ‘dogs, Trots and rabble’ without any remorse,” she wrote.

“On our own ship we had our own people play the role of Judas better than the original.”

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Dave Ward, Kevin Slocombe and Billy Hayes of the CWU.

Hayes, who is also a member of the new Labour Campaign for Free Movement, is a veteran trade unionist having been general secretary of the Communications Workers’ Union.

The CWU is now affiliated to Momentum and helped power Corbyn’s re-election campaign last year.

Moderate insiders said that the real surprise came in 2015, when de Piero and Cashman bucked the trend to get elected at the same time that Corbyn won the leadership election with his first landslide.

Both the MP and peer increased their vote this year, but it was not enough, given the huge increase in the party membership.

The next big internal battle between ‘moderates’ and the Left will come at the Brighton conference, when delegates elect representatives on the 11-strong National Constitutional Committee (NCC) which decides party discipline cases like that of Ken Livingstone.

The NCC election is said to be “very tight”, with moderate Rose Burley and Kevin Kepworth facing tough challenges from Momentum-backed Anna Dyer and Emine Ibrahim.