Jeremy Corbyn’s allies are set to tighten their grip on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) after a controversial move to axe voting rights for the party’s student wing.
Moderates hit out after a radical change in the way the NEC youth rep is elected, removing Labour Students from an electoral college that has determined the outcome for decades.
From this spring, the youth rep will be chosen by a new system that gives 50% of the votes to one-member-one-vote ballot of young party members and 50% to young trade unionists or ‘affiliates’.
Labour Students is traditionally dominated by moderates, while young party members and union sections tend to be made up of Corbyn supporters.
The switch sparked claims from ‘centrists’ that the party risked going back to the 1980s when Militant controlled Labour’s Young Socialist slot on the NEC.
And there was anger that the move, agreed at an NEC ‘away day’ in Glasgow, tears up a pledge at the 2017 Labour conference to include the youth rep system in a wider review of party democracy.
The immediate impact of the change is expected to be the replacement of current youth rep Jasmin Beckett with a more left-wing activist.
With the 39-strong NEC already set to gain three Momentum-backed local party reps, the move adds to the leftward shift in the balance of power on the ruling body.
Beckett said the end of the student block vote was decided without any formal consultation and complained that young voices were being “sidelined” in the democracy review.
Other previous NEC youth reps lined up to criticise the move.
Callum Munro said the change was a “cynical, factional move”, while Blair McDougall said it was “a shoddy way to treat Labour Students, who “do more to help elect Labour MPs than any part of the movement.”
Defenders of the move said that a one-member, one-vote system was overdue.
A party source told HuffPostUK: “It’s great news and exactly what Young Labour’s National Committee has been calling for – giving a say to every one of Labour’s 100,000 young members.
“Their representative will be elected by all members, not just a small number of delegates at conference and will put an end to university students having greater representation than young workers.”
But critics say that the new electoral college system means that 100,000 ballots will be sent to young members to vote online, and just 12 to the Labour trade union affiliates who are under no requirement to ballot their members. They add that all 12 union general secretaries are white males.
Richard Angell, director of the Blairite group Progress, told HuffPost UK: “Given students did so much to help Labour defy the odds in June, it is totally bizarre that their reward is to be cut out of the NEC Youth representative election on ideological grounds.
“No wonder young members are up in arms on Twitter about this. This new system promoted by Momentum means the next NEC Youth Rep will be not be chosen by young members but in a back room deal between two men in their 60s: Jon Lansman and Len McCluskey.”
Angell complained that the shift was “dropped on the NEC by Momentum at the last minute in line with their increasingly authoritarian exercising of the power they now have”.
A Momentum source hit back: “This is the first we’ve heard of the change, and Angell’s claims that Momentum ‘dropped this’ on the NEC are just absurd and paranoid.
“It really would be better for all involved if he spent less of his time writing these tiresome, repetitive attacks against his fellow Labour members and more time campaigning against the Tories and preparing for government.”
And Labour Students vice chair Lara McNeill tweeted her support.
Until the NEC change, the youth rep was decided by an electoral college made up of Labour Students, young members and young trade unionists.
Neil Kinnock reformed the party’s youth wing as part of his battle with Militant in the 1980s, curbing its influence in Labour Party Young Socialists. The group was eventually scrapped, with Young Labour set up instead by Tom Watson in 1993.
This week’s changes follow a bitter battle for the NEC slot in 2016, when Beckett beat James Elliott, a Momentum-backed Oxford student, by a fraction of one per cent at a Young Labour conference.
Previous youth reps on the NEC include Labour MPs Jonathan Reynolds and Stephanie Peacock.
The ConservativeHome website on Wednesday confirmed a HuffPost UK report that the Tory party’s own student wing was being sidelined after years of controversy.