THE CLEAN sweep of Momentum candidates for three new seats created to represent Labour’s expanded membership on its nec is a chance for the left to press for long overdue democratic reform of the party.
Yasmine Dar, Rachel Garnham and Jon Lansman’s landslide victory confirms the demoralisation and decline of the right’s base amongst the members. The relatively low turnout can be put down to three causes: the result was a foregone conclusion; the absence of any challenge to Corbyn’s leadership; and the complete lack of political debate or transparency over the selection and policies of the Momentum slate.
With three more Momentum supporters on the nec, and the re-election of the whole nec in the summer, socialists should organise now, in the trade unions and local parties, for the democratic selection of left candidates and what kind of nec we need. In particular how can we secure a real transfer of power from the few (mps, union bosses and councillors) to the many (party members and trade unionists)?
Considering the overwhelming support it enjoys among the membership, Momentum Central deliberately underplays its hand when it comes to taking control of the party’s policy making structures, and its elected representatives. General election and council manifestos are still written behind closed doors; the selection of mps and councillors remains hidebound by bureaucratic rules designed to frustrate challengers to the status quo.
Instead the party and Momentum membership is regarded as a stage army, mobilised to secure the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and his selected team, then demobilised. The trade unions, the councils and the plp are viewed as the indispensable and, in the end, most important source of authority, while the party apparatus (Tom Watson, Iain McNicol & co.) are quietly left to manipulate the rules in the right’s favour.
The truth is Momentum does not allow democratic selection of its candidates because maintaining a carefully “managed democracy” in Momentum is key to ensuring it does not transgress the prescribed limits. That’s why, 12 months ago, Lansman abolished Momentum’s regional and national elected leaderships and (self-)appointed alternative leaders in their place.
Lansman and co.’s value to the Labour establishment is predicated on maintaining their ability to police the grassroots, preparing the membership for periodic compromises with the right in the interests of “party unity”, and presenting capitulation to blackmail as a demonstration of strength.
The point of securing crushing majorities for nec candidates isn’t simply to drive home the point about the marginalisation of the right, however satisfying it might be.
The votes are a mandate to press for the interests and policies of the membership on the party’s most powerful body, which remains a central battleground.
The replacement of Ann Black by Christine Shawcroft as Chair of the nec Disputes Committee provoked a lot of self-serving (and instructive) outrage from the right, but the fact is Black’s replacement was long overdue.
Black, whom we previously elected with the unqualified endorsement of Momentum, repaid the favour by immediately voting with the right to exclude new members from voting in the second leadership election, and suspending Brighton & Hove and Wallasey clps during the witch-hunt.
In fact the right are annoyed for two reasons. First the Disputes Panel will now have a majority of lefts, who can speed up investigations and end the purge of socialists. Second it gives the left another seat (Shawcroft’s) on the important Organisation Committee, which decides candidates for constituency by-elections.
Here at least we can hope for more candidates from the left of the party, and for the right of local parties to interview and select candidates to be upheld.
Jon Lansman’s first act after being elected to the nec was to hand over the main weapon which could deprive the right of their overwhelming control over the PLP and the great majority of Labour councils: mandatory re-selection.
“We [Momentum] have made it clear that we are not going to campaign to deselect anyone, at all, anywhere,” he told interviewers.
The veteran leader of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy is trading away the democratic rights of the huge pro-Corbyn majority to have a plp that accurately reflects the views of the members… in return for what? A temporary truce in the battle over Corbyn’s leadership… until the party dips in the polls, or after the next general election.
If we want a Corbyn-led government to be accountable to the members and the wider labour movement, if we want it to pass serious reforms and stand up to the inevitable resistance, then we will need MPs with a proven track record as working class fighters, not careerists, time-servers and liberals – however “hard-working” they might be