The recent elections to the Labour Party National Executive Committee mark a decisive and critical turning point in UK Labour’s destiny. If (or as is looking likely, when) the NEC falls under the sway of the Jeremy Corbyn supporting left all of the last bulwarks of Blairite and centrist resistance will suddenly begin to dissolve. This will leave one of the UK’s two largest parties further under the control of its leader, who has bitterly attacked US President Trump for “pandering to racism”.
The British Labour Party, once led by Tony Blair, has long had a byzantine structure. At the bottom are the members, divided into “branches” along the lines of County Council seats. Each Branch has a Chair, Secretary and Treasurer and sends delegates to their “Constituency Labout Party” (CLP), which has an executive committee, Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and a plethora of other roles.
Together, these institutions select the Labour candidates for Parliament, Mayoral elections and city councils. This is the UK equivalent of a primary election. Much like Ace Ventura’s medallion of spiritual enlightenment or a voluntary Wikipedia role, the tiny amounts of power handed out are almost worthless. In reality selections, especially for Parliamentary seats, are closely supervised by regional and national officials. Real power is carefully concentrated above whilst activists below are given only its illusion.
The main benefit to the party of creating so many offices over very small areas is to give members prizes to fight and emote over, thereby keeping the volunteers engaged. As one way to gain advantage in the hierarchy is to do lots of knocking on doors and leafletting, this helps to provide the Party with free, small-l labour. Curiously similar to Wikipedia, it is like an online or live action game where levelling gives the participant tiny amounts of real power in exchange for large quantities of repetitive work.
Within each constituency, vicious and legendary feuds between factions have been known to rage for years over minor offices inconsequential in the real world. Because of this, local Labour Parties have no power to expel members as a large number of volunteer workers would otherwise quickly be eliminated in battles over trivia. There is only a difficult and complex procedure for presenting a disciplinary case to a national body. Real disciplinary power is held at a regional and national level.
Even so the lower levels of the Labour Party are eventually reflected above. Each CLP sends delegates to the annual conference, which elects the National Executive Committee (NEC) and decides policy. It is the NEC of the Labour Party where the real power lies, delegated to its appointed staff. Whilst the power granted to the ordinary membership is fettered for the safety of the Party and general public, NEC appointed officers can frequently make up their decisions as they go along – overturning elections or selections arbitrarily and expelling members without warning for Tweets or Facebook likes. Literally (archive).
Labour’s complex hierarchy has traditionally been controlled by the party Right, which is divided into two main factions called Progress and Labour First. The left wing faction calls itself Momentum. This arrangement worked well for the Right until the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Corbyn managed to attract a flood of new members – many of them actual socialists. The UK Labour Party now claims over half a million paid up members.
Since then, control of the Party by the left has only been a matter of time with the Right using its entrenched institutional control to fight a slow retreat, finding grounds to expel left wing leaders and influence elections.
Labour’s rules forbid supporting rival parties in any way, so (for example) liking a Facebook post by Welwyn Hatfield Conservatives is grounds for immediate expulsion without appeal. In fact Labour has actually gone there, with members literally being expelled without warning for tweets.
Expelled members are told they have no right of appeal. In fact your author suspects in fact that members can legally challenge expulsions as a breach of contract but most expelled Labour Party members lack the money to do so. I would be willing to help someone with a good case as a McKenzie Friend if only to help expose Labour’s callous treatment of members.
It is quite possible Labour HQ has a Twitter bot that can automatically expel grassroots members by cross-referencing their email in the membership database with available information from their Twitter account. The Party is so Orwellian it makes you long for the days of the good old Block Bot.
Whilst branches are quickly seized by insurgent socialists, Parliamentary seats are far harder because selection processes can be “managed” by the NEC. Left wingers that support Corbyn have proven sophisticated combatants, producing training videos and other materials to help their foot-soldiers engage in the Party machinery.
Up until now the Labour NEC has been tied between the factions. At Labour Conference this year, however, Corbyn secured agreement to create three new places for people elected by ordinary members. Those places are being elected now and the result is likely to be dramatic. If the left wingers seize control (and they are tipped to win) then the NEC and party’s paid staff will stop being a Right wing bastion. Instead, Party staff will be supervised by and appointed by allies of Corbyn.
Labour right wingers like Labour First’s Luke Akehurst are already beginning to taste defeat, with Luke himself purged from holding office in his local CLP earlier this year (archive). However they believe they can hold on to some sort of pockets of organisational control (archive). They are wrong.
Blair had his day, and he got to put on his show before the world stage. The star of that play is gone however, and he left a mess behind. Even his less popular understudies have now exited stage left. The audience is gone and now the crew are tearing down the set for a new story.
When the Labour NEC turns left then the apparatus that was defending MPs from deselection will become its vanguard. Hordes of ambitious young Corbynistas will suddenly find their dream of removing vast numbers of right wing and Blairite MPs a reality. The last holdouts of the Labour Right will disappear like snowflakes under a hairdryer.
Right wing domination of Labour has been the reality for over twenty years. It has been the only thing that many young activists have ever known. I still talk to some Labour Right acquaintances who never left and it is hard for them to see the big picture. They are like fish caught in a rock pool when the tide goes out. Separated from the sea, the sun is slowly evaporating the pool. They are going nowhere, and whilst the tide may one day come back in, it will not be in the fishies lifetime.
For the soldiers of Labour First, this is a disaster. Their lives have been bound up in Labour and fighting on the beaches in its mocked up MMO-style PvP wars. To accomplish their goals they have had to cast the Corbyn faction as horned villains. However looked at from outside by someone who left Labour years ago, very little is changing at all.
Recently I watched this training video by Momentum, Corbyn supporting activist Michael J Walker. He is a purported left winger, but the words he aims at young people are more or less identical to the ones used by Blairites nearly 20 years ago when we were the insurgents for the Party leader. Michael wants a, “transformative Labour government and a democratic party”. As with the Blairites Michael’s words are light on the end of that process. Transform into what, exactly, Michael?
Corbyn himself and his comments on the failures of globalisation (archive) parallel Steve Bannon’s ideas of “Economic Nationalism” (archive). The Right of Labour has long justified its iron-fisted control of the Labour Party with visions of an apocalypse, but no world-ending change is coming. They have simply lost the argument and the vote.
As a Conservative who left Labour long ago, I disagree with some of Corbyn’s views and I will vote Conservative, but I do not fear Corbyn. The sun is going down on Progress and Labour First. They are yesterday’s men and women and it is time for them to go. Perhaps when they finally tear their minds away from Labour’s self serving games they will find others that are more rewarding, with greater prizes.