Sunday, 17 July 2016

Dealing With The NEC's Manoeuvres

Blair-rights on the Labour Party's NEC tried to prevent Jeremy Corbyn being automatically on the ballot for the election of Labour Party Leader. They did so, because they know he has overwhelming support amongst all sections of the membership, and so any challenger to him is likely to be heavily defeated. The Blair-rights failed in their attempt, by a sizeable majority of 18-14. But, they have tried other manoeuvres to undermine Corbyn's support amongst the membership. Those manoeuvres are typically, bureaucratic, elitist and bordering on corrupt.

First of all, after a seven hour meeting of the NEC, Corbyn and some of his supporters left the NEC after having won the vote on him being automatically on the ballot. After they had left, the Blair-rights pushed through a number of decisions that were not on the NEC Agenda for discussion. Firstly, they voted to prevent members who had joined after 12th January, this year, being able to vote. That is at odds with the promise that was made on the Labour Party website, encouraging people to join, and promising them a vote in electing the Labour Leader.

They also voted to allow registered supporters, once more, to have a vote in electing the Leader. Giving the impression that this had been pre-planned, this weekend saw large adverts going out in Sunday newspapers, proclaiming that there was only 48 hours to “Save Labour”. The message is reminiscent of William Hague's Tory message that there was only "Two Weeks To Save The Pound". That has all the hallmarks of a further part of a plot that has been cooked up by shadowy forces standing in the background, with large amounts of finance and connections into the world of public relations, and the Tory media. Its not surprising that Alistair Campbell has expressed his support for SavingLabour.

However, what the NEC agreed was to increase the charge for registering as a supporter from the previous £3 to £25, and to only allow supporters to register in a 48 hour window between 18th July and 20th July, hence the Saving Labour slogan. But, this decision is both elitist and bordering on corrupt. Firstly, raising the registration fee to £25 – a rise of more than 700% - means that many lower paid, or unwaged people will be priced out of having a vote. Secondly, limiting the period during which supporters can register to just 48 hours, is ridiculous. There is plenty of time before any Leadership election, and restricting the registration in this way, seems an unnecessary limitation.

But, the decision of the NEC here dos not conform with natural justice. On what basis can it be fair that someone who has paid the full membership fee, and become a full member, is not allowed to vote if they joined after 12th January, and yet someone who is only a registered supporter, and who has only paid £25, can get a vote by registering over the next two days?

The other decisions taken by the NEC, after Corbyn and his supporters left the meeting have been to suspend all Branch and CLP meetings other than for hustings, and annual conference business. As Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have said, this weekend, that decision is over the top. It prevents the party across the country doing all of the necessary work to hold the Tories to account, at a time when such activity is most needed. But, this action by the NEC goes along with its action to suspend the Brighton and Hove CLP, and to overturn the democratic election of its new CLP Executive Committee. 

How should members within the party and within the trades unions and socialist societies respond? Firstly, branches and CLP's have to be careful in not breaking the instructions issued by the NEC, because that will give the Blair-rights who still control the party machinery, the pretext to close down organisations, as they have done with Brighton. However, that does not mean that members of Momentum cannot meet, provided they do so, as members of Momentum. Already that seems to have been happening, with reports that Momentum meetings have been attracting twice the attendance as previously Labour Party branches or CLP's were achieving in the same area. However, there are already calls within the Tory media, for membership of Momentum to be made incompatible with membership of the Labour Party. They will try to present Momentum as just another Trotskyist “entryist” group inside the Labour party, like Militant or Socialist Organiser in the 1980's.

As I wrote, some time ago, it is a mistake for Momentum to allow non-Labour Party members into its organisation, and it is a mistake to allow the unrepresentative members of the various sects to hold prominent positions within Momentum. That only invites a response from the Labour party bureaucracy. More importantly, over decades those very sects have shown that they are more concerned with their own short-term, party building interests, not with the long-term interests of the Labour Party. Whenever they have stood against Labour they got less than derisory votes. They represent nothing, yet allowing them to occupy positions within Momentum way in excess of their actual weight, and support within the Labour Movement, itself indicates the need for greater democracy within Momentum itself.

The short-term answer is a demand for the NEC to be recalled quickly needs to be made. The trades unions have a crucial role to play there, because the NEC has no power to prevent trades union committees meeting, and passing resolutions to that effect, and denouncing the NEC's manoeuvres. A new NEC meeting needs to be called, and motions be placed on the agenda calling for the deadline on membership eligibility to be lifted. Moreover, the window for registering as a supporter must also be extended. There is no reason why the deadline for registering as a supporter should close until the end of August, and that should also be the deadline for qualifying as a member with a right to vote in the election.

That does not alter the cost of registering as a supporter, and a further problem exists in that respect. Many supporters will only be prepared to register on the basis that they can vote for Jeremy Corbyn. As things stand, Corbyn is automatically on the ballot, but Michael Foster is using his money to launch a legal challenge to the NEC's decision in that regard. We will not know the result of that challenge until after the window for registering as a supporter has closed. The likelihood is that the decision for Corbyn to be automatically on the ballot will not be overturned by the court, because despite what the press has said, the rules appear quite clear that it is only challengers who have to obtain nominations, not the incumbent.

However, some potential supporters may be put off stumping up £25 with the prospect that the courts may yet keep Jeremy off the ballot. That is unlikely, because were such a thing to happen, there would be open warfare within the party. I would make the following suggestion to Jeremy and his supporters, however. If Corbyn supporters get a majority of seats on the new NEC, they could vote to convert all registered supporters into fully paid up members for a year. In other words, the cost of full membership is £48, which can be paid monthly. An offer could be made that anyone paying the £25 up front will be made a full member, by a left-leaning new NEC after party conference.

Angela Eagle and Owen Smith should be asked to support the moves for greater democracy and transparency, by asking them if they support, the deadline for membership and registration being extended, and whether they support some consideration over the £25 charge for registering as a supporter.  They should also be asked if they support lifting the ban on VLP meetings, and the suspension of Brighton and Hove CLP.

A recalled, NEC in the next week or so should lift the ban on branches and CLP's meeting, and should also lift the suspension of Brighton and Hove CLP, reinstating the newly elected CLP Executive. Its also time that the NEC abolished the Compliance Unit.

The present manoeuvres show just how desperate the Blair-right plotters now are, and just how their apparatchiks are trying to cling to power. It illustrates the need for a thorough democratisation of labour Party structures, letting in the fresh air of openness and transparency. It shows the need for CLP's and trades unions to get motions to annual conference to introduce greater democracy and accountability.

We need the reintroduction of the mandatory reselection of MP's, and the right of CLP's to deselect their MP at any time. In fact, MP's should sign, an oath that should they be deselected by their CLP, they will automatically resign their seat, enabling a new MP to be elected, that the members have confidence in. All of the privileges of MP's and MEP's over the nomination of Leader and Deputy Leader of the Party should be removed. Nominations for such positions, should only be required from the party as a whole. Moreover, once such democratic changes are introduced, the privileges of the Leader to appoint Shadow Cabinet members should also be removed. All members of the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet should be nominated and elected by a vote of the entire party membership.

In the meantime, party members and trades unions need to continue the work of going out into our communities, working with our people, and winning them to our party. The Blair-rights and their rich friends may be able to use their money, and their access to the Tory media to try to recruit others of their ilk, but they can never match the tens of thousands of active party members, living and breathing within working class communities, and their ability to enthuse, and recruit millions more party members fed up of Tory austerity, and foreign wars, whether carried out by Tories operating in their own colours or Blair-rights calling themselves Labour.

No comments: