Tuesday, May 28

Labour’s right wing draws up new plan to undermine Jeremy Corbyn



Labour’s right wing has launched a new plan to rein in Jeremy Corbyn’s power despite his growing standing within the party following the general election result, The Independent can reveal.

The battle plan, issued to activists just a week after Labour overturned Theresa May’s majority, would water down Mr Corbyn’s influence on the party’s powerful executive by drafting in extra members likely to be hostile to him.

The manoeuvre is the latest sign of the continuing guerrilla warfare taking place behind the scenes in Labour, with Mr Corbyn’s own supporters undertaking a counteroffensive to try and cement the left’s grip on the party.

The competing plans set the scene for a major showdown at this year’s annual conference in Brighton, where the struggle for the heart of the party will rage on despite hopes the leader’s hopes that the whole party would now swing behind him.

The skirmishes come as Mr Corbyn stamps his authority on his party by sacking three shadow ministers who defied the Labour whip on Brexit, voting for a rebel amendment, tabled by Chuka Umunna, to the Queen’s Speech.

The new rule change backed by the party’s right would reduce the proportion of seats on the National Executive Committee directly elected by ordinary party members and increase the proportion appointed by local authority councillors – who are thought to be more hostile to Mr Corbyn.

The plan, which would double the number of councillor-appointed seats from two to four on the tightly-contested body, comes from the Labour First group. Labour First describes its mission as being to “ensure that the voices of moderate party members are heard while the party is kept safe from the organised hard left”.

The left won a clean sweep of all six of the elected members’ representatives in the 2016 NEC but Mr Corbyn’s allies have struggled to get their way in the body because other parts of the committee are appointed or elected by MPs, councillors, or other elements in the labour movement. The NEC is key to controlling Labour, with its sweeping powers to suspend affiliated organisations and party members, as well as change Labour’s constitution.

One figure on the left of the party told The Independent: “Most councillors are on the right of the party so this looks like a power grab by Labour First. To be truly democratic, we should be giving party members more of a voice, so increasing CLP [Constituency Labour Party] representatives on the NEC has to be the priority.”

Last year more than 1,000 Labour councillors signed a letter backing leadership challenger Owen Smith and calling for Mr Corbyn to step down, with a retaliatory pro-Corbyn letter gaining just 246 signatures. Mr Corbyn however went on to be re-elected by a landslide of rank-and-file Labour members just weeks later – suggesting councillors may be out of step with the membership.

In an email sent to activists on the Labour First mailing list, the group’s secretary Luke Akehurst, himself a former councillor and former NEC member, called on supporters to bring the motion forward at CLPs across the country. “Councillors are Labour’s community representatives, they are the ones listening to residents and making major decision about local services, often the ones that administer local branches and CLPs,” he said.

“Labour councillors make a very large financial contribution to the Labour Party. The subs from Labour councillors are larger than the affiliation fees of all the trade unions. Locally they are often the largest contributors of campaign funds.

“It isn’t right that 7,000 councillors who contribute so much have far less representation than MPs.”

But another Labour source told The Independent: “‘Pay more money, get more votes’ isn’t a very democratic socialist argument.”

Asked about claims the rule change was intended to dilute Mr Corbyn’s influence, Mr Akehurst told The Independent: “It is insulting and ridiculous that [councillors] only have two seats on a 35 member NEC and this needs to change. It would then be up to councillors what the politics were of the representatives they elected.”

The battle over the composition of the NEC that has been raging since Mr Corbyn was first elected now looks set to continue into the foreseeable future. Last year a rule change backed by the party establishment automatically gave the Scottish Labour and Welsh Labour leaders a guaranteed appointed seat on the NEC for the first time. Kezia Dugdale and Carwyn Jones have both publicly criticised Mr Corbyn.

Labour has around 7,000 councillors, who are represented on the NEC with two seats, while the party’s 500,000 members have six seats. Members on the left of the party say it is not fair for just 3,000 councillors to get the equivalent representation of 80,000 party members and that the number of those directly elected by the membership should be increased.

Labour’s left wing is also on manoeuvres for rule changes that would benefit Mr Corbyn’s allies. Activists have floated the idea of increasing the number of delegates elected by members – justified on the basis that membership has increased dramatically in recent years.

Proposals specifically backed by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), effectively an organ of the party’s left, include a measure that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot in any future leadership contest, and a say for party members in who to select as candidates at general elections.

Under the plans, 15 per cent of MPs or MEPs would no longer have to nominate someone who wanted to stand as party leader – instead nominations could be secured from 15 per cent of MPs or MEPs, affiliated trade unions, or local constituency Labour parties.

A separate proposal would replace the existing “trigger ballot” system of re-selecting sitting MPs as candidates with a system where an MP would only be automatically re-selected if they gained two-thirds of the nominations from local members. If this threshold was not reached the MP would be included in an open selection process.

The CLPD says the change would abolish the idea that being an MP in a safe seat was a “job for life” and that the proposal is “a half-way house between full mandatory re-selection and the existing arrangements”.

Other proposals from the CLPD include wanting to abolish the one-year delay in introducing rule changes to the Labour constitution and giving local constituency Labour parties more power to bring motions at conference.

Constituency Labour parties are allowed to submit either a constitutional amendment or a contemporary policy motion for the annual conference, with deadlines in early July or September respectively. These motions are then considered by the NEC for debate or delayed until next year. Labour First and the CLPD have called on their allies in CLPs to endorse the motions.