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21 September 2016

How Jeremy Corbyn’s NEC opponents have been strengthened

The addition of Scottish and Welsh representatives is likely to hinder the left. 

By George Eaton

For Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour opponents, facing a second landslide defeat this Saturday, small victories count. At yesterday’s eight and a half hour NEC meeting, they achieved one. Labour’s 33-member ruling body agreed that Scottish and Welsh representatives would be added to the committee (a change some had wanted for years). If the move is approved by the party’s conference, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, or a designated frontbencher, will sit with voting rights. 

The political consequence will be to tilt the body in a more anti-Corbyn direction. Dugdale has called on the Labour leader to resign and endorsed Owen Smith, while Jones said he would have found it “very difficult” to carry on if he had lost a vote of confidence. 

NEC members originally proposed adding six new posts (to represent Scotland, Wales, the trade unions and local government). But Corbyn objected on the grounds that they would not be elected by members (his key powerbase). “It was clearly a factional manoeuvre,” an ally told me. Though this proposal failed, the new Scottish and Welsh members were approved by a vote of 16-14. 

The recent NEC elections, in which left-wing candidates won all six constituency positions, led some to suggest that Corbyn had achieved “control” of the NEC. But even before last night’s decision, the Labour leader lacked a majority for many of the radical rule changes floated by his allies. The left, an NEC member told me, had no majority for mandatory reselection of MPs, a reduced leadership nomination threshold (from 15 per cent to 5 per cent) or for “purging party staff”. For Corbyn, Labour’s ruling body remains an obstacle, rather than an aid, to the remaking of the party. 

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