The ambition of Jeremy Corbyn and his allies is not to change Labour temporarily but to do so permanently. They want to ensure that their project cannot be dismantled with the ease that Blairism was.
The Labour left recognises that its current strength – unprecedented in the party’s 118-year history – may not endure. Activist groups such as Momentum are determined to democratise Labour while they have the chance and ensure a Corbynite legacy.
It is this that explains the drive to reform the party’s internal structures. At last night’s meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee, the left did not secure all the changes it wanted but it still advanced.
Open selections – which would allow candidates to automatically stand against incumbent MPs (and achieve a more left-leaning PLP) – were rejected. But the “trigger ballot” system was significantly reformed. Rather than the support of 50 per cent of local party branches and trade union/affiliate branches, only the backing of a third of either is now needed to initiate an open selection. This will make it harder for Labour MPs to avoid deselection by securing the support of multiple branches, however low their membership.
Meanwhile, the changes to the leadership election system will not prevent Corbynite candidates reaching the ballot in future contests. As well as nominations from 10 per cent of Labour MPs/MEPs, contenders now require the support of 5 per cent of Constituency Labour Parties or 5 per cent of trade unions and affiliates. But this additional hurdle is too modest to keep left candidates off the ballot (an earlier proposal would have forced them to win the backing of at least two trade unions accounting for 5 per cent of the membership).
Finally, the agreement to elect a second – female – deputy leader will further marginalise Tom Watson (who has been denied a conference speech), one of the few non-Corbynites left in the party’s ruling heights.
The challenge now facing the Labour left is to identify an eventual successor to Corbyn – Emily Thornberry and Angela Rayner are closer to the party’s “soft left” – and to ensure the project maintains grassroots support (as New Labour did not). The Blairites rue their failure to prevent the coronation of Gordon Brown in 2007 – the Corbynites are determined not to make the same mistake.