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4 September 2018

The long-term results of Labour’s NEC elections? An even more pro-Corbyn party membership

The results are more complex than the Corbynite hegemony suggested, but they’ll lead to it eventually.

By Stephen Bush

Pro-Corbyn candidates have swept the board in elections to the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, including Peter Willsman, for whom Momentum pulled support following the emergence of a leaked tape in which he railed against the 68 rabbis who signed a open letter on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and claimed “never to have seen” any anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. (The new NEC will take office after Labour Party conference later this month.)

Willsman’s remarks are particularly troubling because, like all members of the ruling executive, he sits on the disputes committee. If there is one group of people who should not be able to say with a straight face that they have never seen anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, it is the 39 members of the party’s National Executive Committee.

For Labour’s Corbynsceptics it will further deepen their gloom about their chances of any form of a revival: if they can’t win a seat on the NEC in these circumstances, when can they? And for others, it is proof that Labour is an institutionally racist party.

The truth is that the results are the subject of more analysis than they can reasonably bear. The reality of any postal ballot – whether by email or mail, and whether that’s for an internal party election, a general election or the executive of a wargaming society – is that the votes happen in two big lumps: the first and largest lump in the days immediately after ballots drop, and then another lump right at the end when people realise they are running out of time to vote. As I wrote back when Willsman was chucked off the Momentum slate, that his ouster happened after voting was already underway meant that it was always unlikely to have much effect either way.

As it stands, he did significantly worse than the other eight victorious candidates and had the various Corbynsceptic forces been better organised, they might be looking at a different result.

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But the reality is that what these results actually tell us is less important than what Labour’s power brokers and their supporters in the grassroots think it tells us. For some in Team Corbyn, this is a narrow escape that shows the need to be more discriminating in candidate selection in the future. For others, it’s a sign that doubling down and powering through is the way to win.

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Among Corbynsceptics, they are similarly divided between those who think that it shows that with better organisation they can win next time and that the gap between their candidates and the Corbynites is not so large as it appears. But for others, it is a sign that the Labour Party is irretrievably lost to them, and that “stay and fight” actually means “stay and lose”. Those members in the latter group will vote with their feet – making the party membership even more pro-Corbyn than it was even in his landslide victories in 2015 and 2016. So while the story of these results is more complex than the unending Corbynite hegemony suggested by some of this morning’s papers, they will result in that diagnosis in the longer term.