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Pro-Corbyn candidates sweep the board in elections to Labour’s ruling NEC

Pro-Corbyn candidates have taken all nine of the places elected by party activists on the 39-member body. 

By Stephen Bush

Pro-Corbyn candidates have won all nine of the places elected by lay members on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, with all of the members of the Momentum slate plus Peter Willsman, who was booted off the slate following a leaked recording of him ranting about the 68 rabbis who signed a letter calling for Labour to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance of antisemitism was leaked to the press. Some thoughts:

These elections are being subjected to more analysis than they can really bear

A lot of attention is being given to the fact that Willsman was re-elected onto the ruling National Executive Committee despite being kicked off the slate by Momentum, and what that tells us about the state of the Labour Party grassroots. Paul Ovenden, a former Labour Party staffer, suggested this morning that Willsman being re-elected would show that Chris Williamson, the outspoken pro-Corbyn MP who has been heavily criticised both by Corbynsceptics but also by loyal Corbynites as something of a crank, was closer to the mood of the median Labour Party member even than Jon Lansman or Angela Rayner.

I’m not convinced that these results tell us anything that dramatic. Firstly because turnout was so low – by my rough calculation just 30 per cent of members voted in this contest. The “average Labour Party member” doesn’t vote in elections to the ruling National Executive Committee. Secondly, the bulk of votes in all postal contests (and I’m defining both email and mail as postal for our purposes) are cast in two big lumps: the first immediately after ballots arrive in email inboxes and on doormats, the second right up against the deadline.

Of course, that means that the bulk of the ballots were cast before Willsman was kicked off the slate.

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Frankly, all we can say these results tell us about the Labour membership with any confidence is that Jeremy Corbyn is in a hegemonic position and is set to remain so for the duration. We knew that yesterday.

Nevertheless, Peter Willsman had a lucky escape

Willsman was the weakest member of the slate even before the tape emerged, with a great deal of muttering in Corbynite circles about his behaviour and conduct. He was the “worst winner” in 2016 and was again the worst-performing of the Momentum candidates. In 2016, he finished 12 points behind Ann Black (then on the Momentum slate) who came top of the poll. This year, he finished 14 points behind Yasmine Dar, who finished head of the pack this time. He was also much closer to costing the Labour left a place. In 2016, he was still six points ahead of Ellie Reeves, running on the Labour First/Progress slate. In 2018, he finished just two points ahead of Eddie Izzard, running as an independent.

The other important thing is, because these elections are First Past The Post, it seems likely in my view that were the Corbynsceptics better organised Willsman might not be on the NEC. All three flavours of Corbynscepticism: independent-minded by essentially true-blue Corbynite Ann Black, soft-left Eddie Izzard and the implacably opposed Progress/Labour First ticket all ran separately. Had Izzard and Black run as some kind of joint ticket with others from the centre of the party, we might be talking about a very different set of results.

These results raise serious questions for Labour First/Progress going forward

For the third successive election to the party’s ruling body, the official candidates of the party’s centre-left have been well-beaten by the candidates of the left.

What should be particularly alarming is that strong candidates without much factional baggage – Parmjit Dhanda, who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, who was defeated in 2016, and Gurjinder Singh Josan, of Hope not Hate, defeated this time – while running above the average performance for the centre-left, aren’t really coming within striking distance of winning places on the NEC.  

Bluntly you don’t have to talk to Labour Party members for very long to know that the brand of Progress and Labour First is very bad among the Labour rank-and-file. It may be that their presence is actively sabotaging the chances of a more heterodox set of candidates. Certainly that is the view of some of Izzard’s backers and it is not hard to see why on these results.

Turnout is down again, but the song remains the same.

Turnout is down again slightly. Labour Party members have always tended to treat elections to the NEC as second-order contests, and even in 2016, when the attempt to remove Corbyn from his post concentrated the minds of members, it was only 36 per cent (to give you an idea of the scale of the fall off, one in two of the members who elected Corbyn in 2015 and 2016 sat out the NEC election in 2016 even after it was demonstrated that the NEC held in its hands the ability to bring the Corbyn project to an abrupt end).

Team Corbyn won’t care though, as long as they continue to win handily.

The 2016 coup against Jeremy Corbyn continues to hurt Corbynsceptics

One of the long-running subplots of Labour politics is that Corbynsceptics cut their own throats with the manner of the 2016 attempt to dislodge him, which resulted in a much polarised 2016 result, a more politicised grassroots and helped pave the way for Corbyn’s current hegemony.

It does seem that there is a gradual unwinding of the extremely polarised 2016 result, both in terms of turnout and willingness for Labour members to vote for candidates from all slates and none. But it will be some time before any candidate (other than Willsman, and surely Momentum will not risk running him next time) looks in danger of losing their place through that gradual process of attrition alone.

Corbynsceptics may continue to pay a heavy price for the 2016 failure for some time to come.

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