The internal election the Labour left is really worrying about

Divisions on the Corbynite left have led some to worry that they could lose control of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The eyes of the Labour Party are unsurprisingly fixed on the elections for Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson’s successors – but some on the left of the party are rather more animated by another internal poll. 

As of last month, there are two vacancies for constituency party representatives on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee: Nav Mishra and Claudia Webbe, who were both elected as part of Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’s #JC9 slate in the summer of 2018, are now MPs.

Both won handily last time. Yet some on the Labour left worry that the by-election to replace them could yet be lost. Momentum and the CLPD are already at loggerheads over the shape of the left’s slate. The latter group has objected to the absence of BAME candidates on Momentum’s slate. Pete Willsman, the CLPD’s secretary, says it will run its own. Other left candidates are standing independently. 

Thoughtful Corbynites fear that the net effect will be a split left vote that hands the two seats to the right, which is running a united slate under the auspices of Labour First. This, they fear, could be just as consequential for the left’s internal standing as losing the leadership. Why? The NEC, of course, has the power to constrain or effect a leader’s will. If it loses its NEC majority, the left largely loses its ability to meaningfully resist, whatever Keir Starmer wants to do.

That, in a nutshell, is their fear. “Even before Keir is elected and appoints new PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] reps to the NEC, the left is handing power to the right through the CLP route,” says one trade unionist. “Without Jeremy as the glue to hold the left together, the whole thing is falling apart. The entire past five years has been built on him and now the dominoes are in motion: the NEC, the leader, the general secretary, and the staff.” Without left unity, the first of those dominoes could fall sooner than expected.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.