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Jeremy Corbyn has a big majority on Labour’s NEC - but limits on his power remain

Master of (almost all) he surveys.

Momentum have swept the board in the elections to Labour’s ruling national executive committee, with Jon Lansman, Momentum’s founder and chair, elected to the ruling body.

No news is big news

In a way, this story is “dog bites man”: Momentum-backed candidates took six positions out of six elected by members in 2016, won the Conference Arrangements Committee elections in 2017 and have now won the extra three positions created as part of a set of rule changes passed at Labour party conference.

Nor does it really change the political composition all that much. Yes, on paper, Jeremy Corbyn had quite a narrow majority if you were dividing members of the NEC, sheep and goats style between Corbynites and Corbynsceptics. However, in practice, the Labour leader had quite a comfortable majority provided at least two of the big trade unions (Unite, Unison, Usdaw and the GMB) were willing to play ball.  Now at least three have to work together in concert while retaining the support of the Corbynsceptic minority. Although the political directors of the big unions work closely together, it is hard to think of many issues on which a) they are all at odds with Corbyn and b) can rely on the votes of all of the NEC’s remaining Corbynsceptics.  Also, because Corbyn is ascendant, few of the NEC’s Corbynsceptic members are going to want to be the NEC member who blocks him. So while Corbyn is in possession of a handsome majority on the NEC, both that, and his remaining area of vulnerability on the ruling body, remains unchanged.

That matters as far as rule changes go. The trade unions have had a very successful period as far selections go since 2010, emerging as the overwhelming winner in contests in both by-elections and general elections over the last seven years, so I think it is unlikely that changes to selection will be as all-encompassing as we expect. A tweak to the reselection process, perhaps requiring a two-thirds majority rather than simply 50 per cent plus one to avoid a full selection process, maybe, but not much more than that.

Turnout is about what we expect

Turnout looks to have been in the region of 19 per cent, give or take.  Some Corbynsceptics are spinning that this is a blow for Corbyn or a sign the party needs to reflect, which, to be fair, is probably what I’d advise them to do in the circumstances.

However the figure is what we’d expect of an NEC election, particularly considering the expectation it was a foregone conclusion and the limited effect that the election is going to have on the balance of forces in the NEC in the short term.

Actually the most interesting story is how the Labour membership hasn’t changed all that much

For all there are a lot more people in the Labour party, they don’t seem to any more interested, proportionally speaking, in voting in NEC elections or participating in the constitutional structures of the Labour party than the pre-Corbyn membership. (In fact, the only noticeable difference between Labour members who joined before Corbyn’s leadership and afterwards is gender: the surge in membership has reduced the gap between the party and the country as a whole as far as the proportion of women in the party go.

The membership doesn't seem that “political” 

There was a lot of concern in what you might call the "professional" Labour left that lingering doubts about how Lansman had tackled dissent in Momentum would lead to people voting for candidates other than him, and allow Eddie Izzard or Johanna Baxter to slip through on name recognition. Instead Lansman came a strong second, well ahead of Rachel Garnham, a fellow member of his slate, and behind Yasmine Dar, a well-known Labour councillor from a city with a large Labour membership. 

Party activists don't seem to be voting that differently to how they did under Ed Miliband - that is, for the left slate but with "big names", wherever are they are in the Labour party, doing a bit better than their slates. 

For that reason I would be very careful before making any predictions about the party “changing forever” or being “permanently” on the left

It’s not too long ago that everyone was predicting that Ed Miliband’s party reforms would ensure that his replacement would be closer to his brother’s politics than his own.

It’s true – as these results once again remind us – that the left is currently ascendant in Labour and the centre-left is in what may be a prolonged recession. It seems likely that that the party’s next leadership election, if it takes place before 2022, will be a contest about who can most plausibly present themselves as loving Corbyn more. (And even in that contest you can see how any of Emily Thornberry, Angela Rayner, Laura Pidcock or Jon Ashworth might emerge as the winner, which gives you an idea of the relative ideological breadth as far as possible next leaders go.) But that doesn’t mean that Corbynite hegemony will be any more enduring than New Labour hegemony or Kinnockite hegemony before that. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Tracey Thorn. CRedit: Getty
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“Not technically beautiful, she has an engaging laugh”: 35 years of being described by men

For women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

I am sure you all saw the Twitter challenge that took off the other day – a request to women to “describe yourself like a male author would”, started by the writer Whitney Reynolds. There were thousands of hilarious replies, with women imagining how a bad male author would describe them. I thought about posting an example, but then realised, I didn’t have to imagine this. I’ve been being described by male journalists for more than 35 years.

Katy Waldman in the New Yorker wrote about the challenge, and how it highlighted clichés in men’s writing: “…prose that takes conspicuous notice of a female character’s physical imperfections. This is done with an aura of self-satisfaction, as if the protagonist deserves credit simply for bestowing his descriptive prowess upon a person of less than conventional loveliness.”

And oh boy, that hit home. Yes, I thought, that is precisely how I’ve been described, too many times to recall, so many times that I’ve actually sort of stopped noticing. The following aren’t direct quotes, but near enough.

“Not conventionally pretty, Thorn nevertheless somehow manages to be curiously attractive.” “Her face may not be technically beautiful but she has an engaging laugh.” “Her intelligence shines through the quirky features.” Often what’s irritating isn’t the hint of an insult, but just being wide of the mark. “She isn’t wearing any make-up” (oh my god, of course she is). “She’s wearing some kind of shapeless shift” (it’s Comme des Garçons FFS).

I’m not trying to arouse sympathy. I’m much thicker-skinned than you may imagine, hence surviving in this business for so long. But the point is, for women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

A few weeks ago, when I was in Brussels and Paris doing interviews, I was taken aback all over again by the absence of female journalists interviewing me about my album – an album that is being described everywhere as “nine feminist bangers”. As the 14th man walked through the door, my heart slightly sank. I feel like a bore banging on about this sometimes, but it astonishes me that certain aspects of this business remain so male-dominated.

Even the journalists sometimes have the good grace to notice the anomaly. One youngish man, (though not that young) told me I was only the third woman he had ever interviewed, which took my breath away. I look at my playlists of favourite tracks over the last year or so, and they are utterly dominated by SZA, Angel Olsen, Lorde, St Vincent, Mabel, Shura, Warpaint, Savages, Solange, Kate Tempest, Tove Lo, Susanne Sundfør, Janelle Monáe, Jessie Ware and Haim, so there certainly isn’t any shortage of great women. I’ve been asked to speak at a music event, and when I was sent the possible line-up I couldn’t help noticing that over three days there were 56 men and seven women speaking. The final bill might be an improvement on that, but still. Any number of music festivals still operate with this kind of mad imbalance.

Is it down to the organisers not asking? Or, in the case of this kind of discussion event, women often feeling they don’t “know” enough? It’s a vicious circle, the way that men and their music can be so intimidating. The more you’re always in the minority, the more you feel like you don’t belong. Record shops seemed that way to me when I was a teen, places where guys hung out and looked at you like you didn’t know your Pink Floyd from your Pink Flag.

I also have to watch songs of mine being described by male writers, and sometimes misinterpreted. I’ve got one called “Guitar” on my new record. There’s a boy in the lyrics, but he’s incidental – it’s a love song to my first Les Paul copy. That fact has sailed over the heads of a couple of male reviewers who’ve seen it as a song all about a boy.

That’s the trouble, isn’t it? You miss things when you leave women out, or view female characters through the prism of their attractiveness, or when you take for granted that you’re at the centre of every story, every lyric. I bet you think this piece is about you. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge