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Christine Shawcroft’s Facebook posts expose the real row at the top of Labour

It’s all a matter of discipline. 

Is the battle to become Labour’s next general secretary turning nasty? Christine Shawcroft, one of Momentum’s directors and one of the nine members of the 39-strong body elected by ordinary party activists, has hit the headlines after posting on Facebook that Labour’s big trade unions were no friends of the Labour left and that ending the trade union link was long overdue.

Shawcroft, who was recently elected chair of Labour’s disputes panel – which adjudicates on whether to dismiss disputes or refer them to the national constitutional committee, the party’s disciplinary body – is a close ally of Jon Lansman, who is competing for the general secretary role against Jennie Formby, a Unite official. Understandably, the general assumption is that the row's cause is down to feelings running high over the contest.

But, having spoken to many of the members of Labour’s ruling national executive committee, last night’s row was not caused by the Lansman-Formby split, but was itself illustrative of one of its causes: that there is a feeling in parts of the Labour left that the trade union movement is not a wholly reliable ally.

The role of the disputes panel is not to decide guilt or innocence, but merely whether someone has a case to answer at the NCC. However, several of those present felt that Shawcroft and other members elected on the Momentum slate wanted to rake over the cases rather than simply referring them upwards. Whether or not that impression is correct, the big trade unions all voted with the Corbynsceptics (or the Labour right or whichever label you like really) on the disputes, and the series of unbroken defeats was a cause of Shawcroft’s frustration. 

I’m told that Shawcroft is feeling badly bruised by the remarks, which were made in anger, and that she was surprised at how quickly they took off online.

What does it mean for Lansman’s chances of becoming general secretary? Well, it makes very little difference. As far as the national executive committee’s decision on the next general secretary goes, there are two swing votes: the big trade unions (with the exception of Unite) and the NEC’s Corbynsceptics. For the shortlisting process – which is done by the nine-strong NEC officers group – the big trade unions matter most. Often in Labour history, the hand that controls the shortlist controls the result, as they can manufacture a “cake or death” style choice, in which the full NEC has only the preferred choice of the big trade unions or an unsuitable candidate.

The NEC’s Corbynsceptics are divided as to what their objectives are. For some, there is a feeling that Corbyn has earned the right to do as he wishes, which pushes them towards voting for Formby, considered to be the leader’s office preferred candidate. For others, the aim is to “heighten the contradictions”, as one quipped, which points the towards Lansman. For others it is to preserve the Labour party, which could point in either direction. But as far as that crucial group of swing voters goes, the calculation they will make won’t be based on whether any of Lansman or Formby’s supporters say things they dislike, as they already know they are likely to viscerally disagree with the next general secretary.

What it does do is boost the chances of Paul Hilder, a Corbynite – but one without any faction behind him – or another, as yet unknown person from the left, to emerge as the unity candidate late on.

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.

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I'm not going to be General Secretary, but the real fight to change Labour is only just beginning

If Labour gets serious about a new politics, imagine the possibilities.

For a second time, I was longlisted for the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party this week. For a second time, just as in 2011, I was eliminated in the first round. The final shortlist now consists of two veteran trade unionist women leaders, Jennie Formby of the Unite union and Christine Blower - formerly of the National Union of Teachers and the Socialist Party. I met them both yesterday at the interviews; I congratulate them, and look forward to hearing more about their ideas for Labour party renewal.

Last week in both the New Statesman and LabourList, I explained why I thought we needed a General Secretary “for the many”. I set out a manifesto of ideas to turn Labour into a twenty-first century campaigning movement, building on my experience with the Bernie Sanders campaign, Momentum, Crowdpac, 38 Degrees and other networked movements and platforms.

I called for a million-member recruitment drive, and the adoption of the new “big organising” techniques which combine digital and face-to-face campaigns, and have been pioneered by the Sanders movement, Momentum, Macron and the National Nurses Union in America. I set out the case for opening up the party machine in a radical but even-handed way, and shared ideas for building a deeper party democracy.

I noted innovations like the Taiwanese government’s use of online deliberation systems for surfacing differences, building consensus and finding practical policy solutions. Finally, I emphasised the importance of keeping Labour as a broad church, fostering more constructive internal discussions, and turning to face outward to the country. I gladly offer these renewing ideas to the next General Secretary of the party, and would be more than happy to team up with them.

Today I am launching, a new digital democracy platform for the Labour movement. It is inspired by experience from Taiwan, from Barcelona and beyond. The platform invites anyone to respond to others’ views and to add their own; then it starts to paint a visual picture of the different groupings within the movement and the relationships between them.

We have begun by asking a couple of simple questions: “What do we feel about the Labour party and movement? What’s good, and what’s more difficult?” Try it for yourself: the process is swift, fun and fascinating. Within a few days, we should have identified which viewpoints command the greatest support in the movement. We will report back regularly on this to the media.

The Labour movement is over 570,000 members, thousands of elected representatives, a dozen affiliated unions and millions of Labour voters. We may disagree on some things; but hopefully, we agree on far more. Labour Democracy is a new, independent and trustworthy platform for all of us to explore our differences more constructively, build common ground, and share ideas for the future. I believe Labour should be the political wing of the British people, as close to the 99 per cent as possible – and it will ultimately only be what we make of it together.

Yesterday I spoke over Skype with Audrey Tang, the hacker and Sunflower Movement leader who is now Digital Minister of Taiwan. Audrey is a transparent politician, so she has since posted a video of our conversation on YouTube. I recommend watching it if you are at all interested in the future of politics. It concludes with her reflections on my favourite Daoist principle, that true leadership leaves the people knowing that they have made change themselves.  

This General Secretary recruitment process has been troubled by significant irregularities, which I hope the party learns from. The story is considerably more complex and difficult than is generally understood. I have spent considerable time in the last week trying to shine greater light on the process in the media and social media, and encouraging the national executive committee, unions and politicians to run a more open and transparent process. I even started a petition to the NEC Officers group, calling for live-streamed debates among the candidates for this crucial and controversial party management role. I very much hope that there is no legal challenge.

Most importantly, the last week has exposed a significant fault line in Labour between the new left and the old left. When Jon Lansman of Momentum entered the contest against the “coronation candidate” Jennie Formby, many people read this as a fight between two factions of the old left. But Jon’s intent was always to open up a more genuine contest, and to encourage other candidates – particularly women – to come forward. Having played the role only he could play, he eventually withdrew with dignity. His public statements through this process have been reflective of the best of the new politics. And despite our very different political journeys, he kindly agreed to be one of my referees.

There has been plenty of the old transactional machine politics going on behind closed doors in the last couple of weeks. But out in the open, the new left movements and platforms have shown their strength and relevance. Momentum emailed all its members encouraging them to apply for the role. On Facebook Live, YouTube and podcasts like All The Best, the Novara Media network has been thoughtfully anatomising the contest and what it means for the future of the left. Even the controversial Skwawkbox blog finally agreed to cover my candidacy, and we had a constructive row about the leaked memo I wrote for Corbyn’s office back in December about how to win the next election using data, organising and every new tool in the box.

I am worried about the old left, because I feel it is stuck in a bunker, trapped in a paradigm of hierarchical power and control. The new left by contrast understands the power of networks to transform conversations and win hearts and minds.

The old left yanks at levers, and brokers influence through a politics of fear and incentives. But this tired game is of decreasing relevance in this day and age. The new left has the energy, the reach, the culture and the ideas to build a new common sense in this country, and to win decisive victory for Labour and progressives in the next general election – if the old left will partner with it. 

I am keen to help. So are many others. I hope we can start to have a more constructive and equal conversation in Labour soon. Otherwise an exodus may begin before long; and no-one wants that.

Paul Hilder is an expert on new politics and social change. He is a co-founder of Crowdpac, 38 Degrees and openDemocracy. He has played leadership roles at, Avaaz and Oxfam, and was a candidate for general secretary of Labour in 2011.