Luke Akehurst: Yes, we lost the NEC elections but any talk of a split from Labour is simply silly

Luke Akehurst


Monday’s NEC results were an unusual experience for me. Usual in that I lost – plus ça change – but it was an odd feeling to increase my vote from 21,307 to 48,632 but lose an election with 18,000 more votes than when I won back in 2010. It’s reassuring to know Labour has 48,632 members who share my politics. We may be temporarily in the minority but there are still a lot of us!

Overall the results were clearly disappointing for my wing of the party, with the left slate taking all six seats in the CLP section, but not as overwhelming a victory in terms of votes for the pro-Corbyn candidates as we had expected.

It was distressing to see Ellie Reeves and Johanna Baxter lose their seats after many years of great service to members, with voting now on rigidly factional lines, ignoring their contribution even though they have done virtually nothing to offend the left and a lot that should please them.

However, two excellent mainstream candidates in the local government section, Alice Perry and Nick Forbes, both won overwhelming victories, reflecting the lack of penetration by Momentum into the ranks of local councillors.

Contrary to some of the online and media reaction, this does not give full control of the NEC to Corbyn. There is a net change of just one seat as the PLP section saw a seat go from left to right. When the new NEC takes office after Annual Conference, the solid vote for the Hard Left will be 16 if they all turn up, with 17 others. Thus NEC meetings will continue to be finely balanced and hinge on the personal decisions of the more independent-minded members like Ann Black, and the stance taken by the GMB and Unison. Moderates will win some votes and lose others just like we did in the pre-leadership election meeting.

The gap between the strongest performing moderate candidate and the left’s weakest was only 9,000 votes (81,000 vs 72,000). This isn’t the runaway left victory it is being portrayed as.

The left slate got 55 per cent of the vote this time, exactly the same as the 55 per cent it got in 2014. The moderate slate got 35 per cent this time, compared to 41 per cent in 2014. So the swing away from us was only three per cent, again not a runaway left victory given how much the membership has changed.

All the moderate candidates in the CLP section received more than double the votes we got in 2014. The influx of new members in 2015 clearly benefited the left most, but it has not been wholly one-sided. In any previous election we would have given our right arm to get 44,000 votes for all six of our candidates (in 2006 our lowest ranked candidate got under 8,000).

The highest-ranked candidate from the left slate was the one least associated with Corbyn and the Hard Left.

The electorate for the NEC election is not the same as for the leadership election and is the most advantageous it could be for the left as it includes all the Corbyn supporters who joined between January and June and none of the people who joined after 24 June angered by Corbyn’s lack of the EU Referendum or re-joined because they wanted to vote against Corbyn in the leadership election.

If we can avoid a split moderate vote in future contests (Eddie Izzard ran as an independent when we would have been happy to support him if he had asked us) that will help!

Where does this leave the moderate wing of the party?

Well the obvious point is that the leadership election has only just started and we don’t yet know who out of Momentum and Saving Labour was more successful in recruiting Affiliated Supporters (primarily from the unions) and registered supporters. The outcome of that battle is one variable, as is the outcome of the court appeal on whether members recruited after 12 January have automatic voting rights (I feel Corbyn’s supporters may have overestimated the partisan advantage they will get if they win this case, given that many people joined immediately after 24 June to be part of getting rid of him). The final variable is the political shift among previous Corbyn supporters caused by events over the last year and whether Owen Smith can effectively swing some of them over given the radical platform he is running on.

The CLP nominations point to a foregone conclusion but the above factors may make it premature to assume an easy Corbyn win.

Whether or not Corbyn wins Tom Watson signalled yesterday that there is an appetite to restore some checks and balances to Labour’s constitution. This would include both recreating the Electoral College for electing the leader, with one third of the vote each for MPs, union members and party members, so that each of Labour’s main stakeholders had an appropriate influence in picking the Leader; and restoring the right of the PLP to elect the Shadow Cabinet and thence the frontbench reps on the NEC. This would enable critics of Corbyn to serve in a Corbyn Shadow Cabinet with their own mandate. Either or both of these rule changes could be passed at Annual Conference this September if the major unions such as GMB, Unison and USDAW want them (I am assuming Unite does not).

What definitely isn’t on the agenda is silly talk about a split. If you have anything between 44,000 and 72,000 members voting for moderate candidates for the NEC you have the base to win back the Labour Party. Most of those members, me included, would rather temporarily be a minority in the Labour Party than wander off into the wilderness in some purist breakaway, repeating the tragic mistake that was the SDP but without the charisma and public popularity of the Gang of Four (there isn’t even a Bill Rodgers out there let alone modern versions of the three people can remember!). Anyone daft enough to toy with the idea of an SDP re-enactment society to go with Momentum’s Bennism re-enactment society will have given up on it when they saw YouGov’s poll last week showing it would only have 13 or 14 per cent support.

So the only choice we have is to stand and fight to restore Labour, our party that we love and have in many cases dedicated ourselves to for decades, to mainstream politics.

The NEC result was the first, not the last, of many battles.

Luke Akehurst ran for the NEC on the Labour First and Progress slate

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