Labour’s NEC by-elections just got even more complicated

Sienna Rodgers

Labour is currently holding by-elections for three places on its ruling body, the national executive committee (NEC), after the spots were vacated by Navendu Mishra, Claudia Webbe and Keith Vaz. The first two were local party representatives, but have now become Labour MPs and cannot be both according to party rules. After retiring as an MP, Vaz also stood down as the NEC’s BAME representative.

Candidates seeking to replace those three are currently seeking local party nominations, and the BAME rep hopefuls will also be pursuing trade union support. To secure a place on the ballot paper, those seeking to become CLP representatives on the NEC must first be nominated by five CLPs, while BAME rep candidates must either be nominated by five CLPs or by two trade unions.

Corbynsceptic organisations Labour First, thought to be ‘old right’, and Progress, seen as Blairite, got their joint slate sorted out in a timely manner. They are backing Johanna Baxter, a former NEC member, and Gurinder Singh Josan, chair of Sikhs for Labour for CLP reps and Carol Sewell for BAME rep. Our rolling list of CLP nominations, which is being constantly updated, shows that Baxter is now the frontrunner with 62.

On the Labour left, it’s been a different story. Everyone involved appears to be appalled at the chaotic antics that have surrounded the process of trying to get a Labour left joint slate together. Corbynite onlookers are disappointed. After unsuccessful meetings and at least two revisions, Momentum has now decided on its CLP slate: Lauren Townsend and Leigh Drennan. No final decision on BAME spot has yet been made, though it is thought likely that Momentum will endorse Nav Mishra to get him back on the NEC.

Both Townsend and Drennan are considered to be the candidates best-placed to gain wider support in the labour movement, particularly from trade unions. They are both firmly on the Labour left and without histories of being suspended from the party. They are both white, however, which attracted criticism as Momentum’s slate aims to replace two BAME NEC members – Mishra and Webbe – with two white members. The NEC only recently lost Chinese for Labour chair Sarah Owen as its GMB rep, too.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) hasn’t agreed to both of those suggestions, opting to back Townsend but Cecile Wright instead of Drennan. (CLPD dropped Mohammed Azam, who they were originally backing.) Labour Representation Committee (LRC), meanwhile, has also produced a different left slate: Jo Bird, the Birkenhead councillor who was suspended after joking about “Jew process”; and Deborah Hobson, who is also endorsed by Momentum Black Caucus. Although president of the LRC, John McDonnell appeared to back the Momentum slate today. And the Labour Left Alliance is recommending Jo Bird for CLP and Mehmood Mirza for BAME.

Before you say People’s Front of Judea, Judean People’s Front, here is where it has become even more complicated. Azam and Bird have now been suspended from the Labour Party by the NEC. As Momentum chair Jon Lansman sits on the ruling body as a CLP rep, this has given rise to claims of a “stitch up” from those on the left who have defended Bird – a Jewish member, supported by Jewish Voice for Labour – from accusations of antisemitism and consistently oppose Lansman from the Momentum grassroots, which is often at odds with the organisation’s leadership.

The Labour Party will not comment on the specifics of disciplinary cases and there is no certainty over the subject of the complaints against Azam and Bird. A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

The two suspended members are now ineligible as NEC candidates. Does this increase the chances of a unity Labour left slate? It doesn’t look like it so far. The Labour Left Alliance has tweeted to encourage Labour members to continue nominating Azam and Bird at their CLP meetings, saying: “The more nominations, the more pressure to allow a fully democratic election!”

The Labour left is in turmoil. The NEC chaos will be particularly frustrating for members who were disappointed by the result of the West Midlands mayoral selection race and are now worried about losing the left majority on the NEC – as well as, of course, the actual roles of Labour leader and deputy leader.

NEC slates so far…

Labour First – Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan for CLP, Carol Sewell for BAME

CLPD – Lauren Townsend and Cecile Wright for CLP

Momentum – Lauren Townsend and Leigh Drennan for CLP, none for BAME yet

Labour Left Alliance – Jo Bird and Mohammed Azam for CLP, Mehmood Mirza for BAME

Labour Representation Committee – Jo Bird and Deborah Hobson for CLP, Hassan Ahmed for BAME

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