Labour’s national executive committee decided in a meeting today to change the voting system used for its internal elections in a move that represents another win for Keir Starmer.
NEC members voted by 19 votes to 12 in favour of the move, which has been pushed for by the party’s soft left and the leadership but also attracted much criticism from activists on the left.
The switch from first-past-the-post to a single transferable vote (STV) system will affect the section of the NEC comprising nine representatives of local parties – less than a third of the whole body.
Under STV, supported by MPs including Alex Sobel and Sam Tarry, party members will rank the candidates for the multi-member local party section in order of preference. The change will apply to elections held this year.
Campaigners in Open Labour and Fair Internal Labour Elections (FILE) argue that the current system encourages “hyper-factionalism” and produces unrepresentative “one-slate-takes-all” results.
Tessa Milligan, a spokesperson for the campaign for FILE, commented: “This is a big win for Open Labour and FILE’s campaign for fairer representation of party members in future NEC elections.
“STV marks the start of the cultural change Labour needs to become more inclusive, democratic and unified. To win, candidates will have to draw support from across the membership and will be accountable to more members.
“This paves the way for the use of STV in elections to be expanded within the party, such as for NEC liberation officers and the party youth wing.”
Rachael Ward, co-chair of soft left group Open Labour, added: ”This is a long overdue reform that brings NEC elections in line with other major Labour Party elections such as leadership contests.
“This will ensure members’ votes actually count, ensure different groupings in the party are represented according to their relative support rather than handing sweeping majorities to whoever gets 51% of the vote share.”
Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, hailed it as a “major step forward for member democracy”, while a Politics for the Many spokesperson said it was a “real win for members across the party”.
But some on the party’s left wing, including the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), have argued against the reform on the basis that it could place more value on name recognition than politics.
Other activists on the Labour left say the new voting system would make it less likely that they could ever again win all nine places in the members’ section, as Momentum did during the Jeremy Corbyn era.
The main argument against the decision voted through by the NEC today is that members have not been consulted via party conference, with four party members threatening legal action for this reason.
Sophia Bolton, James Smith, Giovanna Dunmall and Ollie Hill – backed by Unite, ASLEF, BFAWU and FBU – instructed Bindmans LLP to send new general secretary David Evans a five-page legal letter.
LabourList has been told that the members are “serious” about their threat of legal action against the party over the STV move, and told after the meeting that they “intend to take it forward”.
Opponents of the STV change have said it amounts to a “constitutional amendment” and that according to the party rulebook these proposals should be approved by conference as the “supreme authority”.
Advocates of the STV reform have countered that it does not constitute a rule change, however, as the rulebook already states that NEC elections should be “conducted to guidelines laid down by the NEC”.
After the meeting, NEC rep Huda Elmi tweeted that the NEC had “decided to wage war on member democracy”, with local parties only being allowed to meet virtually to make nominations rather than to hold ordinary meetings.
Reacting to the result, a CLPD spokesperson said: “Many members will be deeply disappointed at this divisive decision by the party’s executive, to fiddle the methods of its own election.
“Despite this major set back for democracy in our party, we encourage members to remain in Labour so we can fight for a party which opposes the Tory government, rather than factionally attacking its own membership.”
The NEC elections planned to take place this summer will now go ahead on the following timetable according to LabourList sources:
- Friday 10 July 2020, noon – Deadline for candidate statement to be submitted to the ‘candidate portal’
- Saturday 11 July 2020 – CLP, trade union, Labour group and individual young members nominations open
- Sunday 27 September, midnight – CLP, trade union and Labour group nomination deadline
- Monday 19 October 2020 – Ballot dispatch begins
- Thursday 12 November, noon – Ballot closes
- Friday 13 November – Results announced
Local parties will be provided with an online platform to facilitate nominations for the NEC elections, LabourList understands. They will have between July 11th and September 27th, allowing for a ‘trial run’ of the nomination meeting if needed.
NEC rep Rachel Garnham proposed that local parties and branches should be allowed to resume business by meeting virtually, but it was defeated by 18 votes to 17. Evans will instead bring a paper to the next NEC meeting on these plans.
Keir Starmer was personally challenged at the NEC meeting over his comments on the Black Lives Matter movement, with Huda Elmi asking him to apologise for describing it as a “moment”.
Youth rep Lara McNeill, on the party’s left, also asked whether Starmer would take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to racism in the case of Rachel Reeves praising Nazi sympathiser Nancy Astor.
The leader replied that he was “not going to discuss that” in the absence of Reeves, according to a LabourList source, who pointed out that they had nonetheless discussed Rebecca Long-Bailey in her absence.