Why Labour’s ruling NEC needs Grassroots Voice candidates

Rachel Garnham

As a Constituency Labour Party (CLP) representative standing down from Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) this year, I wanted to give my perspective on the upcoming elections, and the difference that can and must be made by having representatives who will genuinely act in the interests of grassroots members.

For the last few years, Labour’s 39-member NEC has had a centre-left majority that has changed the party in the interests of members. In 2018, all nine of the CLP representatives elected were strong supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and his agenda of democratisation. Alongside promoting the policies, processes and organisation needed to win elections, we have done our very best to push that agenda forward on the NEC by working with comrades in trade unions and the shadow cabinet.

Labour’s democracy review brought significant improvements. Under Tony Blair, party conference was reduced to keynote speeches by the chosen few while the influence of members was diminished. A centre-left majority on the NEC changed that: four policy discussions have become 20, and the ridiculous ‘contemporary’ criteria have been abolished. Conference – when it happens – is no longer a leadership rally but a collective endeavour where all members, with the experience we bring from our local communities, have a much greater say in party policy.

As left-wing CLP representatives, we have prioritised reforms to the equalities structures of our party. We have created new NEC seats directly elected by BAME and Disabled members for the first time. Next year’s standalone, policy-making women’s conference is due to elect a committee to lead the rebuilding of our national women’s organisation. We have introduced greater democracy at a regional level. And while we were unsuccessful in achieving open selections, the campaign led to reforms that made trigger ballots easier to activate, which if properly implemented mean MPs are more accountable to the membership.

But the centre-left majority has disappeared with the new leadership. The appointment of three new shadow cabinet representatives to replace the wonderful Diane Abbott, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Jon Trickett, as well as victory in the NEC elections for three candidates supported by the right, has radically changed the NEC.

The new majority vote against even the mildest attempts to stand up for members and grassroots democracy. For example, I put forward an amendment to the paper agreeing a timetable for the NEC elections that said CLPs should be able to meet formally to take forward their usual business as well as NEC priorities. The new majority voted against it.

I also tabled an amendment to the Forde Inquiry arguing that the terms of reference should include the alleged misuse of money during the 2017 general election campaign – again voted down. They also opposed the introduction of a single transferable vote (STV) being discussed at conference – a purely factional move, apparently done to diminish the impact of the left, despite it overriding the rights of members to decide important changes to the rulebook.

What can left-wing CLP representatives now achieve?

  • Grassroots Voice candidates will do all they can to hold Keir Starmer to his leadership pledge on democratic selections and speak out when the rights of members are curtailed, such as in the recent West of England mayoral candidate selection. Where there are NEC members on panels, it’s important that left-wing NEC representatives are available to ensure these panels follow due process.
  • With Yasmine Dar and Ann Henderson, I have prioritised fighting for a just and transparent disciplinary process, working to improve efficiency and fairness, and highlighting abuses of natural justice. It is imperative we have left-wing CLP representatives who speak up for members and try to ensure due process.
  • The NEC has an important role in holding the leadership to account. For example, Huda Elmi spoke for thousands of us when she questioned Keir Starmer on his belittling use of “moment” to describe Black Lives Matter. We need left-wing CLP representatives who understand that pandering to the right-wing press and a return to focus group politics is a dead end for Labour.
  • Finally, we need CLP representatives who are in touch with and value members and who will speak up in the interests of all members – for example by raising issues such as technology, funding, restrictions on debate and national and regional support. Labour needs the energy and ideas of an active and empowered mass membership to stand a chance of election victory.

Now more than ever, we need assertive left-wing voices who will stand up for members’ interests and take a stand when the leadership makes the wrong call. To that end, I urge you to vote for the Grassroots Voice candidates Yasmine Dar, Laura Pidcock, Ann Henderson, Mish Rahman, Gemma Bolton and Nadia Jama to be your CLP representatives.

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