The internal row between the party leadership and the Labour left deepened today as members of the ruling body were told that Ian Murray of the Fire Brigades’ Union would be blocked from becoming chair, LabourList can reveal.
Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) has operated a rotating chair system whereby the vice-chair, now the FBU’s Ian Murray, is supposed to become chair when the incumbent – currently Andi Fox – steps down.
This was applied under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, when UNISON’s Wendy Nichols became chair of Labour’s NEC after serving as vice-chair from 2018 despite the Labour left having a majority to block her in 2019.
The plan underway now is for longest-serving member Margaret Beckett – who represents the parliamentary party on the NEC – to become NEC chair, which will mean Murray does not head the body next.
Murray was one of the 14 NEC members to have signed a letter last week to general secretary David Evans arguing against Keir Starmer’s decision to withhold the whip following the lifting of Corbyn’s suspension.
Those figures leading the move to block Murray contend that the leadership is simply restoring the old system that saw the longest-serving NEC member become chair and the next longest-serving vice-chair.
Defenders of the plan say the tradition broke down in recent years after working for decades, and they hope to restore the old process because they think Beckett should not have been passed over for the chair role during the Corbyn era.
One Labour left NEC source told LabourList: “This flies in the face of all talk of unity, and the left on the NEC under Jeremy or Keir’s leadership has never acted this way, disregarding rules and standing orders as they please.
“Keir is clearly not interested in winning government, as his office are spending more time waging war on the left – people who support policies popular with the public, which he is clearly going to disregard.
“He should think again about his course of action and whether or not he wants a membership exodus and a divided party to be out of government for decades.” Another source said the left feels “very much under constant attack from Keir”.
But another NEC source told LabourList: “This is simply the restoration of the principle that has existed on the NEC for at least four decades until 2017… This is an important principle that means the chairing of the NEC cannot become a factional plaything.
“The factionalisation of decisions around who should be chair in the last four years has been deplorable – and it’s very reassuring that it is coming to an end.”
Beckett was first elected to the NEC in 1980, and is the longest-serving female MP overall. She was Labour’s first female deputy leader from 1992 to 1994, first female acting leader in 1994, Britain’s first female Foreign Secretary in 2006.
The Labour left has argued that the ‘Buggins’ turn’ system should see the longest-serving NEC member become the vice-chair of the body and only later the chair, which would allow Beckett to succeed Murray.
Sources on the party’s left have described the change to the system as “part of a wider attack on the left at every level of the party by the right, which is being actively endorsed by the leadership”.
One said: “That they would do this only a matter of days after an affiliated union announced it was launching a consultation on its continued relationship with the Labour Party shows how little they care about their relationship with the left trade unions.”
The left-wing Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) last week announced the launch of an upcoming membership consultation on whether the trade union should remain affiliated to the Labour Party.
It has also been rumoured that there are plans underway to stand someone against Andy Kerr from the left-wing Communication Workers’ Union as chair of the NEC’s organisational sub-committee known as ‘Org Sub’.
LabourList understands that committee chairs – who also get a place on the important NEC officers’ group – are set to be elected in January. The disputes panel is currently chaired by Momentum-backed Yasmine Dar.
Alice Perry has been tipped as a likely successor to Ann Henderson, who lost her NEC seat in the recent elections that saw the left slate win a majority of local party rep places but the pro-Starmer wing strengthened overall.
There has also been a development in the row over Jeremy Corbyn’s whip being suspended tonight, with chief whip Nick Brown asking him to apologise and edit or delete his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report.
Brown has sent a letter to Corbyn requesting that while a Parliamentary Labour Party investigation is underway he “unequivocally, unambiguously and without reservation apologise” for his comments made last month.