Labour’s ruling body descends into infighting over NEC chair role

Sienna Rodgers
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Labour criticised rumoured plans of a public sector pay freeze last week, but was not keen to consider the policy a fait accompli: the Treasury has a habit of briefing tougher measures before revealing kinder-than-expected ones. With the spending review set to be unveiled tomorrow, the opposition is now attacking the freeze with certainty, however. Angela Rayner has called the move a “disgrace” and reiterated Labour’s 2019 policy of a real living wage of at least £10 an hour for all workers. This is not the only demand of the labour movement ahead of the Chancellor’s statement: the TUC is again emphasising that scrapping the Union Learning Fund would be hugely counterproductive, particularly at this time, and MPs are calling for increased sick pay.

Labour’s key message on the economy: responsibility. Anneliese Dodds made that theme clear in her speech to Reuters yesterday, which argued that the public deserves a “responsible approach from their Chancellor” and that Labour “would make responsible choices”. This ties in with Bridget Phillipson’s emphasis on “value for money” during the coronavirus crisis. The party is acutely aware that it still has a long way to go before it is trusted by voters on the economy, and that this is only going to become more potent as an electoral factor amid a Covid recovery.

Keir Starmer adopted a similar tone when responding to the Prime Minister’s Covid plans in the Commons. Boris Johnson confirmed to MPs, via dodgy video link, that the English lockdown will end on December 2nd and be replaced by a return to the three tiers. Those tiers will be uniform – not subject to local negotiations – and tougher than before. But the Labour leader branded the move “risky” and pointed out that last time it resulted in a national lockdown. “There are huge gaps in this plan, huge uncertainties and huge risk,” Starmer concluded. Johnson merely cracked a couple of jokes and experienced technical difficulties in response, but the opposition leader has put his concerns on the record.

In internal Labour news, Jeremy Corbyn has been told by chief whip Nick Brown to apologise for the comments that led to his suspension and edit or delete the original Facebook post. Few believe that the former party leader will issue such an apology, and the matter will therefore go through the courts or drag on until Corbyn’s disciplinary case goes through a new independent system. Meanwhile, the party’s left flank is struggling to keep hold of any power base. The leadership is changing the process by which Labour’s national executive committee chair is chosen, which will see Margaret Beckett head the body rather than the FBU’s Ian Murray who signed the letter criticising Corbyn’s whip suspension last week.

The first meeting of the new NEC is taking place today, and it was set to be another long and fiery one – but I’ve just been told the Labour left have walked out, digitally speaking. They are furious, as reported last night, over the NEC chair decision that they say represents a rejection of left-wing trade unions, especially after the Bakers’ Union last week announced it would consult members on staying affiliated to Labour. A row over Young Labour aggravated the situation after its new chair said Labour’s head office had ordered the removal of a statement opposing the Corbyn whip decision. Margaret Beckett has been elected unanimously as Labour’s new NEC chair and Alice Perry as vice-chair. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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