Margaret Beckett elected as NEC chair after left stage digital walkout

© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Margaret Beckett has been elected as Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) chair at the first meeting of the new ruling body following a digital walkout by 13 members aligned with the party’s left.

Beckett, the longest-serving NEC member, has taken over from the TSSA’s Andi Fox as chair. The left had expected NEC vice-chair Ian Murray of the FBU to succeed Fox based on an existing rotating chair system.

Veteran Labour MP Beckett was instead elected unopposed, while Alice Perry – an Islington councillor who represents local government on the NEC – was chosen as the new vice-chair of the ruling body.

Before the walkout, Unite’s Howard Beckett and ex-MP Laura Pidcock made points of order criticising Keir Starmer. Although members left the online meeting, sources say it was quorate when the elections took place.

LabourList understands that Howard Beckett, Jayne Taylor, Ian Murray, Andi Fox, Mick Whelan, Andy Kerr, Pauline McCarthy, Lara McNeill, Mish Rahman, Laura Pidcock, Yasmine Dar, Nadia Jama and Gemma Bolton joined the walkout.

Sources have told LabourList that Angela Rayner was not present at the NEC meeting today, and that new Momentum-backed disabled representative Ellen Morrison stayed in the meeting but did not take part in the elections.

It is understood that the NEC’s ‘swing voters’ – local party rep Ann Black, GMB reps Tom Warnett and Kathy Abu-Bakir – all supported Beckett and Perry. Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard was not present.

Those who led the move to elect Margaret Beckett said the leadership was simply restoring the old system, in place until recently, according to which the longest-serving NEC member becomes chair and the next longest-serving vice-chair.

But newly elected NEC member Momentum’s Mish Rahman accused Starmer of “trying to play games with democracy” and “undermine the role of trade unions” with a “factional attack… reminiscent of the New Labour years”.

He added: “There can be no party unity until Starmer fully understands the need to work with the labour movement and the many tens of thousands of grassroots members who can help deliver a Labour government.

“Our walkout from the NEC today was to remind him of this, and to send a message that we will not put up with petty and repeated attacks on trade unions and members.”

LabourList can reveal that the 13 NEC members who walked out have written a letter to general secretary David Evans making the case that Starmer is “promoting factional division within Labour” through the change in NEC chair plans.

The “true reason” for Starmer wanted Margaret Beckett to become NEC chair, the letter argues, was that Ian Murray had signed a letter to Evans last week criticising Starmer for withholding the whip from Jeremy Corbyn.

The NEC members have asked Evans to “uphold the rulebook”, “maintain protocol”, “remind the leader that he is an officer of the NEC” and “prevent factionalism”. They have pledged to return to future NEC meetings.

Beckett, who was first elected to the NEC in 1980 and is the longest-serving female MP overall, is one of only three people in Labour history to have been leader, deputy leader and NEC chair, according to party sources.

Former Momentum chair Jon Lansman said he was “sorry Ian Murray wasn’t elected NEC chair because it was his turn”, but added that “we cannot argue with democracy” and advised members: “Get over it!”.

Commenting on the election of Beckett and Perry, new NEC member Luke Akehurst told LabourList: “Both of them are people who seek consensus, who are extremely experienced and who passionately care about returning Labour to electability.

“Margaret is an iconic figure who was on the NEC before many current NEC members were even born. She is unique in having been the first woman deputy leader, acting leader and Foreign Secretary, and is a figure that everyone across the party has the utmost respect for.”

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told LabourList he was “disappointed” that the union’s president Ian Murray was not elected, saying: “The decision will be seen as factional and a slap in the face to Labour’s trade union affiliates.

“Tens of thousands of ordinary party members have just voted for left-wing NEC candidates and their views are being ignored. Taken with the removal of the Labour whip from Jeremy Corbyn, this will be seen as another attack on the party left.”

Below is the full text of the letter to David Evans.

Dear David

As proud members of the NEC we find ourselves unable to stay in today’s meeting.

As you will be aware we recently wrote to you to request that you admonish the leader of Labour, Sir Keir Starmer, for his decision to undermine the role of the NEC by withdrawing the whip from Jeremy Corbyn MP.

The withdrawal of the whip directly undermined the legitimacy of the NEC decision to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn’s membership. It was made worse by Keir Starmer subsequently permitting his shadow cabinet members to make commentary on media that was clearly intended to undermine the legitimacy of the NEC process.

At today’s NEC the agenda item of election of the chair and vice-chair of the NEC appears. It is a matter of disagreement as to whether these agenda items can be heard absent the officers agreeing the agenda.

But regardless it has become apparent that the longstanding protocol of the vice-chair being elected as chair is not to be followed. Instead the leadership has lobbied for Dame Margaret Beckett to be chair. The public reason for such lobbying is to be given as Dame Margaret being the longest-serving member of the NEC. This is not protocol and is another example of the leader promoting factional division within Labour.

We believe the true reason for the leader lobbying for Dame Margaret, and indeed the reason that had been given by senior party MPs in private, is because the vice-chair, Ian Murray, was a signature to the previous correspondence sent to you seeking admonishment of the leader.

The leader’s decision to again promote factionalism comes at a time when the historic relationship with trade unions is under tremendous strain. Already we know that the Bakers’ Union are balloting their membership as to affiliation and the decision of the Leader to lobby and brief against the president of the FBU taking the chair, as would be protocol, must be seen in this context.

As the general secretary of the Labour Party you should be stepping in to uphold the rulebook, maintain protocol, remind the leader that he is an officer of the NEC and prevent factionalism.

We have decided not to remain in the NEC meeting today in order to show very clearly how factional the decisions of the current Labour leader have become. We will be returning to future NEC meetings to be the legitimate voice of the membership and to continue to demand that the party unite and reject the current factional approach of the leader.

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