Left-wing organisation Momentum is preparing to launch a campaign for the Labour Party to change its rulebook and enable all members to have a say in who takes up the top job of general secretary in future.
In the new year, Momentum will focus on the aim of passing a rule change at Labour conference in autumn 2021 that would scrap the current system of the national executive committee (NEC) appointing the party’s most senior official.
Under the rulebook now, Labour’s ruling NEC interviews candidates, draws up a shortlist and holds a vote to appoint the general secretary. This is how incumbent David Evans, favoured by Keir Starmer for the post, was chosen this year.
The rules state: “The general secretary shall be elected by party conference on the recommendation of the NEC”. But in effect the post holder is elected by the NEC, then rubber-stamped in a vote at the next annual conference.
Momentum is seeking to reform the process. The campaign group sees Evans as a “key factional player” who is implementing a “crackdown on rights of party members” via suspensions and limits on motions permitted for debate at local level.
The Labour left activists argue that the role is already heavily politicised, as evidenced – they say – from the way Evans has told local parties not to pass motions of solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn or motions of no confidence in the leadership.
Commenting on the campaign plans, Momentum co-chair Gaya Sriskanthan said: “The unjust suspensions of Labour members has revealed just how much unaccountable power the general secretary of the Labour Party has.”
She added: “This highly politicised role must be democratically accountable to the half a million Labour members who are the life and soul of our party.” It is not yet clear what shape the democratic process would take.
LabourList understands that a one-member-one-vote system along the lines of party leadership contests is one option, but Momentum’s national coordinating group, which has agreed the campaign, has not yet settled on a specific mechanism.
It is thought there will also be battles at conference over policy motions around the ten pledges put forward by Starmer as a leadership candidate. Activists are expected to propose motions along those lines to test his commitment to the policies.
Momentum is set in January 2021 to launch a “participatory” process and platform, through which its members will be able to have their say on which policy motions the organisation campaigns for at party conference.
“If the Labour Party is to get back into government for the first time in over a decade, it must become a dynamic movement for democracy that lives and breathes the values we want to see across the country,” the co-chair said.
Referring to the idea of Labour MPs no longer being automatically reselected as well as the general secretary change, Sriskanthan concluded: “From an elected general secretary to open selections, this is how we build that movement.”
Momentum’s leadership changed hands in July, with co-founder Jon Lansman being replaced by climate activist Sriskanthan and firefighter Andrew Scattergood. Lansman had also encouraged debate over general secretary elections.
In a recent LabourList interview, Lansman – who unsuccessfully ran for the post in 2018 – said he would like to see Labour’s general secretaries elected on a fixed-term basis, with the NEC doing the interviews and shortlist.