Conference 2021: Keir’s courage and the hard work of grassroots activists paid off

Luke Akehurst
© Rupert Rivett/Shutterstock.com

It’s the day after Labour Party annual conference and I’m still smiling broadly just thinking about what has been achieved during the week, and how it has taken Labour on a big step towards being the party that it should be – and a party ready for government.

We went into conference with the doubters whispering that Keir hadn’t got what it took to lead, and Momentum boasting that they had 55% of delegates and were going to sack the general secretary. But at Labour to Win, we went in cautiously and quietly optimistic because our network across the country had worked their socks off to elect excellent Constituency Labour Party (CLP) delegates, and provided us with accurate intel so we could map the likely balance of voting strength.

It was this knowledge that gave Keir the confidence to announce an incredibly bold package of democratic reforms to the rulebook just before conference. It was a package other leaders would have balked at trying to get through, or wasted a year of consultation and infighting over to arrive at a watered-down compromise. Keir’s courage and the hard work of grassroots activists in getting great delegates elected paid off, and then some.

The rules package passed with 53.67% support. Leadership candidates will now need 20% support from MPs, so fringe candidates who will be in conflict with our parliamentary party need not apply. The notorious £3 registered supporters are gone, and only committed members with six months’ membership will get to vote for leader. The days of mass recruitment to outvote hard-working Labour activists with flotsam and jetsam washed in from the mailing lists of single-issue pressure groups or far left micro-parties are gone.

The trigger process is reformed, so that the travesty where one third of branches can outvote the other two thirds to make an MP go through a full reselection is gone, and our MPs can look outwards to the electorate, not over their shoulders towards a minority of activists. The circus of conference debating 20 policy topics so there isn’t time to debate any of them properly and the fringe and esoteric can reach conference floor goes, as the number is reduced to 12.

The rule changes required by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to set up a new independent disciplinary process to deal with antisemitism and other cases involving protected characteristics was passed by a whopping 74%. This is despite Momentum disgracefully whipping their supporters to oppose it, showing they are fundamentally not serious about tackling antisemitism.

David Evans hit the ball out of the park with his speech and was rewarded with 57% of conference affirming him as general secretary. He now has a personal democratic mandate that no Labour general secretary has had before, thanks to Momentum’s stunt of trying to move against him.

A new national Labour Students organisation was created, filling the void left after Jon Lansman’s sectarian shutdown of the old student structure. A rule change that would have given conference the right to restore the whip to MPs (who could they have had in mind?) was heavily defeated.

An already strong majority for Keir on Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) was consolidated, with the Musicians’ Union replacing the Bakers in the trade union section. The national constitutional committee (NCC) ballot among CLP delegates saw Labour to Win candidates Arooj Shah and Judi Billing gain two seats from Momentum, unseating the incumbent chair.

This vote gives the best comparable numbers on the strength we had on conference floor among CLP delegates. Labour to Win got 51% of the vote and Momentum 49%, down from 70% in 2019 and 80% in 2018. There was a swing of 24.9% from Momentum to Labour to Win since the last conference, dramatically reflecting the shift in the political balance among members and CLPs since then.

We, and the wider public, were treated to impressive, policy-rich speeches by Rachel Reeves as Shadow Chancellor and by Keir as leader. The ugly attempts to disrupt Keir’s speech with heckling were deftly shrugged off and in fact backfired spectacularly, reminding viewers of the extent to which Keir has moved the party on from the recent past, and how isolated and extreme the rump of critics within the party are.

They say “fortune favours the bold”. Keir showed boldness, he showed courage, he showed leadership, and he was rewarded with a conference that has consolidated his grip on the party and his reputation with the public.

There’s another saying, one from JFK: “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” If Keir’s gambit hadn’t paid off, no doubt there would have been many armchair critics slamming him for taking a risk. But ironically this win does have thousands of parents. If you turned up to a CLP meeting and voted for mainstream delegates, if you were a mainstream delegate, if you helped Labour to Win in the leaflet tunnel at conference, you helped make this all happen. We won because we have a bold leader in Keir, but also because we are a movement of thousands of people.

This is just the beginning. There is so much more to do to make Labour electable again. There is so much to do inside the party: winning back regional conferences, CLPs, the new liberation structures, the new student structure, Young Labour. Next year, there will be NEC and NPF (national policy forum) elections to fight. We need even more good delegates elected to annual conference 2022 so it can be a real showcase before a possible general election.

Facing outwards, there will be crucial by-elections, there is a big set of local elections in May, and a general election could be called at any time. We have to be ready with organisation, with messaging, with policies to take on the Tories. This conference put us on a good start on the road to that election readiness.

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