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Issue #1751      October 5, 2016

Democracy undermined

BRITAIN: Labour Party members voted resoundingly for Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, but that cuts little ice with those determined to undermine him.

National executive committee officials and some conference delegates can repeat the “in a spirit of unity” mantra, but the rule change to authorise party leaders in Scotland and Wales to nominate two new NEC (National Executive Committee) members is dodgy.

It undermines the principle of members being elected and it was designed to alter the NEC political balance.

Enhancing Scottish and Welsh Labour autonomy is long overdue, especially since New Labour brought the party in Scotland to its knees. Former Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan’s insistence on issues concerning Wales being decided there – summed up in his reference to “clear red water” between Welsh Labour and Labour HQ – helped prevent a similar fate for Wales.

National autonomy is a democratic essential, which Welsh Grassroots Labour has long supported, along with a Welsh Labour NEC representative elected by one member one vote, but it is a million miles away from personal nominees sitting on the NEC.

Shenanigans, played out live on TV, did little for Labour’s democratic reputation, from having a single vote to cover a bundle of unrelated rule changes emanating from the NEC to the failure of conference chair Paddy Lillis to recognise any speaker opposing the proposal.

The crudity of the operation, excused by pretexts of saving conference time or moving swiftly to policy debates to take the battle to the Tories, was breathtaking. It smacked of a return to the worst days of Blairism when New Labour ruthlessly drove through constitutional amendments to underpin right-wing change.

This year’s elections to the national executive committee for constituency parties resulted in a clean sweep for six Centre Left Grassroots Alliance members who were perceived as broadly pro-Jeremy Corbyn and tipping the political balance on the NEC.

That balance will be reversed when, as expected, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale takes up her seat on the committee and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones nominates his personal champion.

The NEC has untrammelled power to decide on how parliamentary candidates are chosen, whether reselection challenges can take place and, as the leadership ballot showed, who could vote in the contest.

The Court of Appeal ruled that general secretary Iain McNicol had virtually unlimited power over internal elections, including the right to apply a six-month cut-off date for full members to be eligible to vote, denying 128,000 fully paid-up comrades their democratic rights.

That’s apart from a possibly even larger figure that fell foul of the unaccountable NEC Star Chamber that axed members at will. Had McNicol not been outvoted by the NEC, he and those close to him would have rejected Corbyn’s right to defend his leadership against Owen Smith’s challenge.

This is the same Corbyn who romped home in all three voting categories, so scrubbing his name from the ballot paper would have amounted to a monstrous denial of democracy to the entire party membership.

The Labour bureaucracy’s machinations in response to Corbyn’s election confirm that a rearguard action has been mounted to undermine the leader and minimise change. Labour members must be wary of those prattling about the “spirit of unity” and be vigilant to defend democratic norms and Corbyn’s new political direction.

Morning Star

Next article – Building a terror state

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