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Labour’s NEC elections

August 28th, 2006


A guest contribution from Andrea

At the beginning of August the Labour NEC election results for the CLPs division were announced. Members can elect six members to the party ruling body and 16 candidates were contesting the election: the two main slates, “Grassroots Alliance” (the Left wing slate) and “Labour First” (the so called “loyalist” slate), were joined in the race by a handful of independent candidates.

The result showed 4 candidates (Black, Shawcroft, Willsman and Wolfgang) from Grassroots Alliance being elected and 2 from Labour First (Wheeler and Reeves).

In the 2004 election 3 successful candidates were from the Grassroots Alliance and 3 from the Milibank slate. So it’s an improvement for the left wing slate that for the first time since 1998 has 4 out of 6 members directly elected. (They had held 4 seats at times in the more recent past, but only after various members resigned their seats and so the next-ranking candidates got in their place).

The poll was topped (as it was in 2004) by Ann Black. Not a surprise, considering she’s extremely hardworking and the most “mainstream” among GA candidates allowing her to get votes outside the “left” of the party.

Grassroots’ Christine Shawcroft (a long standing NEC member and on the Labour Left Briefing editorial board) and Peter Willsman (a leading figure in the “Campaign for Labour Party Democracy” organization) came second and third. They increased their total vote even though turnout was down.

Richmond’s most famous heckler, Walter Wolfgang (pictured), came in 4th place. Labour First’s candidates Peter Wheeler (Salford CLP chairman and Amicus officer) and Ellie Reeves (former National Chair of Labour Students) got the last two places on the NEC.

The election can be seen as a win for the Left of the party. The Grassroots Alliance slate was probably better organized and Labour First suffered from not fielding this time two vote-winning candidates from previous contests (Ruth Turner and Shahid Malik). It must be said that also the Grassroots Alliance “lost” a high profile candidate (Mark Seddon) this time, but Walter Wolfgang proved a better replacement than some new candidates. like Philomena Muggins (yes, I know, she sounds like a Harry Potter character. But I swear she’s real!) on the Labour First slate.

Some commentators painted the result as a defeat for Blair and the leadership. If on one hand it’s true that they aren’t probably welcoming monthly meetings with Walter Wolfgang and Christine Shawcroft, and it’s hardly a good result for Labour First, on the other hand I think the NEC election shouldn’t be over-estimated, especially because of the turnout.

It reached a record low: just 20.3% party members voted this year. The total score got by Ann Black this year would have placed a candidate just in 11th place in 2002. The poor turnout certainly shows a lack of interest among the membership. Labour should hope that it’s just for internal party elections and factions and it’s not a general lack of enthusiasm toward the party. Added to a declining party membership, disaffected members can be fatal at the next GE when the party will need many motivated party members in the streets to fight the Tories, the Lib Dems, the Nats and all other parties.

A revealing comment was made by Christine Shawcroft in the run up of the 2005 GE: “We are concentrating resources on national call centres and mail shots because the Party has never been so short of active members, and CLPs are reporting that there are no troops on the ground for knocking on the doors or even delivering the leaflets”. Polls are already indicating that Labour voters are less willing to turnout in a GE, so the same trend should be avoided among members.

This lack of interest by the membership should be an alarm bell for the party, and certainly not overlooked and ignored, but addressed (maybe by the new leadership if the handover is next year) by trying to encourage members to engage more with party activities.

Some on the Left tried to point it out that the result shows that they’ve a base to work from for the future leadership and deputy leadership race. It must be remembered that turnout will be much higher in a leadership ballot, voting for a NEC seat is not like voting for a Prime Minister (because Labour will be electing a PM, not just a leader) and that fighting Brown, Reid or Johnson isn’t the same as competing against Lorna Fitzsimons.

Andrea is an Italian student and one of politicalbetting.com’s most prolific contributors.






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