Socialist Worker

Left confident ahead of Labour conference

by Nick Clark in Brighton
Issue No. 2573

Corbyns rallies enthused the left

Corbyn's rallies enthused the left (Pic: @jeremycorbyn on Twitter))

Labour Party conference gets underway today, Sunday—and the left is feeling confident.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have won a number of battles against the right inside the Labour Party that shift the balance in their favour.

The most important victory makes it easier for left wing candidates to stand in future leadership elections.

A rule change agreed at Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) means that candidates will need fewer nominations from MPs to get on the ballot paper.

The current rule—that candidates need nominations from 15 percent of Labour MPs and MEPs—meant Corbyn barely made it onto the ballot in 2015.

That’s now set to be reduced to 10 percent. It means ordinary Labour Party members have more of a say over who becomes leader, and Labour MPs have less control.

Another change would give party members and the left more power on the NEC itself. The NEC makes decisions on the rules and direction of the Labour Party, and can send motions to Labour Party conference.

It excluded some 130,000 Labour Party members from taking part in last year’s leadership election.

Now there will be three more spaces for Labour Party activists from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).

This gives them more strength against the other two main groups on the NEC—MPs and trade union delegates—which can be a block against the left.

The changes will have to be ratified by delegates at the conference this week. But they are almost certain to go through.

The left were defeated over similar rule changes at conference last year. They didn’t have enough delegates to defeat a stitch up by the conference arrangements committee (CAC), which decides what gets debated.

Now they are likely to have more delegates. And left wing candidates Billy Hayes and Seema Chandwani won elections to the CAC this year.

The victories could make a real difference to the balance of power at Labour conference and inside the party.

Some of the most vicious right wing Labour members clearly feel under siege.


Richard Angell, director of the right wing faction Progress—closely associated with the hated Tony Blair—raged at the left’s “factional power grab”.

Blair and Progress tried to concentrate power at the top of the party. Now Angell is whining about a “permanent campaign to undermine the role of MPs, marginalise their voice and get them to acquiesce”.

And backroom fixer Luke Akehurst of the Labour First group wrote of “a sense of gloom and defeatism” among right wing activists.

Yet there are still right wing forces that can only be defeated through bigger confrontations away from Labour’s internal structures. These will continue even if the left wins every conference battle.

Corbyn faces constant pressure from Labour MPs who use pleas of unity and demands about electability to make him accommodate to the right.

Corbyn was forced to relent to demands from the Labour right to give London mayor Sadiq Khan a special speaking slot at conference.

Khan used his speech at last year’s conference to berate and try to humiliate Corbyn. This year Corbyn wanted to offer ordinary delegates more opportunities to speak. But he gave in on Friday after an outcry from Labour MPs.

And Corbyn has also made serious and dangerous concessions over the rights of European Union (EU) nationals to live and work in Britain after Brexit.

Labour MPs and some trade union leaders have insisted that Labour should promise to end freedom of movement for EU nationals.

Now Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer has suggested that EU nationals could be made to leave Britain if they don’t find a job within three months of arriving.

Labour's conference is set to debate a motion on defending freedom of movement on Monday morning. Voting to defend migrants would be a big blow to the right.

But other forces are also manoeuvring around Brexit. In an open letter around 30 MPs and senior figures in Labour, including former shadow cabinet members Heidi Alexander and Chuka Umunna, a former Corbyn ally Clive Lewis, want to push Labour into indefinite support for the single market. They say it is “unsustainable to say we are an anti-austerity party” while being in favour of leaving the single market and customs union.

In fact the rules of the single market enshrine neoliberalism

Left wing Labour members will rightly want to continue their fight against the right, including pressing for mandatory reselection of Labour MPs.

But fighting attacks on migrants means changing the broader political atmosphere in which migrants are handy scapegoats for austerity and the problems in society.

Fighting those attacks—and so strengthening the left inside and out of Labour—means building a movement of resistance based on mass protests and strikes.

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