Inside the tensions brewing around the Labour conference

Inside the tensions brewing around the Labour conference

Daily dispatch — Controversial proposed rule changes for electing new leaders and attempts to block Labour for a Green New Deal have made for a fraught start to Labour’s annual Conference.

It’s a very dreary morning in Brighton as day two of the Labour Party Conference begins. Yesterday was a fraught and frantic day, which followed tense weeks in which factional battles dominated much of Labour party discourse. 

The days before the conference saw briefings and rumours swirl around potential changes to the rules for electing new leaders of the Labour Party. Starmer and his team were said to be looking to bring back the electoral college, meaning an MPs vote would carry the same weight of that of thousands of regular Labour members. The rules, scrapping the electoral college and bringing in a “one man one vote” system were last changed under Ed Miliband in 2014 (passed by an overwhelming majority of 86 per cent at a special conference). 

The re-introduction of the Electoral College, many say, was a purely factional move designed to shut the left out of leadership as the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) are seen as more centrist and right than the membership. As rumours swirled around potential union deals to support the moves, and the prices they were allegedly asking for, it looked like the party was headed for a showdown on the proposals at Friday night’s meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC). 

In the hours running up to the meeting, Starmer met with Trade Union and Labour Party Liason Organisation (TULO) in an attempt to sure up support – instead he got what one journalist referred to as “bollocked”. 

With no union support for the proposals (which would shape the future of the Labour party and parliamentary politics in this country) Starmer was forced to delay introducing them. As Brighton awoke on Saturday morning, despite a week of heavy briefing, Starmer had to admit defeat and abandon the proposals. A humiliating L to start conference weekend on. One MP told Huck the affair was “embarrassing” for all involved.

Momentum’s Mish Rahman, who also has a seat on the NEC said yesterday morning, “The central measure of Keir Starmer’s attack on democracy has comprehensively failed… Starmer won’t stop trying to rig democracy, so we can’t stop defending it.”

And Mish was right. No sooner had the proposals been sheepishly withdrawn (although not before attempts by other members of the Shadow Cabinet, including Angela Rayner, to do media rounds and drum up some excitement for the new jobs policy), than Starmer was back with more. This time with plans to increase the MP nomination threshold for leadership candidates from 10 per cent to 25 per cent (a de facto electoral college and block on left labour leadership once you take into account the rightward bent of the PLP). 

Yesterday morning the NEC voted through proposals to change the threshold to 20 per cent. The changes to the rules will be put to a vote on the Conference floor today (after 5.20pm) with a Momentum insider yesterday telling Huck they expected a 15 per cent threshold to pass the conference and would consider that a win. 

Elsewhere yesterday, the appointment of David Evans as General Secretary of the Labour Party (a role he has occupied since May 2020) was ratified. Rumours was swirling that the centre and right of the party (from which Evans hails) would try and “bump a vote”, fearing an embarrassing defeat. In the end, it passed by 59/41 (a 60:40 split) which many on the right have deemed to in turn, be a defeat for the left. 

A Momentum spokesperson told Huck yesterday that they never expected to win the vote: “We war-gamed conference loads of times in the run-up, and every single time we lost the Evans vote, even in the best scenarios – just very unlikely that we would win a vote that is that confrontational that early. We’re set up to win important votes in the days to come”.

Last night the priority ballot took place, deciding which motions would reach conference floor. Among those was Green New Deal, which has been the site of controversy in the weeks leading up to conference after the Labour for a Green New Deal motion was ruled “out of order”. The decision was eventually overturned on appeal.

At 2019 conference the compositing (the process by which multiple motions on the same theme or subject are condensed into one motion to take to the floor) for the GND motion broke records – stretching to ten hours over two days. Speaking to Huck at the time, GND insiders blamed the unions for politicking and blocking. The motion was eventually split into two  one more radical than the other, both taken to conference floor and both passed.

Last night, the compositing process was mercifully more smooth. Much like 2019 the motion was split into two, with Labour for Green New Deal “very happy” with theirs – which includes public ownership of energy, investment in millions of green jobs and a just transition. The other motion is backed by GMB and community union and is said to have included commitments to Nuclear energy and support of the gas industry (though full text still to be seen as I write). Both will go to the conference floor this morning with votes expected around 12:30 onwards.

Votes to watch out for today are the Green New Deal vote on Conference floor (after 12:30pm) and votes on controversial rule changes (after 5:20pm).

Ben Smoke is Huck’s Politics & Activism Editor. Follow him on Twitter.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.