By Mike Phipps
LONG-BAILEY 135,218 (27.6%)
NANDY 79,597 (16.2%)
STARMER 275,780 (56.2%) [ELECTED]
Whatever spin you put on it, the results of Labour’s leadership election were dire for the left. Yes, we know that a number of high-profile former Corbyn supporters backed Keir Starmer, including writer Paul Mason, Simon Fletcher who was involved in Starmer’s leadership campaign, former Momentum national coordinator Laura Parker and Susan Press, a former officer of the Labour Representation Committee, the left wing grouping of which John McDonnell MP is president.
It’s also clear that many on the left backed Starmer. My own CLP was not alone in narrowly backing Starmer for leader, while supporting left candidates for the NEC. Unison, which formerly backed Corbyn, switched their support to Starmer – without a membership ballot. Still, Unite supported Long-Bailey. Yet despite being Labour’s largest union affiliate by far, the union failed to deliver significant votes for her. She came a distant third in the affiliates section of the race, with just 22% of the votes.
The deputy leadership results also offer little comfort for the left. It’s true that the clearly identifiable right wing candidate Ian Murray got a derisory vote. But Richard Burgon, whose campaign was more sure-footed and classically left wing than Rebecca Long-Bailey’s got a disappointing 17%. Even if added to Dawn Butler’s 11%, these are poor results, aggravated by the confusion sown by Momentum which narrowly recommended support for Angela Rayner.
It’s clear that the forces Jeremy Corbyn was able to unite – affiliated unions, the old Labour left and the newer membership influx that Momentum sought to organise– have fragmented. This is exacerbated by the demoralisation resulting from the 2019 general election debacle, which will have other negative consequences, including a search for scapegoats, membership resignations and much else.
The left is now back in opposition in our Party, mounting a rearguard defence of the critical policy gains of the last five years, as well as the democratic advances, both of which are likely to come under pressure. On our side, particularly in the fight to keep popular and achievable polices, we have the support of a lot of the membership, which is still large enough to make Labour the biggest left force in Europe.
Less noticed in Saturday’s results were the elections to the NEC vacant posts, which the right wing won narrowly. Left candidate Lauren Townsend was just 252 votes behind one of the two elected ‘Corbyn-sceptic’ candidates. It has to be said that this would not have happened if the left had been able to put up a joint slate as it has in the past, and as our opponents did this time. For a variety of reasons – some will blame the intransigence of Momentum in relation to its proposed candidates, others will blame the leaking of proceedings of the left slate negotiating framework, the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance to the Tory press – this did not happen. How can we make sure it happens in future?
First, there has to be a recognition that the left together is stronger than its component parts. Although Momentum has a lot more influence in the Party than other groupings, these results showed that it alone cannot deliver victory. So it must negotiate with other forces to reach a consensus where possible. And if consensus cannot be reached at the nominations stage, at the very least, once nominations have closed, collective pressure must be applied to discourage candidates with little chance of success from going forward.
Some will argue that the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance, which has been the framework for slate-making for the left over recent years, has outlived its usefulness. Can the left collectively come up with a better, more democratic method, which allows consultation with the memberships of all the left currents, while at the same time agreeing criteria in terms of gender and diversity for any proposed slate? This would be welcome, but it is unlikely without a sober recognition by all involved of just how for the left has been set back and what we now have to do to move forward.