The Challenge – Achieving a United Left Slate

By Seema Chandwani

The left lost control of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) because we did not have a single slate – this moment defined the beginning of the end for left unity for many people. For me, however it had happened long before and that is why I am seizing this opportunity to stand for Momentum’s National Coordinating Group (NCG)

Some people will remember we had two candidates for the Disabled Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) position, long before the NEC elections. And prior to that we had various iterations for the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) – before finally agreeing on a united slate, in that election the left recused a really bad situation before it was too late.

I remember the pain of having to negotiate a compromise slate, it is hours and days of my life I will never get back. However, the movement believed I was one of the people that could bridge the divide between the egos and personalities using our movement as their playground.

Why do we have slates in the first place?

As someone who has been on a slate, I feel there are 3 reasons:

  1. Equality: As a working-class woman, I cannot afford to stand in an internal Labour party election. They are expensive. For my election I needed videos, phonebanks, graphics etc. The only independent who has done well in internal elections not on a slate is Eddie Izzard. He had profile and money.
  2. Vote Consolidation: If left wing candidates compete with left wing candidates, we split the vote and lose.
  3. Representation: If we are serious about equality and equity, then we must engineer equality. Whilst the party has gender protections embedded, it does not have BAME representation or regional representation embedded.

Open Primaries will solve this problem though?

This new call on the left for open primaries has surprised me. I have been around long enough to remember when supporters of Tony Blair suggested this idea – and the left were united in their fight against it.

For me, it is an illusion of democracy. It gives members a stage of perceived democracy, however ironically there is often, in practice, already one or more slates in place for the primary – how were they formed? Not from an open primary but in a backroom agreement to form a slate to stand in an open primary for a slate!

You could end up with a mix of two [pre] slates winning the primary – but is it representative? How well did BAME people do? What about members in other parts of the UK? Will they be properly represented in open primaries when it’s for national seats?

Who pays for the campaign in an open primary? Would this exclude working class people and put politics back to being about access and privilege? Maybe donations from rich relatives or those with vested interests like property developers?

Maybe they can get sponsorship from Unions or Left Organisations? But then is that an open primary and who chooses who will be supported by Unions and Left Organisations? Will they hold a primary to decide on a slate for a primary to decide a slate for a primary? Or did Unions and left-wing organisations agree to back certain candidates in back room deals?

The reason the right-wing like open primaries, and why the Tories use it to select candidates, is because it favours those with money and power.

Who would pay for the primaries?

This is a question no-one has been able to answer over the years. You could ask all of the left organisations to fund it – but why would they? What is in it for them?

If we are saying that only Momentum can decide all the positions, then I have a huge problem with that. Momentum’s membership is huge, but it is only 10% of the overall members in the party. There is a plethora of left organisations who exist, some set up to represent minority groups. The party is London-centric and by virtue Momentum is London-centric – we will exclude the voice of many people.

How are left slates decided?

There was something called the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA), which has been around for years, before Corbyn and Momentum. One the CLGA each left organisation had a representative and they would discuss and select who went on the slate, agreeing it with consensus and pledging to collectively support it and not stand anyone else.

Was it perfect? No. But it worked for us on the left for years, and if we are going to reform, we must look at what worked and what needs changing.

But the organisations on CLGA are only picking their friends?

There is some truth in this – but politics is about power and influence. We have to remember what every organisation on the CLGA wants – the psychology and motivation, it’s not rocket science. They want a socialist, someone they can trust, someone tried and tested, someone who they have seen in action doing the dogsbody jobs no-one wanted to do. Someone they can access, someone that will not switch sides once in post.

Different organisations will suggest different people, using the above criteria. We on the left do not want someone who will vote against the movement – we have seen it happen.

Momentum currently have an application process?

This is one of the things that caused the CLGA to fail. If there are only 3 positions, one organisation cannot get all 3 places! We have to negotiate, compromise, accept that we need representation and we might not have achieved that from our process. If we do not, then we have split slates and lose. However, they are some pros to the application process.

So are you saying we should keep the status quo?

No. I believe for us to have a united left, we need to involve all left organisations in the reform of our slate making process. No one organisation should be arrogant enough to believe they own and dictate to the movement. To my knowledge, we have not discussed the pros and cons of Open Primaries with any other left organisations and until we do, and unless they buy in we cannot agree this as a way forward. Momentum did not win the NEC, because they left were divided. The notion that Momentum can run slates again without the rest of the left, even by an Open Primary is naïve at best and demonstrates we have not learned the lessons of our defeat.

What are you going to do then?

Bridge the broken relationships with other groups, regain unity because we are stronger together and I will start the conversation on how we go forward together. Momentum members, members of the other left organisations and the wider socialist membership have had enough of the in-fighting.

We need to sort this relationship out and get a united left moving forward. Imposing an idea on our partners without even a discussion with them is not the way. Imposing our ideas on the left movement is the arrogance that lead to the split in the first place. I am standing for the NCG to avoid us further entrenching the divide that led to our loss.