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United, the Left can win – Sam Browse on Lessons of the #LabourNEC elections #GrassrootsVoice

“There is still a huge appetite in the party for an explicitly socialist politics that puts people before profit, tackles the climate emergency & has a serious plan for protecting public health & defending living standards in the wake of the covid pandemic.”

On Friday, the Labour Party announced the results of the recent elections to the National Executive Committee. They prove there is still a huge appetite in the party for an explicitly socialist politics that puts people before profit, tackles the climate emergency and has a serious plan for protecting public health and defending living standards in the wake of the covid pandemic. The elections also provide an important lesson to the left on the centrality of unity in successfully arguing for this agenda in the party.

In the Youth Representative election, the left-wing incumbent, Lara McNeil, deservedly sailed to victory with 61% of the vote, having established herself as a formidable critic of the Tories and a strong voice for young members on the NEC. Another left candidate, Ellen Morrison, also ran a fantastic, slick campaign, beating her rival to the newly created Disabled Members Representative post – a position she had campaigned to create.

Unfortunately, Mick Antoniw was pipped by Carwyn Jones to be Welsh Representative, and as expected more right-wing triumphed in the local government section.

However, the election of CLP representatives proved dramatically successful for the left-wing Centre Left and Grassroots Alliance. The ‘Grassroots Voice’ slate contested 6 of the 9 places, and – due to a recent change in the voting system – were widely expected to win only 3 or 4 seats. As the last votes were counted, they won 5.

The winning candidates were Laura Pidcock, Nadia Jama, Mish Rahman, Gemma Bolton and Yasmine Dar (unfortunately, Ann Henderson, the sixth of the GV6 candidates and an experienced NEC incumbent, was not re-elected). They are joined on the NEC by three candidates from the right of the party, Luke Akehurst, Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan, and the Open Labour-backed Ann Black.

The GV6 candidates ran on a platform of defending and extending the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, arguing that the public health, economic and climate crisis all make these ideas more relevant than they have ever been before.

The candidates also put the vital issue of party democracy at the centre of their campaigning.

In addition to addressing, head on, the immediate challenges we face such as the pandemic, climate chaos, recession and mass unemployment, vital to the success of the slate was the unity of the left. Many campaigners remarked that this was one of the most coordinated efforts that had ever been made in an NEC election, contrasting starkly with the disunity of the byelections earlier in the year.

A good example is the vote management system used by the GV6 campaign – a system which put them organisationally head-and-shoulders above their competitors.

Instead of providing a list of candidates to number in whichever order voters preferred, the campaign used targeted messaging to advise voters to order their preferences differently, depending on their postcode. This ensured an equal spread of first-preference votes between GV6 candidates, maximising the chances of more candidates getting over the threshold number to be elected under the new Single Transferable Vote system.

GV6 vote management was a technical success, but it was predicated on a political feature of the campaign – left unity. Without unity, that level of organisation – and the cooperation between different groups and organisations it necessitated – would have been impossible.

There are, then, two key lesson of this election. First, there is still majority support in the party for a socialist politics that orients itself to tackling the key issues of our time – rebuilding the rigged economy so that it puts people before profit, tackling the climate emergency with a just transition to a zero carbon society, fighting for rights in our workplaces, and for equality and liberation for women, LGBT, Black and disabled people, for better public services, to defend migrants and for a peaceful foreign policy based on human rights and solidarity.

Second, to make the case for these politics, the left must come together, because united, we can win.

  • Sam Browse is a Labour Assembly Against Austerity delegate to Centre Left Grassroots Alliance meetings.

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