Labour Party NEC Elections: Millbank Manipulation Rejected
THE MOST important feature of this year’s NEC elections was the continued sharp drop in membership participation. Taking 1997 as the base, the turnout declined in each subsequent year. In 1998 it was reduced by 19%, in 1999 by 36%, in 2000 by 57% and this year by 71%. It is impossible to be precise about what proportion of Labour’s membership voted, but estimates have ranged from 11.5% to 17%. This contrasts with 59% participation in the general election.
The 2001 elections for the NEC Constituency Section seem to have ended Millbank’s success in getting favourites elected – in the short run at least. Millbank’s protégée, Baroness Gould, whose nomination by Brighton Kemptown was secured only through Millbank’s intervention, failed to get elected. She came below Pete Willsman, who was runner up. Ann Black and Christine Shawcroft – candidates supported by the centre-left Grassroots Alliance (GA) – have moved up to second and third place among the successful candidates. Mark Seddon, also GA-supported, regained his seat.
The results are shown below.
A comparison with last year’s results shows that, with the exception of Ann Black, Val Price and Christine Shawcroft, each candidate’s share of the vote fell. The increase in Val Price’s percentage can be put down to her inclusion on the “Robinson slate”. There was a sharp drop in support for pro-Millbank women candidates. Ruth Turner’s vote dropped by 1.45% and that of Valerie Vaz by 4.15%. All the men who stood last year fared worse. Shahid Malik dropped only 0.2%. Tony Robinson, who was on the Millbank slate as well as on his own, dropped 0.74%, while Mark Seddon’s and Pete Willsman’s percentages fell by 0.6 and 0.7 respectively. The total votes cast for GA and centre-right candidates this year were 121,311 (45%) and 145,975 (55%) respectively. GA candidates have increased their share of the vote by approximately 5%. This is about what they would have received last year had one of the GA candidates not been disqualified on questionable grounds.
The reason why the percentage of votes cast for centre-right candidates fell was mainly due to the split in their vote. Eight centre-right candidates competed for six places. However, this cannot wholly explain the relatively poorer performance of the centre-right women candidates. While centre-right men gained 30% of the total votes, their women candidates won only 25%. In contrast, the GA women did significantly better than GA men, 25% as against 21% of the total vote. This means that the three GA women got much the same vote as the Millbank/Robinson women. The Millbank/Robinson/Labour First men on the other hand had a 9% lead over their Grassroots counterparts.
Conclusions which can be drawn are that the vote for men is significantly pro-Labour Establishment, whereas the vote for women is more critical of the leadership, and that a marginally greater number of votes are cast for men than for women.
The results might have been more favourable to GA – first, had the scandal of Millbank imposing Baroness Gould on Brighton Kemptown CLP received publicity. What happened is that originally Brighton Kemptown, at a properly convened meeting, overwhelmingly voted to nominate Willie Sullivan. At the time Baroness Gould – a Brighton Kemptown member – didn’t seek nomination. However, shortly before the nominations closed, Millbank suggested to the CLP secretary of Brighton Kemptown that Gould replace Sullivan. The secretary then tried to contact some GC delegates by phone asking them to agree to this change. It seems that those she managed to contact agreed. The nomination form with Baroness Gould’s name on it was then sent to Millbank. Subsequently some delegates protested at the GC and wrote to Millbank. However, the GC, which met three days after the closing date, had little choice but to confirm Gould’s nomination. There was no way of reinstating Sullivan. Millbank’s involvement in this saga flouts the principle that Labour Party paid officials should act as impartial civil servants. They shouldn’t suggest to CLPs whom to nominate, let alone ask them to change nominations.
Secondly, GA candidates also might might have done better if members had known of their opposition to the ridiculous decision that the NEC election be held during the general election campaign. At the March NEC Ann Black proposed that internal elections be held after the general election. She argued that members’ attention would inevitably be diverted from the NEC election and that this would reduce turnout. She was supported only by Christine Shawcroft and Dennis Skinner. NEC members Shahid Malik and Tony Robinson, who were elected to represent CLPs, either abstained or voted with the majority to reject Ann Black’s proposal.
The results have demonstrated what can be done even under unfavourable conditions. The decision to hold internal Labour Party elections during the general election campaign was expected to disadvantage the leadership’s critics. But Party members have not been fooled. The success of Ann Black, Mark Seddon and Christine Shawcroft proves this. It is also a lesson for those who have written off the Labour Party in favour of indulging in the ultra-left electoral antics of the “Socialist Alliance” and “Socialist Labour”. What is needed now is to build on what has been achieved in the real world, not in the fantasy land inhabited by the ultra-left.
This article originally appeared in the CLPD Newsletter, July/August 2001