Labour NEC Election: Uphill Climb But Still Best Ever Result
THE ELECTION for the six places in the Constituency Section of Labour’s National Executive Committee is one of the very few opportunities which Labour’s rank and file have to exert some influence. This year’s election result shows continued advance of candidates supported by the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (GA). Their share of the vote rose by 4.5%, with a corresponding decline in the vote for the Right-of-Centre candidates. For the first time the vote received by the Centre-Left and Centre-Right was about the same. Hitherto the Centre-Left had lagged behind.
This improvement was not reflected in NEC seats gained. In 2001 the Center-Right vote was split: eight Centre-Right candidates competed against each other – not just against the GA – for six places. Their advantage in votes (54.5% as against 45.5% cast for the Centre-Left) was not translated into seats.
Absolute and relative
All candidates improved their share of the vote, even though Shahid Malik did so only slightly. For the extent of the overall shift to the Centre-Left was insufficient to reduce the share of any of the individual Centre-Right candidates. In addition the less well placed candidates, of both Centre-Right and Centre Left, benefited more from the redistribution of the total vote. The present advancef the GA can therefore be seen only in the relative improvement in each candidate’s position.
The unsuccessful candidates, on the other hand, did rather better. Val Price "scored" 1% above average, Pete Willsman 0.29%, Rozanne Foyer 0.14%, and Peter Wheeler 0.47%, whilst Kumar Murshid was just 0.18% below the average increase.
These figures show that the gap between the candidate who got most votes and the one least successful has narrowed. Whilst it is not possible to be absolutely certain where all the extra votes came from, the greater density between the highest and the lowest vote as well as relatively small increases in the share of the votes for the successful candidates indicate that more members have voted the full slate than previously, rather than that there was a major influx of new voters. This is also the more likely reason because the total membership has continued to decline. In 2001 it fell by 29,000.
Women lead the charge
Lessons for the Left
The shift to the left of union and even among constituency members are signs that opposition to the party’s present direction is mounting. This process, however, is being retarded or obstructed by Left activists who have either dropped out of the party or opted for membership of "radical" sects (or their motley alliances) posturing as parties that represent an alternative to Labour. Many of these are self-proclaimed Marxists who have conveniently forgotten what Marx had to say about the relationship of socialist sects to the real workers’ movement, namely that these always stand in inverse ratio to each other and that so long as the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement, there is some justification for the existence of socialist sects. However, as soon as labour movement has attained maturity "all sects are essentially reactionary" (Marx to Bolte, 23 November 1871).
If we adopt Marx’s criterion, it is possible credibly to argue that the organised mass labour movement in this country, let alone its political wing, has yet to attain maturity.* What cannot be credibly maintained, is that after a nearly two centuries-long growth of the labour movement the continued existence of sects is historically justified. Of course, sectarians will always claim that they are not sectarians but building genuine working class parties, or at least laying foundations for them. Having taken some 70 years, or if we start from the "Communist" party some 85 years, to do this, and their practice having produced no results, we are compelled to ask whether there isn’t something the matter with their practice, and consequently their theory. For inability to learn from experience turns theory into a dogma and leads to a voluntary isolation of socialists from the living labour movement.