The NEC elections present an opportunity to fight back against Starmer’s rightward turn. Socialist Appeal calls on readers to back socialist candidates standing in this contest by nominating them through your CLP, and by giving them high preferences on the ballot.
Alongside these comrades, we also call for support for the ‘Grassroots Voice’ slate of six. It is vital that the Left win these elections, which mark an important battle in Labour's civil war.
A number of candidates – including Alec Price, Roger Silverman, and Carol Taylor-Spedding (amongst others) – are standing on an explictly socialist programme, calling for transformational policies for the Labour Party. These comrades have correctly raised demands such as open selection and workers’ MPs taking a worker’s wage; nationalisation and workers’ control; and the need for genuine grassroots party democracy.
We recently interviewed Roger and Carol to hear more about their views and priorities.
To be clear: supporting additional candidates other than the Grassroots Voice slate will not split the left vote. The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system prevents any splitting of votes. Carol confirmed this, clarifying that: “With STV, as long as members vote for left-wing candidates only, the votes from the least popular candidates will only go to other left-wing candidates.”
Recently, Carol has come under fire from a group called ‘Socialists of Colour’, who claim that her defence of Jackie Walker constitutes anti-semitism. Not only is this factually incorrect (Walker was suspended for ‘bringing the party into disrepute’, not anti-semitism) and a shameful attempt at guilt by association; it also sets a dangerous precedent.
This group has reported Carol to the party. The complaint is now being investigated, potentially jeopardising her candidacy. We stand with Carol against this witch-hunt of left-wing activists.
Fight the bureaucracy
The NEC elections are an important battleground in the Labour right wing’s attempts to tighten their grip on the party. The top-down switch to STV shows they’re aware of this, as it diminishes the possibility of the left achieving a clean sweep.
Bureaucratic maneuvering is not new to Starmer’s leadership, however. Even under Corbyn, the Blairites and bureaucrats used organisational means against the left. From the misdirection of party funds in the 2017 election; to trumped up charges of anti-semitism: they used every dirty trick imaginable in an attempt to halt the transformation of the party.
With the right wing now in the driving seat, this will only continue. For example, Labour general secretary David Evans recently emailed CLP secretaries declaring that certain subjects were “not competent business for discussion”. Notably, this included the party’s scandalous settlement with former party officials.
When asked how a socialist NEC could fight back against similar manoeuvres, Carol was clear: they would “vote against any moves which will undermine democracy and policy decided at conference”.
Both Carol and Roger also highlighted that Evans’ email “has no constitutional basis” and that “CLPs can and should discuss whatever they choose to discuss”. Of course, the Blairites and bureaucrats only use the rule book when it suits them – and tear it up when it doesn’t!
One way of excluding members from having oversight over the party is the purposefully obscure way in which votes and reports from NEC meetings are published. This lack of accountability makes opportunism easier – even for those purportedly on the left. Carol reiterated that, if elected, they would publish their voting records from NEC meetings, along with clear and transparent reports.
Fight for socialism
A socialist NEC would be a huge asset in resisting the right at the top. But it is up to left-wing members to stand firm against bullish Blairites on the ground.
To do so, the left needs to unite around a bold socialist programme. Only on the basis of a solid political foundation can the left rebuild.
Socialist candidates such as Roger and Carol have emphasised this need for a bold socialist programme. They would prioritise genuine socialist policies, including the restoration of the old Clause 4, removed by Tony Blair in 1995. At last year’s party conference, CLP delegates voted to bring back Clause 4, but this effort was blocked by the trade union bureaucracy.
We asked Roger and Carol about their views on Clause 4, and the need for democratic control of the economy to be enshrined into the party’s constitution.
“I have put the restoration of Clause 4 at the centre of my campaign,” Roger stated. “Capitalism today only offers a bleak future of successive pandemics, a catastrophic slump, racist and authoritarian regimes, and environmental collapse. Socialism offers the only possible path forward for humanity.”
Carol too highlighted her opposition to capitalism, saying: “The profit motive has no place in providing education, healthcare, social care, affordable housing, utilities, transport, communications.” We couldn’t agree more!
The return of official CLP meetings this month should be used by the left to launch a renewed struggle against the right. We urge activists to back socialist candidates at their CLP nomination meetings.
Above all, we invite readers to join the Marxist tendency in the Labour Party – Socialist Appeal – to fight for a genuinely socialist Labour Party.
Interview with Carol Taylor-Spedding and Roger Silverman
What are the priorities for your campaign?
Carol: I want to see a left-wing majority on the NEC so that we can protect the policies of the 2019 manifesto, and fight for even more radical socialist policies like making paying for education illegal.
I want to make the NEC more democratic, transparent and accountable to the membership.
I want to stop the slide to the right that we are seeing under the leadership of Keir Starmer. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that capitalism just doesn't cut it when the chips are down.
We have needed socialist policies for people to survive. However, the working class are now being made to pay for these policies with redundancies and reductions in pay and conditions. We must fight back. We must be an effective opposition, and to do that the party must hold Keir Starmer to account.
Roger: My priority is to restore the morale of Labour Party members. Too many are leaving in despair – despair at Labour’s election defeat, and even more so at the rightward shift of the leadership under Keir Starmer.
We need full-blooded socialists on the NEC to call the leadership to account and to reaffirm the true aspirations of the membership. Despite the media lies, Labour actually won more votes under Corbyn in 2019 than in 2015, 2010 and even 2005, when Labour won. And the policies in its manifesto (renationalisation of the utilities, a publicly funded NHS, a wealth tax, a green industrial revolution) are still overwhelmingly popular.
This week, the following candidates joined the ballot:— CLP Nominations (@CLPNominations) September 3, 2020
• Vince Maple
• Mark McDonald
• Liz McInnes
• Alec Price
• Roger Silverman
• Carol Taylor-Spedding
Clause IV and open selection remain hugely popular with members and the public. What do you believe is the importance of Clause IV and democratic control of the economy being enshrined into LP policy and how can we keep democratic demands in the spotlight?
Carol: It is very important that we have democratic control of the economy. At the moment we have the situation where Jeff Bezos is worth $200 billion, while we have thousands going to food banks to survive. COVID-19 has made him even more obscenely rich, while his employees were working in unsafe conditions on zero-hours contracts for minimum wage.
The profit motive has no place in providing education, healthcare, social care, affordable housing, utilities, transport, communications. These are all essential to the survival and well-being of everyone in this country and the rest of the world. They must be run for the people by the people.
We need education, communication, action. Educational materials / webinars must be provided to CLPs on socialism so that they can be debated. This will hopefully encourage members to bring motions to conference.
NEC members must establish communication channels with CLPs so that information can be passed between the NEC and the grassroots. Zoom meetings could be one way of achieving this.
NEC members can bring motions themselves to conferences, and if the communication channels are open, these motions will be relevant to the membership.
Open selection is essential if MPs, councillors and union officials are to be accountable to their constituents and members. I would like to see MPs give a six monthly or yearly report to their CLP on how they have improved services/environment/housing in the constituency; how they have voted in parliament; how they have helped individual members of the constituency. This should be written into the candidate’s contract with the party.
Roger: I have put the restoration of Clause IV at the centre of my campaign. Capitalism today only offers a bleak future, of successive pandemics, a catastrophic slump, racist and authoritarian regimes, and environmental collapse. Socialism offers the only possible path forward for humanity.
Even with Corbyn as leader, the bureaucrats in the party were able to block meaningful change. Under Starmer, new general secretary David Evans has already attempted to dictate to members what is competent business. How can a socialist NEC fight back against the right-wing bureaucracy?
Carol: By bringing the selection, appointment and management of all staff clearly under the control of the NEC.
By giving CLPs correct information e.g. the term “competent business” is actually meaningless and is contrary to Labour party rules. Since the NEC is made up of volunteers they cannot be “sacked” and have the power to speak out. In a democratic organisation everything should be up for debate, in a comradely manner of course.
In meetings we must vote against any moves which will undermine democracy and policy decided at the conference. The National Policy Forum needs to be abolished.
Again, this can be achieved by being in regular communication with CLPs and having these issues debated which will raise their profile and encourage the grassroots to apply pressure.
NEC members who are in regular communication with CLPs have a mandate to feedback to the NEC on issues which the membership are concerned with.
Also, subjects of NEC meetings should be communicated to CLPs before they are discussed and voted on. This can be achieved by publishing agendas of meetings.
The socialist members of the NEC must be in regular communication with each other. We need caucuses to discuss strategy before meetings and votes.
Roger: The new general secretary’s insolent message dictating that discussion of the crucial issues facing the membership are “not competent business” has no constitutional basis. CLPs can and should discuss whatever they choose to discuss. The NEC is elected precisely to defend the rights of the membership.
Considering the apparent ascendency of the right in the party, how important is left unity? Is voting for anyone besides the CLGA really going to split the vote?
Carol: No, voting for anyone besides the CLGA slate is not going to split the vote. With STV, as long as members vote for left-wing candidates only, the votes from the least popular candidates will only go to other left-wing candidates.
However, preference is important. The left-wing candidates should be voted for in the same preference. We need the CLGA 6 plus three or four other good socialist candidates.
The LLA [Labour Left Alliance] has conducted a very open and democratic process with two hustings already held, and with all left-wing candidates invited.
The candidates were also asked to answer the questions posed on the “action programme for the left” put forward by LLA, and this information was represented on an infographic.
A ballot was then conducted of the LLA membership and the candidates ranked in order of preference based on that ballot. This is all available on the LLA website.
The 4 top non-CLGA LLA candidates are: Roger Silverman, Chaudhry Qamal Iqbal, Carol Taylor-Spedding and Alec Price.
Left unity is important so we do get 9 or 10 good socialist candidates agreed upon and voted for.
Roger: First, the CLGA is an unrepresentative body which excludes large sections of the left. I for one am not “centre-left”.
Second, to draw up a slate before it is known which candidates will appear on the ballot paper is utterly pointless, and a crude attempt to pre-empt the choice of the membership.
Only once the nomination process is completed and we know who has made it onto the ballot paper can a slate be drawn up on a fair and democratic basis.
How decisions are made at a national level is often unclear. How can we increase transparency and democracy? Would you commit to publishing reports in plain English, as to what has been decided and why?
Carol: Yes, I will definitely commit to publishing reports in plain English. I will also commit to letting CLPs know what is going to be discussed, if practicable, and provide educational materials with my socialist peers to increase understanding of the issues being tackled.
I will also publish voting records so that the membership knows how their NEC representatives are voting. As in all things the devil is in the detail. I will push for electronic voting which will make recording and publishing of votes possible.
Roger: The NEC is there to represent the membership, and it is the duty of its members to report back and consult them.