We live in a moment where each passing day brings a new predicament for Britain’s old rulers. At the time of writing, Theresa May’s administration is just about limping on. Hopelessly divided over Brexit, at war with their traditional allies in the DUP, and even struggling to maintain their relationship to big business, the Tories are weaker now than they have been for many years.
Meanwhile, our party is improving, slowly but surely, in the opinion polls, and is growing into a larger movement outside of parliament by the day. In September, 75,000 people elected me to represent them on our party’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Having joined Labour as a rank-and-file USDAW member many years ago, I never thought I would be taking on such a senior role. But nor did I ever expect that Labour’s socialist wing would command such decisive control over our governing body. As a newly-elected socialist representative on an NEC with a left-wing majority, I want to say something about our priorities for the coming year.
One of our first tasks is to craft the campaign that will be deployed in the event of a snap election. The Clause V meeting — where the Labour Party decides on its manifesto — is open to intervention by the NEC, who can provide members with a powerful voice by proposing amendments. Parliamentary selections are also an important consideration. In scores of target seats across the country, Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) have been gearing up to select candidates, and are understandably itching for the NEC to determine the process. We must do everything in our power to avoid a repeat of the situation in the run-up to the 2017 general election, where many candidates were determined by the whim of just a few NEC members.
For the first time in a long while, our governing body looks like the society we wish to represent in power — which is a huge positive for the party. We have people from multiple regions and varying ethnicities, and there is a real diversity of age and gender. I am particularly proud to be serving alongside two comrades under the age of 30 — Lara McNeill and Huda Elmi — who reflect our mass youth membership and their fighting socialist politics.
But there is still substantial work to be done to advance the cause of diversity within the rest of our party’s structures. The Bernie Grant Leadership Programme, which was announced at this year’s conference, is to be hugely welcomed. Bernie was a towering figure in the labour movement; how wonderful it would be to see a new generation of socialist representatives, moulded in his image, emerging from Britain’s working-class migrant communities.
The NEC is rightly focused on the task of delivering a Labour government, but in that preparation we cannot ignore the necessary internal reforms that we were mandated to deliver. Over the next twelve months, the NEC will be working on the remaining elements of the Democracy Review, with particular focus on local government and the creation of an effective, autonomous, and open Black Asian and Minority Ethnic section. There is also scheduled to be an important change in our existing structures. Next year, the reserved seat for a European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) representative will instead go to a disabled person, who will be elected from disabled comrades in our membership.
Political education of our membership is another crucial undertaking that the party has neglected for too long. It is only through an active, informed, and enabled movement that we stand a chance at delivering socialist transformation in Britain. Ensuring that our members know the history of our movement, giving them the space to discuss political theory and engage in the broader debates which inform party policy is not a luxury — it is a necessity. When it comes to securing funding for political education, far too many CLPs face an uphill battle. We need to change this.
Alongside this problem there is the question of finances in our local organisations. In some cash-strapped CLPs, members need far more financial support to develop a campaigning base. Now our national party is debt-free, it is only fair to open the books and re-examine the proportion of funds that go to CLPs and to the national party. In this regard, the NEC Development Fund, which allows for local parties to apply for funding from the NEC, is a welcome step in upholding our movement’s local struggles.
All of this work is intended to nurture the potential of our movement. It is hard to imagine the Tories emerging positively from their catastrophic situation, and their inability to govern is Labour’s opportunity. We must prepare for government not only in parliament but in the party and the movement, ensuring that our members are ready to stand up to the significant resistance that will face a Corbyn government. In the words of Tony Benn, once also of our NEC, ‘the crisis that we inherit when we come to power will be the occasion for fundamental change, and not the excuse for postponing it.’ The crisis is theirs — the moment is ours.