Although there is much discussion about the balance of forces within the Labour Party it is useful to reflect upon the observations made by Robin Blackburn in his latest New Left Review essay, “The Corbyn Project: Public Capital and Labour’s New Deal” (May-June 2018).
Blackburn warns that “Corbyn’s position as leader…shouldn’t be taken for granted.” He may have been “Strengthened by the enormous influx of 350,000 new members” but much more still needs to be done.
“[T]he organization of the party at national and regional level remains fundamentally undemocratic, with decisions stitched up by small cliques and ‘one member, one vote’ rarely applied. On many of the key committees the balance is held by representatives of the amorphous centre, whose arms can be twisted by regional or trade-union officials to de-rail democratizing initiatives. Corbyn’s present majority on the NEC may prove vulnerable to this sort of pressure. Momentum activists are pushing ahead with a modest programme of re-selection, hoping to get Labour Left candidates chosen in around a third of marginal constituencies. But regional party officials, mostly Blairite placemen—with the occasional Blairite placewoman—control much of the selection process, notoriously so in the West Midlands, and have a record of cancelling meetings or excluding members in order to get their way.”
Blackburn estimates that of the Labour’s 262 MPs “around sixty are hard-core Blairites,” with “the mass of Labour MPs,” around 160 or so, being “simple opportunists.” On the latter opportunists he says:
“They have an eye on the main chance but few firm commitments. For the time being they have reconciled themselves to Corbyn, thanks to his electoral successes and the slow accumulation of power and patronage in the Leader of the Opposition’s Office, as opposed to the party’s HQ at Southside, Victoria, still a right-wing stronghold. But they would desert him in a trice if they smelt a wind blowing in the other direction. In office, the Blairite rump will urge a return to austerity and privatization at the first opportunity.”
This is why the reintroduction of mandatory reselection is so essential if the Labour Party is to be truly transformed into an organisation that can deliver for the many not the few.