Labour members vote against removing delegate system
Almost 500 card-carriers turn down to halt Momentum-backed changes
02 December, 2018 — By Richard Osley
Inside Labour’s private meeting in St Pancras Church
HUNDREDS of Labour card-carriers turned out on Tuesday evening to block changes to the party’s structure that would have handed all members a vote at its meetings.
The rearguard in the Holborn and St Pancras constituency was seen as a victory against Momentum activists who say Labour must engage with its members more by removing a delegate system. The word “emphatic” was repeatedly used as the result was shared: 301 were against among 497 members who cast a vote.
The large turnout at St Pancras Church – on what was an evening of heavy rain – followed a fortnight of heavy organising to get people to take part in the special session. Opponents to the change even released a social media video outlining their concerns, specifically for this constituency.
Supporters of the change said 95 per cent of the membership – which totals more than 3,500 in MP Sir Keir Starmer’s constituency – is disenfranchised by not being able to vote at internal meetings. They argue that the engine which powered Mr Starmer’s expanded majority at last year’s general election was people on the ground, and that it was vital for this resource not to be lost by members feeling powerless over the direction of local campaigning.
Sceptics of Jeremy Corbyn’s transformation of the party, however, say that his supporters want to outflank them with what has been described by the most blunt critics as “mob rule”. More openly, opponents to the overhaul say the loss of delegates would have weakened the link with unions – several unions have publicly called for all-member meetings to be opposed – and made it harder for people who cannot attend all meetings due to work and family commitments to be represented.
Others say it would be prohibitively expensive due to the giant scale of the membership. The sharply drawn argument had been played out in the letters pages of last week’s New Journal.
The proposed change had already been voted down in Tulip Siddiq’s Hampstead and Kilburn constituency last Wednesday. In both constituencies, meetings have at times become fraught over the past year with divides emerging and some personality clashes.
With close to 500 votes cast on Tuesday evening, significantly more people had arrived to take part than at normal constituency meetings. They included some famous faces such as broadcaster and peer Joan Bakewell, businessman John Mills, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee and the former council leader Dame Jane Roberts.
Some people at the meeting left immediately after voting.
While outsiders have been surprised at how much energy has been invested on both sides of a technical disagreement over structure, at a time of national debate around Brexit and austerity, organising members say the infrastructure and set-up of the party is directly relevant to people’s lives in Camden due to the grip the party has at the Town Hall.
The party currently holds it biggest ever majority in the 54-seat era under leader Georgia Gould, while Mr Starmer has a majority of more than 30,000; Labour’s lead went up in several London constituencies at Theresa May’s snap general election despite predictions from some pundits that the party was heading for a ballot box meltdown.
In a further blow for Mr Corbyn’s supporters, a “slate” of candidates for executive organising roles in Holborn and St Pancras failed to win any places.