Labour’s election result has been rightly celebrated by the Labour left. It was also cautiously welcomed by the Labour right. So what will now be the political mood inside Labour?
Although there are still vocal opponents of Corbyn, like Chris Leslie and Neil Coyle, the vast majority of the 172 MPs who no-confidenced Corbyn 12 months ago have stayed quiet. Some have even admitted they were wrong. The short-lived effort to get back into the Shadow Cabinet from these people did not really come to fruition. Only defeated Corbyn challenger Owen Smith was handed a post – as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. But the right is not going away.
While open hostility to Corbyn may no longer work, they are organising among Party members, preparing for conference in September and attempting to tighten their grip on the party apparatus.
Labour First, the old Labour right within the party, remain intransigent on what Labour’s path too power must be: “In England it requires us to take large numbers of traditional marginal seats which can only be done by taking votes direct from the Tories as it looks like we have already maximised the vote share we can obtain from mobilising previous Greens, Lib-Dems and non-voters.”
They do not say why they think the voter share from non-voters and others has been maxed out. There are limited data on what percentage of young people vote; it was higher than the 43% of 2015 but could be raised further. In fact, Labour First want to say that Labour must alter its political direction to appeal to a more entrenched Tory vote. They want Labour to turn right. But Labour’s manifesto, although limited, it is here to stay. Labour’s politics must remain bold and, in fact, go further on left-wing commitments. Labour members must be ready to resist pressure from the right.
During Corbyn’s leadership there has been a lot of focus on the actions of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Now fortunately, there seems to be a decisive turn to working to transform Labour at ward and Constituency Labour Party (CLP) level. The election delayed many Labour Party meetings, including selections of conference delegates, AGMs, and discussions on conference policy and Party rule changes. The deadline to choose delegates and pass rule changes is 7 July. Activists will need to be very quick now to organise, to get to meetings and help guarantee a strong left presence at Labour Party conference.
At last year’s conference the left were weak, disorganised and suffered numerous defeats. However there is evidence that more CLPs are sending full delegations rather than just one delegate. The huge surge in membership that accompanied Corbyn winning and defending the leadership has created the potential for a more representative conference, and it seems that left-wing members are winning delegate positions. In CLP and branch AGMs there are more left candidates organising slates that have a good chance of winning control and making CLPs into hubs of campaigning and politics, rather than stale and bureaucratic bodies concerned only with administrative business. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy has also increased its membership.
Activists now see attempts to reform and transform the party as more possible and more needed. Hopefully this will be reflected by rule changes at this year’s conference. Discussions on MP selections, and abolishing the rule that means a CLP can only submit either a rule change or a contemporary motion are expected.
Workers’ Liberty backs all the rule changes being pushed by CLPD and Momentum. We also urge activists to put forward the motion promoted by Stop the Labour Purge to reform the clause which has been cited in the cases of hundreds of socialist activists who have been “auto excluded” from the Party.
On 28 June, Momentum launched their continuing general election campaign, which includes training and creating new digital campaigns that can help Labour into power next time round. Corbyn has said that Labour are on a permanent election footing, and John McDonnell has called for millions of people to take to the streets to oppose the Tories.
Such an orientation is right, but these campaigns must have substance and go beyond single days of campaigning, like those before election on the NHS and on schools. Momentum should not become solely an electoral machine; it does this well but it also needs to develop into the type of fighting political body that can both sustain and enliven the movement around Corbyn.