Labour conference in Brighton, 21-25 September, was lively, and passed several good left-wing policies.
Its political profile, however, was marred chiefly by two things. First, the manoeuvring from the platform to deflect the membership on the Brexit issue, and the nonsensical looking-both-ways National Executive statement which summed it up.
And, second, the failed attempt through the National Executive Committee just before conference to get rid of Labour’s right-wing deputy leader Tom Watson by summarily abolishing his post (in existence since 1922).
It’s a question, of course, whether parties need to have designated “deputy leaders” or “leaders” at all. Marxist parties have never had such posts.
But this move did not come from any genuine grassroots groundswell on the issue. Many of the people behind it hate Watson mainly for his few good points — on Brexit and antisemitism.
To the argument that the proper way to oust Watson is by voting him out, they would reply that is too hard because the rules requiring nominations from a large number of MPs. I’d say that the answer is to change the threshold, and maybe make the post fixed-term.
A snap vote to scrap the post was so transparently a bureaucratic manoeuvre that the leadership quickly overruled it and announced instead a “review” of the role of Deputy Leader.
Even that damage limitation established a bad principle: that it is OK for the leadership to overrule the NEC.