Jeremy Corbyn has again shown his power over the structures of the Labour party by winning today’s national executive committee showdown over its European elections manifesto. A faction of MPs, led by Tom Watson and backed by the GMB, Unison, Usdaw and TSSA unions, had hoped to change party policy to support for a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal that Parliament comes up with. But Corbyn and the Unite union had opposed this, and this afternoon, they came out on top.
The NEC showdown took five hours, and concluded with this, from a party source:
‘The NEC agreed the manifesto which will be fully in line with Labour’s existing policy; to support Labour’s alternative plan, and if we can’t get the necessary changes to the government’s deal, or a General Election, to back the option of a public vote.’
The strategy of many of the MPs who had pushed for a clear commitment to a confirmatory vote is to pretend that they got what they wanted anyway, in an attempt to make the EU elections campaign go a little better than they think it will. A large group of them have been tweeting in an obviously co-ordinated effort that the NEC has ‘made the right call’ and that the manifesto will now be clear on the party’s policy.
This decision tells us a great deal about Labour that goes far beyond its stance on Brexit. Many of the MPs claiming victory this evening are those who have argued that they are staying in the party because they believe Watson is leading a convincing fight back against the Corbynites. Today’s NEC has not provided any evidence of that.
Were Change UK/The Independent Group in a stronger position, then perhaps the stay-and-fight Labourites might come under renewed pressure to quit the party and join their comrades who left earlier this year. But the disorganised messaging and rather off-putting demeanour of the new party has made it a little easier for Watson and his supporters to argue that today’s NEC meeting is merely a small setback in the fight to win Labour back.