Labour NEC election – Momentum’s right wing sectarianism damaged the left

By Terry Williams

The left suffered a set back in this summer’s elections to the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC). Having previously held five of the CLP Section seats on the NEC (these are nine seats elected by Labour Party members), the left has now been reduced to four seats. Mish Rahman, a sitting left wing NEC member unfortunately lost his seat. The cause of this set back lies with the right wing sectarianism of Momentum. Instead of joining up with an election campaign to unite the left against the right, it divided the left and engaged in a political attack on one of left’s most popular candidates.

In the current situation within the Labour Party, where the party leadership has accommodated to the Tory government’s right wing agenda and is waging an offensive against the left, the clear priority for the left in this year’s NEC election was to unite the greatest forces possible in opposition to the right and its attacks on the left. This was understood and acted on by all of the Labour left’s main organisations, except for Momentum.

The main organisations of the Labour right came together in support of a slate of five candidates. The majority of Labour left organisations supported a slate of five left candidates – Jess Barnard, Gemma Bolton, Yasmine Dar, Mish Rahman and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi. Momentum refused to join in with the rest of the left and decided to only support four of the left candidates. It then campaigned against the other left candidate – Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a Jewish socialist who fights for Palestinian human rights.

During the period in which local Labour Parties met to nominate candidates for the NEC election, from January to June this year, it became apparent that Wimborne-Idrissi and the other four left candidates had the support of the majority of Labour left organisations and the backing of leading Labour left MPs. So after the nominations period closed in June, 13 Labour left organisations plus left MPs and left unions (see here) declared their support for the slate which called itself the Grassroots 5. Despite this broad support for this slate, from across the left, Momentum took the sectarian decision to continue only supporting four of the five left candidates. It then moved even further to the right, by publicly promoting a smear campaign against Wimborne-Idrissi.

The right wing, outside and inside the Labour Party, has waged a determined campaign to try to crush Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), the organisation that Wimborne-Idrissi is an officer of. JVL is a network for Jewish Labour Party members whose policies include supporting Palestinian human rights. Jewish organisations that support the Palestinians are a prime target of the propaganda campaigns waged by Israel and its right wing supporters. Since its founding in 2017, JVL and its members have been subjected to sustained vilification, which continues relentlessly to this day. Many of JVL’s officers have even been falsely accused by the Labour right of being antisemitic and some have been purged from the Labour Party.

Momentum’s based its campaign against Wimborne-Idrissi on a different false accusation; it was claimed that she is a transphobe – someone who is prejudiced against or hostile to transgender people. No real evidence for this vilification has ever been presented, because it is a fake proposition. Momentum justified its attack, which it made on a Labour left candidate in an election, on the grounds that she would not sign a statement in support of Gender Self-Identification (Self-ID). Wimborne-Idrissi was singled out by Momentum for attack on this basis. It supported numerous other candidates, in this summer’s elections to the Labour Party’s national committees, who did not sign such a statement. Only Wimborne-Idrissi was attacked in this way by Momentum.

On the specific concept of Self-ID there are a range of views on the left. Most Labour left organisations accept the principle that there are good socialists in the Labour Party, who oppose transphobia, some of whom support Self-ID and some who do not support Self-ID. The claim that only supporters of Self-ID should be left candidates in Labour’s internal elections is simply a sectarian position. Given that Momentum only selectively applied this position to a very specific left candidate it suggests there is more to Momentum’s sectarianism than just its views on Self-ID.

Momentum’s refusal to promote a united left slate inevitably divided the left and weakened its capacity to mobilise left wing party members to vote in the election. That capacity was further undermined by Momentum’s smearing a left candidate. Instead of Labour left activists focussing on fighting the right wing, a political fight amongst left activists had been promoted by Momentum.

Of course, in such circumstances, it was not possible to engage the broadest support for left candidates in the election. Inevitably the turnout of Labour left voters will have been reduced. The overall turnout in the NEC election dropped from 26% in 2020 to 18% this year. If Momentum had not been divisive it is possible that a united campaign could have mobilised sufficient votes to elect all five left candidates. It was not necessary for Mish Rahman to be defeated. His defeat is a significant loss for the left. Unfortunately for him, he was the candidate most widely identified with Momentum.

Since the announcement of the results of the NEC election a number of pro-Israel organisations have denounced Wimborne-Idrissi and called on the Labour Party to take measures against her. The vilification has been stepped up. The fight by the pro-Palestinian Jewish left, against being witch-hunted within Labour, will continue, and should be supported.

The successful Grassroots 5 candidates who were elected (Jess Barnard, Gemma Bolton, Yasmine Dar and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi) will be part of a left minority on the Labour NEC – the right wing has an overwhelming majority. In such circumstances the left cannot expect to win votes on most issues that arise, but it should still be possible to succeed on some issues. More can be achieved if all four left NEC members have the backing of the entire left.