27 Sep 2015

Hilary Benn bumped off NEC as Trident debate looms

Hilary Benn Goes Down On The Farm

Hilary Benn is no longer on Labour ‘s National Executive Committee and has been replaced by Campaign Group MP Rebecca Long Bailey – one of that tiny gang of MPs who not only nominated Jeremy Corbyn but voted for him as well.

No one knows better than a member of the Benn family what this sort of shuffling can mean.

Mr Benn was one of 3 NEC members serving at the discretion of the leader. The other two are Angela Eagle and Jonathan Ashworth.

Most observers thought Jeremy Corbyn had a pretty secure majority as it was on Labour’s governing body. Now he has a strong one. Dennis Skinner had already replaced John Healey on the NEC after Mr Healey’s promotion to a frontbench role speaking on Housing for the Party.

Much is decided at NEC level and a solid majority will help Jeremy Corbyn when it comes to some rule changes.

NEC majorities help in other ways too. Plans are afoot to try to scotch any full-scale yes/no clash on Trident at this conference. This morning, Jeremy Corbyn said there would definitely be a debate of some sort on Trident, but the NEC is contemplating wading in and making it a debate on a bland NEC statement to take the steam out of the issue so leadership forces can regroup and address this at a better time.

Meetings planned for this evening to mould or “composite” various motions into one agreed motion look likely to fail. Barrow CLP isn’t believed to be mad keen on diluting its “renew Trident” motion.

As things stand, Unite and the GMB would be committed to voting for the renewal of Trident to protect jobs in the defence industry.

What the leadership would like is a “motherhood and apple pie” composite motion to be agreed which doesn’t have the fight on Trident now but allows them to return to the subject further down the line when it  has had time to try to meld a convincing policy on relocating workers who’d lose their jobs if Trident is cancelled.

That would be a major piece of work and is in no way ready right now. If it managed to shift union opinion, Jeremy Corbyn’s unilateralism would become party policy.

Former front-bencher and one-time aide to Gordon Brown, MP John Woodcock told me there would be an immediate mass-walk-out from Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench team if Conference did vote to scrap Trident with numbers well into double figures.

But that doesn’t look likely this week.

Also today, we heard the leadership  float changes to the way policy is made in the party. Angela Eagle told Conference this morning that the NEC had agreed to a “review  of how we make policy … to make it more inclusive, open and democratic.”

In her speech, Angela Eagle said that review would include “looking at how we harness the opportunities new technology brings us to give our members a much greater say.”

That is a coded allusion to the on-line plebiscites I mentioned  in the blog on Thursday. At this stage it’s thought these would be “consultative” not binding. But imagine a 60 per cent+ turnout in an o-line plebiscite with nearly two thirds anti-Trident. It would allow Mr Corbyn to apply pressure to recalcitrant MPs committed to Trident.


It looks like the party now doesn’t need to stay up all night neutralising a motion on Trident. Unions and constituency delegates voted for other motions instead.

Jeremy Corbyn emphatically said this morning there would be a debate so I’m in good company thinking that would happen.

Seems we are all struggling to keep up with new Labour Party (as opposed to New Labour Party) … But this issue will return soon.

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