Yesterday evening, in a meeting that went on for several hours, the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) made a number of decisions that will influence the upcoming leadership election, not all of which were reported or understood at the time. Such is politics and political reporting nowadays. Jeremy Corbyn claimed victory, but while he was celebrating the moment came a twist in the tail.
At first, things did not look good for Corbyn and his followers, as it was decided that the decision on whether he would automatically be allowed on the leadership ballot - in other words, without having to secure nominations from MPs - would be taken not by a show of hands, as was expected, but by secret ballot. There was much muttering on the left. There would be no chance of knowing who had voted which way.
But when the result was revealed, Corbyn had won another victory: his name would automatically go forward without having to get nominations, something that he would have had serious difficulty in doing, given that more than 170 Labour MPs have signed a motion of No Confidence in his leadership. This was the signal for he and his supporters to indulge in a little celebration. They were home and hosed.
Except it wasn’t that simple. First, as ITV political editor Robert Peston explained, “it became clear that the secrecy was pointless, because all the union representatives voted as per the way they had been mandated to do, and in favour of Corbyn. So Corbyn loyalists will know exactly who went against their will”. The idea of heading off the climate of threats and intimidation had not been such a good one.
Then, as Corbyn and his supporters savoured their victory moment, came another, this time unscheduled, vote. He had left the NEC meeting, as had two supportive delegates, and as the vote was not scheduled, there was no mandate for any Trade Union representatives to act upon. This vote was on who should be able to take part in the leadership poll - as in, which party members.
This time, it was not so good for Jezza: all those “registered supporters” who had joined for £3 a go would have to stump up a whole £25, and register within a 48-hour window later this month. Moreover, all members who had joined since the end of January - thought to be overwhelmingly Corbyn-leaning - would be excluded. As Peston observed, “in the final hour the Corbynistas, so cock-a-hoop at their victory, took their eye off the ball”.
So it’s still not clear which way a leadership contest would go, and with Owen Smith talking of joining the fray this morning, it’s equally unclear who will be doing the contesting, as some MPs are talking openly of having just one opponent for Jezza. The only event that looms closer after yesterday’s NEC meeting is a split in the Labour Party that will keep it out of power for the foreseeable future, massive support or not.
Still, there will be all those marches and protests to enjoy, and the warm feeling they give the participants, so that’s all right, then.