Socialists Beat Moderates in Battle for U.K. Labour's Soul

(Bloomberg) -- In the battle for the future direction of the Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, the socialist wing took the crown.

The election Thursday of Jon Lansman to the National Executive Committee, the party’s decision-making body, bolsters leader Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing power base and diminishes the influence of moderates. Two other left-wingers also won seats on the influential body.

Lansman founded and controls the Corbyn-supporting pressure group Momentum, a network of more than 31,000 members and 200,000 supporters, whose influence and organizing capacity have taken over the Labour Party. Momentum members have faced accusations of bullying of centrist Labour lawmakers and party members and are being investigated by the elections watchdog over accusations of overspending.

“Really honoured to now represent almost 600,000 members on the national executive’’ of the party, Lansman tweeted following his victory. “At last the 21st century version of the socialist party I joined 44 years ago.’’

Today’s decision reflects the distance Labour has come since the leadership of Tony Blair a decade ago. While Blair abandoned the party’s long-held commitment to the re-nationalization of industry, Corbyn favors it.

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Blair actively sought to reassure international money markets about his economic credibility by limiting public spending, while Corbyn’s party has said it expects a run on the pound if it wins power.

“There has been a long struggle for control of the NEC and the left has come out on top,’’ said Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of politics at Bristol University. “Blair never built the grassroots support to maintain a moderate leadership so it’s not a surprise Labour’s membership is very left-wing. What’s surprising is that we assumed it was moderate for so long.’’

Long-time Labour activist Lansman favors mandatory re-selection of lawmakers. That means sitting members of Parliament could be forced to justify their actions to activists every five years. The prospect of bitter battles to represent the party at Westminster poses problems for Corbyn or any future leader wishing to present the party as united and ready for government.

He also advocates changing party rules to reduce the number of Labour Party lawmakers who can nominate a leadership candidate. That would allow hard-line socialists to dominate the party in future leadership elections, safe in the knowledge the party’s membership base is more left-wing than its parliamentarians.

Lansman wants party policy voted on by members directly, meaning a future Corbyn government could be bound by the views of its grassroots supporters.

Even so, Lansman will have to convince other members of Labour’s ruling committee, including powerful unions, which would be unlikely to cede their influence to grassroots members.

Some differences on policy direction already exist, with most activists favoring membership of the European Union, at odds with Corbyn’s insistence the party backs leaving the single market and customs union.

“My hope is that Jon Lansman will not try to run the Labour Party like he runs Momentum,” said Stephanie Lloyd, deputy director of Progress, Labour’s center-left movement. “As a party we need our focus to be on stopping a Tory hard Brexit, not stopping Labour conference discussing Brexit.”

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