Members of Labour’s NEC stage walkout over election of veteran MP as chairwoman

Members on the left of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee have staged a digital walkout in protest at the election of veteran MP Dame Margaret Beckett as chairwoman.

In a letter to the party’s general secretary David Evans, a dozen members of the NEC said the “longstanding protocol” of the vice chair being elected as chair was not being followed.

They said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had lobbied for Dame Margaret to be elected to the position, and accused him of “promoting factional division within Labour”.

The members staged a virtual walkout from the NEC’s “away day” which was being conducted via Zoom on Tuesday morning.

In the letter to Mr Evans, they said: “It has become apparent that the longstanding protocol of the vice chair being elected as chair is not to be followed.

“Instead the leadership has lobbied for Dame Margaret Beckett to be chair.

“The public reason for such lobbying is to be given as Dame Margaret being the longest serving member of the NEC.

“This is not protocol and is another example of the Leader promoting factional division within Labour.

“We believe the true reason for the leader lobbying for Dame Margaret, and indeed the reason that had been given by senior party MPs in private, is because the vice chair, Ian Murray, was a signature to the previous correspondence sent to you seeking admonishment of the Leader.”

Signatories to the letter are believed to include NEC members Howard Beckett, Jayne Taylor, Ian Murray, Andi Fox, Mick Whelan, Andy Kerr, Pauline McCarthy, Lara McNeill, Mish Rahman, Laura Pidcock, Yasmine Dar, Nadia Jama and Gemma Bolton.

They said Mr Evans, as general secretary of Labour, should be “stepping in to uphold the Rulebook, maintain protocol, remind the leader that he is an officer of the NEC and prevent factionalism”.

“We have decided not to remain in the NEC meeting today in order to show very clearly how factional the decisions of the current Labour leader have become.

“We will be returning to future NEC meetings to be the legitimate voice of the membership and to continue to demand that the party unite and reject the current factional approach of the leader.”

Andi Fox, outgoing chairwoman of the NEC, said the “total disregard and disrespect for the left is something we could not allow”.

Howard Beckett, assistant general secretary of Unite, said Sir Keir “personally lobbied” to stop Mr Murray being elected chairman of the NEC.

He tweeted: “We won’t stay silent on @Keir-Starmer’s factionalism any longer.

“Starmer personally lobbied to prevent the President of Fire Brigades Union becoming NEC chair.

“The Union representing Grenfell Firefighers treated disgracefully.”

NEC member Mr Rahman said the walkout was designed to “remind” Sir Keir that the governing body would “not put up with petty and repeated attacks on trade unions and members”.

The row comes amid fury from some in the NEC at Sir Keir’s decision to withhold the whip from Jeremy Corbyn despite the body allowing him to return as a party member.

On Monday, Labour’s chief whip Nick Brown asked Mr Corbyn to “unequivocally, unambiguously and without reservation” apologise for claiming that the scale of anti-Semitism in the party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.

In a letter obtained by the PA news agency, Nick Brown said the former Labour leader’s response to a damning Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report caused “distress and pain” to the Jewish community.