The Labour Party in Blackpool: First individual vote gives boost to left

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PARTY members reined in the momentum of Tony Blair's drive for change by electing two leftwingers to the party's national executive. Dennis Skinner, voted off last year, and Diane Abbott, both members of the Campaign group, were elected in the first ballot in which every party member has been able to vote individually.

In a 40 per cent turnout, the same electorate that overwhelmingly made Tony Blair the party leader also voted heavily for Ken Livingstone, the Brent East MP and former GLC leader, who polled more votes than Ms Abbott but had to surrender his seat to her under the women's quota system.

The surprise outcome, with the left taking two of the seven constituency seats, was claimed by Mr Livingstone as firm evidence that about one-third of the party still supported the left. 'If Tony Blair has any sense he will recognise that the Labour Party still has a radical minority that needs to be enthused and galvanised and you can't ignore it. You can't expel one-third of the party because they voted for Skinner and Abbott.'

One member one vote, he said, had been described as 'a triumph for democracy. You can't then complain when it elects two people the leadership didn't want.' With Robin Cook topping the constituency section and Jack Straw, Tony Blair's leadership campaign manager, elected to the NEC for the first time, those with high media profiles polled best. David Blunkett, Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman all easily retaining their NEC seats. Margaret Beckett, the former deputy leader, returned to the NEC, topping the women's section. But there was some resentment that by not standing in the constituency section, she had knocked off Hilary Armstrong, John Smith's former parliamentary private secretary, while letting in Ms Abbot. Pete Willsman, a leading light of the far-left Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, was voted off the conference arrangements committee after years of being voted on by constituency activists.

The good showing for the left and for Ms Abbott and Ken Livingstone, both London MPs, were in part explained by the first use of one member one vote. Under the old system, constituencies got 1,000 votes however small their membership, giving Scotland, which has many constituencies with small memberships, disproportionate influence. With individual voting, the impact of London and the North-west, with their large memberships, has risen.

Labour's leadership took a determinedly relaxed attitude to the result, which will nonetheless provide more grit to future national executive meetings.

Ms Abbott, Labour's only black woman MP and an active member of the Treasury Select Committee, said: 'I think this shows the party wants a national executive independent of the Shadow Cabinet.'

Mr Livingstone said he was delighted Ms Abbott was on. 'She will vote exactly the same way I would have done. I wouldn't changed the result at all.'

NEC results in vote order: Trade Union Section: Dan Duffy, Vernon Hince, Gordon Colling, Diana Holland, Bill Connor, Margaret Wall, Derek Hodgson, Nigel Harris, Richard Rosser, David Ward, Tom Sawyer, Maggie Jones. Socialist societies: John Evans. Constituency section: Robin Cook, David Blunkett, Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Dennis Skinner, Jack Straw, Diane Abbott. Women's Section: Margaret Beckett, Joan Lestor, Diana Jeuda, Clare Short, Brenda Etchells.

(Photograph omitted)