A slate of "non factional" candidates for an internal Labour leadership battle have ties to an anti-Corbyn Labour faction, VICE can reveal. The candidates, including comedian Eddie Izzard, are making their "independence" a key election issue – but their website is run by Labour First, a group which is strongly opposed to the Labour leader.
This month there will be an election for three new seats on Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC), one of the party's most powerful bodies. The NEC is "the governing body of the Labour Party". After two Labour leadership election victories, Corbyn has not managed to secure a majority of support on this committee.
The "independent " candidates – comedian Eddie Izzard, activist Johanna Baxter and businessman Gurinder Singh Josan – are standing for the November National Executive Committee election. Their main campaign website says they are standing on a platform of "independence and diversity", because they are "independent minded" and will "not take instruction from any faction".
Eddie Izzard announced his NEC campaign in an article in the Guardian, declaring, "I am my own person, I am not standing for any faction."
Johanna Baxter's campaign material says she is "a strong independent voice on the NEC – a representative who will unite rather than divide". She's running under the slogan "No labels, no factions, just Labour."
However, when VICE checked the registration details for the "Independent NEC Reps website", we found that it was registered by Matthew Pound, the full-time organiser for Labour First, one of the two solidly anti-Corbyn factions in the party. The admin email for the "Independents" website is given as LabourFirst@Gmail.com.
Labour First describes itself as "a network which exists to ensure that the voices of moderate party members are heard while the party is kept safe from the organised hard left". It presents itself as a "traditional Labour right" – as distinct from the more "New Labour" right-wing group Progress.
Both of these factions' meetings at the recent Labour conference were full of plotting to wrestle the party away from Corbyn, bitterness towards Momentum – the pro-Corbyn campaign group – and general doom-mongering about Labour's electoral prospects.
While they have their differences, Labour First and Progress have been cooperating since Corbyn's rise. In the 2015 Labour leadership election, Labour First called for "the unity of moderate and mainstream forces in the Labour Party and the strategic priority of stopping a Corbyn victory".
Labour First has been consistently and vigorously opposed to Corbyn, saying at that election, for example, "We clearly do not share Jeremy Corbyn's politics and believe these would destroy Labour's chances of electability."
The "Independent" trio are running against the "Centre Left-Grassroots Alliance" slate. This is an openly pro-Corbyn group made up of Momentum founder Jon Lansman, Manchester councillor Yasmine Dar and Bedfordshire Labour activist Rachel Garnham.
I asked Matthew Pound why this supposedly non-factional campaign for places on Labour's key committee is run by one of the main anti-Corbyn factions. He confirmed that this is a Labour First-run website, but said it was set up after the three "Independents", Baxter, Izzard and Singh Josan, decided to run.
Pound said, "The candidates we're supporting have a proven history of being independent-minded and will not be beholden to any faction. In fact, two of the candidates we're recommending have actually stood against Labour First candidates in previous NEC elections. All this information, including the fact that the website is operated jointly by Labour First and Progress, is clearly available on the website itself."
Baxter, a long serving Labour activist, has been backed as a "sensible candidate" for the National Executive Committee by Progress in previous years. Izzard, a longstanding Labour campaigner, has previously appeared at Progress rallies at party conference. Izzard supported Andy Burnham in the 2015 leadership election, a position taken by some Labour First members (but not by Progress, who backed Liz Kendall – generally seen as to the right of Burnham).
I asked Eddie Izzard’s campaign if he endorsed the Independent NEC Reps website. A spokesperson said the website, “is entirely independent from his campaign for the NEC and was not set up by him”, and that, “Eddie welcomes support from across the Labour Party for his campaign to be a member of Labour’s NEC and as he has repeatedly said, he is not a member of any faction, or slate. Indeed, he wants to rise above the factionalism of past contests.”
I asked Johanna Baxter, Gurinder Singh Josan if they endorsed this factional website supporting their "non-factional" campaigns, but as yet have received no reply.
Update, 15th November: This article has been updated to include the comments of a spokesperson from the Eddie Izzard campaign.