The trade union Unite has called for an independent investigation into the election of a youth representative to Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) after a candidate won by less than 1% of the vote, amid allegations of foul play from both sides.
The annual conference of the Labour party’s youth wing, Young Labour, met in Scarborough this weekend to elect delegates to its committee and a representative to sit on the NEC. Delegates described a “poisonous atmosphere” riven by factionalism.
Jasmin Beckett, a psychology student at Liverpool University,was elected to the position with 49.55% of the vote, beating James Elliott, a history student at Oxford University, on 49.41% of the vote. About 1% of voters spoiled their ballots, and supporters of Elliott said he lost by a margin that amounted to a single vote.
Elliott was the preferred candidate of Unite and Momentum, the group established to support Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour movement. He worked as Corbyn’s youth policy adviser during the leadership campaign in September last year.
Labour’s leadership team is keen to give the NEC – the 33-strong chief administrative body of the party – more power over policymaking, and Corbyn currently enjoys a slim majority of backers on the committee, drawing more attention than usual to the election of the youth representative.
The results were announced on Saturday evening and prompted calls for a recount, which were rejected by the returning officer Stephen Donnelly, a former chair of Scottish Young Labour.
Supporters of Elliott complained that the election was being run by “a rightwing faction in Labour students”.
Rohi Malik, who was elected as a vice-chair of Labour Students this weekend, said: “The fact is that the NEC election was decided by a single vote and a recount denied, so I think – especially given the reports of valid delegates being turned away at conference – it should be recounted and closely investigated.”
Elliott supporters accused the opposing team of mounting a smear campaign that led to an antisemitism row at Oxford University’s Labour club, in which Elliott was implicated.
Other delegates at the conference alleged that union officials had used bullying and intimidation to pressurise people into voting for Elliott.
A 23-year-old delegate who asked not to be named said he had been called a “Blairite cunt” because he was wearing a sticker supporting Beckett, and friends had been called “Blairite nonces”. He said: “It’s hardly the kinder, gentler politics that we’ve heard about.”
Zac Harvey, 19, a delegate from Welsh Young Labour, complained on Twitter that a Unite officer had demanded to see his ballot paper voting for Elliott, tweeting an image of a text message exchange as evidence.
A Unite spokesman said there was not a shred of truth that there was “any wrongdoing by the Unite delegation co-chair who acted with propriety at all times. Claims to the contrary are deliberately misleading and malicious, intended for no other reason than to bring this union into disrepute”.
He added: “The Labour party is due to examine the Young Labour elections including some concerning allegations of a smear campaign organised by one candidate against a rival. Unite urges that a full and independent look at these elections is agreed, and we will happily cooperate fully in this process.”
Unite had previously been accused of trying to buy votes in the contest by paying the expenses of delegates who were prepared to vote for Elliott – an allegation the union denied. Both Elliott and Beckett have complained that the £40 ticket price to attend the conference was prohibitively expensive for many young members.
The conference follows the launch of an investigation into allegations of antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour club after its co-chairman, Alex Chalmers, resigned claiming that some of its members had “some kind of problem with Jews”.
Elliott and Max Shanly, a former member of Young Labour’s national committee, are understood to have been implicated in the allegations. Both vehemently deny the allegations.
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