Allies of Jeremy Corbyn have been accused of trying to engineer the election of a left-winger to a key Labour committee.
The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) this week passed changes to rules on how its youth representative is chosen, just weeks before the start of an election that will help determine the make-up of the finely-balanced panel.
It means the current representative, Jasmin Beckett, who has been outspoken in demanding the party leadership does more to combat sexual harassment, could be forced out and replaced with an ally of Mr Corbyn.
Ms Beckett said she was “really disappointed” that the “shoddy” change had been forced through.
Others, however, said it was about giving more young members a voice and not about Labour factionalism.
The move comes as Mr Corbyn strengthens his grip on the party following Labour’s prediction-defying performance at the general election.
Those on the left of the party have already passed changes to boost the number of NEC members elected directly by the party’s left-wing membership and reduced the barriers to getting a supporter of Mr Corbyn on a future leadership ballot.
The latest change involves introducing a new system for choosing young activists’ representative on the NEC.
Until now, the youth representative has been elected by 303 delegates, with a third chosen by members of the Young Labour group, a third by the party’s student wing and a third by affiliated trade unions. Labour Students has traditionally been dominated by moderates, while Young Labour and trade unionists are more sympathetic to Mr Corbyn.
Under the changes agreed by Labour’s NEC this week, however, the electoral college system will be scrapped and replaced by a direct election in which the electorate will consist half of Young Labour members and half of young trade unionists. Labour Students will lose its voting rights completely.
The 50 per cent of votes given to trade unions will not be cast by young unionists but by the union’s leaders, meaning people who do not qualify as young members will be given half the right to choose the youth representative. Union bosses resisted a motion that would have forced them to consult young members before casting their vote.
One NEC member told The Independent: “It’s a stich-up. They just leapt into action the second they knew they had the majority.”
Speaking about next spring’s youth rep election, the source added: “It will be decided based on who Unite and GMB vote for.”
Supporters however, say the change will give more members a direct say in choosing their representative and will end the alleged unfairness of Labour Students, which is much smaller, having the same sway as Young Labour.
The proposal to change the system was due to be included in a review of Labour Party democracy that is being carried out by Katy Clark, an aide to Mr Corbyn. Since winning a majority on the NEC, however, Mr Corbyn’s allies pushed ahead with the rule change before the review is completed.
In a statement posted online, Ms Beckett said the change had been “rushed” through “without official consultation with members or key stakeholders”. It is understood the change was backed heavily by Unite and other trade unions, as well as representatives of party members.
Young members voices’ have been “sidelined” by the “shoddy” change, she said.
Speaking to The Independent, she added: “I’m really disappointed that young members were not consulted prior to this decision being made on how they elect their only representative to the NEC. The new system has cut out Labour Students and means young members have only 50 per cent of the vote on who their representative will be.”
The NEC has previously been narrowly split between Labour “moderates” and left-wing supporters of Mr Corbyn, although the creation of three new positions elected by party members is expected to tip the balance in favour of the latter group. Among those likely to take one of the new seats on the committee is Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum.
The crucial committee governs how the party is run and has a big influence on issues including discipline, policy and rule changes. The new balance of the NEC makes it more likely that changes will be passed to make it easier to deselect sitting MPs and give members a greater say on policy matters.
The row over the latest rule change is not the first time that the election of Labour’s youth rep has proved controversial. Last year’s vote saw Ms Beckett defeat Momentum candidate James Elliott by just 0.14 per cent, with friends of Mr Elliott claiming the difference amounted to just one vote.
The election was the subject of an independent investigation amid claims that Ms Beckett had used a Facebook group to accuse Mr Elliott of antisemitism.
In recent months Ms Beckett has been vocal in demanding Labour does more to tackle allegations of sexual harassment in the party. Following numerous allegations of misbehaviour by MPs, she wrote to Mr Corbyn and her fellow NEC members calling for an independent investigation into the claims and suggesting the party’s existing processes for dealing with allegations were “clearly not sufficient”.
Labour must “urgently look at how we can encourage members who have experienced sexual harassment to come forward and make a complaint”, she added.