Luke Akehurst: The Butt of Many a Joke, but He's No Laughing Matter

The Labour Party NEC Elections reach a critical point tomorrow as the ballots open, papers arrive and votes start being cast. After seeing the level of appeasition and not opposition within Labour, I hope members are aware of just how critical it is we have a robust, left-wing NEC, and will be casting their votes for the Grassroots Voice slate as their first six choices (and Mark McDonald as their seventh choice) under this STV system that’s been forced upon us by the right wing. There are of course nine votes to cast, should you wish to cast all nine.

That brings me to this blog, which isn’t another promo for the left-wingers, but a reminder that should we get this wrong, things are all but over for the left, and the biggest threat to all that is one man, a man who's been the butt of many a joke, many a meme on social media, a man who is so deeply unpopular within his local Party that his own CLP refused to back him for the NEC elections, but nevertheless he crossed the threshold and is on the ballot. A man who was described to me as probably the most dangerous man in the Labour Party today and he isn’t even an MP. His name is Luke Akehurst.

It’s a name many on the left are familiar with. There’s been many a titter about the fact he’s put himself forward yet again to stand for the NEC, because he’s consistently failed to claw his way back since he got booted off in 2012, but actually, with Starmer now leader and with fractured relations within the left-wing groups earlier this year, two of his Labour to Win slate colleagues already sit on the NEC, and they’ve been a nuisance, even going so far as attempting recently to push all business back until November when they hope the new NEC will be even more right wing, a situation they helped bring about by switching to that STV vote instead of the traditional FPTP system — an apparent attempt to favour their own faction. I’ve heard it said that all the jokes, all the finger-pointing and laughing at Luke is to distract from the other awful candidates on his slate, but if Akehurst were to join any of these guys back on the NEC, it’d be disastrous.

So who is Luke Akehurst?

He’s a right-wing Labour activist, a former councillor in Hackney where he reportedly tried multiple times to have incumbent MP Diane Abbott deselected. He’s a former prospective parliamentary candidate, a former NEC member, a former organiser within Keir Starmer’s CLP under his predecessor Frank Dobson before moving to Oxford, where he was the CLP secretary before being routed from the role by an increased left-wing membership.

The names of the right-wing Labour groups Labour First and Progress are familiar to most of us. The mainstream media is fond of referencing them when speaking to certain MPs, and essentially paints a picture of their views being the political mainstream of the Labour Party, when of course they’re not. These are right-wing organisations, and Luke is involved here too, being the Secretary of Labour First whose about us blurb on their main page states that:

‘Labour First is 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, and those who seek to divert us from the work of making life better for ordinary working people and their families.’

Safe from the organised hard left who Akehurst himself in 2016 defined as:

‘The “Hard Left” is a self-definition adopted by the Bennite left in the mid-1980s to differentiate themselves from the older “Soft Left” which they saw as making too many compromises with people like us! In parliament the Campaign Group for Labour Democracy is “Hard Left” and the Tribune Group is “Soft Left” whilst most of our supporters are in the Clause I group of MPs. We believe the “Hard Left” would damage national security through their opposition to nuclear deterrence and their ambivalent stance towards NATO; that they are reluctant to address issues around immigration in any meaningful way; and their economic stance is not credible as it veers towards a command economy.’

A bit wordy, but the Campaign Group for Labour Democracy is the Socialist Campaign Group, those who actually voted against Keir Starmer’s abstentions recently, including the likes of Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Burgon and Zarah Sultana - and Luke, together with Labour First, is ideologically opposed to listening to the left, going so far as to describe them as dangerous. Literally, the best hope we’ve had in decades of a better life, a better country to live in, a transformative agenda, and this bunch called that a threat, claiming they offer the best hope when, while in power, they did nothing of the sort. That whole Broad Church diatribe is a nonsense and always has been. The NEC slate Luke is part of, the Labour to Win slate, is the Labour First/Progress slate, so you can see why any of them securing NEC seats would be incredibly dangerous for left-wingers who have stayed in the party.

We’ve only scratched the surface here with Luke, however, because although we’ve explored his political beliefs and the positions he’s held or still holds, he’s been much more than that.

Luke has been a corporate lobbyist, having worked for Weber Shandwick Public Affairs from 2000 through to 2011 as a defence specialist, briefly overlapping with his time on the NEC and certainly covering the period he was a PPC for New Labour in 2001 and 2005. Hark back to that quote regarding Luke’s view of the hard left and keep in mind that defence specialist bit as we continue.

To give you an impression of how influential this lobbying firm Weber Shandwick has been, particularly regarding New Labour and Blairism, of which Luke is a staunch supporter to this day, you only need look at who else has worked for them. Its current CEO, Colin Byrne, describes himself as a hippy in a suit and has been quoted as saying:

“Of course some PRs do send out vacuous rubbish and bogus surveys dressed up as a story. Of course some political PRs do try and manipulate the news.”

Which kind'a brings into question the kind of CEO he might be. He was also a former flatmate to the Prince of Darkness himself, Peter Mandelson, Blair’s answer to Dominic Cummings.

Other employees for this firm have been Andrew Brown, brother to Gordon Brown, current Home Secretary and immigrant basher Priti Patel, and chair for the backbench 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady. It used to be the case that many people, myself included, couldn’t put a fag paper between the Tories and Labour, and when lobbying firms were employing such people as this, and indeed Luke Akehurst, that’s hardly surprising. The last thing we need is a return to those days. We’re seeing enough of that under Starmer now without Luke’s influence returning to enable it further.

Whilst at Weber Shandwick, Akehurst picked up a number of high profile clients, such as Finmeccanica, an Italian defence and security company which reportedly had strong ties to the Gaddafi regime in Libya. Arms sales. Another was GKN, a British Company involved in, among other things, the aerospace industry. It was at one point the parent company for AgustaWestland, which it later sold to … Finmeccanica. Previous to this, GKN were involved in the sale of water cannons to the regime of Indonesian despot Suharto in the 90s when he was committing genocide in East Timor. So arms sales here too, albeit before Luke’s time. 

Luke also had as a client the now infamous Serco. Now we know Serco seems to be involved in everything these days, but what you might not know is that Serco is part of a consortium operating Britain’s Atomic Research Establishment, a scientific research facility that is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of our nuclear deterrent. Yeah — Serco is involved in our nuclear deterrent — what could go wrong there? But also in the consortium overseeing this is Lockheed Martin, the world's biggest arms manufacturer. It’s little wonder Akehurst earned himself the nickname ‘Luke the Nuke’. It wasn’t just about his support for selling arms to Saudi Arabia, or the Iraq War — something he still defends to this day (though knowing about his links to arms manufacturers, it isn’t hard to see why). He took these ‘defence’ clients with him after leaving Weber Shandwick, but it isn’t known whether he’s still advising them — he’s certainly not admitting to it on LinkedIn!

Never mind it’s Yemen they’re bombing though, eh Luke?

So Akehurst had left Weber Shandwick by 2011, but that same year, he’d been headhunted, ‘enticed’ to come to work for BICOM by its then CEO Lorna Fitzsimmons, herself a former Labour MP under Tony Blair.

BICOM is the British Israel Communications and Research Centre and it was founded in 2002 by the Billionaire Poju Zabludowicz, who inherited his vast fortune from his father Shlomo, who founded the family business Soltam, an Israeli defence contractor now owned by Israel’s top weapons manufacturer Elbit. 

Luke and the arms industry just keep walking in lockstep, don’t they? 

What on Earth would we win by electing these right-wingers like Akehurst? Because they’ll be the death of Labour, ushering in a renewal of the purges and ending any semblance of a left-wing party in UK politics. The mistakes the right made which led to Corbyn becoming leader will never happen again. We’ve one last shot at retaining our clout, and that involves ensuring the sovereign body of our party, our NEC, is dominated by left-wing voices once again. Make sure your first six votes go to the Grassroots Voice slate. Make your seventh vote for Mark McDonald. Choose from anyone other than the Labour to Win slate for your last two votes. Do not take a chance with this. It really is our last roll of the dice. For heaven’s sake, use that vote when it comes. Akehurst is the most dangerous man in Labour and his slate mustn’t come anywhere near power ever again.

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  1. I think we need to take an existentialist approach - we have to accept that Akehurst and his ilk are the future of the Labour Party, if only because they will be busy rigging the system so that a Corbyn-style revolution can never happen again.

    Not that there's much of challenge from the left. The obvious successor to Corbyn seemed, to me, to be Chris Williamson, and we all know what happened there, and it's difficult to believe that any of that affair was coincidence - the right correctly saw him as a threat and took steps to neutralise him, and he was thrown under the bus by rather too many of his comrades.

    When Corbyn stood down, my (Blairite) MP was quoted in the local press as saying : "hopefully things will now return to normal". That was my cue - Labour lost a member, and my vote. I don't want to be part of their normal, and I'm damned if I'm going to help it maintain the status quo.

    Everyone has to make their own decisions on this, but my suggestion is that we jettison Labour right now, because its not going to move towards the left again. Ever.


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