WALTER CRONXITE reports from the back row of a Thornton Heath church hall at a local Labour Party meeting, where the Blairites are becoming increasingly shrill in their discomfort
Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Lambeth South, is looking increasingly out of step with the grassroots members of his own Constituency Labour Party, who last night chose Jeremy Corbyn as their nomination for the party leadership.Reed gave last night’s Constituency Labour Party meeting a miss as he is officially “on holiday”, though he did find the time to spend part of the day sending messages from his MP’s Twitter account seeking assistance with his runner bean crop, which has failed to deliver (we’ll leave you to devise your own punchlines for that one).
Earlier this month, Blairite Reed caused anger among rank-and-file members when he endorsed a column in the Daily Torygraph under a headline which said “the lunatic wing of the Labour Party is still calling the shots”.
The column appeared after enough Labour Parliamentarians got to together to endorse Corbyn for the leadership, giving the Islington North MP a slot on the short-list. Since then, “Jezzamania” has taken hold among Labour Party members, with the veteran MP receiving the nominations of 120 CLPs, plus now – probably much to Reed’s embarrassment – Lambeth South (which is also known as Croydon North).
Reed has described Corbyn as representing “the toxic legacy of the hard left”, and that Corbyn’s candidancy will “make Labour unelectable again”. Oh to be a fly-on-the-wall when they next meet in the Westminster tea rooms.
The members of the Labour Party appear to disagree with Reed profoundly. A report in today’s Daily Mirror puts Corbyn on 42 per cent, 20 per cent ahead of Yvette Cooper according to some private polling.
May’s General Election has made many rightly wary of the predictions of pollsters, but the margin of difference in the Mirror report appears hard to argue with. And while CLP nominations are no indicator of the individual voting intentions of Labour members, supporters and affiliates, the numbers are beginning to mount against the other candidates.
Ballot papers for the “open primary” contest for Labour leader, deputy leader and to select Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, are sent out on August 14, with the result announced on September 12.
Reed has also seen his former Streatham Labour Party colleague, Catriona Ogilvy, unseated as the chair of Lambeth South/Croydon North. Last night’s meeting was the first to be chaired by Patsy Cummings, though Ogilvy seemed to have some difficulty coming to terms with her loss of influence.
Reed has suffered a series of local set-backs lately. His trusted lieutenant, Matthew Bennett has stood down as the MP’s “head of office” at Westminster. Previously Reed’s “enforcer” as chief whip on Lambeth Council, Gipsy Hill councillor Bennett appears to have his hands full as the borough’s cabinet member for housing and – in a refreshing attitude among greedy local politicos – has decided to concentrate on trying to do one job properly, instead of raking in public money from more than one source.
In Reed’s absence, it was left to Ogilvy to propose Liz Kendall as the CLP’s leadership nomination. Ogilvy left her fellow party members underwhelmed.
Cummings had to demonstrate the patience of a saint. Properly, Cummings had stated the rules at the start of the election process, but Ogilvy sought to ignore this. With a sense of entitlement which many in the meeting felt wholly inappropriate, Ogilvy demanded a second opportunity to speak in favour of Kendall.
When thwarted, Ogilvy, from a position she had taken on the stage in St Jude’s church hall (other party members, save for Norbury councillor Maggie Mansell, felt satisfied to sit in chairs arranged on the floor of the hall), then started muttering audibly about a breach of party rules.
“If Ogilvy and Reed reckon they are from the ‘sane’ wing of the party,” one annoyed party member confided, “then they really need to seek a second opinion.”
“What is Catriona Ogilvy’s problem?” asked another. “I had heard that Catriona didn’t take kindly to her rejection as CLP chair, but didn’t think much of it at the time. That was until I saw the manifestation of Ogilvy’s sour grapes.
“Anyone with even a passing interest in body language and power dynamics could see that Ogilvy’s position and constant obstruction from the main stage was her attempt to assert power. Perhaps someone should have a word with Ogilvy or, better still, perhaps Ogilvy should have a word with herself: she is no longer chair so she had better get used to it.”
Reed’s inability to deliver Kendall a 15th CLP nomination ought to be a severe embarrassment to the MP. But the chances are that he doesn’t give a toss for the interests of his local party members, since their hard work in the constituency during Malcolm Wicks’ time as the MP has managed to build a 21,000-vote majority, and so provide Reed with an assured job for life.
Croydon North’s members other nominations last night were Stella Creasy for deputy leader and Marina Ahmad to be the Labour candidate in Croydon and Sutton at next May’s London Assembly elections. Kendall-backing Croydon South CLP also met last night and also nominated Ahmad, the losing parliamentary candidate in Beckenham in May.
The third and final Croydon CLP to make its nominations, Central, meets tonight.
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