Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North (delete according to taste) has entered the row over the closures of four Lambeth libraries, including Upper Norwood Library losing all its professional staff at the end of April, by describing those who want to protest against such cuts as “disgusting”.
So much for political discourse.
Reed was responding to a protest planned for tonight at a political fund-raising event for his former colleague on Lambeth Council, Florence Eshalomi, who is running in the London Assembly election as Labour’s candidate for the safe seat of Lambeth and Southwark.
It is less than two years since Reed, whose parliamentary constituency includes Upper Norwood and whose political agent is a Croydon councillor for the area, carried out a political stunt of signing the “Upper Norwood Library Declaration” with Croydon Labour leader Tony Newman, which they claimed would guarantee the century-old institution’s future.
But on Monday, Lambeth Council sounded the death knell for Upper Norwood Library and three other branch libraries in their borough. From April 30, professional staff will be removed from Upper Norwood, which will become a self-service “community hub” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), operated by volunteers.
Library campaigners in Lambeth, including trades unions defending their members’ jobs and Labour Party members, have been active in opposing the closures and proposing alternatives. It made Monday night’s Lambeth cabinet meeting held in a school hall in Kennington a rowdy affair, as the “co-operative council” is also proposing to bulldoze social housing on Cressingham Gardens for redevelopment – or “social cleansing”, as many opponents see it.
Public service unions in Lambeth are staging a two-day strike, which began yesterday, against the library closures.
Eshalomi is a councillor for Brixton Hill ward, the same area Reed represented before he was handed the job-for-life as Croydon North MP. When Reed was Lambeth leader, he promoted Eshalomi to the cabinet role for culture – including library provision.
Her recent Town Hall voting record shows that Eshalomi has voted for the library closures (as well as every other cut and for council estate demolition).
Library campaigners therefore decided it was legitimate to lobby Eshalomi, and will be attending a fund-raising “pizza and politics” event being hosted by Heidi Alexander, the Labour frontbencher, and Bermondsey MP Neil Coyle in Walworth tonight to do just that.
Information about the protest has been distributed in Lambeth by members of Momentum, the grouping formed to support the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
It is this latter point which has irritated Reed, somewhat more than the closures of public libraries. Reed is a leading member of Progress, the Blairite party-within-the-Labour-Party, which has received millions of pounds in backing from Lord Sainsbury and which has been energetic in purging the Labour membership, in Croydon as well as Lambeth, of new members attracted to the party since Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership.
“Disgusting that Momentum idiots picketing young black female Labour candidate’s fundraiser instead of backing her,” Reed tweeted after reading the story in a Murdoch newspaper.
Reed also described the library lobbying as “bullying” and “unacceptable”.
Reed does not seem to have considered what might be seen as more “unacceptable” – such as the abandoning of manifesto commitments by his former council colleagues, the implementation of Tory austerity policies, the ignoring of alternative proposals – on housing as well as libraries – by the unions, or the political incompetence and imbecility of the Labour leadership in Lambeth to push through such unpopular measures in the weeks before an important election.
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, and Eshalomi were confronted by library campaigners at the weekend, with Khan having to deal with placards stating “Lambeth kills our libraries”.
“It’s sad to rain on Sadiq’s parade – but we have no choice,” Laura Swaffield, the chair of the Friends of Lambeth Libraries, told the South London Press. “Lambeth Labour is letting him down badly. We’ve pointed out again and again that Lambeth is spending far more on wrecking libraries than it would on saving them. But they won’t listen.”
The Murdoch press, and Progress’s Reed, has used tonight’s protest to try to dismiss the library campaigners as far-left militants. In a kettle-calling-pot moment, Reed referred to “entryism” and sought to prescribe who should be allowed to join Momentum.
Reed is not alone in vocalising opposition to the army of new members who have signed up for Labour since Corbyn became leader. Chuka Umunna, the MP for the neighbouring Streatham constituency who nearly ran for the Labour leadership but then had second thoughts, described tonight’s picket as “madness”. But then, with parliamentary boundary changes coming, there will be a few MPs, perhaps including Reed and Umunna, who may yet be subject to re-selection processes, where they will have to make their case to the new, larger constituency membership.
It is worth noting that the Murdoch press – in the midst of the massive Government meltdown on economic policy – has today launched another attack on Corbyn’s leadership, with the publication of a list of Labour MPs, purportedly drawn up by the leader’s office or someone close to it, in which their levels of loyalty were rated into five categories – from loyalists in a “Core” group, through to “Hostile”.
On reading the newspaper, Umunna will have found himself in the “Hostile” group, along with former deputy leader Harriet Harman, and Sadiq Khan.
Reed, who was confirmed in a shadow minister’s job under Corbyn, is rated only “Negative”, and not outright “Hostile”.
This may surprise many grassroots party members in Lambeth South. It is widely believed that it has been Blairites who were behind the attempt to kick Andrew Fisher, a Corbyn adviser and Croydon resident, out of Labour, as part of a Progress purge intended to maintain their grip on power.
For its part, after this latest attacks over staging a legitimate piece of political lobbying of election candidate Florence Eshalomi, a Momentum spokesperson said: “Momentum is behind Flo’s campaign fully. There are lots of Momentum people across Lambeth and Southwark who are campaigning for both her and Sadiq Khan.”
In the meantime, Reed’s somewhat patronising defence of his friend Eshalomi, as a “young black female”, has not been commented upon. These factors did not seem to bother Reed too much in 2012 when he sacked the “young black female” from his council cabinet over her mishandling of that year’s Lambeth Country Show.
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