More details have emerged from the Croydon North Labour annual meeting a fortnight ago which demonstrate that the power struggle in the party nationally between Blairites and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn is also being played out fiercely at local level.
Some senior members of the local party have begun to investigate how they might de-select the Progress-backing constituency MP, Steve Reed OBE.
The distrust and disquiet among members over the conduct of Labour’s elected representatives also extends to the local council leadership.
Someone who attended the meeting of the CLP – Constituency Labour Party – has told Inside Croydon how Tony Newman, the leader of Labour group on Croydon Council, angrily confronted one official for daring to try to get Reed to express publicly and honestly his position over the party’s leadership.
It is less than a year since Corbyn was elected as Labour Party leader, with almost 60 per cent of the vote of members. In 2015, Croydon North was one of the CLPs to nominate Corbyn, doing so after the majority of its members had voted to oust from the chairmanship of the local party a close ally of Reed’s.
After its latest AGM, Croydon North now has its third local party chair in barely 12 months. Catriona Ogilvy, formerly part of Reed’s clique within Lambeth Labour, was replaced a year ago by Patsy Cummings, a long-time activist from Norwood and known to be seeking selection by a safe ward to become a councillor.
Being CLP chair will have put Cummings in pole position if any vacancies came up among Croydon North’s Labour-voting council wards, or to seek selection ahead of the next local elections in 2018. Among those Labour councillors considered vulnerable to a challenge was gofer-golfer John Wentworth, the golf-loving, football-watching Upper Norwood councillor who doubles up as Reed’s election agent and gofer.
Wentworth is one of five Croydon Labour councillors in the past week to have signed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership.
Despite his TV-viewing misdemeanours in the council chamber, Wentworth was recently promoted by Newman to a council cabinet position, and extra allowances. And Wentworth’s position seems even stronger now, after Cummings was blocked from standing as Croydon North CLP chair by her own ward – Upper Norwood – which declined to put her forward.
The position instead went to Ann O’Connor, known to be a firm supporter of Reed.
Other positions determined at the meeting saw Clive Fraser, a former councillor, re-elected as the CLP’s recruitment officer, and Genevieve Murray-Dinsmore as the ethnic minorities official.
At the time of the meeting, Reed was a “loyal” member of Corbyn’s shadow team. Within 48 hours, the vice-chair of the Blairite’s Progress party-within-a-party had joined the rebellion against Corbyn within the Parliamentary Labour Party and was making calls for Corbyn to stand down.
Reed’s reluctance to come clean about his intentions to his local party members is explained by one local member: “All becomes clear on finding out that the resignations were being coordinated by Conor McGinn, a Labour whip. He was texting the MPs to tell them when to resign, making sure that each one had made it on to TV before giving the next MP the word to go. So that there was a drip-drip-drip of news all day, maximising the damage to the Labour Party.
“Poor old Reed is so little-known that he was left until almost last before he was given permission to resign. He is not even important to his own side, he’s just one of the pawns.”
Reed’s resignation from his junior position in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet included the claim that he had consulted the CLP meeting. Those attending the CLP annual meeting are adamant that this is untrue.
Reed repeated that false claim in a letter to all Labour members in Croydon North, sent on Monday: “I am writing to explain why I have joined the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs from all wings of the party in supporting a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and why I now believe we need a new leader who can unite the party,” Reed wrote.
“I took my decision after consulting Croydon North Constituency Labour Party members at our Annual General Meeting on Friday 24 June when we had a discussion about the no confidence motion. The meeting was open to all members. Strong views were expressed both for and against Jeremy remaining as leader with no majority view on either side. The mood of the meeting, which did not take a vote, was that I should listen to the arguments and make my own decision, which I have now done.”
This has raised further questions of Reed’s apparently unreliable relationship with the truth.
“His letter is simply not a true account of what happened,” said one Labour councillor who attended the meeting.
Another Labour councillor from a ward in Croydon North said, “Reed would never have been selected for the seat if he hadn’t lied about Val Shawcross.”
Reed, a controversial figure when the leader of Lambeth Council, was selected by Croydon North to stand for the safe Labour seat in 2012, following the death of Malcolm Wicks. Reed won the selection ballot by a handful of votes, and only after the bogus issue of the cost of a London Assembly by-election if Shawcross was to run for parliament was raised.
Reed’s letter to Croydon North members provides a list of nine points critical of Corbyn, apparently gleaned straight from the Bliar-supporting Progress group.
Labour members in Croydon are unconvinced by Reed’s dissembling. “I believe that he has been part of a plot since Corbyn was elected or even before, designed to overthrow Corbyn at the earliest opportunity,” one senior local party figure told Inside Croydon.
“Other Progress members and supporters in Croydon, known as friends and colleagues of Reed, have openly said from the outset that they will never accept Corbyn as leader.
“Most commentators seem to think the local election and by-election results under Corbyn have been good, and no doubt would have been even better if it hadn’t been for the sniping from the right. If members of the Progress such as Reed undermine Corbyn’s leadership at every turn, their claims that he is not an effective leader becomes self-fulfilling because of their refusal to accept his democratic selection.
“Jeremy was elected with a huge mandate nine months ago. It’s reasonable to expect all Labour MPs, including Reed, to unite behind that mandate.
“The right-wing of the party know that they would never win against Corbyn in an election by members of the party, hence they resort to these underhand tactics.
“Reed has seriously let down thousands of Labour Party members in Croydon and across the country who support Jeremy Corbyn and believe in democracy in the party.”
Meetings of Labour members at ward level in Croydon North have expressed anger at the MP’s conduct. Progress supporters are understood to have been instrumental in attempts to get Corbyn’s advisor, Croydon resident Andrew Fisher, suspended from the party and to block others from returning to the Labour Party as members. Now disgusted by Reed’s conduct over Corbyn, some Croydon North members are investigating how they might be able to deselect their MP.
Yet again, though, they could be disappointed. There needs to be a trigger ballot achieving a two-thirds majority of the CLP calling for a re-selection for the next parliament. With Reed’s choice safely installed as CLP chair, this seems unlikely to be achievable.
As one senior Croydon Labour figure said, “In the absence of the trigger ballot, the MP in a safe seat has a job for life if they want it.”
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