Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on some significant shifts in position among some figures in the local Labour Party
Sarah Jones, Croydon Central’s new Labour MP, admits that she won the seat from the Tories at last month’s General Election because of the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
It is just 12 months since Jones, when chair of her CLP, Constituency Labour Party, welcomed to the town centre Owen Smith, the man put up by the Blairite right wingers of the Parliamentary Labour Party to try to oust Corbyn as leader.
But having won Croydon Central for Labour from Tory Gavin Barwell by more than 5,500 votes, Jones has told the BBC’s Daily Politics programme, “Jeremy Corbyn is our leader. He is tremendously popular now and has done tremendously well in terms of the election.
“I didn’t vote for Jeremy but he is responsible for my victory, I would say.
“The election campaign was one of the most extraordinary I have seen, having thought elections before and been in the party for many years, the shift was quite tangible in terms of the opinion of everybody we were talking to.
“I think the more that we’ve heard from Jeremy, and the framing of the debate – him being so clear about what we wanted versus Theresa May being so weak was extraordinary. I think he did tremendously well.”
In 2015, Jones had narrowly lost the seat to Barwell, by 165 votes.
Jones’s public acknowledgement of the importance of Corbyn to the groundswell of support for Labour across the country is significant, and represents a rapid re-appraisal as her party’s membership heads into a summer discussing rule changes and the management of the party’s affairs.
At one point not so long ago, Corbyn was regarded as an electoral liability, with too-clever-by-half Conservatives, including Jason Cummings, a senior member of Croydon Tories, signing up as three-quid supporters of Labour to get the Islington MP elected as opposition leader. Cummings, a sometime office aide to Barwell, was rendered unemployed by the General Election result.
Others, too, have been shifting their positions. Or just shifting.
Progress, the party-within-a-party set up to support Tony Blair and which did much to oppose and undermine Corbyn, is reported to be on the brink of financial collapse after Lord Sainsbury, the supermarket heir and its multi-millionaire funder, announced he was withdrawing his cash support.
Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North (delete to taste) is a past vice-chair of Progress. Reed was one of those members of the Labour front bench team who sought to bring down Corbyn with the “chicken coup”, as they announced their resignations over the course of a weekend. Despite this, Reed has been re-appointed to a minor shadow ministerial role by Corbyn.
But while Progress falters, another anti-Corbyn group, calling itself “Labour First” (imagine setting up an organisation, after Britain First had been established with all that it stands for, and nevertheless including the Trump-like use of “First” in your group’s title) has been lobbying and organising to oppose the democratically elected (twice over) party leader and his candidates. There have been reports over the weekend that Labour First candidates have been nominated by Reed’s Croydon North CLP.
Jones, meanwhile, has been openly acknowledging the impact that campaigners from Momentum, the Corbyn supporters’ group, made in the election for her, which began with a personal visit from the Labour leader on the first day of the campaign.
It has been a tumultuous few weeks for Jones, personally as well as politically. Her father, also a Labour supporter, died two days after the election, after seeing his daughter become Croydon’s first woman MP. It was his funeral last Thursday.
Still recruiting her own parliamentary and constituency staff, while “borrowing” a desk in Reed’s office at Westminster, Jones anticipates making her maiden speech in the House of Commons this week.
Sources close to the MP suggests that she has taken a look at her predecessor’s first parliamentary speech from 2010. “It was a pretty awful effort,” they said, “full of all the old clichés about Croydon’s image. Sarah wants to do better than that. But then she wants to be a better MP than what went before, too.”
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