Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on the latest developments within local Labour parties, including in LibDem Tom Brake’s Carshalton and Wallington fiefdom
Momentum, the grassroots movement established to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and values within the Labour Party, gained, well… some momentum within a couple of local Constituency Labour Parties, or CLPs, as they held internal elections and annual meetings this week.
Yet it was where Momentum made absolutely no inroads into the established Blairite order that probably provided the worst news for Tony “Soprano” Newman, the leader of the Labour group at Croydon Council, just as he headed off on his holibobs (some suggested to Sicily).
Newman and his Blairite “Gang of Four” who hold an iron grip on all matters at the Town Hall have been in a state of near civil war for more than five years with the equally “Blue Labour” officers of Croydon South CLP: chair Andy Bagnall and his partner and CLP secretary Jo Milligan.
On Tuesday night, the Purley pair were re-elected for another year’s term, with Momentum not even putting up any alternative candidates for key positions.
This will have dismayed Newman and party officials in the rest of the borough, as under Bagnall and Milligan, Croydon South’s CLP has declared a virtual UDI from the rest of Croydon Labour. Together with a couple of close supporters, Bagnall and Milligan are accused of disrupting the LCF, or Local Campaign Forum (an organisation which maintains local party power with the leadership at its centre), and they have withdrawn their CLP’s funding for important local party activities.
“The present South reps are awful,” bemoaned one senior official this week, “so aggressive that they make the LCF almost unworkable.”
During the General Election campaign, Bagnall and Milligan directed their local party to campaign for one of their Progress chums on the south coast as often as they did to neighbouring Croydon Central, where a wave of Corbynista enthusiasm carried Sarah Jones to a 5,000-vote majority. Newman, in his Croydon party circulars, can barely bring himself to mention Croydon South CLP, such is the disconnect within the party locally.
In Croydon North, much to the relief of Newman and Steve Reed OBE, the some-time official within the Blair-supporting party within a party called Progress, right wingers have already re-trenched themselves in key CLP positions, with Clive Fraser and Janet Campbell at the helm.
This should delay or deter any threat of disgruntled members carry out threats of re-selection on MP Reed for his display of disloyalty in the “Chicken Coup” against Corbyn last summer.
This is a CLP where at least one party member remains under “administrative suspension”, without any disciplinary hearing or opportunity to clear their name of the charges against them, following a witchhunt by Blairites against any challenge to their grip on power.
The Croydon North elections should strengthen Fraser’s hopes of being selected for a winnable Labour ward on the council, whether in the forthcoming South Norwood by-election, or in the Town Hall elections next May.
But it was a different story at Croydon Central’s annual meeting in Ruskin House on Wednesday night, when there was a cleansweep for candidates from the left, an interesting development for a branch where, last year, even mention of the word “Blairite” was banned (banned, it should be noted, by the terribly sensitive Blairites who control the regional party).
Jones – who 12 months ago was backing leadership challenger Owen “Who?” Smith – has credited her election success to Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour manifesto which was written in large-part by Croydon-based policy adviser Andrew Fisher, and to the battalions of Momentum supporters who turned out to campaign for her.
As the new MP stood down as the chair of her local party, youthful Momentum member Caragh Skipper replaced her, with Danielle Lowe elected as CLP treasurer and as one of the constituency’s LCF representatives. Veteran official David White, also a Momentum supporter, remains as secretary.
“Just as importantly, the executive committee is a good reflection of all shades of opinionin the party,” someone at the Ruskin House meeting said.
The events in Ruskin House this week were calmness personified when compared to the uproar across the borough boundary in the previously moribund CLP of Carshalton and Wallington. After years of docilely accepting their fate of living in a LibDem stalag under the boot of MP Tom Brake, the General Election campaign has galvanised many Labour supporters in Sutton with ambition to get a foothold on the council next May.
But this Momentum momentum was not appreciated by everyone attending the Carshalton and Wallington CLP annual meeting this week, with shouted complaints and at least one bitter long-term member stomping off into the rainy night as a “slate” of candidates was elected to key positions, with the chair now Ahmad Wattoo, his deputies Patrick Sim and Maggie Hughes, secretary Nick Diamantis and election agent Mary Towler.
“The meeting was packed,” one observer said. “The old guard had never seen that before. They seemed to think that was somehow wrong. They tried to claim that because Momentum had got organised and emailed a slate of candidates that they suggested should be elected, this was wrong and made the outcome of the AGM invalid.
“Yet across the country, that’s exactly what the Lord Sainsbury-funded Progress and Luke Akehurst’s Labour First have been doing for years.
“One of the main reasons that Brake and his LibDems has held on for so long in Sutton has been that Labour in Carshalton and Wallington has been moribund. Now, it will be run by people who actually want Labour to fight to win the seat and win councillors and put an end to the tactical voting. Brake and his cult should be very worried.”
With local elections looming in 10 months’ time, candidate selection is already underway. Before he jetted off to the Mediterranean on a holiday paid for out of his £50,000-plus annual “council allowances”, Newman (a proud supporter of Owen Smith) had insultated himself and his leadership clique from too many incursions on key wards by Corbyn supporters by imposing an interview panel from outside the borough on the process.
Whether that strategy has worked may be seen within a couple of weeks, when the Labour candidate for the first of possibly two up-coming council by-elections is announced.
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