Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on how the battle for the heart and soul of the Labour Party is coming to the borough next week
One of Jeremy Corbyn’s most loyal supporters in the Parliamentary Labour Party, Chris Williamson MP, is due to visit Croydon next week as part of something he calls “The Democracy Roadshow”.
Top of the agenda at the roadshows is the mandatory re-selection of MPs, and Williamson’s visit to Croydon will be a signal that Momentum is parking its tanks firmly on the Shirley Hills lawns of Progress MP Steve Reed OBE.
One extraordinary aspect of the Democracy Roadshow as it rolled through south London this week has been the presence alongside Williamson at the top table of the debates in Southwark and Streatham of Jack Buck.
“Our organiser organising to deselect MPs,” as one Croydon Labour councillor told Inside Croydon this morning.
Buck is employed by the Labour group on Croydon Council, and is the self-described “borough organiser” for Croydon Labour, where part of his job has been to help campaign to get Reed re-elected to parliament.
Buck, who was elected as a councillor in Southwark in May, appears to have taken a couple of days off from his desk located in MP Sarah Jones’s constituency office to be involved in the Democracy Roadshows.
He tweeted: “My two days on the #DemocracyRoadshow with @DerbyChrisW & a host of fantastic other speakers has been brilliant. We’ve made the case for an open @UKLabour, where our members are sovereign & where positive and diverse debate is encouraged as the norm!”
Another eager enthusiast in the front row of last night’s Democracy Roadshow in Streatham – the seat where committed Blairite Chuka Umunna is MP – was Ministry of Justice civil servant Felicity Flynn, taking the evening off from her duties as a New Addington North councillor.
Williamson attended last night straight from the fractious meetings and protests outside the national Labour Party HQ. The Derby MP tweeted, “I was in Streatham constituency tonight for the latest #DemocracyRoadshow. Really positive meeting and a unanimous vote in favour of #MandatoryReselection too. And I had the added privilege of meeting Labour movement legend Ted Knight.”
Knight, of course, is the former leader of Lambeth Council who opposed the imposition of Thatcherite Tory policies on the borough in the 1980s, and who now is the organiser of many of the meetings held at Ruskin House for the trades union-aligned Croydon Assembly.
According to some Corbyn-supporting social media, Williamson and the Democracy Roadshow will be rolling up at Ruskin House next Monday, September 10, from 7.30pm.
The Democracy Roadshow’s own website does not yet show details of the Croydon event.
The visit to Croydon cannot be interpreted as anything other than a first step towards triggering the re-selection process for Croydon North MP Reed, one of the all-too-eager participants in the “Chicken Coup” against Corbyn’s leadership two summers ago.
Reed’s climb up the greasy pole of a political career was based in local government in Lambeth, eventually as leader of the council, where he firmly rejected the radical Labour politics of the 1980s.
Williamson’s grand tour has caused some irritation to many Labour MPs when he has turned up on their patches during to urge party members to push for member power in changes to selection rules of MPs and the Labour leader.
Those to the left of the party, and members of Momentum, who support such moves will need to be very much better organised in Croydon North than they have demonstrated so far if they are to stage a serious challenge to Reed. At the constituency Labour party’s annual meeting over the summer, Reed looked to reinforce his own position through having several associate organisations and societies registered, all of whom could back him if his status as Labour constituency candidate is ever raised.
With Labour’s growing membership – 550,000 strong at the last count – Williamson feels that the party’s best asset is its members, who have “nothing to fear from democracy”.
Others see the push to dismantle the usual automatic re-selection of sitting Labour MPs as an attempt to rid the Parliamentary Labour Party of those who have been disloyal to Corbyn.
Some of those, such as Umunna, have already been linked to creating a centrist, Blairite breakaway party. Others, such as Reed (pictured right), have been openly members of a party-within-the-party, in Progress, for years.
Momentum have come out in favour of democratised MP selection this week, emphasising how in American politics using primary elections to give over much of the control of political parties led to 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeating 10-term Joe Crowley to become the Democrat candidate in New York’s 14th congressional district.
Momentum are not proposing that voters outside the Labour Party can choose Labour candidates, as happens in America, but encouraged by that selection of a female BAME candidate, some members in Croydon feel that with 64.8 per cent of the population in Croydon North being from BAME communities, that it is time to move on from them being represented by a Labour MP who they see as pale, male and stale.
Reed – with Corbyn as his party leader – has seen the Labour vote share in Croydon North rise from 56 per cent to 74.2 per cent.
But as the Democracy Roadshow campaign states, MPs’ jobs should not be for life.
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