Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on backing for Croydon North’s centrist MP from a surprising source
Steve Reed OBE must have had a relaxed weekend after he received a ringing endorsement of his position as MP for Croydon North from the local branch of … Momentum.
Amid all the angst caused over the weekend by Streatham centrist MP Chuka Umunna using a Progress platform to demand that Jeremy Corbyn “call off the dogs” over votes of no confidence and possible reselection for Blairite MPs, Reed has been assured locally that there is no intention to deselect him.
Reed, the former vice-chairman of Progress, the Blairite party-within-a-party, has not had to face a vote of local party members since he was narrowly selected by the Croydon North CLP in 2012.
Momentum’s local branch’s declaration of solidarity is likely to boost Labour’s chances if Croydon goes to the polls in another snap General Election, something which is being predicted by senior national Labour politicians.
Chris Williamson, the Derby MP and loyal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, is expected to address a packed meeting at Ruskin House tonight as part of a “Democracy Roadshow”, where support is being sought for a change to Labour Party rules to ensure greater accountability to the membership by sitting MPs.
“Even the chair of Jeremy’s allotment society has to stand for election every year,” Williamson has said.
This morning, on Twitter, Williamson wrote: “Grassroots Labour Party members are not ‘attack dogs’ and the support for #OpenSelection is gaining momentum because it is a bottom-up campaign.”
He later confirmed that the roadshow would be at Ruskin House tonight, “promoting democracy inside the Labour Party to help to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn is our next prime minister”, adding the hashtag #ChangeIsComing.
Yet while Corbyn and his policies of “For The Many, Not The Few” have massive support among the Labour rank and file, with membership soaring to more than 550,000, there has been a concerted campaign to undermine the leader from his own back benches in Parliament.
Croydon is just the latest stop in south London for Williamson’s roadshow, following visits last week to Southwark and Streatham, where Blairite MPs such as Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) and Umunna have been feeling the heat from grassroots members who are angry at the MPs’ overt disloyalty to the leadership of Corbyn.
In 2016, Reed was among the first members of Corbyn’s shadow team at Westminster to follow Hilary Benn and resign their jobs, in a failed effort to force the party leader out of his post.
Reed, together with Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon Council, then openly backed the leadership challenge mounted by Owen Smith.
Momentum was formed soon after Corbyn became Labour leader, with the intention of supporting the Islington MP and his policies, many of which have been framed by shadow chancellor John McDonnell and adviser, Croydon resident Andrew Fisher, who in 2015 was himself the target of a Progress purge in his local constituency party.
Yet before the weekend, Croydon Momentum appeared to try to wash their hands of Williamson’s Democracy Roadshow at Ruskin House.
On Twitter, they stated that they wanted to make it clear that “whilst we are in favour of mandatory reselection as a point of basic democracy”, they were not seeking to deselect Reed.
“We aren’t and we didn’t even organise this event,” someone tweeted from the Croydon Momentum account.
For good measure, they pointed out that Ruskin House is not in the Croydon North constituency. It is an odd qualification to emphasise, since Momentum in Croydon has been organised on a borough-wide basis, with many of its meetings held at… Ruskin House.
Croydon Momentum’s efforts to distance itself from even the merest suggestion that it might have a different outlook to that of a leading member of Progress risks putting it out of step with the organisation nationally. The national Momentum organisation came out in favour of mandatory MP re-selection only last week.
It seems most likely that Croydon Momentum may have been swayed by one or two influential members who have recently had cause to thank council leader Tony Newman for preferment at the Town Hall.
Having observed the campaigning power of Momentum on behalf of Sarah Jones in her successful efforts to become Croydon Central MP – launched by a visit to the town centre by Jeremy Corbyn – Newman has since made it his mission to embrace Momentum members into paid roles on the council.
It appears to have done the job, blunting their radicalism pretty quickly with a bit of extra ready cash.
The Momentum group has just four or five out of Labour’s 41 Croydon councillors, and they have been well-courted by Newman, using tens of thousands of pounds of public money through the allowances system.
After four years in the wilderness, her talents ignored by Newman on the Town Hall back benches, Jane Avis, pictured right, found herself promoted to the heavyweight role at the council, covering Adult Services, paying her £45,168 a year. Some Labour councillors believe that Avis ought to have had that role since 2014 – but that was before the arrival of Corbyn, when Avis’s more radical politics were unpalatable to Newman and his Blairite Gang of Four, and he did not need to placate the growing influence of the left of his party.
A new councillor and Momentum leading light, Niroshan Sirisena was quickly found a deputy cabinet job when elected in May, and the £21,595 in allowances that goes with it.
And Andrew Pelling was put back into his pension committee chair role (£20,492 pa) after being sacked in December for having expressed worries that the council’s music venue licensing policy was discriminatory against black musicians.
Seems that in Croydon, cash manages to achieve exactly what Streatham’s under-threat Umunna was asking for.
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