Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, on the outcome of local Labour meetings and how their leadership nominations might reflect the direction of the party
There’s more than a touch of EuroVision about it. “And the decision of the Croydon Central jury is in…”.
The local Labour party in Central, covering the parliamentary constituency of MP Sarah Jones, delivered its verdict on who should be the next party leader and deputy leader last night, the third and final Croydon Constituency Labour Party to do so.
They nominated Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, the two front-runners in stacking up nominations from CLPs, unions and affiliated groups so far. Not that that will count for anything come the ballot of Labour members, which is supposed to be completed some time in … April.
Central was unusual in having its meeting addressed by two MPs: as well as Jones, Steve Reed OBE was also present (he lives in Shirley, in the constituency). The Croydon North MP spoke on behalf of Rayner. It might have just got her over the line, since sources inside the meeting suggest she won the nomination by a single vote ahead of Dawn Butler.
Why is any of this important? Possibly because it is the strongest indicator yet that the forces of Blairism within the Croydon Labour establishment are mobilising for their own version of “take back control”.
There has been an uneasy truce in Croydon between left and right since 2017, ever since Corbynmania and local Momentum supporters helped Jones win Croydon Central for Labour.
But the Blairites who dominate the key positions within the local party have never really gone away, and certainly never accepted the kind of socialist Labour Party which Jeremy Corbyn and his many thousands of supporters espouse. Remember when council leader Tony Newman and Jones backed Owen Smith and welcomed him to Croydon at the start of his leadership challenge to Corbyn?
But after five years and despite an apparent numerical advantage within the local party memberships, Corbyn-supporting Momentum has so far not shown itself to be well enough organised in Croydon to start to exercise real influence – none of the Momentum’s preferred candidates were nominated by any of Croydon’s three CLPs.
In that first flush of enthusiasm back in 2015, and again in 2016, Croydon Central nominated Corbyn. This time, with more than 80 members present, Rebecca Long-Bailey, the “Corbyn Continuity” candidate, failed to get the nomination.
Croydon North and Croydon South nominated their candidates in the leadership elections last week, with former deputy chair of Progress Reed nudging North (who nominated Corbyn in 2015 and 2016), to back the centrist slate of Starmer and Rayner.
Croydon South – who backed Liz Kendall in 2015 – this time nominated Lisa Nandy and, as deputy, Ian Murray, a move which, although appearing somewhat eclectic, may actually not be as eccentric as it first seems.
South’s nomination is one of 37 received by Murray, Labour’s only MP in Scotland, and so helps to ensure that he will be on the ballot papers that eventually go out to members, thus broadening a choice which has failed to enthuse many within the party.
The nominations tally this morning are Keir Starmer 201, Rebecca Long-Bailey 96, Lisa Nandy 40 and Emily Thornberry 13.
For deputy, the numbers are Angela Rayner 200, Dawn Butler 49, Richard Burgon 39, Ian Murray 37 and Rosena Allin-Khan 27.
These are numbers which count for nothing once the one-member-one-vote process gets underway (though if you don’t scramble on to the ballot paper, as could be the case for Thornberry and Tooting MP Allin-Khan, this will be as far as you get).
But what the nominations of Starmer and Rayner in Croydon represent, an underlying shift away from Corbyn’s brand of policy, is causing some concern among his loyal Croydon supporters.
“A Starmer-Rayner combination, which looks the likely outcome on present trends, will definitely move the party away from Corbyn’s ideals, at least to an extent,” one Labour veteran said this morning.
“I thought last night’s result was likely when I walked into the room at Ruskin Huse and saw every single right-wing Labour councillor who lives in Croydon Central there, as well as the two MPs, who both spoke,” he said, perhaps reflecting, too, the failure of Momentum or the left to be as well organised in getting out their supporters to vote for their candidates.
How such tensions within Labour play out in Croydon, we may see over the next couple of months as the two sides line up behind their candidates for the London Assembly – in the red corner Patsy Cummings, and in the Blue Labour corner, Rowenna Davis.
Davis has already had a public endorsement from Reed, much to his CLP members’ angst: Cummings is a Croydon North member.
That Labour’s London Region has made such a pig’s ear of the selection process for May’s London elections that they have managed to minimise either candidate’s chances of unseating the Tories in Croydon and Sutton may be the most significant factor, though who turns out to canvass for whom will be worth watching.
But, still trying to get over the bitter disappointment of Corbyn’s General Election defeat in December, our Labour veteran foresees a slipping back to Blairism in his local party, at least. “They will say it’s a matter of priorities,” they said. “Things like free broadband and free dental checks will be put on the back burner. Foreign policy will change, too – no more clear support for the Palestinians.
“And internal Labour Party democracy will take a hit – no move to open selections.”
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