Things are heating up in the Labour Party, with the split away of the Independent Group and the continuing intrigues of the right wing in the PLP. Grassroots activists provide here a picture of the militant mood on the ground.
Enfield, North London
By Dillon Lauder, Enfield Southgate CLP
The London Borough of Enfield has been through a tumultuous time politically in the last few years. Former Labour MP for Enfield North, Joan Ryan, had been a fierce saboteur of Corbyn in the run up to the 2017 general election, infamously undermining the Labour leader publically on her very own general election leaflet.
In September 2018, Enfield North Labour CLP members submitted a motion of no confidence in Ryan, which was passed narrowly by 94 votes to 92. Of course, national media headlines covered the story by focusing on the fact that the meeting was bizarrely “filmed by Iranian State TV”.
This blatantly obscured the real issue: that Joan Ryan is completely ideologically detached from the left-wing programme of Corbyn and the majority of grassroots Labour members.
In the wake of this loss, Ryan blamed “Trots, Stalinists, Communists and an assorted hard left” for her narrow defeat. Ryan recently quit the Labour Party to join the so-called “Independent Group”. But she remains MP for Enfield North, refusing to call a by-election (which she knows she would lose).
Ryan, the former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, stated that she had to leave the party because lifelong anti-racist campaigner Corbyn had “allowed the Labour Party to become institutionally anti-semitic”. But the Enfield North CLP secretary, Maria McCaul, gave the real reason for Ryan’s ejection from the party. Maria told the Enfield Dispatch:
“I’m relieved she has resigned because Joan has, on a number of occasions, publicly shown that she does not support this Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn…I will be calling for her to resign to allow for a by-election. If Joan Ryan truly has the interest of our vulnerable residents who are suffering tremendously under this Tory government, she will step aside. Even among her supporters in the CLP, it is the majority view.”
Most importantly, Ryan was out of step with the anti-austerity politics defending by local party activists.
In January this year, Enfield North CLP passed a motion for local Labour councillors to oppose all budget cuts. The motion stated that:
“Local authority services are facing catastrophic funding cuts all across the country, as part of the Tory government’s policy of economic austerity. In the London Borough of Enfield, the ruling Labour administration is preparing to comply with the latest round of Tory cuts, even though the council has already cut £178m since 2010. For the 2019/20 financial year, it is planning to implement a further £18m of cuts. Vital services are under threat and the impact will fall most heavily on the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community.”
It went on to urge “Labour councillors to adopt a brave and principled position”, “build a mass campaign to topple this Tory government”, and “implement a no cuts budget”.
This motion to defend a “no cuts budget” led to a small rally outside Enfield Council later on in February, pushing for Labour councillors not to vote for cuts. But 46 Labour councillors voted for the cuts, with one Labour councillor, Tolga Aramaz, voting to abstain.
Cllr Aramaz gave a deeply sincere and earnest speech stating:
“I campaigned on a socialist ticket and the people of Edmonton, the most deprived area in the borough (of Enfield), overwhelmingly voted for me on the basis that I would serve their interests…By accepting Tory cuts, I will be doing nothing but letting them down.”
For this, Tolga was suspended from the Labour Party, with right-wing council leader Cllr Nesil Caliskan stating that: “Cllr Aramaz has been suspended because of a breach of a national Labour Party rule when he abstained on the budget.”
Many Enfield Labour Party members are furious at the fact that a representative of Labour has been suspended for wanting to defend working class communities.
Unfortunately, until recently, the local Labour left have not been strong enough or organised enough, allowing careerists and right-wing councillors to take positions through the backdoor.
But with the departure of Joan Ryan, a completely new lease of life has been brought back into the Labour Party in Enfield North. CLP meetings last for hours, with many motions being brought forward and debated. This shows the enthusiasm people have for a Labour Party that is not held back by people who want to further their careers; a Labour Party that is run by and for people who want to genuinely change society.
This was underlined by a recent meeting of the Labour4Clause4 roadshow, which visited Enfield North CLP on 7 March. The room was packed out, with over 80 in attendance. The meeting clearly showed the enthusiasm that exists for the reintroduction of Labour socialist clause.
People were eager to understand about the history of Clause 4, asking sincere questions on how we can ensure that the aims of Clause 4 are implemented.
What is needed now is to continue and complete this transformation inside the Labour Party at every level. We need to implement mandatory reselection and hold Labour MPs and councillors to account in relation to fighting the cuts. We need bold socialist policies that pierce straight through the heart of this rotten capitalist system, putting the real wealth creators – the working class – in charge of society.
Streatham, South London
By Beatrice Palmieri, Streatham CLP
On 28 February, Streatham CLP had its first All-Members Meeting (AMM) since voting to adopt that structure the previous month. Given the recent departure of the local MP, Chuka Umunna, the atmosphere was electric. Also palpable was the intense disgruntlement of many grassroots activists at the continued dishonesty and manoeuvring of the right-wing CLP Executive.
This started even before the meeting itself, with many members not receiving the email notice. This happens regularly, to the point where comrades have had to lodge complaints with the regional LP office. Having lost the ability to control the CLP through the previous delegate structure, the right wing are now using the cheapest and lowest tricks to stymie grassroots participation and hold onto their positions.
This and their antics during the meeting itself – including the chair physically snatching the microphone away from a member who raised the need to have proof of anti-semitism claims – shows just how out of touch these people are with the rank and file.
The right-wingers attempted to pass a “code of conduct”, urging members to debate in a “respectful and constructive manner”. This is such hypocrisy, after revealing that a backlog of motions going back as far as ten months had “been lost” and as such would not be debated.
It is clear what the purpose of this motion was: to attack the freedom of the left to criticise the right wing’s bureaucratic manoeuvring. Later, one right-winger went on a rant about “the hard left taking over the party” and managed to alienate almost everyone in the room with his hysterical and entirely unfounded accusations.
Generally, this meeting marked several major victories for the left, not least of all the resounding defeat of the right’s proposed code of conduct.
The most important victories, however, were on the questions of cuts to children’s centres in Lambeth, and on the question of anti-semitism. The latter question is bound up in Streatham with Chuka Umunna himself, as the ex-Labour MP has consistently stated his concern about “institutional antisemitism” in the party.
The right wing locally have completely bowed down to this unfounded assertion. They attempted to remove a sentence condemning Umunna for his comments from a motion asking him to step down and call a by-election. But they were defeated and the motion was passed in full.
This shows that the left in the CLP is not ready to simply take what these bureaucrats say at face value, nor be fooled by the smear campaign against Corbyn in the bosses’ press.
The other big issue in Lambeth has been on the agenda for months now: the new wave of cuts imposed by the Tory government, to the tune of £49 million. These have forced the council to propose closing down five children’s centres, which provide a lifeline for working parents.
The right-wing councillors try to frame this as “savings” rather than “cuts”, incessantly blaming the Tory government in an attempt to absolve themselves of all responsibility.
One member of the left pointed out this hypocrisy, calling for councillors to lead the struggle against Tory cuts – not only in meeting rooms but on the streets! A Socialist Appeal supporter pointed out the need for a London-wide anti-cuts campaign, the possibility of which has been opened up by the recent action in Enfield North CLP (see above).
In the end, the meeting voted overwhelmingly to reject all cuts, forcing the right and the councillors to show their hand and openly vote in favour of applying cuts to the children’s centres.
There are several important conclusions we can draw from recent events in Streatham. Firstly, the departure of Chuka and the Blairite anti-semitism smear campaign have helped harden the left faction. In turn, this has drawn many new activists towards the organised left locally, no doubt alienated by the right’s constant bending over backwards to appease someone who, at this point, has actually split from the Labour Party!
Secondly, the struggle against cuts to council services is inextricably tied to the nationwide struggle to bring Labour to power on a socialist programme. And lastly, this cannot be achieved until we rid our party of careerists and cynical Blairite bureaucrats. This is why we need mandatory reselection.
Simon Anderson, Southampton Test CLP
On 21 February, Southampton and Romsey CLP voted by an overwhelming majority for a motion that demanded that the last two council-owned care homes in the city – Holcroft and Glen Lee – remain open. This came after the Labour-dominated city council had originally discussed closing them. After consulting their members and the public as a whole, Unison and Unite unions, who represent the care home workers, supported the motion.
This is only the latest in the growing rift between the grassroots of the party and the Blairite council. After years of suffering cuts to services in the name of the Labour Party, the rank and file have had enough. They aren’t willing to listen to the council’s excuses anymore.
The care homes issue first emerged last October when the council budget was announced. Both care homes were to close, resulting in the loss of 70 jobs and effectively the complete privatisation of the care home system in Southampton.
Local Labour Party members at the time passed a motion by 83-5 condemning this planned closure. This was followed by a protest outside Labour’s South Eastern regional conference by workers from the care homes.
Local members have moved in the correct direction, deselecting the Blairite councillor for Bitterne, John Jordan, in January, and putting in his place Momentum-backed candidate Andy Frampton, to contest the local elections taking place there in May.
Terrified by these developments and the threat of a strike by care home workers, the council were forced to make a compromise. Holcroft would stay open but Glen Lee would close.
In trying to justify this new decision, council leader Chris Hammond has been accused by activists of deliberately falsifying information and misleading both the council and the local party in stating that both Unison and Unite, who had consulted their members over the issue, had supported this new arrangement.
Party members saw through this ruse, however. All Hammond and the cabinet did was to expose themselves as self-serving careerists, seeking to maintain their position above the working class by any means necessary.
The motion, drafted by the local Momentum leadership, calls for both care homes to remain open and a review to take place into social care in Southampton. This is a good first step, but it is not enough. A review does not change the chronic situation the council remains in, nor does it improve the social care of ordinary people.
The justification that the council leader has used to justify the cuts is to attack Tory cuts to council budgets. This is no doubt a serious issue; the Tories have savagely attacked local government as part of its austerity programme, itself a product of the crisis of capitalism.
Indeed, under Thatcher in the 1980s a similar situation emerged, with the budgets of councils slashed. One of few Labour councils to stand up to the Tories was Liverpool’s. This fighting socialist council understood that it was better to break the law than break the poor. They did not put forward excuses.
Through setting a so-called illegal budget, the councillors were able to gain huge support, both from the ranks of the party and the workers of Liverpool as a whole. As a result of this fightback, they forced Thatcher to give concessions in the form of funding. This is the first step to forcing the representatives of the ruling class to go on the run!
However, in order to create a fighting socialist council, we need fighting socialist councillors – those who truly represent the interests of the working class and the rank and file. We should have the power to replace councillors who serve the interests of the capitalist class with those who won’t.
All councillors should be subject to democratic accountability and members should have the right to choose their candidates. This is why we need mandatory reselection for councillors as well as MPs: to kick out the Blairites, the careerists within our party, and replace them with socialist representatives who will pave the way for a socialist Labour government.
- Save Holcroft and Glenn Lee!
- Break the law, not the poor!
- Mandatory reselection now!