On Friday night, Garston & Halewood Constituency Labour Party (CLP) met to vote on which candidate to support in the Labour leadership election. There has been considerable controversy over CLP meetings, with the CLPs of Wallasey (brief leadership challenger Angela Eagle’s constituency) and Brighton and Hove being suspend after allegations of abuse – since convincingly refuted but the CLPs have not been reinstated.
So I thought it might be of interest to describe Friday’s meeting of the CLP of Angela Eagle’s sister, Maria, to let people know from the inside what such meetings are really like and counterbalance some of the outlandish claims of Labour MPs who – perversely in view of their treatment of Jeremy Corbyn and description of his supporters as ‘dogs’, ‘trots’, ‘thugs’, ‘rabble’ and the like – are trying to depict themselves as victims.
The meeting was held at Garston Urban Village Hall, a larger venue than the one that hosts the usual monthly CLP meetings (suspended by order of a subset of the Labour NEC), which was a good thing as there was a substantial turnout – 120 people eligible to vote were checked in, while 20 or so newer members who had been re-disenfranchised by that afternoon’s nonsensical appeal court decision, but had either not heard about it or had decided to come anyway, were not able to enter. They were accommodated in a separate room so they could discuss the points they wanted and have the result relayed to them as soon as the meeting concluded, which was a decent way of making the ‘best of a bad job’.
Maria Eagle attended the meeting, sitting with a fellow anti-Corbyn attendee, with whom – ironically considering the official proscription of ‘uncomradely’ behaviour – she shared much eye-rolling and tutting at each pro-Corbyn point made during the debate. More of her later, since she didn’t participate in the discussion.
At the beginning of the meeting, after tellers for the vote count were appointed, the Chair announced the rule for the discussion that speakers could only speak positively about their preferred candidate and not negatively about the other. This meant that my own prepared notes were relegated to my back pocket, since I had planned a comparison of Jeremy Corbyn’s track record of integrity with the ‘Damascene conversion’ (as described by Matt Wrack of the FBU) of Owen Smith and the comments and actions of those backing him and certain to pull him immediately back to the right in the event of a Smith win.
But it wasn’t hard to focus on the positives about Corbyn, either for myself or any of the others who spoke to him. By contrast, those speaking for Smith evidently struggled to think of anything beyond repetition of the unevidenced ‘more credible and electable’ claim.
So, who were the people who spoke for Corbyn? Were they the ‘trots, entryists, rabble and thugs’ variously described by anti-Corbyn MPs including deputy leader Tom Watson?
Far from it. I don’t know personally who every single one of the pro-Corbyn speakers was, but I know they included:
- a consultant obstetrician
- a retired teacher and an active one
- a company director
- a property developer
- a very nervous lady in a wheelchair
Hardly the horde of ‘hard left’ agitators portrayed by hysterical MPs and media.
The topics covered by those supporting Corbyn included:
- the myth of the unelectability of a man who inspires tens of thousands of people to turn out in all weathers to support him and hundreds of thousands to join the Labour party, many of whom have never previously been active in politics and a substantial number of whom did not previously bother to vote for the lack of a real alternative
- the myth that a man, who has withstood the machinations of rebellious MPs, a relentless media onslaught and post-‘brexit’ fall-out that saw off David Cameron, George Osborne, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and many others and is not only still standing, but bringing even more people to join the party even when they know they won’t be entitled to vote, is not a leader
- Corbyn’s integrity, track record and vision
- the hope that he represents for so many
- the massive increase in membership and the beginnings of a huge social movement that he has inspired
Speakers on both sides were able to speak without interruption – apart from one pro-Smith speaker who was unable to prevent herself launching a tirade against Corbyn’s supposed failings and who was interrupted on a ‘point of order’ to remind her of the ground rules of the debate and who was very brief once she couldn’t denigrate the party leader – and heard respectfully. Many Corbyn supporters even applauded any well-made points by pro-Smith speakers – I didn’t observe whether this was reciprocated, so I can’t say whether it was. Points were made passionately, but with no trace of abuse (apart from the above-mentioned speaker, but even she refrained from name-calling etc).
Some highlights (or at least points of interest):
The General Secretary of the USDAW union, which officially supported Smith, is a member of the CLP and spoke for Smith. His contribution (essentially but not in exactly these words) was to defend the decision to support Smith on the decision of the union’s executive without allowing the union’s members a say, on the grounds that it was done for their good, because Smith is electable (yes, that again) and the one who can ‘unify the party’.
The lady who stood up immediately after him to observe ‘You talk about electability but you’re just guessing – nobody knows until there’s an election – and Jeremy has united hundreds of thousands around a real vision’.
The retired teacher, who spoke of her children and grandchildren and their lack of interest in politics for the express reason that ‘they’re all the same’ – who are now passionate party members.
The nervous lady in a wheelchair who spoke compellingly about the hope Corbyn inspires in her after years of Tory-led government attacks on the disabled.
A marvellously eloquent contribution by the consultant obstetrician about Corbyn’s huge mandate and the ludicrousness of launching an attack on him at a time when the Tories were in post-referendum chaos.
Getting a selfie with Val, the Corbynite-who-became-a-meme after standing in a Corbyn shirt behind Owen Smith during his infamous ‘ice-cream van’ event (150 people doesn’t really merit ‘rally’):
And, my personal favourite, the final contribution by a young woman who, after an impassioned speech about how Corbyn has inspired her and others like her, slipped in (against the strict interpretation of the ground rules but to widespread hilarity) commented:
“We can only win with Corbyn – we can’t put an ice cream van outside every polling station!”
You’ve got to love Scouse wit!
The vote was then taken as a secret ballot and the votes were counted. Of the 120 present, 116 had chosen to vote. All votes were counted twice by a team of 4 tellers, with no anomalies, and the result was 92 votes for Corbyn and 24 for Smith, with no formal abstentions or spoiled votes.
There were loud cheers and applause from the Corbyn supporters and evident but restrained disappointment from Smith’s. After some conversation and the communication of the result to the 20 people not able to be in the meeting, the meeting broke up. Some stood around in the carpark, chatting, but it was very noticeable that Ms Eagle was more or less left to her own devices. As she walked off, she looked a forlorn figure – perhaps reflecting on her future or otherwise as the constituency’s parliamentary representative. Or perhaps not. I don’t claim to be a mind-reader.
It was very encouraging to see the discussion conducted in such a comradely way, although I suspect that one or two of the pro-Smith speakers would happily see the status quo ante restored. It was also encouraging to see so many passionate people, who can make a real impact for good in the community if their enthusiasm and commitment is harnessed.
And I’m sure that our meeting was entirely typical of other meetings around the country, in spite of what some MPs might claim after their constituency parties voted in a way that shows clear disapproval and rejection of their behaviour and comments toward the party’s leader. It bodes well for the future of the party – as long as the right and just result is achieved in the leadership election and the necessary actions are taken to put genuine Labour MPs in seats currently occupied by those who don’t get, or actively oppose, the vision and opportunities the vast majority of members understand.
Finally, just in case you’re wondering, here are the points I would have made had the meeting’s ground rules been different:
The coup against Jeremy Corbyn has been absolutely inexcusable. To let the Tories off the hook for the damage they’ve done to the country by the referendum and generally, in order to attack Labour’s massively-elected leader, is not only unconscionable but ridiculous.
Supposedly, Jeremy Corbyn is ‘unelectable’. Says who? Those who have lost the last two elections. He’s ‘dividing the party’, in spite of uniting hundreds of thousands around a clear vision that offers everyone a real alternative to Tory austerity for the first time in years.
Labour didn’t lose the last election because we failed to appeal to ‘aspiration’. We lost because of a lack of INspiration: we failed to inspire people with a clear alternative – so many of the well over 70% of people who didn’t vote Tory in 2015 didn’t vote at all. Why bother, when ‘they’re all the same’?
Corbyn inspires and draws crowds of thousands everywhere, while Owen Smith is reduced to begging him to let Smith address Corbyn’s crowds because nobody turns up to listen to the challenger.
Smith copies Corbyn’s policies but few believe he’ll deliver them if he manages to win. Look at the people who are backing him, including Frank Fields who has publicly said Smith will be forced back to the right if he becomes leader; and John McTernan, who just a couple of days ago wrote – in a Tory rag – that ‘the government should crush the transport unions once and for all’ and is regularly on TV attacking Corbyn’s electability in spite of McTernan’s responsibility for recent, massive electoral failures in Scotland and Australia. Do you really think those people would be backing Smith if they didn’t know they can control him?
How can we trust someone who adopts Corbyn’s policies because he thinks it’s his only chance of winning, but who only last year supported the Tories’ odious welfare legislation?
Jeremy Corbyn has a track record of integrity and has shown in the current onslaught that he won’t desert his principles. Owen Smith is like a car salesman who has switched showrooms for a while but will run back to what he knows as soon as it’s expedient.
The will of the members has been shown in this week’s NEC election results, with a clean sweep for Corbyn-supporting candidates. A strong result in this unneeded leadership election will allow Jeremy Corbyn to take the actions needed to restore not only the credibility of the Labour party but to also the genuine democracy that the party’s right-wing has shown itself more than willing to attack if they think it will help their cause.
For that and many, many other reasons, I urge you to vote – both for this nomination and in the election – for Labour’s real leader, Jeremy Corbyn.