A Twitter spat developed around a visit by Labour front-bencher Chris Williamson to Teesside last night that seems to be a continuation of a phenomenon first noted by the SKWAWKBOX, in which ‘moderate’ MPs are objecting to other Labour MPs visiting, or speaking in, ‘their’ constituency.
Labour back-bencher Lucy Powell tweeted publicly to rebuke Williamson for his temerity in visiting Teesside to launch a new Momentum branch without checking with the local Labour MP first. Ms Powell – who is MP for Manchester Central – was clearly offended by Williamson’s decision to attend:
Of course, tweeting public rebukes to a colleague hardly helps unite and fight the Tories either, even if the complaint were justified – but in this case it was a case of crossed wires, as Williamson clarified that he was in the neighbouring constituency, although the new Momentum branch covers both:
To be fair to the MP in the neighbouring constituency, she seemed fairly sanguine about the whole matter and Ms Powell was objecting to a visit in a colleague’s area rather than her own. There is, of course, no obligation on MPs to give notice of a visit, but as a matter of courtesy many would opt to do so.
However, in other areas there does seem to be a tendency for some MPs to act very territorially, objecting to their colleagues attending events arranged by Labour members or Momentum on ‘their’ patch.
It’s not clear whether this is born out of a sense of denial of the demand for more left-wing speakers in areas with a ‘moderate’ MP, as a way of trying to ‘starve’ local groups with which the MP might not agree or for some other reason – but any MP who is tempted to create a fuss or discourage other MPs from ‘intruding’ would do well to take a look at a couple of very interesting historical letters that the SKWAWKBOX came across recently.
Bernie Grant became one of the UK’s first black MPs when he was elected to represent Tottenham in 1987 and was an energetic campaigner for the involvement of black people in politics, founding the Parliamentary Black Caucus and travelling up and down the country to speak to interested audiences.
While still a candidate for election, he received a letter from Birmingham MPs expressing their anger at his plan to speak in ‘their’ area on the topic of engaging voters in the impending election:
Grant’s response was forthright:
“I am certainly not prepared to be dictated to about where I should go – as far as I know there are no pass laws in Britain yet”.
The SKWAWKBOX spoke to Chris Williamson MP, who didn’t pull any punches. He told this blog:
Westminster bubble merchants get very excited about outdated protocols. But in the real world they’re meaningless. Obsessing about which MPs are visiting which constituency reinforces the view, held by a large proportion of the public, that politicians are out of touch with reality.
My advice is start concentrating on things that matter, like winning support for a Labour Govt that will implement common sense socialism.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (MSEC) is now a Tory-held seat, following the decision of the ‘moderate’ Tom Blenkinsop not to contest the General Election after the loss a significant council seat late in his tenure during the May elections, which he blamed on his party leader in spite of the ‘Corbyn surge’ that materialised in almost every other part of the country.
Seats like MSEC need all the support available and Labour has embarked on a programme of campaigning targeted at exactly such marginal seats. Few members or voters would consider any existing MPs justified in trying to exercise an effective veto on where such campaigning takes place or by whom it is done.
The example from the left, however, does both promote unity and make the defeat of the Tories more likely, as Williamson’s fellow front-bencher observed this week:
Spirit of unity: @PeoplesMomentum activists giving up spare time in GE2017 to help candidates previously abusive to them and Labour leader.
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) August 7, 2017
The SKWAWKBOX applauds every MP and activist who is prepared to put in the effort and miles to campaign around the country and hopes that each one will take the same approach as the late Bernie Grant if anyone tries to impede them.
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