Momentum Birmingham challenges McDonnell’s support for Byrne for metro mayor

McDonnell has endorsed Byrne’s candidacy – but local Momentum’s public letter asks him to reconsider

Early this month the SKWAWKBOX broke the surprising news that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had agreed to support Birmingham Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne’s attempt to become Labour’s candidate for West Midlands ‘metro mayor’.

McDonnell confirmed his support, saying “We have worked together on the economic policy development and actually he’s been brilliant.”

Byrne was a co-founder of right-wing pressure group Progress, but currently serves on Labour’s front bench as Shadow Minister for Digital.

But the Birmingham Momentum group has publicly objected to the endorsement, sending a letter to McDonnell – also published – raising Byrne’s record and objecting to an alleged lack of consultation by the Shadow Chancellor:

23 May 2019
John McDonnell MP
House of Commons

Dear John

West Midlands Mayor

We wish to raise a matter of concern- your support for Mr Liam Byrne as a possible Labour candidate for the West Midlands Mayor in advance of any timetable being disseminated for the selection.

Mr Byrne is the founder of Progress, whose austerity-based politics were responsible for the significant loss of popularity of the Party which led to the 2015 Election loss and the collapse of Party support in Scotland.

I also attach reports on his defence of his racist immigration policies:


There are many more examples. He is unrepentant, judging by his statements that solutions to homelessness and hunger are charity and food banks, rather than reversal of austerity

At the 2017 Mayoral election, Mr Byrne was the main architect of Mr Simon’s campaign. Mr Simon stood on similar policies to those advocated by Mr Byrne and achieved a far lower vote share than achieved by the socialist 2017‘For the Many ‘ manifesto, which achieved the largest swing to Labour since 1945.

It is only with a candidate who advocates the popular anti austerity policies of the Party under Jeremy Corbyn that we stand a realistic chance of winning the Mayor election, end austerity and begin to regenerate the Region in the interests of the Many.

We are unaware of any consultation with the Left in the West Midlands before making your statement. This is not in accordance with socialist democracy.

We ask you to reconsider your support for Mr Byrne and instead endorse a local socialist candidate who enjoys the support of the regional Movement.

In solidarity
Birmingham Momentum

Momentum founder Jon Lansman, who earlier this month denied claims that he was involved in the endorsement decision, responded publicly to the letter:

The selection process has not officially opened but a number of potential candidates have either declared their intention to stand or are said to be ready to do so.

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  1. On balance Byrne is damaged goods. Mr McDonnell would be well advised to avoid endorsing him like the plague.

    If John or any of his people are reading this here is some advice. Stop pandering to people within the party who are trying to destroy you. It is both foolish and unnecessary.

    You seem to be taking the view that with just one more compromise, one more appeasement, we will win power. The truth is that every time you do that you take a step away from power by damaging your own credibility.

    In my view the pendulum has swung. Austerity has done for the Tories. Stop capitulating to right wing social democrats whose mission is to sabotage the election of a socialist Labour government.

    You have made a few of these type of avoidable mistakes recently. Stop doing it.

    And stop supporting people’s vote. They are responsible for Farage getting back into politics and are pushing voters into the arms of Tommy Robinson and the far right. By entertaining that campaign you are enabling the rise of the far right.

    I am a staunch supporter so when people like me say stuff like this you should listen and act on the advice.

  2. John Mcdonnell has shown his true colours and it’s not pretty. It’s very easy being ‘a left-wing firebrand’ when you’re cast away under New Labour. It’s much more being ‘a left-wing firebrand’ when you’re close to forming a government. The whiff of power has gone into John’s head and shown him to be indistinguishable from Milliband and Balls, despite the rhetoric. His ignoble role on the use the antisemitism smear and a second referendum to tarnish Corbynism will be his true legacy.

  3. John McDonnell’s stance reflects something more general. The Labour Left during the long decades of neoliberal domination quietly relinquished its economic drive to replace capitalism with democratic socialism. This infected the Left’s entire politics, such that there isn’t actually a dramatic difference between Labour Right and Labour Left. As a result this sort of ‘crossvoting’ and indiscipline becomes permissible, as does the cultivation of a chummy attitude towards the Right on the NEC and the excessively flaky, liberal quality of the parliamentary Corbynistas. The Left increasingly projects itself as tinkerers with the status quo and therefore as part of the Establishment. Sadly therefore it’s not just a John McDonnell problem.


  4. John McDonnell should absolutely not endorse Byrne who if he is successful, will be a thorn in the side of a Corbyn government. This is entirely separate to the second vote issue which McDonnell SHOULD support as the only democratic way to take us forward.

    1. I’m afraid that your ability to comprehend the careful distinction between various issues and shades won’t necessarily go down well in a land still dominated by sepia photography.

      1. Yes, lining behind Blair, Brown, Campbell and the rest of the PLP that used the referendum result to launch a coup against Corbyn (bar the ones whose seats are threatened by a strong leave vote) is the right thing for John McDonnell to do!

  5. John has in the recent past recognised that he and the Corbynysta MPs are constantly in danger of being dragged rightwards by the enormous pressure they face from the establishment, the bullying from the media, the Westminster bubble, including the PLP.

    The left MPs are so few in number, and so isolated within the PLP, that this danger is ever present and will get worse, especially if they get into government. They will come up against the stoney faced Whitehall bureaucracy and Mandarins. Only a mass, well organised social and political movement can counter this. And vigilant left media outlets like Skwawkbox are a vital part of it.

    The hard fact that Corbyn currently faces is that to remain as leader of the opposition, he has to rely on a certain amount of good will from the least hostile right wing MPs. He doesn’t have enough left MPs to fill the SC positions. So, maintaining good working relationships with them, diplomacy, chuminess, call it what you will, is a necessity and will remain thus until we can get more left MPs elected.

    Let us build groups like Labour Assembly Against Austerity, Labour for a Green New Deal, CLPD, LRC and revitalised, democratised unions as a counterweight in the party to the right.

    1. Which all begs the question – Why did the unions (like my own union, Unite) sabotage Mandatory Re-Selection at the 2018 conference?

      Who’s interests were they serving when they did this?

      1. EXACTLY! SteveH why indeed ?
        Over to you Len & Lansman pse explain…….
        We have to rectify this somehow at Conf 2019.

  6. leftpoliticstoday. Your first paragraph sums up well the difficulties we face and why it was stupidity of the first order for the Labour Party to suspend Chris Williamson. There is a desperate shortage of clear thinkers at the head of the Party.

  7. I do not agree with the idea of all these mayors. Absolute bollocks as far as I am concerned. So may claims made for them with no real evidence.

    I voted Labour in the Euro-elections but it was not easy seeing how Sion Simon was one of the candidates.

  8. Liam Byrne ‘Money all spent’ disaster’ is a Blairite, but who the hell are Momentum to object to anyone & yes Comrade Jack T……..where is Chris Williamson?

  9. Having been to our CLP fundraising get together where Liam spoke about his West Midlands Mayor candidacy, I’m reserving judgement until I hear from other Labour candidates.

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