Last week, political history was made in the West Midlands. Simon Foster, a relative political novice from Labour’s radical Left defeated Mike O’Brien, the candidate backed by the traditional Blairite Right, to be Labour’s candidate for West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC).
O’Brien had the backing of nearly all of the region’s Labour MPs – largely hostile to Corbyn and the Left. On top of this he enjoyed the support of the incumbent David Jamieson – a former Blair front-bencher- right-wing councillors a-plenty and the GMB, who reportedly bankrolled much of his campaign.
O’Brien took on paid staff (including a pro-Coyne, pro-Cooper, anti-Corbyn councillor) and hired a PR firm. His costs must have dwarfed those of his opponents on the left – Yvonne Mosquito and Simon Foster.
Yet O’Brien lost. Decisively.
As expected, turnout was low and with two left candidates as his opponents many tipped O’Brien to win on the first round, especially as he made a play for Mosquito’s second preferences.
The results show that even with only one candidate the right still failed to come top, in spite of a first preference system that worked in their favour.
Foster on the other hand is a self-proclaimed political novice. He had considerably less establishment backing than O’Brien. Not a single MP supported him; he had no PR team or paid staff – but he did have the members and a grassroots campaign financed largely by small donations.
In spite of the disappointment of many Labour members at the survival of Tom Watson through Labour’s ‘trigger’ process, all of this indicates a seismic shift in the balance of Labour politics in the West Midlands.
Liam Byrne, a quiet supporter of O’Brien, will be very concerned with this result. It shows that a credible left candidate – even without resources – can defeat a candidate of the old right, whether the old-right Labour Establishment tries to prevent it or not.
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