Labour Party

Fighting the witch-hunt in Bristol Labour

12 February 2021
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The leaking of a video of a Handforth Parish Council meeting sent millions into reels of laughter. It would be nice to think that not a few unelected Labour Party officials felt a bit embarrassed, because that is what the internal life of the “party of the working class” has been reduced to in recent months.

On 11 February, Bristol West Constituency Labour Party is finally having its Annual General Meeting, postponed from last year by the South West Regional Office, with unsubstantiated claims of inadequate communication despite 327 people having registered to attend.

The cancellation of the AGM followed an Emergency General Meeting, where the CLP passed a motion opposing the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, despite threats from Regional Office to suspend officers if the motion was heard.

After this, both secretaries and the chair were suspended, and several members, including candidates for positions to be elected at the AGM, were also suspended following tweets directed at Regional Director Phil Gaskin, who was responsible for the original suspensions and for blocking local CLPs donating money to foodbanks during the pandemic.

Since then – at the peak of the second wave – the Labour Party bureaucrats have been busy planning a right wing takeover and further restrictions. We are told there will be “elections” for new candidates to replace the ones who were suspended; there will be “rule changes”, doubtless to suppress future debates.

This all sounds like a parody of Handforth but it is far more sinister. The real reason for the AGM’s cancellation was that the Regional Office and the Labour leadership wanted to shut down one of the largest and most left wing CLPs in the country. In fact they want to drive socialists out of the party with their continuous assaults, so they can present a respectable, bourgeois image to suit their respectable, bourgeois policies.

Momentum

Despite a promising mass meeting last year, Momentum has not yet developed a clear plan for how to move forward beyond responding to events and mobilising for Labour meetings, which is likely to have diminishing returns.

It is good that South West Momentum are balloting members for an activist strike, refusing to campaign for candidates unless they sign a letter agreeing that the suspensions be resolved promptly, that they are informed of the case against them and that selection of candidates be deferred until then.

This is welcome, ensuring candidates are opposed to the witch-hunt, while also proving to the local and national leadership the danger of alienating their activist base. If proven effective, it strengthens the case for this tactic to be extended nationally.

It may not shift Keir Starmer or general secretary David Evans, who feel secure in their positions, but it could force the unions, who want to win elections on any basis, to put pressure on them. We need to fight hard until the right wing forces break ranks.

Meanwhile Momentum needs to organise regular local meetings in lieu of the CLPs, where all members can contribute equally, whether suspended or not, and political debates and actions can be organised without the rulebook thrown at them (though to be fair, most of the officials’ “rules” are simply made up!). They can become alternative organising centres.

If Bristol West is shut down we need our own organising structures in place. Nationally Momentum and the rest of the left need to coordinate the left membership of the party and organise a conference to pull them all together to launch a fightback against Starmer’s witch-hunt and a fight for socialist policies.

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