WEST Hampstead Labour councillor Phil Rosenberg has got a few of his colleagues checking the rulebook after writing a searing blogpost for the Jewish News about what was – and what wasn’t – discussed at last Thursday’s meeting of the party’s constituency membership in Hampstead and Kilburn. Given some of the internal scolding that meets less revelatory and milder leaks of information from inside party walls, a few members who’ve read his piece condemning the lack of discussion on a motion cracking down on anti-semitism are suggesting it sets a precedent about how freely people can now talk and write about private debate.
One witness in the room last week claimed that if a councillor could publicly criticise the party over rule changes, then members should feel similarly licensed to attack the party over other issues, such as development schemes in West Hampstead or decisions made at the Town Hall.
That all said, the view from the other side is that some issues are so big that members cannot be restricted by normal rules and etiquette. Phil will say that the level of anger – he describes the meeting as ‘horrifying’, the headline used talks of a ‘great betrayal’ – needs to be heard, especially as it wasn’t at the meeting. It’s possible he may not be the only member who puts his thoughts on the record on this.
“Passionate and heartfelt arguments were advanced on other resolutions about whether the best way to protect Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was a motion about whether he should automatically be on the leadership ballot in the event of a challenge, or whether the rules should be changed so that the threshold for nominating any leader should move from 15% of Labour’s MPs and MEPs, to just 5%,” he wrote.
“But when it came to the resolution on racism, on what should be a fundamental issue for the Labour Party, another destiny would await it. Just as we came to the motion, a member moved that the motion should not be put. He argued that there was an ongoing inquiry in to the issue and surely that was enough. Jewish members erupted with fury. They had waited for two hours (not to mention two months) to have their say on racism directed by Labour members against them and their families. And they were now going to be denied even that opportunity. The ensuing vote was unequivocal: Anti-semitism was not even going to be discussed. Procedure was used to suppress discussion.”
If the discussion was shut down, and there are other members who will testify that it was, then Phil seems to have some fair question to ask of the branch. Here, it can be argued, was a moment to take positive steps and provide reassurance, soon after the London elections at which Andrew Dismore gave the impression at his victory speech that he was fighting as much against Ken Livingstone as the Conservatives. Dismore’s view, by the way, is not shared among a section of Livingstone loyalists in the party who feel the former mayor was unwise to bring up Hitler in the middle of an election campaign, but ultimately became a victim in a media storm aimed at presenting Labour as the only political party suffering a problem that actually has a wider infection in politics, society and beyond. Perhaps unsurprisingly, few of those who hold this media conspiracy explanation privately, express it publicly. More commonly, most of the senior Labour names in Camden’s politics have been unrestrained in their frustration with Livingstone.
What is interesting from those angered by the lack of debate on the motion last week, however, is the see-saw view that the left of the party are happy to discuss Corbyn survival tactics, and not this. Whether intended or not, many readers of Phil’s article will see this as the blame being edged on to Corbyn supporters, even if the piece includes some recognition of the leader. Corbyn loyalists are already warning that they will rail against any suggestion that they took overcoming internal racism and protecting a socialist leader as an either/or, and that in some way members cannot be interested in doing both. In reply, actions speak louder than words, say those feeling hurt that the Jewish Labour Movement’s reforms had not been given greater priority in Hampstead and Kilburn.
“If the Labour Party ceases to stand for equality, inclusion and fairness, one has to wonder whether there is any point in it at all?,” added Phil, as he signed off his piece.
At the very least, the divide in opinion over what happened last week gives us a hint towards where the majority is beginning to fall among people still enthused enough to turn up to meetings, and how things are unfolding among Tulip Siddiq’s constituency membership; an unpredictable group at the best of times, they nominated David Lammy for mayoral selection. At Thursday’s meeting, they nominated grass roots alliance (i.e. lefty) candidates for the NEC.
Some say there is a thrust to continually send a message to future council election candidates – and parliamentary ones in neighbouring boroughs – that the membership wants candidates who will publicly support Corbyn, rather than undermine him, directly or indirectly. But the response to this will be a call to arms for those who see things a different way, and an effort to bring those disillusioned by what they see as Corbyn’s impossible electoral prospects back to constituency meetings and campaigning. Ultimately, it may need Tulip herself to eventually play peacemaker.