WHILE there is no mandatory reselection process for Tulip Siddiq and Keir Starmer when their first terms as MPs reach an end, there’s no such fortune for local Labour councillors, who have to win selection contests in their wards ahead of each election if they want to stand again.
This isn’t normally a problem but, especially in safe or target seats, we’ve seen in the past there can occasionally be some push and shove – and with that there’s been an assumption almost that supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will run for a reshuffled pack when the process opens to find candidates for next year’s Camden Council elections.
Perhaps understandably, there is a concern from some long-standing members that a threat looms. Ask some of them about it, and you’ll lose count about the number of times you are told: Well, James Schneider, the national organiser of Momentum, lives in the borough.
Whether Momentum or any other organised force has the manpower – or more importantly, even the ambition at a local level – to reorder Camden’s ruling Labour party is not so clear. There have always been campaigners who like to campaign and hustle, but see less advantage in standing to be councillors and handling broken heating surgeries for residents; they prefer public meetings to council meetings. The established pack often say that this means their big talk masks a fear of actually putting themselves up to the test of a public vote. But there is a worry that this time they might, and that a council leadership which has not signed up passionately to the Corbyn cause, and in some cases were among the small minority who voted for Liz Kendall to be leader during the first contest, could in some way be vulnerable.
It’s true, if north London is supposed to be Corbyn country you wouldn’t know it from the make-up of the higher layers of Town Hall politics, and it has been suggested once or twice in the breeze (i.e various whatsapp channels), that trenches are being dug already to ensure that the Corbyn throb does not have an impact on local Labour politics here.
In preparation for the debates that lie ahead, some left-reaching local members of the party now fear an order has already gone out that there cannot be a repeat of the deselection vote which saw Mike Katz ousted in Kilburn last time around, a result which still haunts the losing side. This after a local vote in Highgate before Christmas in which a higher than usual turnout of members reportedly appeared, voted for a candidate with no obvious love for Corbyn into a key position and then left, and then more recently a boisterous private session of the King’s Cross and Bloomsbury branches last week at the Town Hall.
Here, it is suggested by Corbyn’s supporters that the modernisers, or the Owen Smithites, or whatever label people labelled Trots use now, had been army-drilled to ensure that members voted to keep lefty faces out of branch positions, or at least the key ones. This manifested itself in a sort of slate of candidates being distributed on a piece of paper to selected voting members before the meeting, it is claimed, a level of organisation considered rare and disproportionate by those holding the grievance. This has all been dismissed as paranoia and the product of a persecution complex by Smith-supporters, or Corbyn sceptics.
There were the usual disputes over miscounts of votes too and there are differing accounts of the tone of the session. New members were made to not to feel welcome as voices became raised and some calm was lost, allies of those new members said. ‘New members’, however, is generally code among the established order for people who signed up on the back of Corbyn’s victory, and whose intentions are naturally a source of suspicion from more centrist thinkers.
Sticky times; but we must wait to see if any of this to and fro, left and right, affects the only slate that really matters, the one that will be put to the borough next May.