WHILE it was a sleepy night in the council chamber yesterday evening – even by the standards of Camden’s full council meetings, last night’s session was one devoid of all fire and passion – a more chaotic scene was developing at West Hampstead Library. There, a Labour Party candidate selection meeting ahead of next year’s boroughwide elections was shut down without conclusion as protesting members complained that the process was flawed and they had not been given a chance to properly familiarise themselves with the contenders.
I may as well retire to work on a farm or a tea shop or something, however, as rather than us all trying to piece together what happened behind closed doors from sources and leaks last night, we can see an almost instant description from Jack May, a Labour Party member and journalist who was in the room. His tweets described the meeting as being like a “living hell”, adding: “It was like a civil war in there. About three minutes away from physical violence at any moment, lots of swearing and we achieved nothing”. One member called another a cunt, he added.
These tweets were being roughly shared back at the Town Hall where councillors wondered in the corridors what had gone wrong up in NW6. The accusations that “Corbynites had derailed everything” were refuted by one or two who had “heard a different version of events” from the library. And, yes, there was some quick clicking through Mr May’s Twitter profile to find he had written a sort of ode to Tony Blair for the Independent earlier this year, leading to suggestions from some of those more aligned to Jeremy Corbyn that any report of the meeting needed more sources. The adjoinder to that: People would be uncomfortable talking about it on the record in the same way as Mr May had done as it would breach the confidentiality of the meeting.
What is not in doubt is the meeting was an ugly affair with raised voices as almost immediately the process was called into question. Some of the critics of the council’s West End Lane development were said to be among the protesters here as complaints were issued over the time members needed to have been in the party to take part. There were arguments about the freeze date, with the answer coming back that this could not be changed but this was normal procedure.
A motion was then put to the floor that the meeting needed to be shelved for the evening, with seven supporting and seven opposing (yup, I know… this is a 750 word post about a meeting attended by less than 20 people), a deadlock which was broken by the casting vote of Marie Lynam, the branch’s vice chair who sided with halting proceedings.
The rebellion follows weeks of backstage agitation about the process but with organisers insisting the rulebooks have been fairly followed. As discussed here, a familiar question has been around why the window for applicants was not re-opened after the June general election as a way of drawing in as many possible candidates as possible.
After councillor resignations and change of hearts about standing, plus one or two not making it past the basic interview stage, the party was left with 54 candidates for 54 slots, an unusual squeeze given Labour is said to have around 5,000 members across Camden’s political constituencies. Slightly ironicly, it has left the party ready to open the process up again after all to new applicants, albeit only for women.
Let’s put it baldly, rather than writing in code, many left-wingers feel the process has been kept deliberately discreet to avoid the attention of those… dreaded new members that their opposing wing are said the fear. The other side flatly finds this a laughable suggestion whenever you raise it with them.
With interview appeals running over into late last week, four wards saw shortlisting and selection meetings scheduled for the same night, when they are usually held separately. This has also led to suspicion, although again organisers were reminding members this week that they have been trying to get all this done through a series of interruptions beyond their control including Theresa May’s snap election. Soon conference season will be upon us.
Those unimpressed by last night’s events say it was a “destructive” protest rather than a thoughtful challenge which had suggested any new, realistic programme of finding candidates. The meeting will be rescheduled and if there is a repeat of the trouble, a warning has wafted around that Region will order candidates to be imposed without a selection vote.
An interesting consequence is that West Hampstead, as a ward, goes from the front of the queue in Labour’s ward by ward, nightly selection cycle to a so far unknown date. This means some of the candidates who were seeking selection last night may get picked elsewhere before the postponed meeting finally goes ahead. Everybody is too polite to say the ward may get left with the leftovers if it is put to the back of list, but history shows strong candidates are often snapped up swiftly.
Next stop: Fortune Green.