Nov 282017

Tuesday November 28 2017

Moderates forced out by hard left in Labour purge

Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing supporters have been accused of carrying out an “aggressive purge” of centrist councillors to put up their own candidates in local elections next year.

Councillors across the country have been deselected in a vote of local members or have faced pressure not to contest their seats in May in favour of candidates more closely aligned to the cause of the Labour leader and the Momentum campaign that supports him.

Tensions in one London borough have become so bad that centrist organisers called for the regional party to take over the selection process. Tim Gallagher, a councillor from Haringey, north London, who decided to step down last week, said that he and colleagues were written off as “zombie Blairites”.

The divisions were laid bare as a US bank warned that a Corbyn government would threaten the UK asset market more than Brexit would. Graham Secker, chief European equity strategist at Morgan Stanley, was said to have told clients: “We could see the biggest shake-up in the political backdrop since the 70s. This is much more scary from an equity perspective than Brexit.”

In Haringey about ten Labour councillors are understood to have decided to stand down or to have lost the contest for their seat to a left-wing candidate. Mr Gallagher resigned after he was not automatically reselected.

He described the selection process as “poisonous” in a statement on Twitter. The local party had become “inflamed with division, distrust, and what at times feels like real hatred”, he said. He conceded that all sides deserved some blame but added: “Nothing excuses the aggressive purge that has taken place of all councillors not deemed to fit a flat-pack ideological mould.”

Alan Strickland, another Haringey councillor, announced he was stepping down after failing to be automatically reselected. In an open letter published online, he said “narrow factionalism” had dominated the selection process and he was not confident his candidacy would be received with an open mind.

Lorna Reith, the chief whip of the Labour group on the council, was also deselected for a Momentum candidate. Joe Goldberg, cabinet member for economic development, said earlier this month that he would not stand again.

Matt Pound, national organiser for Labour First, a centrist pressure group, said there had been “an orchestrated purge of hardworking Labour councillors” and called for the regional party to take over the selection process. He added: “Instances of deselections on purely factional grounds occurring around the country are totally counterproductive and should be called out and resisted by local members.”

The dispute in Haringey centred on a local development scheme, backed by many party councillors but which faced opposition from the left. A Momentum source said it was “unsurprising there is a desire among local members in Haringey to get some new faces on to the council”.

Rule changes passed by Labour last year mean that councillors, who used to have to face an open contest to recontest their seat, must now do so only if they lose a vote to reselect them automatically. Incumbent Labour councillors have tended in the past to be reselected to fight their seat. Internal party critics claim that deselections are beginning to happen more often on ideological and factional grounds.

In the south London borough of Southwark, Samantha Jury-Dada, a councillor who is linked to the Blairite pressure group Progress, has been blocked from standing again in favour of a male Momentum activist. Her deselection in July prompted anger among Labour members who wrote an open letter to the party’s national executive demanding an inquiry. They complained that Ms Jury-Dada, a “young LGBT woman of colour, was deselected in favour of a white man who doesn’t live in the ward”. She said on Twitter that she had been the victim of “factional swipes” that had left her “devastated”.

The Labour MP Neil Coyle, who was present at the deselection meeting, said: “Faraday ward is 60 per cent BME [black and ethnic minority] and yet has no BME candidate fighting for Labour after the deselection.”

In Manchester Carl Austin-Behan, the first openly gay lord mayor of the city, is one of two Labour councillors not selected to stand again for their seats. Local members backed three other candidates for a shortlist, on which a Momentum activist, Ben Clay, is said to be the frontrunner.

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds council, is understood to be facing an open selection battle against left-wing candidates later this week after she was not automatically reselected.

Critics of Momentum, which grew out of Mr Corbyn’s 2015 party leadership campaign, have likened the organisation to Militant, the group used by the far left to infiltrate Labour in the 1980s, and have deemed it a “party within the party”.

Momentum’s supporters say that it is a mass movement campaigning organisation that complements the Labour Party and point to its backing, which includes 31,000 members and 200,000 supporters.

Momentum said: “We think it’s fantastic that hundreds of thousands of people new to politics have felt so inspired that they’ve joined the Labour Party . . . We should trust local members to be the best judge of who should represent their community.” Labour said that its members chose candidates by processes in its rulebook. It would not comment on individual selections.