Over the last three years, Corbyn supporting left wing members have been attacked and side-lined, all under Sir Keir Starmer’s watch.
In the 2015 leadership election, Keir Starmer supported Andy Burnham but at the All Member Meeting, we overwhelmingly nominated Corbyn. The membership had more than doubled with many more grassroots activists and trade unionists. Jeremy became leader. This change in leadership was not welcomed by the establishment CLP. Corbyn supporters were not included or made to feel welcome. We were publicly labelled in GC meetings as ‘The Loony Left’ and other derogatory terms. Keir and supporters in the CLP supported the coup in 2016 and publicly endorsed Owen Smith. Yet again, the All Member Meeting nominated Jeremy Corbyn. After the positive election results of 2017, there was talk of unity but sadly this was just talk.
At our Branch AGMs in 2017 we assumed that after the General Election, the CLP would now be united and we could all work together for a Labour Party Victory. We were in for a surprise. Almost all branch meetings were packed and many of our GC delegates, and branch officers were voted out. Some of them had been active in posts for years and had been on good terms with their right-wing branch members, who were suddenly verbally attacking them and being quite nasty. My branch had a very well organised left group set up so we lost a few GC delegates, but on the whole didn’t do too badly. In other branches, the few ‘left’ members were treated so badly many of them stopped engaging with branch politics altogether. Sir Keir turned up, with his family, participated in packing a branch meeting to elect his prefered candidate – they came, they voted, they left. Packing is when a huge number of people are summoned to meetings. They only turn up once or twice a year to vote for people they are told to vote for and do nothing to help the party to spread it’s message. Access to membership list is restricted to those already in office which means, overwhelmingly, right wing people. And it is these people who can pack meetings with their fellow right wingers. In contrast, when left wing members have access to the membership list, we tend to use it for the purpose of spreading the message of the Labour Party and it’s policies.
We now had much fewer branch delegates but we still hadn’t recognised the extent of the split in the CLP, we stood members for Officer posts at the 2017 AGM, expecting some of us to get in on merit as that is how it had worked in previous years. But this time it was different, we lost every seat. A highly ranking civil servant who extensive work with our Council and MP stood for Women’s Officer but wasn’t voted in solely due to her politics. Some people who were re-standing, and had done a really good job, were replaced by clearly less competent opponents. The TULO was one of these. The voting was based solely on the politics of the candidate, not on their suitability to the post. CLP meetings became much more factional, and chairing was getting more and more biased but the Chair still knew and supported the Labour Party Rule Book so we were able to refer to that to make our point sometimes. During the year, the post of Disability Officer came up. The only candidate was left-wing, so got the post. We still were able to win votes in motions, for conference and during nominations. Delegates to London Conference and LP Annual Conference were a mix of left-wing and right-wing with left wing being in majority for both. Left members were nominated to the NEC. However, we were regularly called ‘Trotskyites’, ‘Stalinists’, ‘the loony left’.
By the 2018 Branch AGM, branch members seen to be on the left had been verbally attacked and made to feel so unwelcome that branch participation and morale was very low. This time we lost even more branch GC delegates, we were in the minority and morale was low. Despite requests, the new TULO did not call meetings that year and so new TU EC Reps were not elected before the 2018 AGM. Then, the Conference rule change offered us hope in the form of having a voice through All Member Meetings. We organised and got through the procedure to change our CLP structure from GC Delegate to All Member Meetings. This was the CLP AGM too. The meeting was packed with over 600 members, the rumour was that a group was trying to replace Keir Starmer. This untruth has been used repeatedly, our only motive was to try to have a fair voice in our CLP meetings. The Chair was very organised and clever in choosing speakers and we lost. At the AGM, we lost every single post. There was a clear pattern to the voting numbers for and against each slate. The new officers voted in were young and ethnically diverse but had the same politics, were all strong Starmer supporters and didn’t support Corbyn. The TULO was re-elected the new Chair had little knowledge or understanding of the Labour Party Rulebook. The meetings became disruptive and even more openly factional, very unpleasant to attend and many left-wing delegates stopped attending them. General bullying was rife, after every meeting (and sometimes during meetings) twitter posts are made by members on the right which misrepresented and insulted members on the left. Speakers invited to the CLP have posted belittling and inaccurate comments about the ‘hard left’. During the year, my daughter, an active member and GC delegate for 3 years, was elected Women’s Officer/ Vice Chair of London Young Labour, not only wasn’t she congratulated (which she would have been if she hadn’t been on the left) but when my husband suggested that that was an oversight there was general jeering and someone shouting that it was deliberate that she hadn’t been congratulated.
Soon after the AGM, the TULO called a meeting to elect TU EC Reps. At the meeting he agreed to demands that he call TU meetings every 3 months, and if he didn’t do so they would have a ‘no confidence in the TULO’. No further meetings were called that year. Despite repeated requests from members and intervention for London Region, we were not provided with a list of TU or affiliate delegates until the 2020 AGM, when they were out-dated. This year all delegates to London Conference and Annual LP Conference were right-wing, mainly Officers of the CLP or various branches. The main organisers in our CLP, part of Sir Keir’s inner circle now referred to us as ‘The Disruptors’ or ‘less desirable elements’ in CLP officer meetings and their internal emails (that they accidentally forwarded to one of us) and in tweets have referred to us as ‘antisemitic’.
Our speeches would be an opportunity for the left to articulate the experience of being in Holborn & St Pancras CLP, controlled by a right-wing anti-Corbyn faction endorsed by Keir Starmer.Holborn Left
In the 2019 Branch AGMs, the number of Left delegates reduced even further. We knew we had no chance of winning any seats at the 2019 AGM (postponed to 2020 due to GE). Though some of our more optimistic members thought that now that Starmer was standing for leader, in the spirit of ‘Unity’ that he was championing, we may be allowed some posts. We decided to stand candidates for all posts. We would state our arguments for why we suited the post in our statements, but would use our speeches to give voice to the factionalism in our CLP. We wrote our speeches and on the night we spoke up, some of us ran out of time, and didn’t get to say what we wanted, but on the whole, for the first time we could say how we felt without being silenced. I will be sharing some of these speeches here.
Needless to say, we lost every seat year again. The votes were consistent regardless of suitability to the post or what we had said. At the end a member who is not part of the left commented on how he could have predicted how every vote would go before it happened. He had listened to us and taken on board what we said. Only time will tell whether others have too.
All views in this article are personal experiences and are stated in our capacity as ordinary Holborn & St Pancras Labour Party Members. Any errors in dates are unintended.
- Sir Keir’s own CLP is hostile to the left – letter to Camden New Journal 17/1/2020
- Keir Starmer: The Establishment’s Knight in Shining Armour – Socialist.net 24/2/2020
- Something Rotten in Keir’s CLP by Shezan Renny 23/2/2020
- Keir @ The Roundhouse by Gareth a Murphy 16/2/2020
- ‘Unity’ candidate Starmer accused of turning blind eye to conflict on his own patch – Morning Star speaks to Sarah Friday 13/2/2020