This is a personal account of my experiences at Holborn & St Pancras CLP where Keir Starmer is MP. I hope it will explain why some members of his CLP disagree with his narrative that his CLP is inclusive and non-factional. Keir Starmer is not our ‘Unity Candidate’. #CamdenAgainstStarmer
I first started attending our CLP meetings about 4 years ago. I was new to party politics and knew nothing about structures within the party. My husband was a returnee member (had joined as a Young Socialist, had left after the Iraq War and rejoined after Corbyn was elected the first time). The second branch meeting we attended was our AGM and my husband, knowing the importance of GC, stood for and became a GC Delegate. I accompanied him to GC meeting, quietly learning and absorbing.
It was almost 6 months before I had the courage to speak up, and it was to support a comrade who was trying to move a motion that elections should be held on weekends to make them more accessible. The arguments against it were contradictory and illogical so I just had to speak up, and I haven’t stopped since. At the time I didn’t know the politics of the comrade. He and his parents seemed to know everyone and be on good terms with them but now that he wanted to move this motion, he was under attack and people seemed to be quite upset at what he was proposing. I did not understand the politics behind it. It was only later I found out that he and his parents were left wing Corbyn supporters, but it all seemed unfair that this young person with clear disabilities was being treated in this off-hand dismissive manner.
I now realise that at that time we had a small handful of left-wing councillors and a few left-wing Officers in the CLP, not in high posts, but we still had a voice and were allowed to use it (to an extent). During the year, the Chair from Highgate (my branch) had resigned and became Chair of the CLP. Though not seen as left-wing, we knew him as a fair Chair and supported the move. He appointed a temp chair in our branch and our branch became a shouty place where we felt unwelcome. That should have given us a clue of where things were going.
The next year (2016) I stood as GC delegate and was voted in. We were fairly well represented in the CLP and passed motions, made our points and life went on fairly smoothly in CLP meetings. Then, during the coup against the leader, Keir announced he was resigning from the Cabinet, could no longer support the leadership, and would be supporting Owen Smith. He spoke at a branch social soon after that a small group of us lefties attended, explained his reasoning, when we questioned him not supporting the leader we had elected, we were surrounded by some councillors and senior members and asked to leave, which we refused to do. And that is when we started feeling we were longer welcome at that social, or even in the party. The same speech and behaviour was repeated at our CLP meeting.
In 2017, CLP meetings started to get quite heated, where we (and Corbyn) were called ‘the loony left’ by a young person who later stood and became our Youth Officer. The chairing of the Meetings became more biased and unfair, a group of mainly young members were allowed to regularly abuse us and Corbyn. At one meeting an officer got upset about an amendment to her motion that the CLP had just passed. She ran out of the meeting shouting ‘bunch of bastards’ about us. After a member who was bullied at a branch (the TULO, on the left) put a complaint in the branch, an opposing group in the branch put in a manufactured counter-complaint. This matter was brought to the CLP with the intention of disciplining the member who had been bullied. This was when we realised we had to organise. We quickly learnt who our allies were and successfully argued for the case to be returned to the branch to be dealt with there rather than at CLP and regional level.
At the CLP AGM, we stood for posts but none of us were elected. The votes were quite close and so we thought it was only temporary. During the year, the post of Disability Officer came up and Luke, the comrade whose motion made me speak up the first time, was the only person to stand so was elected. He was not allowed access to the list of disabled members during his time in post. He was told that another officer would write his Officer’s report as he was not considered capable of writing a report. He was undermined through the year.
At the branch AGMs, we were taken by surprise. Almost all branch meetings were packed and almost all 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.
2018 saw us effectively sidelined, with very few GC delegates and no Officer posts. We now has a new chair and younger, more diverse Officers, which should have been a good thing, but wasn’t. These officers had little knowledge/ understanding of the rule book and this was reflected in how the CLP meetings was run. The meetings became very heated, with regular intervention from the regional offices. As the Labour Party was recommending power to grassroots members, our EC was becoming more authoritarian. All Public events now had to be approved by the EC.
In my capacity as Branch BAME Officer, I was organising my first event, ‘Let’s Talk About Windrush’. A number of well-known BAME activists agreed to be speakers at the event. Five days before the event, the EC met and raised questions that one speaker, Hugo Pierre, Camden Unison had belonged to another party in the past. The meeting was eventually approved and turned out to be quite a success with about 100 attendees and mention in the local press. After the event, Officers had more criticisms of it and initially refused to pay for the hall hire (a local food bank) or acknowledge it was a Labour Party event. Eventually, after an investigation, they agreed to approve the event but still would not congratulate me for it. Watch the video of the event here.
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 at our CLP meeting, but when my husband suggested that it was an oversight, there was general jeering and someone said “great!” that she hadn’t been congratulated.
High profile members of Holborn & St Pancras, have regularly posted sectrarian abuse and made blanket accusations that they know are untrue. Tweets have gone out before meetings, such as one from the Youth Officer at the time saying “How long will it take for an angry old antisemite to bring up ‘smears’ about my CLP tonight? I’m going for 20 mins in.” Members on the left of the CLP have been physically and verbally attacked, threatened, called racist, homophobic, antisemitic at meetings, old to ‘shut up and sit down’ or ‘put up or shut up’ when speaking to motions.
Since 2018, the number of left delegates in the CLP has reduced persistently each year, and we have not been elected to a single officer’s post. The only representation we have had at EC has been the Trade Union EC Delegates. By contrast, the left in my branch has gained more and more Officer posts in the last few years. Our meetings are calm and friendly and we make an effort to be fair and inclusive. This is the same in all branches when left are in charge or have a fairer share of Officer posts.
Now we have very few GC Delegates, no Officer posts and will probably have few, if any Trade Union EC Delegates. More and more left-wing people are resigning from posts and refusing to go to branch and CLP meetings as they find the atmosphere toxic. When Keir Starmer stood for leader as The Unity Candidate, which we knew to be untrue as he has stood by during all the factionalism in our CLP, which started and has grown since he became our MP, we decided to start speaking up. A group of us would stand for Officer posts, knowing full well we would not be voted in. We would give our suitability for the job in our statements but our speeches would contain a common thread of the state of our CLP. We would then share our speeches so others could see that Keir’s claim that his CLP was united, and that he was the Unity Candidate were untrue.
If things were so bad when Sir Keir wanted to be leader of the Labour Party, I worry how bad they will get if he does indeed become leader. I will be voting and canvassing for Rebecca Long-Bailey to be our next leader and I hope she succeeds. #RLB4LeaderShezan Renny
Sandrine & I meeting our hero, Jeremy Corbyn 2019
People may wonder why I am still in the party if I have such negative experiences. The negative experiences have only been in the CLP. In my branch and my local area, I have grown as an activist. I started off shy and quiet. I am one of the leading members in my branch where I have introduced and led on various initiatives to make the branch more inclusive and encourage grassroots involvement such as weekend meetings, welcoming snacks at meeting, multi-language communication leaflets. I have chaired a number of BAME events on Windrush and for the launch of the book ‘New Daughter’s of Africa’, all of which were covered positively in the local press. I am a key member in Camden Momentum, Highgate-Left and Holborn-Left and grassroots groups within the area such as ‘Women 4 Change’ and ‘Camden Mums Concerned’. I owe this political growth and enlightenment to my husband and daughter and to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell for showing me that another world is possible in a party led by politicians who see politics as a vocation, not a career. I have met some marvellous comrades on my journey who have encouraged me and taught me so much. This is how grassroots activists are born, and I am proud to be a part of the Labour Party.