By Mark Sandell, expelled chair of Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party
The Left in Brighton and Hove Labour Party have won across the board in all three of the new Constituency Labour Parties. This phoenix rising from the ashes left by the slash and burn tactics of the internal Labour Party machine should give hope to all socialists working inside the Labour Party. It shows the importance of systematic organisation in dislodging the Right where they cling onto control.
Last July the Left won a decisive victory at the Brighton & Hove Labour Party AGM. With a record turnout, Corbyn supporting members voted in a new Left leadership of the City-wide party. For many years Brighton & Hove Labour had an unusual structure imposed by the internal Labour Party machine to block the Left. All three Brighton and Hove Constituencies were subsumed into one regular “Brighton, Hove and District” all-members’ meeting that elected an executive at its AGM. This structure had become increasingly problematic for the Right with more and more party members turning up to challenge the Labour Council’s cuts and the anti-Corbyn antics of Hove’s Labour MP Peter Kyle.
The Left victory at the AGM was their nightmare. The leader of the council responded within hours by spreading lies about spitting and intimidation at the AGM. These allegations have all since evaporated into the ether of deleted social media posts, but they did their job and the AGM was annulled and the Right retained its grip of the local party. A Kafkaesque Labour Party investigation concluded with no wrong-doing discovered but recommending the re-establishment of the three constituency Labour parties.
Within weeks Greg Hadfield (the Secretary elected in July) was suspended and myself, the elected Chair, expelled by Labour’s National Secretary Iain McNicol. The role of the City-wide Labour Party in holding the councillors to account was hived off to a tightly controlled subcommittee. Still this slash and purge did not change the basics: the Labour Party membership in the City is still overwhelmingly on the left.
With the structure announced, the local Momentum group got to work preparing for a new round of elections to the three new CLPs. On 1st March the third AGM took place in the Hove constituency of the Labour MP and the victory of the Left was decisive. All three CLP executives have a clear Left majority.
A further attack by the party machine cannot be ruled out. The Right are using the poor politics of some of the Left on the Middle East and anti-Semitism to whip up a storm about anti-Semitism in the hope of more expulsions. Disgracefully, they used this tactic to get the Hove CLP AGM barred at the last minute from a Jewish community hall.
The Left leadership of all three CLPs must not be pushed onto the defensive by allegations of anti-Semitism but instead start a programme of campaigns on key issues: the NHS, housing, a living wage, migrants’ and workers’ rights. Turning the party outwards should be our strategy. This will inevitably mean challenging the Tory-driven Labour Council’s cuts. The battle inside the Party will not end but the best way to pursue this is to ‘fire our bullets’ at the Tories and the bosses, and to catch those who choose to get in the way in the crossfire.
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• For a more detailed explanation of how the left organised for the Brighton-wide AGM last July and the subsequent coup against Labour democracy in Brighton, see here for excerpts from a speech Mark gave at a solidarity meeting organised by London Momentum shortly afterwards.