A stitch-up in Stoke

Stoke South

By a former Stoke South Momentum activist

Back in July 2017, Damian Bailey – Momentum regional organiser for the West Midlands – inferred that among the candidates for the Stoke-on-Trent South seat there were two ‘preferred’ local names, both well known in the area and both left-leaning.

• See also: No to stitch-ups in the labour movement – why I’m resigning as Truro Momentum chair

Of the two, Ruth Rosenau had been responsible for bringing Jeremy Corbyn to Stoke for a rally in 2016 and was a sitting Councillor of seven years. She had helped defeat the BNP in the city. The other candidate, Andrew Fox-Hewitt, had spoken at the aforementioned rally but was somewhat less prominent.

Towards the end of October, Damian contacted members stating that the Momentum NCG (National Coordinating Group) would be endorsing a candidate for Stoke South in the following week, and that the decision would be made by the panel covering both the West and East Midlands. Anyone who wanted to be considered for support would have to apply via an application form. It was also stated that he would not have a vote on the decision, which begs the question: if local members aren’t asked for their views and the local organiser isn’t asked for theirs, how are grassroots members empowered?

The process for selection started on 31st October. By the end of the process on 14th November, 23 applications had been made. Shortly after the deadline, a number of people close to Damian stated that Momentum would back Fox-Hewitt because Damian sat on the fire authority with him. Just after the deadline for applications, Fox-Hewitt withdrew his name.

Again, little was heard from the regional organiser until we moved into the shortlisting period. During this period, Rosenau began to gain considerable local and not-so-local support among Momentum activists.

On Friday 12th January 2018, the London-based barrister Mark McDonald was taken into one of the local hostelries in Longton where he announced that Momentum was going to endorse him, and that he would have the ‘great and good’ on his endorser list. On 15th January, an email was sent by Damian stating that other candidates had been unsuccessful in their application for Momentum support.

On 17th January, the lead for neighbouring Newcastle-under-Lyme Momentum was informed that Momentum had chosen to support another candidate over Ruth Rosenau. They were asked by regional Momentum whether they would post something in support of McDonald. Momentum NuL said that they wouldn’t – they highlighted that they were disappointed that there had been no local input, with no enquiries made about whom the local groups felt would be best placed to win backing. Many Stoke South Momentum members were likewise appalled that an ‘outsider’ had been imposed on them.

Once the leaflet from Momentum was sent out – by taxi to some members – there was furore at the local ‘activists’ chosen as endorsers. All four locals are on the right of the party, with one having stated on Facebook that he had been called a ‘Red Tory’ by some of the local ‘Corbyn-supporting scum’. The use of Bet 365 and Stoke City F.C. chairman Peter Coates as an endorser is also unusual considering Labour’s stance on online betting and Coates’ well known hostility to Corbyn and the left.

On 20th January, local members questioned Rebecca Long-Bailey MP as to why she had endorsed Mark McDonald. Long-Bailey questioned who Mark was and then said that she would have had the endorsement agreed via Unite the union.

This unfortunate episode has resulted in a number of members in Stoke South resigning from Momentum, including Ruth herself.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

6 Comments

  1. We’ve got a similarly odd situation in Calder Valley constituency in West Yorkshire, with Momentum local exec announcing support for a prospective candidate with most local Momentum members not knowing about it. But don’t resign. Stay in and fight! Peter Lazenby.

  2. Comment from Sacha Ismail:

    Obviously there may be particular local circumstances, but I very much agree with Peter about staying in Momentum and fighting.

    An interesting view of this in Lewisham, where we had our Labour mayoral selection last year. Our Momentum group, of which I’m co-secretary, voted overwhelmingly, something like 50-5, to back left-wing councillor Paul Bell. This was unsurprising: of the candidates, Paul was the only one who had come to our meetings regularly, the only one committed to fighting to abolish the mayoral system, the only one with distinctly left-wing policies (eg on insourcing services) and the only one who had supported expelled comrades.

    In the end Paul came a close-ish second out of five, with members voting for soft-Blairite but likeable Damien Egan. Damien did a good job of sounding left-wing, and I think Paul’s campaign was too slow out of the gate to overcome his early-start advantage. Anyway, in terms off Momentum backing:

    Many local union branches backed Paul, in addition to the regional structures of the FBU, Bakers Union and GMB. That included the town hall Unite branch and the overwhelming majority of local Unite activists in various branches; but Unite’s London region over-ruled them and backed another candidate, Alan Hall, who I believe is ex-Communist Party and has extensive links in the union bureaucracy. To our shock Alan also got a statement of support from John McDonnell, who had not consulted anyone on the Lewisham left. In the event, despite all this, he came fourth, not far off fifth, because he simply didn’t have support among left-wing activists in Lewisham.

    A rumour started circulating that Momentum nationally would back Alan Hall. I got on the phone and eventually got a call back from Jon Lansman, who was sounded simultaneously both argumentative and evasive. He said some very strange things including that the Momentum office would make a decision by consulting someone in Lewisham who is not an officer of Lewisham Momentum or even actively involved in the group.

    I argued back. By fast and forceful action over the next few days we managed to get the office to say that it would not take a position but would put out stuff in support of Paul Bell from the Lewisham group – which they did. So in the end a better story, but it seems we came close to something similar to what is now emerging in various places. John McDonnell’s support for Alan Hall remains to be explained, but once again I suspect the Unite machine played a role.

    It may not have made much difference in the end, but perhaps if McDonnell had helped us instead and Momentum had done more, Paul Bell would have won, even with the late start to his campaign.

  3. With respect, it’s too late to advise Stoke members of Momentum to stay in and fight. Following this latest debacle, there are very few Momentum members left in Stoke, and most of the leading left activists in the Labour Party here do not identify as Momentum supporters.

  4. Very very similar in Morecambe and Lunesdale. I have resigned as CLP Chair and about to resign from Momentum too. Momentum backed a candidate with no background of Corbyn support who telephoned party members after being given Momentum database (not just members, their WHOLE database) and was canvassing LP members against the rules and Region were not interested because they were backing this candidate. As a member of the Momentum Members Council, I actually spoke directly to 4 senior Momentum officials including Jon Lansman himself about the fact that this candidate was not a Momentum supporter nor supported by local LP and Momentum members and had been phoning Momentum members disparaging the other candidates who were also left supporting people. The three local candidates were bullied out of the shortlisting and the complaints I received from many members were totally ignored by region. Despite the huge amounts of cash thrown at thw candidate, she was unsuccessful, as most of us knew she would be. But it has meant that i and several others have felt forced to turn our backs on the party we have supported – I for over 30 years as an MPs assistant and feel utterly let down by Momentum who claim to be a grassroots organisation but are not consulting their own grassroots. On top of it all, my name was dragged into the S*n paper and I was subjected to personal abuse and attack over it.

  5. Hahaha. So the a Labour party, as usual, are in disarray and can’t even agree on a local level, let alone national! Looking forward to the funeral…..bury the Labour lefties forever!

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