How the left won Harriet Harman’s constituency

By Chris Bright, Southwark Momentum convenor

Camberwell & Peckham, Harriet Harman’s constituency, swung decisively to the left at the AGM on 21 June, with 12 of the 15 CLP officer positions being won by Corbyn-supporting candidates.

This was the result of patient work carried out since the last AGM in November 2016 saw the right take every position.

Our strategy was to set up local networks of Corbyn supporters in each branch, meet up on an informal basis in pubs, coffee shops or people’s homes, push politics onto the agenda at branch meetings by raising motions on contemporary issues and keep as many people as possible in the communications loop by sending out newsletters using the Momentum national database.

We had started winning the political arguments even on the old, right dominated General Committee, where resolutions against the witch-hunt, against ‘social cleansing’ redevelopment proposals and in support of trade union disputes were passed, however when it came to elections social networks were harder to break down and more long-standing members tended to revert to the candidates they knew.

We knew the key would be the branch AGMs, where GC delegates are elected. We planned for these, phoning and e-mailing our contacts to encourage them to turn up and if possible stand for election as branch officers and GC delegates. We came out of that with a 65/35 left majority of branch delegates, a reversal of the previous situation. Although that was offset somewhat by affiliate delegates (the local Co-Op Party branch in particular appears to act as a means of getting right wingers onto the GC) we still had a clear paper majority.

Ahead of the CLP AGM we held an open meeting to finalise our slate of candidates and agree a short manifesto for general circulation, setting out what changes we wanted to make to the CLP in terms of increased democratisation, transparency and campaigning. We then e-mailed all known left delegates to stress the importance of attending, and outline what the key votes would be and who was on the left slate.

We decided not to stand for all positions and in particular not to oppose incumbents we felt had done a reasonable job. Within that, we stood our strongest candidates who had a proven track record at branch level. As it turned out, this not only won votes from the centre of the party, the right didn’t even put up candidates in several cases and ours were elected unopposed.

Where positions were contested, we won comfortably, and we also elected left delegations to Labour Party Annual Conference and to the Local Campaigns Forum.

There are two stories here. One is our own organisation, which was more effective than before, with lessons learned; in particular the importance of contact work over time at local level. The other is the demoralisation of the right. The failed Owen Smith leadership bid and the ‘Corbyn surge’ in the general election seems to have taken the wind out of their sails to a large extent, and they simply did not organise this time in the way they did previously. Although some Blair disciples remain, there seems to be a view among the more pragmatic centrists that the left needs to be included – I suspect particularly since that shares out the workload.

The fact that councillor elections have passed with most ‘New Labour’ councillors reselected and re-elected may also have played a part, but more generally the tide of change in the Labour Party is continuing and Camberwell & Peckham is no longer a Canute-like hold-out.

Our task now is to run the CLP in the way we promised. This will be hard work, but it’s why we stood and we’re up for the challenge. We don’t intend to carve out the party right in the way they did to us. Rather, we aim to be genuinely inclusive and transparent and to work with everyone who’s prepared to engage constructively to build the party locally and campaign for a Corbyn Labour government.

• For the platform the comrades ran on and their slate, see here.

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  1. This article satisfies the trophy hunters a little too much. It seems that the lefts support was always there but a lack of organisation allowed the right wing control. So what has happened is an improvement to position capturing – which lasts as long as the motivation or issues keep the interest. There is no references to the transformations we are required to see for radical change or more permanent changes. I wish the group well, but not yet reassured.

  2. Well, I had a word count to meet. But I did think I’d made it clear that it wasn’t only about organisation but also about the centre in the CLP changing their political alignment and the left capturing the political initiative. The attachment linked to above does summarise some of the transformations we have in mind.

  3. Shame you guys can’t challenge the Conservatives as effectively as the members of your own party. Hate Blair (there are many good reasons) but he was astute in realising you need the centre ground in the General Election to win power. A dissertation on how to defeat social democrats within the party will never be enough to achieve ultimate victory.

  4. I didn’t say Blair was a social democrat…Blair (as it turned out) didn’t espouse core labour values. He took this country into wars, which at best, were morally indefensible; ‘reformed’ gambling laws that have led to the destruction of families; introduced pfi on a much grander scale than Major, introduced academies (you can add your expletives) and enabled The City to self regulate. History will not look kindly on that man. The only credit I gave him on my previous post was his ability to win elections and keep (odious) Tories out of power. Who in their right mind would have had Howard or Haig as PM? No Sure Start, no Tax Credits for Working Families? No huge increase in health spending? I’ve read your article and whilst you make many interesting points, I don’t buy the argument that social democrats are part of the renewal of the left in the Labour Party. Umunna may try and sell that (as a bridge) but it isn’t true. A radical social democrat is a myth…that person is a socialist.

  5. A social democrat, in modern usage, is someone who believes in using the capitalist state to mitigate the excesses of capitalism and help redistribute wealth to the working class. That certainly includes McDonnell and Corbyn, or at least their current political programme. Socialist, I think, means someone who believes in common ownership of the means of production.

    It is indeed crucial to beat the Tories, by the way. Reinventing Labour Parties as campaigning community-based organisations rather than apolitical vote-harvesting machines is key to doing that, in my view.

  6. Peckham and Nunhead Labour branch meetings deter many attending for the late hour of 8pm meetings. I have raised this with no response as to change or compromise. Even 7.30pm with meetings elsewhere ending at 9pm will deter many attendees, particularly attending later in the colder, dour year. One appreciates working member’s with families needing that space after work and then attending a meeting. Perhaps, some meetings could be scheduled at weekends when times might be favourable to those reluctant to attend in the dingy hours?

  7. Congratulations to those who now actually represent the views of the members and the leadership but I am still concerned that the composition still reflects the caricature of the Corbyn left that it is still largely made up of those who care for the working class rather than the working class itself.

    It is sad that a place like Southwark with a huge manual working class population has no representation from bus and rail workers, Post Office, hospitals, construction, cleaners supermarkets etc.

    It more reflects the middle classes who have come to Labour through identity politics and “caring” for working people rather than the working class itself.

    Thats not a criticism of them but a suggestion for what should be the aim for the future composition of our membership/ leadership if we are to reflect the class we claim to lead.

    1. See the final point of the manifesto. The new party secretary is a retired rail worker in fact, and several others are low paid clerical workers, but it’s true the class profile of the party as a whole needs to become more representative. Practical suggestions for how to achieve this are welcome….

      1. I think the obvious way of becoming more representative of the working class people of the area is to get involved in the issues that concern them – affordable housing for a start plus the gentrification of Southwark which is largely to the detriment of the poorer working class of the area.

        I have never seen a Labour or Momentum bannner leaflet or placard on a demonstration or picket line. Were Southwark Labour on the RMT pickets campaigning for guards on trains or getting people on the anti Trump anti fascist demonstrations on the 13th 14th July ? A stall in Rye Lane or under the Peckham arch occasionally ?

        There are local issues like the lack of a post office in Rye Lane which means a bus journey and long wait at the one in Peckham High Street. The way the African women who ran the nail bars near Rye Lane station lost their shops and livelyhoods should be the concern of the party as well.

        On every tweet of a demonstration or picket in their area I see the Liverpool Walton Labour Party banner. They are an outward looking campaigning branch. That is what all Labour Party branches should be as well. People complain at SWP taking over local and national demonstrations and campaigns. Thats easily solved. Replace them.

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