I’m angry. You should be too.
Last night, I attended my local CLP (constituency Labour Party) annual general meeting, where I was expecting to be amongst a group of 40–50 people, most of whom I would have known, and considered friends, to have a robust, but friendly and comradely debate about the crisis our beloved Labour Party finds itself in. We would also elect officers to our executive committee (EC), read the reports outgoing officers had prepared (myself included) and vote on affiliations to groups such as FOSBR (who I support) and CND (who I do not support). And at the end, a number of the people would disappear to the pub, and we would see each other in the not to distant future campaigning for Labour. I was very, very wrong.
The first inkling I had that this would not be the case was when I received an email from my favourite subgroup cum cult of personality of the Labour Party and Glorious Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s path to ideological purity and the loss of the 2020 election (which has the additional benefit of not only having our core vote desert us for the Tories or UKIP, not only the betrayal of the values laid out in the constitution of the Labour Party, not only the betrayal of the people who need a Labour government, but the benefit of making the Labour party a party of protest and electoral oblivion! Isn’t that great?), Momentum, emailed me about “ Bristol West AGM important elections tomorrow.”
Now, not only does this make it look like the email was written by the same Nigerian Princes who fill my spam folder with emails promising a lot of money in return for my credit card details, but it also shows that elements of Momentum are institutionally entryist. (It would be both wrong and discourteous of me to not mention that there are members of Momentum and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn that joined the party after the 2015 election who I consider friends and who have worked bloody hard on the EU referendum and the local elections in May, and not just people who rant on the Internet.) In the email, I was gobsmacked to see that Momentum had effectively endorsed certain candidates (two of whom were family friends, not people I had met out on the doorstep). I felt angry, and upset when I read this (although I was amused to see that the only Momentum member I had decided to vote for, based on the fact that they were actually qualified to do the job of treasurer, failed to get the Momentum “nomination”). No other group had done this. Not the Fabians, not Compass, not Blue Labour, not even the neo-liberal establishment pro-austerity Blairite Progress tendancy, who definitely aren’t just a magazine/website that I happen to subscribe to. Anyway, to the meeting.
Before I begin explaining the meeting as I see it, I want to make one thing clear. The chair of the meeting (who’se last meeting it was as chair), and the secretary of the meeting were in no way responsible for what happened. They could have had no way of knowing the level of turnout when the room was booked, nor could they have done any more to make the meeting run smoother. It has been a pleasure to serve on the EC with them since December, and I wish them nothing but the best.
I arrived at the meeting half an hour before it was supposed to start. I was lucky to get a seat. I sat down, and saw that the queue to enter was still huge. Really huge (as it turned out there were about 265 people there, double the capacity of the room we booked). Eventually, the chair realized something had to give. She discussed what to do with Thangam Debbonaire, our brilliant local MP, who was due to address the meeting. They decided that the meeting would have to be cancelled, and rescheduled. This didn’t happen, as a particularly belligerant and unpleasant chap used “standing orders” to challenge the chair, demanding the meeting continue. At this point, someone produced a megaphone, demanding that the meeting to be moved outside to a park located opposite. Luckily it wasn’t.
Then followed the moment when the meeting was at its most united. Sadly, it was a minute silence in memory of Jo Cox MP. Following this, Thangam addressed the meeting, briefly laying out why she had lost confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, and why she had resigned from her (very junior) ministerial role. I heard a cry of “Deselect!” go up at the back of the room, and things only went downhill from there. Thangam, I felt, put across her point well, as she always does, and listened and gave people respect even when they were being very disrespectful towards her.
For the record, I personally disagree with Thangam over assisted suicide (I am sure there are other issues, but this is the first that sprung to mind), an issue of life and death, far more important than who leads our party. Did I try to have her deselected? No! I know Labour isn’t an echo chamber, and we can have disagreement on serious issues such as this and remain perfectly civil to one another, and work with each other to achieve our common goal. What does the back of our membership card say? “By the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we do alone.” Deselecting MPs is not the way to do this.
For the rest of the meeting, I was mercifully away from the main room, as I had volunteered to count the votes. All but one of the candidates that were nominated by Momentum won, and I am desperately sorry to see comrades who have worked hard for longer than I have been alive be defeated by fellow travelers, one of whom, my new vice-chair, denied that there had been a hostile atmosphere in the meeting on BBC TV (although clearly she isn’t a true cultist as everyone and their mother knows the BBC are NASTY EVIL BIASED TORIES WHO ARE PART OF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA PORTLAND CONSPIRACY TO DETHRONE SAINT JEREMY ESPECIALLY THAT LAURA KUNNESSBERG).
Having counted the votes, I emerged to see a person attempt to put a motion to the meeting. This request was denied (them’s the rules). My dear dear comrade in arms then attempted to put an “emergency” motion to the meeting. Again, denied. Motion that the vote be taken. Denied. Challenge to the chair. Denied. No confidence in the chair. I’ll let you guess the result of that (hint: there is a trend to these results).
All in all, the moderates of the meeting, and even those who had voted for Corbyn but were fed up of the tactics these idiots were using (some of whom even knew Jezza when he was first selected in 1983) left feeling thoroughly pissed off with what happened. I know I was, and am. I was touched however, to see so many people from outside the CLP (Stephen Doughty, Micheal Dugher and other councillors and MPs) show their support for those who felt harassed and bullied.
To be honest, I came out of the meeting feeling both relieved and sorry. Relieved it was over. Relieved I would be stepping down from the EC (partially because I feel unable to work with some of the newer members, and partially because I want to throw myself headfirst into a new Bristol-wide Young Labour group, and to make that the success I know it deserves to be). Sorry that Thangam had to put up with this abuse (and abuse beforehand, including from a sitting councillor). Sorry that Thangam (and the entire PLP) has had to put up with Jeremy Corbyn and his team. Sorry that young people are scared to come to Labour meetings. Sorry that our fantastic chair and secretary had to go through what they did. Sorry that supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and members of Momentum who have worked, and will work bloody hard to campaign, and who have thrown themselves into Labour, and who can work with others, and admit Jeremy isn’t the second coming of Christ have been dragged through the mud and who are definitely not guilty by association.
But most of all, I’m angry. Now you’ve read this, I almost hope you are too.