Listening to members and regaining our balance

It’s beginning to look as if a sense of balance and unity of purpose is returning to the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove. Although we should take nothing for granted, this is clearly a moment that every party member in the city should be ready to seize.

Of the 11 wards to have selected candidates for next year’s local elections so far (including the most winnable target wards), eight have either rejected the recommendation of the Local Campaign Forum, which urged members not to auto select sitting councillors, or opted for a balanced ticket of candidates, rather than adopt the Momentum slate in its entirety. By putting up and working hard for a full slate, Momentum had sought to deselect all sitting councillors, except Nancy Platts in East Brighton. Although Momentum succeeded in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean (deselecting one of two councillors seeking re-selection) and Queen’s Park, they failed everywhere else.

How should we interpret these results? Inevitably some will point to the fact that, in terms of actual numbers of candidates selected, Momentum backed people are still the majority (18 to 12). Depending on the results of the remaining selections and the elections themselves, they will get to choose who they want to be the leader and set the council’s priorities.

However, there is a different way of interpreting the results, one borne from my own conversations with members in recent weeks. The clear message coming from them is that whilst they clearly support many of the slate candidates, they have had enough of factionalism, they embrace the notion of the broad church party and value experience and the hard work of the current councillors.

I strongly suspect that the rejection of factionalism, the backing for the broad church / balanced ticket approach is part of a party wide mood. We will see further evidence of this in the results of the NEC elections, a surge for a stronger anti-Brexit line and rejection of the leadership’s approach on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

But regardless of those wider trends, the message from our members in the city needs to be kept in mind as the manifesto is developed over the coming months and as candidates seek to mobilise members to go out and speak to voters on their behalf. The Momentum narrative that the selection of candidates and the election campaign is all about winning the first socialist majority on Brighton and Hove city council is clearly dead in the water. This needs to be replaced by something that is more democratic and which reflects the need to build on the real desire for unity.

There will inevitably be further twists and turns in the road over the coming months. The message coming from members will be heard by those who want to put the party first — but fought tooth and nail by the most factional. The amount of abuse I received for distributing a very mild ‘balanced ticket’ flyer outside the selection meeting in my ward last week was alarming to say the least. Some of this abuse was face to face, but most was reserved for cowardly on-line name calling. I even got an intimidating text from the chair of B&H Momentum (already suspended from the Labour party) warning me there would be an inquiry into my behaviour!

But of course, 90 per cent plus of the feedback was very positive. Ordinary members want to campaign for a radical but broad church Labour party that values experience, plurality and civility. Let’s take responsibility and listen to what they say.