Labour List, that authoritative source of news and opinion about Labour Party affairs, has reported that “London is becoming a key battleground in Labour’s internal struggles for power” and that the left of the party in the capital has “stepped up its organisation for internal elections” to the London regional board next month.
The board’s membership is important because, among other things, it will play a substantial role in Labour’s response to the parliamentary constituency boundary review – which, as Labour List puts it, “will likely see Labour MPs from different wings of the party go up against each other in [candidate]selections” – and has a big influence over who gets picked to run for council seats. Minds are already turning to the borough elections of 2018.
Labour List says that Momentum, the activist group that supports Jeremy Corbyn, is working hard to promote candidates for the board that are to its liking, but that a rival alignment, which “includes elements of the party’s soft left” as well as its centre and right, is doing the same. Labour people I’ve sounded out fully recognise this nuanced description of the party’s activist landscape in the capital.
Could there be significant shifts in the political disposition of Labour candidates and elected politicians in London over the next few years? Might senior figures be brought down? What might be the implications for Labour and for the city, where about 20% of Labour’s total membership lives and where the party has consistently gained ground in recent years, notwithstanding the mayoralties of Boris Johnson?
Early inquiries around Labour-run boroughs have produced an interesting range of answers. They have suggested wide variations across the capital from borough to borough but also from ward to ward, sometimes depending on attitudes to particular local issues and often on how well organised (or otherwise) different tendencies within local memberships are.
For example, contacts in Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham report no impending disturbance of the status quo. From Lewisham, one of the boroughs where Labour membership has grown a lot, it is observed that many of the newcomers have been enthused by Corbyn but aren’t necessarily all-out Corbynites or involved in full-on organising for Momentum. It may be instructive to see how aspiring successors to Lewisham mayor Sir Steve Bullock, who is to retire and will therefore not seek re-election in 18 months’ time, approach the challenge.
In other parts of London there are indications that the jostling is intense. I gather that in Croydon there is lively competition among differing factions to secure local party posts and exert influence on the London region, while in Haringey, according to one source, there are threats of councillor deselection right across the borough from new members on the left. There are definitely worries within Labour Lambeth’s corridors of power that some current councillors could be ousted.
The above is, I emphasise, just a tentative initial sketch of what looks to be a finely-shaded picture of grassroots Labour activism in the capital. It would be both premature and crude to predict some monolithic, “hard left” ascendancy, let alone pontificate about what such a thing might mean for Labour fortunes. It may turn out that not a huge amount will change: as one experienced Labourite put it “it would take an awful lot of time and energy to engineer the sort of huge shift to the left that some of Jeremy’s admirers would like.”
That said, all and any significant changes in the city’s political complexion are relevant to its people and its future. They are therefore also of interest to this column. Readers who can help me track them in fuller detail are welcome to comment below or to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
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