The effects of the transformation of the Labour Party’s membership under Jeremy Corbyn have been felt in many parts of the city, with the Momentum wing winning elections for positions running constituency organisations and ward branches. So far, though, there’s been no mass breakthrough by it into the ranks of candidates selected to contest next May’s borough elections.
If that is going to happen anywhere it seems likely to be Haringey, where opposition to the current administration’s regeneration policies, primarily in the form of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) is having a mobilising effect (see photo). Candidate selection meetings are currently required to take place in the four weeks from 30 October. How lies the land?
Fractious might be one word for it. Assorted sources are, according to taste, either gloomily predicting that talented, able and hard-working sitting councillors will be deselected in the coming weeks for being less than The Full Jeremy or failing to oppose the HDV, or they are eagerly anticipating an influx of “grassroots left” new blood that will sideline the “Blairites” currently leading the council.
Amid all this, much attention is being focussed on the process by which local party members become contenders to contest council seats in the first place and, in particular, the central role of Haringey’s local campaign forum (LCF), the Labour Party body responsible for organising the candidate selection procedure in the borough.
In September, Haringey LCF, as Labour Party rules require, arranged interviews by assessment teams with prospective candidates, including sitting councillors, hoping to be selected or re-selected as candidates. LCFs sometimes bring in people from outside their borough to be among the assessors. This happened in Haringey, with experienced Islington councillor Claudia Webbe, a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and a member of Labour’s governing National Executive Committee, taking a leading role in many of the interviews.
In the usual way, hopefuls who pass this initial assessment have been included on a list – the official word is “panel” – of prospective candidates. But those approved at that stage must also be endorsed by the LCF before they can go forward to seek selection by ward branches. Normally, this is a formality. But LCFs have considerable powers to withhold endorsement. I quote from the Labour Party Rule Book:
The LCF may refuse endorsement as it thinks fit to any candidate recommended for acceptance by the assessment team, on a secret ballot of eligible delegates at a duly notified meeting. The suitability of candidates for endorsement is a matter of judgement by members of the LCF (Appendix 4, paragraph E(iv), page 70).
In Haringey, an LCF meeting for the endorsement – or otherwise – of those on the prospective candidate panel is presently scheduled to take place on 20 October. However, some LCF members are asking for it to be pushed back to a later date. Why?
We now enter a realm of subtlety and suspicion from which a definitive answer may never be extracted. This of itself points to the fraught state of Haringey Labour, which extends to the LCF itself. For example, the person who was its procedures secretary – the position with key responsibilities for running the selection timetable – at the beginning of the process has since stepped down. Her replacement is activist Seema Chandwani, another firm Corbyn supporter, who has a lively Twitter presence and is also secretary of Tottenham Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and joint chair of the important Labour Party conference arrangements committee.
Unsurprisingly, the prominence of Webbe and the rise of Chandwani during the selection process so far has increased disquiet among Haringey Labourites unpersuaded that the grassroots surge is going to help the party and doubtful about how the LCF is going about its business. They fear that its political complexion has been increasingly working to the advantage of prospective candidates from the Momentum part of the forest and that a number of them are less than ideal.
The LCF is chaired by Russell Dove, who also chairs Tottenham CLP. A Tottenham CLP vice chair, Haringey National Union of Teachers president Julie Davies, is also on the forum. But though both are on the left of the party, its overall political character is said to be quite finely balanced, tilting only slightly to the left. And some contend that the push to reschedule the 20 October meeting to a later date is motivated by a wish to shift the LCF’s membership decisively in a leftward and anti-HDV direction, putting it in a better position to withhold endorsement from candidates on the panel list not to their liking, including sitting councillors.
How is this thesis constructed? Well, it’s all about the calendar.
- The LCF is believed to be holding its annual general meeting (AGM) less than a fortnight after the 20 October panel confirmation date (31 October and 1 November have been mentioned, though I’ve been unable to get this confirmed).
- Branch meetings for selecting candidates are currently required to be held sometime between 30 October and 24 November.
- The LCF AGM will see a new forum membership formed, including six elected representatives from each of Haringey’s two CLPs. These alone are, given the outcomes of recent internal elections, almost certainly going to be backed by the Momentum wing.
- If the LCF meeting about the candidate panel is put back until after the AGM – which could in theory be straight after it on the same day – certain prospective candidates could find themselves deprived of that status by the end of it, despatched by secret ballot. Or so the “moderates'” thesis goes.
Is this just a case of sore losing and paranoia? I approached Seema Chandwani for her perceptive, but she declined to discuss internal party matters with me. I approached Labour’s London Region, with which the selection process must be agreed, but received the same reply.
I am therefore unable to either substantiate or dismiss claims that, for example, the London Region has been asked if the endorsement meeting can be delayed from 20 October on the grounds that two LCF members are unable to attend for religious reasons and, if so, how recently this issue was raised.
But I can state with confidence that emotions are running high in the Haringey Labour undergrowth. I hope to supply further reports from it soon.