November 25, 2020
From Alternative Bristol (UK)

The battle within Bristol West CLP has escalated further. Following on from the removal of the chairperson & a co-secretary after the CLP voted to support a motion backing the reinstatement of Jeremy Corbyn after he was suspended, several other members were suspended for sending tweets with the hashtag #SackGaskin – a regional officer involved in acting against the CLP for allegedly breaking Party rules.

Now, just 2 days before the Bristol West CLP AGM on 26 November (online), the Party’s South West regional Office has cancelled the AGM. According to current CLP secretary Darran McLaughlin on twitter:

Labour South West Regional Office have just suspended the@bristolwestlab AGM which was taking place on Thursday, and suspended all CLP meetings until February. They have emailed our members, insinuating that our EC (Executive Committee) were not conducting themselves properly and have stated that they will take over the AGM with the Governance and Legal unit. I have tried contacting people at regional office as Secretary since Friday via email, text and phone call and no one replied to me. No one has attempted to speak to any of our EC before making these accusations. This is an absolutely disgusting attack on one of the largest CLPs in the country, and it is part of a wider attack on the Labour Party membership and what they view as recalcitrant CLPs. I am utterly appalled by this behaviour, and the attempt to smear the reputations of our EC.

This appears to be the latest battle within Bristol West CLP that has been going on for some years, as supporters of Jeremy Corbyn (both from Momentum and other left members) have attempted to wrest control of the CLP from the ‘old guard’ and the right – essentially the backers of pro-Starmer MP Thangam Debbonaire. It is telling that the twitter accounts of Bristol West CLP & of Ms Debbonaire are totally silent on the matter..?

At the now cancelled AGM, Momentum members & others on the Left were seeking to elect a ‘Socialist Slate’ to be Officers of the CLP, and therefore give it effective control of the CLP (this is how things tend to work within the Labour Party – see for example the recent elections to Labour’s NEC, or National Executive Committee). Responding to the cancellation, Momentum in Bristol and the West of England and Bristol Momentum Youth (FB links!) have called for an ‘EMERGENCY Momentum meeting in place of the Bristol West AGM’, to be held at the same time as the AGM would have been held. In the FB event for that they say:

They are trying to shut down our democracy. Now, more than ever, it is time to organise. Unelected bureaucrats from Regional Office have shut down Bristol West’s long-awaited AGM. The reasons given for doing so were little more than smears intended to justify a crackdown on democracy. They are hoping that we will lose our energy to organise and fight for a socialist slate to win the Executive Committee. Labour members deserve to have an AGM to elect an Executive Committee to run their local party. Worse still, we have been barred from holding any official CLP meetings in December and January. Current EC members had worked hard, with little help from Regional Office, to deliver a fair, transparent, online AGM and were not communicated with before members were told it was cancelled. Members cannot afford to wait so long before they can start organising in their communities again. If Labour bureaucracy doesn’t allow us to hold fair elections, Momentum will step in. So on Thursday evening we will elect a Temporary Organising Committee to deliver the training and organising promised by the socialist slate. (Read more here on FB).

If the Bristol West CLP remains suspended until February, it will leave little time for the local party to organise for next May’s Council & Mayoral elections in Bristol. However it looks fairly obvious that supporters of Ms Debbonaire, along with the Regional Officers, will attempt to do that work. This replicates an ongoing situation within several Bristol Labour held constituencies, where the current MP & their immediate supporters are essentially at war with the Left (usually in the majority) within their CLP, and to all intents & purposes act independently.

The war between Left & Right, broadly anti-capitalist socialists versus social democrat capitalists (although both generally support the parliamentary road to socialism/social democracy), has been ongoing pretty much since the formation of the Labour Party. Older readers will remember the huge fights in the 1980’s between a Militant led ‘Broad Left’ – that gained control of numerous CLP’s and national Trade Unions, and elected a handful of Militant MP’s – and the soft-left leader Neil Kinnock & his allies. Kinnock won hands down, and the Left remained on the sidelines until the sudden election of Corbyn as Leader. However as we have seen, Corbyn’s Leadership was undermined at every stage by both the right of the Party, and the Party machine that they retained control of, despite the apparent large public support for Corbyn’s ideas & approach. Attempts by Corbyn supporters to take control of that party machine, and more CLP’s, failed. The fact is the Left is nothing like as ruthless as the Right, and is arguably even more divided.

Looking at all this from outside of the Party, here at AltBristol it seems that the major winners of this situation in Bristol may be the Green Party, who are chasing down Labour Mayor Rees and slowly building their numbers of councillors. But nationally, it’s the Tories who are the winners. At a time when they should be being skewered by the Opposition over their failures in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, the Brexit chaos, and the climate crisis…they face an opposition internally divided and led by someone who is at best Tory-lite. With Labour ineffective, where will opposition to the Tories come from, and who will lead it? Maybe nobody will lead it and a new horizontal movement will emerge rejecting the inequities of capitalism & political cronyism (including many thousands of Lefty refugees from the Labour Party). Or maybe a right-wing populist will appear and led us in a more Trumpian direction? Either way, over a long hard winter we can expect growing anger from working class people as they continue to pay for the coronavirus with their lives & freedoms, and for the recession with tax increases, frozen pay, and cuts to services – which is one very good reason why the Tories are clamping down very hard now on any expressions of dissent during the lockdowns, they know worse is to come, and are preparing. So 2021 may turn out to be as crazy as 2020…the future, as they say, is unwritten, and the ruling class/Tory Government know they can never totally relax.