I re-joined the Labour Party as a member of Canterbury CLP, Whitstable branch in May 2016 after a long absence because of my disillusionment with the Labour government under Tony Blair, an unaccountable leader who took us into an unnecessary and illegal war with Iraq. The issue of democracy and accountability drew me back to to Labour as I witnessed a growing attack on the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn by his opponents in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Accordingly I initiated an emergency motion for my first branch meeting, defending Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership against the smear of anti-Semitism. This motion was based broadly on a statement by the Jewish Socialist group and a letter to the Guardian refuting the charge that anti-Semitism is rife in the party, which I signed by along with 90 Jewish people who are Labour members or supporters. There was a lively discussion and the motion was passed by a large majority. It was then composited with a motion from Canterbury branch and sent to the Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry. One former Labour councillor and long standing member strongly disagreed with the motion and has since resigned. I understand he is able to vote in the current leadership election as he is still paying subs, whereas I am disenfranchised by new rules passed by Labour’s National Executive Committee which exclude members of less than six months’ duration.
My third branch meeting in July followed the vote of No Confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party by 172 members of the PLP in an attempted coup. I seconded a motion to reaffirm confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as the party leader, condemning the attempts to undermine his leadership and calling on the party to adopt a socialist programme which addressed the anger and despair expressed by those living in poverty who voted Brexit. About 80 people attended this meeting and the call to confirm confidence in Corbyn brought in a fresh group, some first time attenders who were passionate about challenging the abandonment of democracy in the desperate attempt by the PLP to unseat Corbyn.
The vote was delayed because there were so many in attendance and the chair required membership cards to be shown before the vote was taken. After those who had come without cards objected, the meeting was adjourned to allow them to go home fetch them. Others voted by showing evidence of payment by direct debits. The motion was carried overwhelmingly with a few abstentions. In the speeches against, the criticisms were not of Corbyn’s policies but vague and unsubstantiated references to a weakness of character, which made him unfit to lead and unelectable. The majority were not convinced.
The motion was to be composited with a similar motion passed by Canterbury branch at a meeting which attracted 120 people and was due to be voted on at an All Members meeting. This vote is necessary for the motion to become policy. However, our CLP has been shut down and there are no regular branch meetings allowed until October. No explanation has been provided. I read that all constituencies are being shut down and some such as North Shields and Brighton and Hove CLP have been suspended. It feels like a war; like a state of emergency.
In Canterbury we marched and rallied to keep Corbyn. A Canterbury Momentum group was inaugurated and people were queueing to join at our stall. This energy and solidarity brings hope.
It is important to stay hopeful and to fight for justice and democracy. A speaker at the rally said, “This is not about Corbyn. It’s about the people he represents, the working class, the dispossessed, those who have been denied a voice for so long”.