Labour elites have handed the Tories more power on a major city council, after three councillors were suspended over an anti-Corbyn conspiracy theory that Bristol Labour is in the “grip of the hard-left”.
Labour in Bristol
All three of the suspended councillors have been vocal supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. This will add to the claim that Labour is executing a “rigged purge” of Corbyn voters in the leadership contest.
In 2016, the party won a slim majority of 37 out of 70 seats in Bristol. But after suspending two councillors this week, and one earlier in the month, Labour is left with 34 – one short of a majority.
So Labour has gifted the Conservatives, who came second, more power in the city.
Long-standing campaign officer for Bristol West, Andy Burkitt, was also suspended this week.
The latest suspensions come after Channel Four aired an undercover documentary showing a national organiser of Momentum claiming the pro-Corbyn campaign group is now “running” Bristol Labour.
Rupert Murdoch’s The Times characterises Momentum as a “hard-left” group, while Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith has described the 18,000-strong organisation in terms that suggest it’s an invasive alien parasite. Twitter users have condemned such an image, pointing out that Hitler’s spin doctor, Joseph Goebbels, used it to dehumanise Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
After Smith’s comments, Momentum invited the Pontypridd MP to come and see for himself how the group operates. The organisation also rebutted the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary as “selectively presenting information” to influence the leadership contest.
Separate investigations by The Canary and The Guardian’s Owen Jones suggest that Momentum is actually a group of ordinary people who have been inspired by the progressive politics coalescing under Corbyn.
Shadow Defence Secretary Clive Lewis has dismissed claims from the media and Corbyn’s opponents that Momentum is a “rabble” of hard-left entryists. The MP for Norwich South deemed them “red under the bed scare stories” designed to damage the Labour leader.
Hard-left infiltration in Bristol?
Back in Bristol, a Labour Party spokeswoman said that there were rules preventing her from commenting on individual membership issues, and that it was up to the person suspended to reveal why.
But The Canary spoke to one of the suspended councillors, Mike Langley of Brislington East, who said he had not yet been given a reason for his suspension.
The working class, life-long trade unionist said he suspected it was because of “rumours” that the Bristol Labour Party is in the “grip of the hard left”, which he said was entirely untrue.
The other two suspended councillors, Harriet Bradley and Hibaq Jama, were not available for comment at the time of writing.
But recently, Jama of Lawrence Hill expressed support for Corbyn at a rally. She had previously criticised Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire over suggestions that male refugees should be taught integration lessons in equality.
Meanwhile, Bradley of Brislington West has spoken out in favour of the incumbent on social media. She also reportedly backed calls for there to be democratic elections to choose Labour candidates for the next general election. This is called ‘deselection’ by Corbyn’s opponents.
Langley was one of 403 Labour councillors to sign a letter backing Corbyn, which suggested:
that those MPs who have embarked on this indulgent course of action [to oust Mr Corbyn] will reflect on their behaviour and turn their fire on the real enemy, the Tory Party
The overwhelming number of reported cases of Corbyn supporters being suspended and banned from voting has led Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to argue that the leadership election is being effectively “rigged”.
If Momentum isn’t ‘hard-left’, why is it portrayed as such?
The suspensions of Langley, Jama and campaign officer Burkitt came straight after the release of The Battle for the Labour Party, the Channel Four documentary which even Corbyn’s opponents described as a “weak” hatchet job on the incumbent.
#Dispatches was weak. It will only reinforce the view that the establishment wants to trash Corbyn. Suspect it'ill have the opposite effect
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) September 19, 2016
The TV documentary claimed that Momentum is using Bristol as a “blueprint” to “flood” the party with its members.
Young and enthusiastic? Get involved in politics and be secretly filmed and smeared in the national media. Very disappointed in #Dispatches
— Liam O'Hare (@Liam_O_Hare) September 19, 2016
Momentum is an open and democratic group with transparent funding. But Owen Smith has condemned the organisation, saying:
There is nothing comradely about setting up a party within a party. Still less in trying to use our movement as a host body, seeking to occupy it, hollow it out, until it’s outlived its usefulness, when you throw it aside like a dead husk.
The leadership challenger has not made any remarks about Saving Labour, which coordinates attacks on Corbyn and keeps its funding secret. The organisation on the Labour right could equally be described as “a party within a party”.
David Graeber, a political activist and professor at the London School of Economics, offered his reason for the smears against Momentum in the editorial-free section of The Guardian:
If the opposition to Jeremy Corbyn for the past nine months has been so fierce, and so bitter, it is because his existence as head of a major political party is an assault on the very notion that politics should be primarily about the personal qualities of politicians. It’s an attempt to change the rules of the game, and those who object most violently to the Labour leadership are precisely those who would lose the most personal power were it to be successful: sitting politicians and political commentators.
Politicians and pundits smear Momentum because it represents a shift of power from themselves (individuals and leaders) to ordinary people. Now it appears that politicians fear the movement coalescing under Corbyn so much that they are willing to hand the Tories more power in order to discipline their own councillors for supporting it.
Coupled with watching Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications, Alastair Campbell, team up with Tory MP Anna Soubry to dreadfully smear McDonnell on BBC Question Time, one wonders which side Labour Party elites are truly on.
– Watch Owen Jones meet Momentum here:
– Read Steve Topple’s interviews with Momentum activists.
– Read our other articles on the Labour Party.
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