It’s that most magical time of the year everybody! It’s time for Internal Labour party fighting. In a break from the normal Moderates V.S. Corbynite roughhousing this week’s seemingly inevitable split on the left comes in the form of Momentum Vs Corbynites. The chosen battlefield was the Lewishsam East By-election candidate selection meeting. The eventual victor? Janet Daby, who is…. wait…. she’s being described as a moderate? The moderates won when they weren’t being reported as being involved in this little internal scuffle?
So, what happened at the Lewisham meeting to bring us this shocking turn of events? God only knows, but I’ve thrown together some thoughts about what the selection meeting has taught us about Labour’s current & future positions based on what I’ve been able to piece together online. I wasn’t at the meeting, I’m not from Lewisham so I’ve no real special insight, but hell, when has that ever stopped any other political commentator from writing something?
1) For all the talk of being different to Blair & Brown, Corbyn’s team are still machine politicians, they’re just not that good at it.
In a last minute dramatic intervention, it was revealed that the momentum backed candidate Shakina Sheikh had in fact as little as a year ago openly backed a party that wasn’t Labour! The Horror! I’ve not actually seen any real smoking guns on this, so maybe there was some local evidence of it that I’ve not seen, but either way Corbyn and Unite’s machine felt strongly enough that they needed to send the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Jennie Formby, down to have words with Sheikh and get her to stand down. Or it might have been Karie Murphy coming directly from the Leaders office. No-one can agree, either way though this WREAKS of a stitch up. Sheikh went into the selection meeting as one of the favorites due to being the Momentum backed candidate and from the local area, making her the perceived main adversary to Claudia Webbe the Corbynite candidate. Ultimately the move failed, and Sheikh remained on the ballot which on its own shows that Corbyn’s team aren’t very good at fixing selections in the way that Blair and Brown used to, but they are still trying to (based on reports from the Red Roar there seems to be some evidence that the NEC under Corbyn isn’t very good at screening candidates either. Even if the claim against Sheikh is a bit dubious how on earth they didn’t ask a question like “Have you supported any other party other than Labour recently” is beyond me).
2) The Corbynite use of machine politics puts them directly opposed to Momentum.
Based on the successful selection of Janet Daby and the fact that Momentum was seemingly coming out hard for Sheikh, we can assume that an awful lot of Momentum members were probably voting for Daby. This suggests that momentum members are likely not buying into the whole machine politics approach from any faction ( including their own). If this is the case, then you can expect there to be a continued series of dust ups in future if Momentum members feel that the system is being abused for one factions benefit over another.
3) The influence of the lefts digital cheerleaders is zero.
In the run-up to the selection meeting what I like to consider the usual suspects of the digital left all came out in favour of the Momentum backed candidate. Aaron Bastani & Matt Zarb Cousins both influential in their own way on the Left and with large digital followings for various reasons put out graphics highlighting their support for Sheikh. I’ve no idea if they live in Lewisham or are involved in the local party ( if they aren’t then the amount of ego required to put out something like that and think it’ll have an impact is astounding) but in a way it doesn’t matter because the membership totally went against them. This would suggest for all the re-tweets and engagement these guys get online, that doesn’t translate to anything meaningful on the ground. Not surprising, but interesting none the less.
4) Moderate is a meaningless term and is being used to describe people who aren’t factional.
I picked up the news of who’s won the selection via twitter during a podcast recording session, both I and Corey were quite shocked to see someone described as a moderate had won the selection. As you dig into it though, the reality is she’s probably not a Blairite. She voted for Corbyn twice. So why is she being described as a moderate? I suspect because she wasn’t a factional candidate and because everyone hates an absence of narrative has had the term moderate attached to her to make the result fit pre-conceived narratives.
By all accounts, Daby is a strong local candidate, who basically everyone can get behind. That doesn’t make her a moderate necessarily, but in a party riven with factionalism that plays out at every layer of the party, simplistic explanations always boil down to” which side are you on”.
Interestingly this could provide a way back for ACTUAL moderates in Labour. If Momentum is prepared to back strong local candidates who aren’t actively opposing them then you can probably get selected by working hard, being nice and not engaging with factional fuck-wittery. I know the concept of being nice to people in politics is radical, but I strongly suggest people try it out sometime.
And there you have it. Four things it’s possible we’ve learnt from the Lewisham by-election. Stay tuned for a follow-up piece at some point in future where I and the rest of the commentariat will completely ignore everything we’ve previously written and post a whole new set of lessons based on a single incident in an attempt to explain the chaos that is modern British politics.