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Opinion Resisting the Labour right hijack in Bristol

Bristol North West’s local Labour Party has been paralysed by its own paid officials, but members are fighting back with a protest on June 25, writes ESTHER GILES

IN 2015, after Corbyn became Labour leader, there was a surge in the membership of Bristol North West’s local Labour Party, with the left on the rise. The executive committee (EC) of the local party achieved a socialist majority from 2017 and in 2019, the party elected an almost entirely socialist executive.

However, the constituency’s MP Darren Jones, together with his allies in Labour’s South West Regional Office, has undermined the progress of the left at every turn.

This has culminated in a full-scale campaign to remove, silence and ultimately replace socialists from the EC roles in the local party at a rigged annual general meeting earlier this month. This is why we have arranged a protest at the regional office on June 25.  

But it’s not just in Bristol. We want to protest against the corruption of local and national democracy throughout the party.

Our protest takes place in the context of unconstitutional clampdowns on party democracy exercised in recent months by the unelected and unendorsed general secretary of the party, David Evans.

More than 70 local party officers have been suspended since November 2020 simply for permitting members to debate matters that were important to them, in particular the suspension of Corbyn.

In the case of Bristol North West, members moved and passed a motion by an overwhelming majority calling for the reinstatement of Corbyn in the interests of party unity.

The meeting was held on November 13 and Corbyn was reinstated on the November 17, but on November 23, the chair and secretary (myself) of the local party were informed that they had been administratively suspended.

Our MP was one of the “informers” on the secretary, forwarding to party officials the secretary’s report-back to members on the outcome of the meeting. The chair and secretary answered at least 19 questions each sent to them by the party officials, but both remain suspended seven months later.

Because the secretary was the only officer able to access membership data and send communications to members, the executive committee then had no way of contacting members or organising meetings. Some of the remaining elected officers offered to continue this role and to ensure that membership engagement could carry on. The regional office refused to let this happen.

Our MP then used his access to member data to smear the reputations of the elected officers and to take control of elections to the executive committee which was to take place at a meeting organised by the regional office for Friday June 11. This was in breach of party rules, but the party bureaucracy did not respond to this being pointed out to them. Our MP proceeded to organise and promote a slate for the forthcoming elections.

In advance of the Bristol NW’s general members’ meeting on November 13, a local party member contacted the Jewish Chronicle to complain that Jewish people were being excluded because the meeting was being held on a Friday. But no such complaint was made to the Jewish Chronicle about the meeting called by the regional office to elect EC members — despite this being on Friday June 11.

I and a number of comrades in the local party became increasingly concerned about this corruption of process and decided that a protest should take place. This is the protest we have arranged for June 25.

Many members did not receive notice for the meeting to elect the new CLP EC.

Some of the socialist candidates and the CLP secretary contacted the regional office setting out their grave concerns at the rigging and maladministration of the EC elections. They had no reply. Consequently, every socialist candidate agreed to withdraw from the election process on the basis that they were not free or fair elections.

During the selection meeting itself, a number of members tried to raise points of order when the process was not in line with the rule book. They were ignored. Our MP’s slate was elected without debate.

Throughout the period since the suspension of elected officers and running up to the election of replacement officers, attempts to correct or complain about the process have been ignored. At the same time party bureaucrats have been assembling “evidence” to suspend members.  

Labour Party members have been excluded and debate curtailed across the country, but especially so in the South West Region, where 20 officers were suspended due to general secretary David Evans’s diktats (out of the national total of around 70).

In Bristol, this collaboration to exclude socialists extended to the local government elections. Party officials imposed right-wing candidates in the working-class Lockleaze ward.

The number of seats held by Labour reduced from two to none. Neither of the imposed candidates were elected. As a result for this and other campaign failures, Labour lost its majority on Bristol City Council.

We are facing an outrageous perversion of fundamental democratic processes. We welcome all comrades to join us in our protest against these outrages at 11am on June 25 outside Labour’s South West Regional Office.

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