Stand Up To Labour: The Denials of Momentum

And Peter remembered the words of Jesus, who said unto him: ‘Before the
cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.’ And he went out, and wept bitterly.

– Matthew, 26: 75

On 28 September, at the Labour Party Conference 2016, Jeremy Corbyn, the twice elected and now undisputed Leader of the Labour Party, declared to his audience in Liverpool:

‘Across the country, Labour councils are putting Labour values into action in a way that makes a real difference to millions of people, despite cynical government funding cuts that have hit Labour councils five times as hard as Tory-run areas. It is a proud Labour record, and each and every Labour councillor deserves our heartfelt thanks for the work they do.’

However disappointing this was to hear for residents fighting the demolition of their estates by Labour Councils across England, and however unlikely given that in June over 600 Labour councillors had called for Corbyn’s resignation in the lead-up to the failed coup by the Parliamentary Labour Party, it was not surprising. On the eve of the subsequent Labour Party leadership election in September, when it was apparent Corbyn would emerge as the winner, Andy Burnham, Corbyn’s former challenger for the leadership of the Labour Party and now its candidate for Mayor of Manchester, was reported in The Guardian as saying:

‘MPs should serve on Corbyn’s front bench and do so in the right spirit. The quid pro quo should be for Corbyn to stamp out all talk of de-selections of MPs or councillors by any supporters.’

By ‘supporters’ Burnham clearly meant Corbyn’s supporters in Momentum, who have been pursuing a policy of de-selection for some months, if not from their foundation. This tactic had been successfully used in December last year when Anita Ward, a Labour councillor in Birmingham, was de-selected by other Labour members and supporters of Corbyn. Equally clearly, however, Corbyn had now accepted the quid pro quo, and exchanged the call for de-selection of Progress councillors and Blairite MPs for a Parliamentary Party. Without the latter he has, quite clearly, been unable to rule even his own Party this past year, let alone aspire to rule the country; but without the former, his dream of turning the Labour Party into a pro-union, pro-nationalisation, anti-austerity political party will remain precisely that – a dream.

This olive branch, offered to MPS and councillors who despise him, was readily taken up by the interim Labour Shadow Housing Minister, Teresa Pearce, who gushed:

‘I want to say to Labour councillors up and down the country: thank you. In Labour-run councils you are making a difference, and I am proud of the ingenuity you have shown in the face of difficult choices, finding new solutions, demonstrating just what Labour can do in power. Our Councils are a vital source of Labour representation, and an increasing inspiration on policy. Innovating, forward looking, credible policy: that is Labour in power in local government.’

If Corbyn’s ingratiating appeal to Labour Councils hadn’t been enough, this was the final nail in the coffin of council residents’ hopes that – despite repeatedly refusing to condemn estate demolition for the entire year since his election to the leadership – Corbyn would now, finally, magically, speak out against its implementation by Labour Councils. And didn’t the Councils know it! Lib Peck, the Leader of Lambeth Labour Council, was quick to note Corbyn’s praise on Twitter that same day, saying she was ‘glad’ to hear it. Since ten days later the six Lambeth estates her council threatens with demolition, backed by campaigns against Lambeth library closures and the eviction of the Brixton Arches, were leading a march called Stand Up To Lambeth, this was all the ammunition she needed to call in the wagons around the Labour camp.

Responding on cue, Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North, in response to Lambeth Momentum’s Tweet (subsequently deleted) inviting people to ‘Join us on 8th October to protest the destruction of services, homes, jobs and the rights of residents in Lambeth’, responded: ‘Genuinely thought the message of this week was unity against a Tory Government, not ‘mobilise against Labour councils. Puzzled.’ When the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign replied that ‘Lambeth Council is grossly mismanaged’, MP Buck stuck to her guns. ‘Really not the point I’m making, though. It’s that Labour shouldn’t campaign against itself.’ To which the despairing Cressingham Gardens asked: ‘Confused then. How does the Labour Party hold Lambeth Council to account for failings?’

How indeed? Such questions, however, do not concern the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. Their leader had spoken, and the very next day, 29 September, Lambeth Momentum, which until then had put their support behind the Stand Up To Lambeth campaign, and who had been responsible, at the first organising meeting, for putting forward the call to deselect Lambeth Labour Cabinet, issued the following statement:

‘A leaflet produced this week for the Stand up to Lambeth Council demonstration with our name amongst the listed supporters does not represent Lambeth Momentum policy. Although we support the demonstration and continue to support campaigns by residents to defend local services and prevent council estate demolitions we have not, as this leaflet suggests, called upon the cabinet to resign.’

But he denied it, saying: ‘I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest.’

– Mark, 14: 68

To anyone who has observed Lambeth Momentum’s complete absence of support for the six estates threatened with demolition by Lambeth Labour Council, this renunciation would come as no surprise. It has been Lambeth Momentum’s policy not to condemn any action by the Labour Council, no matter how repellant, no matter how many homes and businesses it threatened. In an e-mail leaked from the Kill the Housing Bill campaign in May 2016, Joan Twelves, herself a former Leader of Lambeth Labour Council and now one of the leaders of Lambeth Momentum, made clear Momentum’s policy with regard to the call from some quarters for Labour councils not to implement the Tory Government’s Housing and Planning Act:

‘Since there are no councils which will refuse to implement the Housing and Planning Bill, as to do so would be to act illegally, this is a totally unrealistic demand and seems to me to be being proposed solely as propaganda so that Labour councillors can be denounced by another political party, rather than to assist in the building of a mass campaign (which must include Labour councillors, the Labour leadership, Labour Party members and Labour affiliated trade unions if it is to have any hope of happening) of continued opposition to the measures contained in the Act. I recognise that the actions of some Labour councils (I do live in Lambeth after all!) are not making building a united mass campaign easy. But that doesn’t change the principle.’

Such high principles, however, didn’t stop members of Lambeth Momentum from being present at the organising meetings for Stand Up To Lambeth. Indeed, under their influence, the initial aim of the march, which was called by residents of Central Hill estate in order to draw wider attention to the estate demolition programme being pursued by Lambeth Labour Council, was suppressed for the louder call for the de-selection of the Labour Cabinet and, presumably, their replacement with members of Lambeth Momentum. In an excitable article published in The Observer in September, Joe Todd, a volunteer for Momentum revealed:

‘The idea is to take all these grassroots groups and position them as part of a broader movement. All of these local campaigns have been going on but now they’re part of something so much bigger.’

Unfortunately for them, the bigness of Momentum’s aims has been drastically shrunk by their saviour’s unctuous gratitude to ‘each and every Labour councillor’, and on the morning of 8 October, before the marchers for Stand Up To Lambeth had even assembled at midday, Lambeth Momentum’s Twitter account carried a message that is only too familiar to any resident whose homes are on Lambeth Labour Council’s demolition list:

‘It is Tory cuts to Lambeth Council budget that is forcing gentrification and desperation locally. Let’s stand up to Tory government!’

And after a little while another saw him, and said: ‘Thou art also of them!’
And Peter said: ‘Man, I am not not.’

– Luke, 22: 58

Finally, as the marchers gathered in Windrush Square in Brixton, the cock the Labour Party had been waiting for finally crowed. A speaker for the Revolutionary Communist Party, a group that has lent its support to both the Save Central Hill and Save Cressingham Gardens campaigns, was reported on Twitter as saying the Lambeth leadership ‘belong in the Thames with rocks around their ankles’. Ignoring the fact that Labour MPs had called for far worse to be done to Jeremy Corbyn over the year of his contested leadership, Labourites great and small, from the former Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls to Lambeth Labour Councillors Alex Bigham, Jane Edbrooke, Ed Davie, Pete Bowyer, Chief Whip Paul Gadsby and Press Officer Michael Stringer, began a concerted attack against the Stand Up To Lambeth march. Displaying the humourless humour of the political class, Labourites and Progress councillors queued up to call on Lambeth Momentum to ‘denounce’ the statement, to ‘distance’ themselves from communists and revolutionaries who wanted to ‘murder democratically elected politicians’, to feel ashamed and disgusted for ‘associating with such people’, to reveal the name of the speaker, and to report him to the police. We don’t know how they responded to the last two demands, which are certainly in line with Lambeth Labour Council’s procedure for dealing with residents who stand up to them at council meetings, but Lambeth Momentum fell over themselves in shame and disgust, denounced the statement, immediately distanced themselves from the published aims of the march, and renounced their opposition to the Labour council, repeatedly referring their critics to their conveniently handy leaflet of 29 September. ‘Not our event!’, they finally pleaded.

By that afternoon Lambeth Momentum were hurriedly deleting their previous tweets supporting the Stand Up To Lambeth campaign over the past few weeks, which were then gleefully reproduced by Labour supporters. Sensing a sinking ship, Unite the Union – whose logo, following standard union branding practice, dominated the official Stand Up To Lambeth placards and posters for the march – now fell over themselves denouncing the call for the resignation of Lambeth Cabinet. Alex Flynn, Head of media and campaigns at Unite, angrily declared:

‘Unite does not support these calls for resignations and is angered over the unauthorised use of our logo on the flyer.’

Unknown to the other protesters, it now turned out that just after 11 o’clock that morning, as marchers were on their way to the rallying point, Lambeth Momentum had issued the following statement on Twitter:

‘Neither Unite nor Lambeth Momentum were asked to be on Stand Up To Lambeth publicity. We want to unite with Lambeth Labour to fight Tory cuts.’

In a 180˚ turn that is certainly a characteristic, and perhaps the defining, movement of Labour Party policy, a campaign to ‘Stand up to Lambeth Council’ had now been turned into a desire to ‘Unite with Lambeth Labour’.

Again Peter denied it: and immediately the cock crowed.

– John, 18: 27

When the official poster for the Stand Up To Lambeth campaign (below), designed by a member of the Revolutionary Communist Group, was first printed, contrary to RCG practice the identification of the council to which people were being encouraged to stand up was missing. Lambeth Council is an administrative body, like the Government of the UK or the Mayorship of London; but nothing in the campaign’s literature called for its dissolution as the local authority for the borough of Lambeth. What was being opposed was the policies of its current administration and the decisions of its executive committee. Of its 63 current members, Lambeth currently has 1 Green Party councillor, 3 Conservative Party councillors, and 59 Labour Party councillors. At least 7 members of its Labour Cabinet, including the Council Leader Lib Peck, the Member for Housing Matthew Bennett, the Chair of the Overview Committee Ed Davie, the Chief Whip Paul Gadsby, the Member for Schools Jane Edbrooke, and the Member for Regeneration and Business Jack Hopkins, are members of Progress, the privately-funded right-wing Labour cabal whose council leaders are driving Labour Council estate demolition schemes in London. The Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and a succession of Labour Shadow Ministers for Housing, have all refused to condemn their Party’s estate demolition programme. And yet the one word missing from the ‘Stand Up To Lambeth’ poster was the word ‘Labour’.

On my asking the designer why, he said the reason was that the organisers, which now included representatives from Lambeth Momentum, didn’t want the event to be what they called ‘political’. But how can a struggle against a Labour Council implementing Labour Party housing policy that is socially cleansing the working class from their homes not be a political struggle? How can an event not be political when one of its organising bodies, with 17,000 members, is an arm of the Labour Party? At ASH we believe the point of community campaigns is to politicise residents to resist the attacks on their homes by both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, not to subsume their resistance into an internal struggle for the soul of a political organisation that is run by and for the middle classes, and whose primary function in British politics, as history has repeatedly shown, is to turn working class political action into the irrelevance of Parliamentary politicking. Even before this march happened, and all the subsequent betrayals, denunciations and distancing that would ensue, the first effect of Lambeth Momentum’s presence at the organising meetings was to censor its publicity campaign from identifying who and what it is that threatens the six Lambeth council estates and the homes of the thousands of residents that live on them.

I have previously written at length about the failings of the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, and warned against the consequences of Labour activists belatedly turning their attention to estate campaigns. From our own attendance and that of comrades from the RCG and Class War, we know that from the first organising meetings of Stand Up To Lambeth, members of Lambeth Momentum tried to use the march to call for the de-selection of the current Lambeth Cabinet and its replacement with members of Momentum. This changing of the Labour guard, and not saving the council homes of the residents, is the motivation for Lambeth Momentum’s sudden interest in the six estates they have ignored for so long. They weren’t there to oppose Lambeth Labour Council’s decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens in March 2016, when they were too busy discussing whether to defend Brixton Ward Councillor Florence Eshalomi from criticism of her support for the eviction of traders from the Brixton Arches. They weren’t there at the subsequent Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting in May that upheld the Cabinet’s decision. And they didn’t lift a finger to support Central Hill over the past year-and-a-half in which ASH, against every conceivable opposition from Lambeth Labour Council, has worked to design an alternative proposal to the demolition of the estate.

The Labour Party has a long and dark history of colonising genuine community resistance and turning it to their political advantage. Under the guise of Kill the Housing Bill they managed to disperse the popular resistance to the Housing and Planning Bill in less than seven months with their useless and divisive marches to Parliament to listen to Labour Party politicians telling residents whose homes are being demolished by Labour Councils to vote Labour. And their presence on the Tenant and Resident Associations of council estates across London is one of the greatest barriers residents face to opposing the Labour Councils trying to demolish their homes.

Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of Germany, once warned: ‘If you like sausages and politics, never ask how they are made.’ But because of the decision by the organisers of Stand Up To Lambeth to invite Lambeth Momentum and Unite the Union to join the march against their own Party, and because for daring to ask how that decision was made we were deleted from the event page, ASH withdrew from formally taking part in the march, which we played no part in organising, although our name was initially included on some of the literature, and a member of ASH attended meetings and joined the march, though not under our banner. We only hope that everyone who did so now knows how Momentum activists and the Labour factory make their Party’s sausages.

As I feared would happen when the organisers of Stand Up To Lambeth first invited Lambeth Momentum to join them, the media response to the march has been dominated by the seemingly endless internal squabbling within the Labour Party, and the issue of Lambeth Labour Council’s programme of estate demolition, which had already been sidelined by Momentum’s subsequently dropped policy of de-selecting Lambeth Cabinet, has been almost entirely ignored. London SE1, which had initiated Momentum’s denials by reporting the comment by the member of the RCG, confined their report exclusively to the contrasting views of Labour Council Leader Pick Peck and Labour MP Kate Hoey. Brixton Blog led with an exaggerated report of a Central Hill campaigner ‘violently dismantling’ a Labour Party stall, repeated the comment by the RCG member without a hint of irony, and concluded with the statement sent by MP Kate Hoey. And the London Evening Standard, true to its commitment to cutting-edge journalism, focused exclusively on the disruption to traffic when the march blocked a main road near Clapham Common. Apart from the usual plethora of photographs posted on social media, that was it. It was left to the RCG to produce the only informative report on the march; so far, nothing has been released by Stand Up To Lambeth.

It’s an old Latin motto that if you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas, and two thousand years later nothing’s changed. If you invite Labour into your campaign, your campaign becomes about Labour, and nothing else. Until residents whose homes are threatened by Labour councils refuse to have anything to do with the Labour Party, its supposedly grass-roots activists and the organisations that have infiltrated their campaigns, the fight to save their homes will not even begin, let alone be won. A battle cannot start until the lines are drawn, and at the moment residents and campaigners alike have invited the enemy into their ranks. The fiasco of the Labour Party’s involvement in Saturday’s march against a Labour Council, like the seven months of marching with the Labour activists of Kill the Housing Bill to hear Labour politicians tell us to vote Labour, has to be learned from. We cannot go on repeating these farces and pretending they constitute a campaign of resistance, rather than another ridiculous sideshow to Labour’s ridiculous year.

As the Stand Up To Lambeth march has demonstrated, the Labour Party, from its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, through its welfare cuts-voting MPs, its Progress-membership Council Leaders, its estate-demolishing Cabinet Members for Housing and its Corbyn-backing unions, all the way down to its activists in Momentum, Axe the Housing Act, and all the other Labour fronts, are liars and traitors who have abandoned and betrayed the council residents of England for a sniff of Parliamentary power.

You don’t work with your enemy. You don’t form an umbrella campaign with your enemy. You don’t build a united front with your enemy. You don’t put aside your differences with your enemy. You don’t try to make friends with your enemy. The only thing you do with your enemy is get stabbed in the back. And the Labour Party – as I hope this weekend has shown beyond all doubt – is our enemy. Stand Up To Labour!

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

14352116_10154599188409571_7973254247172407837_oPoster by Andrew Cooper

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