Mark Sandell, elected chair of Brighton and Hove Labour Party, spoke to Solidarity.
After Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership victory and the gerrymandering by the National Executive Committee at Labour Party conference, the stage was set. As the elected chair of Brighton and Hove, I received a letter expelling me from the Labour Party; and the Disputes Committee decided that Brighton and Hove should be broken up into three Constituency Labour Parties.
The process is to be overseen by a steering committee made up of the old executive and some of those elected at the 9 July AGM after which the district Labour Party was suspended - all of the losers and a few of the winners. No outcome from the investigation for the sake of which Brighton and Hove was suspended has been mentioned! Why bother? The job’s done.
Labour Party members in Brighton and Hove still have no idea when the CLPs will meet. The right will want them to be small meetings of delegates, undercutting the promise of mobilising the new mass membership. Oversight of the council too will go to another backroom committee rather than an all members’ meeting.
The background is that Brighton and Hove had a unique set-up, the by-product of an intervention of the national party to suppress a left wing CLP. The Brighton and Hove Labour party had branch meetings and an all-members district party bringing together members from all three Brighton and Hove constituencies.
After Corbyn’s first victory, the party was still controlled by an executive dominated by the right. The agenda of meetings was designed to block debate or criticism of the Labour controlled council and Hove MP Peter Kyle. Arguments over the right to take motions led to heated debates, and the executive would invite the local council leadership to talk for hours before any motions could be discussed.
On 9 July, we stood a "Confidence in Corbyn" slate for the executive. It was the first time we had seen the new members turning out to a meeting in such numbers, and the average age dropped by over a decade. With over 600 attending, all candidates agreed to the Chair’s proposal to run three consecutive sessions in the 250 capacity hall. Unlike some previous Brighton and Hove Labour Party meetings, and despite the obvious alarm on the faces of the Labour councillors and the local Labour MP, everyone was very calm.
The “Confidence in Corbyn” slate won all the officer posts by over 62%. The candidate I defeated as Chair sought me out in a pub where I was drinking with friends to shake my hand and congratulate me. But the day after the AGM local council leader Warren Morgan was circulating lies via social media and then the press that someone spat at a security guard and that the MP had been abused.
On 14 July, the Labour Party wrote to local members to tell them that the AGM was annulled, and our party could not meet for any reason, even to nominate a candidate for leader. A laughable investigation was carried out by the Regional Labour Party. At my interview I asked the AGM would be upheld if nothing was found to have been wrong. I was given three answers: yes, probably not, and no.
The role of the left in Brighton and Hove now should be to find ways to get members who want to support anti-austerity politics actively involved in campaigns and meetings. Some new members will be demoralised by their votes being stolen and their meeting being lied about. The left needs to get back to campaigning on the politics that drew those people to Labour.