POLITICS

Momentum Accused Of Campaigning Against Labour Council Seen As 'Unsupportive' Of Jeremy Corbyn Ally

05/04/2017 10:30 BST | Updated 05/04/2017 15:35 BST
Ian Forsyth via Getty Images
Shadow education minister and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

Momentum, the grassroots left-wing group, has been accused of campaigning against a Labour-run council because it is “unsupportive” of a shadow minister who backs Jeremy Corbyn.

In an email to Momentum members sent by its South Tyneside branch, seen by The Huffington Post UK, activists were urged to mobilise in favour of local MP Emma Lewell-Buck.

The pro-Corbyn campaigners were urged to “redress the balance” of the South Shields Constituency Labour Party (CLP) as it currently backed the party’s local councillors. 

Lewell-Buck, a shadow education minister, the email said, was given Momentum’s backing against the councillors provided she “continues to support our twice-elected Labour Leader”.

South Shields CLP has been suspended since March 2016 amid accusations of bullying and internal splits.

Lewell-Buck has said she wants the suspension lifted “as soon as possible” but was proud the party was “not afraid to take action against bullying and intimidation”.

Labour has been warned it could lose over 100 seats in the local elections on May 4 - although South Tyneside council is not up for election.

The council, which covers Lewell-Buck’s constituency, is a Labour stronghold and 53 of the 54 councillors are from the party.

PA Wire/PA Images
Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech at the launch of Labour's local election campaign at the Holy Trinity Community & Partnership Centre, Newark.

In the email, Jayne Liddle, the data manager of the South Tyneside Momentum Group, told members: “We have met with our local MP Emma Lewell-Buck who is currently Shadow Education Minister responsible for children and families’ policy after resigning and then returning to a post in the Shadow Cabinet.  

“We have agreed to support her in her complicated relationship with South Tyneside Council on the basis that she continues to support our twice-elected Labour Leader.”

It adds: “You may or may not know that the South Shields CLP has been suspended for over a year now? This is actually in our best interests which I can explain more about at a later date. 

“For now though, in order for ordinary members to have more say in the running of the CLP, two members will be elected to the Stakeholder Group at the next All-Members Meeting. 

“It is imperative that we have some say in who is elected in order to help redress the balance of those already in this group so that ELB has some support in her dealings with the council. We have had two names put forward so far, not from our group, but who will support ELB.

“We need to be there in numbers because the vast majority of the CLP are in support of the Council leader and councilors who are very unsupportive of our local MP, hence the suspension of the CLP.”

Momentum’s attempt to see its preferred candidates elected failed. Two candidates from the moderate wing of the party comfortably secured the positions.

And The Huffington Post UK understands an official complaint has been made to Labour HQ about Liddle.

A Labour source said: “Momentum have given the game away. Whereas Momentum claim that the suspension of CLPs is immoral in some places, here in South Tyneside you can see that they celebrate it when it works in their sectarian interests.

“It also reveals that they are perfectly willing to campaign against Labour in government on personality and not political or principled ground. There is a word for something that invades a healthy host organism and then tries to destroys it from the inside: a parasite.”

And a senior Labour source in the borough, said they were “horrified” that Momentum “would seek to attack a Labour council” and accused the pro-Corbyn group of “bullying” Lewell-Buck into backing it.

“We are taking on the Tories on the right flank and on our left flank we have the hard-left attacking and seeking to undermine hardworking Labour councillors,” they added.

A spokesperson for Momentum said: “Momentum is committed to supporting the Labour Party winning elections and entering government in 2020.

“Momentum groups should seek productive engagements with local Labour-run councils, which includes the ability to debate, discuss, and scrutinise decisions taken by councils.”

Momentum has also been criticised for a leaflet advertising the local branch which criticises the Labour-run council for “downgrading” a hospital

Momentum leaflet:

Leaflet distributed advertising South Tyneside Momentum which criticises the local Labour council. 

A Labour source said of the leaflet: “It’s bad enough that Momentum are trying to drum up support by unfairly criticising Labour in local government over something they don’t control.

“What makes it utterly treacherous is that in their zeal to blame Labour they exculpate the Tory government that devised and is carrying out for the Sustainability and Transformation Programmes.”

But South Tyneside Momentum dismissed the accusation the leaflet encouraged people not to support Labour. 

“The leaflet in question isn’t about campaigning against Labour, actually it encourages people to support the Labour Party, as per Momentum’s aims, and support campaigns by residents to defend local services,” a spokesperson said.

“Momentum South Tyneside encouraged local Labour members to attend the meeting and support our MP, who has been a strong defender of our local hospital. We are committed to working with local Labour members to support our MP and to support the campaign for a democratic, member-led Party.”

Lewell-Buck won the safe seat at a by-election in 2013 when it was vacated by David Miliband.

In 2016, Corbyn appointed her as a shadow devolution and local government minister. But she quit the post in June as Labour’s frontbench disintegrated ahead of the leadership challenge.

At the time, Lewell-Buck said she was “heartbroken” and blamed the Labour Party for orchestrating its own “meltdown”. She returned to the frontbench as a shadow education minister in October.

The tensions between Momentum and Labour MPs exploded into the public again last month, after Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson accused the campaign group of attempting a “hard left” takeover.

Adam Klug, the national organiser of Momentum, told The Huffington Post UK in a recent interview there was no “plot to take over the party” said the grassroots campaign group was wrongly seen as a “bogeyman”.

South Tyneside Momentum email in full: 

Dear 

My name is Jayne Liddle, Data Manager of the South Tyneside Momentum Group which formed just before Christmas but has only recently been fully registered with Momentum itself. As a newly appointed Data Manager I finally have access to our local Momentum members and as such have been able to make contact with you. 

So far we have had three meetings or so where it was agreed that we would work on and support causes that were close to home e.g. the saving South Tyneside Hospital from downgrading of services, Green Belt issues, homelessness etc.

We have met with our local MP Emma Lewell-Buck who is currently Shadow Education Minister responsible for children and families’ policy after resigning and then returning to a post in the Shadow Cabinet.  We have agreed to support her in her complicated relationship with South Tyneside Council on the basis that she continues to support our twice-elected Labour Leader.

If you are also a Labour Party member I would firstly like to invite you (urge you) to attend the forthcoming Constituency Labour Party (CLP) All-Members meeting on Saturday 11th March at 10.30 am, Hedworth Hall, 35 Dean Road, South Shields, NE33 4EA for the reasons below.

You may or may not know that the South Shields CLP has been suspended for over a year now? This is actually in our best interests which I can explain more about at a later date.  For now though, in order for ordinary members to have more say in the running of the CLP, two members will be elected to the Stakeholder Group at the next All-Members Meeting. 

It is imperative that we have some say in who is elected in order to help redress the balance of those already in this group so that ELB has some support in her dealings with the council. We have had two names put forward so far, not from our group, but who will support ELB.

We need to be there in numbers because the vast majority of the CLP are in support of the Council leader and councilors who are very unsupportive of our local MP, hence the suspension of the CLP.

We are a lovely diverse group most of whom are new to this and are taking on roles and just finding our way really. Following this email I would like to ring you in order to answer any questions you may have and to invite you to our next South Tyneside Momentum meeting.

I do hope after hearing from us that you will feel confident to attend the CLP meeting, cast your vote and so make the first steps toward making a difference.