A new Labour leader to maintain Corbyn momentum

Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Lloyd Russell-Moyle

There has never been a more exciting time to be a member of the Labour Party.

For democratic socialists, there has never been a more exciting time to be a member of the Labour Party.

It is, however, easy to think otherwise. Especially if you read only the Daily Mail, or listen only to the small clique of right-wing Labour MPs who routinely generate the self-serving bile that is lapped up by their friends in the media.

So what are the grounds for optimism?

This weekend Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party - commonly known as the City Party - will elect its first chair since the landslide leadership election of Jeremy Corbyn.

The vast majority of activists now recognise Blairism is dead and buried, unmourned except by individuals whose political careers depended on it. Inevitably, a disproportionate number remain as MPs (and Lords) in parliament, and as councillors in town halls across the country.

If, however, Lloyd Russell-Moyle is elected chair of the City Party tomorrow (Saturday), he will become the distinctive face and voice of the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove. He will be the single most important person charged with articulating the many hopes - and not a few fears - of a City Party that has more than trebled in size as a result of Mr Corbyn’s inspiring leadership campaign.

Already one of the biggest party units in the country, the City Party now has more than 5,000 members spread across three constituencies.

Mr Russell-Moyle - a trade unionist and member of CND - is likely to be elected by the many hundreds of grassroots members expected to attend tomorrow’s meeting (10.30am, at City College Brighton and Hove, Pelham Street).

By contrast, Councillor Warren Morgan, the high-profile leader of the Labour Group on Brighton and Hove City Council, is elected only by 22 Labour councillors whose roles - as committee chairs, and so on - depend on their leader’s patronage.

Therefore, tomorrow can be the beginning of a democratic transformation that can finally counter the widespread cynicism and criticism - locally and nationally - that Labour is little better than “Conservative Lite”, led by machine politicians moulded in the image of Mr Blair and Lord Mandelson. It may have been true in recent years, but it does not have to be true any longer.

Tomorrow can mark the rebirth of a mass party locally, with the potential to mobilise tens of thousands of citizens in a sustained campaign to stop spending cuts and to build a fairer and more prosperous city. A party whose representatives have ambitions greater than simply blaming the Tories as they wring their hands about the pain they knowingly inflict on their poorest and most vulnerable neighbours.

No wonder members of Progress - the party within a party that ludicrously still describes itself as Labour’s “new mainstream” - is upset by the prospect.

Described as Mandelson’s Militant Tendency - and funded by nearly £5 million from multi-millionaire members of the House of Lords, plus a fair dollop of dosh from venture capitalists - the 2,500-member organisation has exercised a suffocating influence over Labour politics for nearly a decade.

The little-known Labour MPs who recently shuffled themselves out of jobs nobody knew they had are Progress members or supporters. Revenge was their motive - revenge against 400,000 Labour members who had the audacity to vote for a socialist leader they abhorred.

Progress has also exercised a malign influence in Brighton and Hove. Cllr Morgan was a keynote speaker - with Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove - at a much-publicised meeting about “the future of the centre-left in Brighton and Hove”. Only 24 people attended, several from as far away as Portsmouth and West Worthing, along with three Labour city councillors.

The new mainstream? I don’t think so. Progress members are the old-fashioned, undemocratic minority, the 4.5 per cent of members who voted for the biggest loser in the Labour leadership election. And who refuse to accept the result.

It is the thousands of new party members eligible to attend tomorrow’s meeting who are the future. And Lloyd Russell-Moyle must ensure it is their voices that are heard loud and clear.