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Labour’s warring factions: who do they include and what are they fighting over?

A guide to the different groups and divisions within the Labour party.

As the party reconfigures itself after Jeremy Corbyn’s resounding victory, new factions have emerged – and previously powerful forces in the party have faded away. Here is your guide to the main contenders jockeying for position alongside Momentum:

Labour First

Labour First, founded in 1988, is a pre-Blairite pressure group seen as the voice of the party’s traditional right. Headed by campaigner and former councillor Luke Akehurst, this faction supported ABC (Anyone But Corbyn) in the leadership election, while Akehurst himself backed Yvette Cooper. In the deputy race, it emphasised its ties to Tom Watson. The group made headlines during the leadership contest by urging fellow centrist group Progress to promote the other non-Corbyn candidates as well as its first choice, Liz Kendall. The groups have since held events together espousing moderate Labour values. Labour First says it “exists to ensure that the voices of moderate party members are heard while the party is kept safe from the organised hard left”.

Labour for the Common Good

A new moderate pressure group, Labour for the Common Good is wryly referred to in Westminster as “the Resistance”. It was established when Jeremy Corbyn began pulling ahead in the Labour leadership contest by the modernisers Chuka Umunna (pictured) and Tristram Hunt – former frontbenchers who both ducked out of the contest. It aims to bring together the soft left, old right, Brownites and Blairites to counter the Corbynite wing; it is open to MPs from “the right to the soft left of the party”. The group stresses “an urgent need for moderates in our party” to mobilise and regain Labour’s political and intellectual edge. The businessman John Mills, Labour’s biggest individual donor – who stopped funding the party after Corbyn’s victory – has said he is ready to “funnel” cash into Labour for the Common Good.

Progress

Founded in 1996, Progress is the original Blairite pressure group. Dedicated to New Labour values, and supported by Labourites associated with that era – its chair is Alison McGovern MP who recently replaced John Woodcock MP, former aide to John Hutton and Gordon Brown – it has never been further out of step with the party’s leadership, and its influence is waning. Three years ago, under Ed Miliband, it landed at the heart of a debate about Labour’s soul, when the GMB union general secretary Paul Kenny called for the group to be ”outlawed. His comments were dismissed by both Progress and the Labour party. Politicians from the Blair years, like former Home Secretary David Blunkett, might now warn about Momentum being a “party within a party”, but Progress has attracted the same criticism in the past. In 2012, the veteran Labour leftwinger, the late Michael Meacher MP, compared what he saw as the group’s undemocratic nature to that of Militant Tendency. Progress supported the “neo-Blairite” candidate Liz Kendall for Labour leader. David Sainsbury, the Labour peer and supermarket billionaire, is a major Progress donor.

Compass

The soft-left think tank/pressure group hybrid Compass started out as a letter to the Guardian in 2003. Numerous prominent leftwing think tanks warned that Tony Blair’s administration had “lost its way”, and announced their decision to form a new group within the party, led by Labour commentator and writer Neal Lawson. The moderniser Chuka Umunna rose through Labour’s ranks via the Compass flank, and the group should have come into its own when he and Ed Miliband were at the top of the party. Instead, it lost power and members during a row in 2011 when it opened up membership to people from other political parties. Compass called this decision a “huge cultural and political step”, but it has stopped it having any voice in internal Labour elections.

The National Executive Committee

The Labour party’s ruling body is not as all-powerful as it was before first Neil Kinnock and then Tony Blair clipped its wings, but it still remains a hugely important part of the party’s constitution, overseeing administration and disputes. The leader, deputy leader and leader of the party’s MEPs always sit on the NEC, while trade union delegates elect a further 12 members at the party’s annual conference, with MPs and councillors electing two representatives to sit on the body. Six members of the 33-strong committee are chosen by members every two years, with the 2016 elections expected to further bolster Corbyn’s narrow majority on the NEC.

The National Policy Forum

The National Policy Forum meets two to three weekends a year to set policy, in a role previously reserved for the NEC and annual conference. The 186-strong body is made up of representatives from the parliamentary parties in Europe, Westminster and the devolved legislatures, as well as local government, affiliated trade unions and individual party members. Members of the NPF are elected every two years, with the next election in 2017. The results in 2015 saw the right’s control eroded but not destroyed.

Left Futures

“The best that’s Left in Labour,” is how the leftwing blog Left Futures describes itself. Although it is billed as an “independent online network”, it is mainly a repository for sincere comment pieces about Labour from those on the party’s left. It was set up around five years ago, and joined Twitter in May 2010. Its editor is the veteran leftwing campaigner Jon Lansman – his dedication to the Labour left stretches back to working on Tony Benn’s 1981 deputy leadership campaign. He worked for Meacher.

Momentum

Praised as a “grassroots network” by its members and decried as the renaissance of 1980s Labour Trotskyites, Militant Tendency, by its detractors, Momentum is a new campaign group associated with Jeremy Corbyn. The group – organised by Lansman (see above) – calls itself the “successor entity” to Corbyn’s triumphant fight to be Labour leader. Its mission is to transform Labour into a “more democratic party”. Labour moderates warn against creating a “party within a party”, and fear the organisation will trigger purges of moderate MPs. Read Stephen Bush’s report on Momentum here.

Labour Together

The latest Labour group to be formed (at the time of publishing), Labour Together is a collection of high-profile Labour politicians from different political wings of the party aiming to bring New Labour and Blue Labour together. Members include former policy review head Jon Cruddas, former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy, former shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, peer Maurice Glasman and Croydon North MP Steve Reed. Unlike Labour for the Common Good (which is a PLP body), Labour Together has the intention of operating outside Westminster and becoming a general party movement. It's seen by some as an anti-Corbynite reaction to Momentum.
 

A number of Labour MPs are openly attacking their party’s new leadership on social media – particularly taking issue with its aggressive online supporters, whose abusive behaviour has been condemned by Corbyn himself. They include:

Mike Gapes

The usually amiable Ilford South MP, has been in all-out war with his Corbynista detractors on Twitter. After one long exchange where they called on him to resign from the party, he ended up typing: “I AM LABOUR.  I AM LABOUR. Get it?” Another tweet claimed: “There is now no collective shadow cabinet responsibility in our party. No clarity on economic policy and no credible leadership.”

John Mann

The Bassetlaw MP has accused some activists of sending him anti-semitic abuse, including 40 emails and tweets during the leadership campaign that referred to him with epithets such as “Zionist stooge” and “utter filth”. “I have very serious concerns about Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters,” he said in August.

Simon Danczuk

The outspoken Rochdale MP, known for his attacks on Ed Miliband, has transferred his frustration seamlessly to Corbyn. Often writing in the Mail on Sunday, he most recently described Corbyn’s reign as a “farce”, comparing it to a “Carry On” film. His unfettered attacks on Corbyn have led to a “Deselect Danczuk” campaign on Twitter, which hasn’t quelled his activities one bit.

Jamie Reed

In the most pointed Twitter move of the Labour leadership contest, the then shadow health minister resigned from the frontbench during Corbyn’s victory speech. The MP for Copeland tweeted his resignation letter, which warned: “No amount of well-meaning protest will protect the NHS, drive up standards, recruit more medical professionals or improve the accessibility of world-class healthcare to the British people. Only an elected Labour government will do this.”

> Now read our report on Momentum, and how it’s affecting Labour.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear