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Labour suspends local party meetings to avoid intimidation – will it work?

In an unprecedented move, CLP meetings have been stopped until the leadership election is over.

The Labour party has suspended local meetings of its constituency branches until its leadership election is complete.

This unprecedented decision was made to avoid the risk of intimidation and abuse at local meetings, in a party that has become rapidly more divided – with aggression escalating among activists and in politicians’ language.

The party’s National Executive Committee decided to temporarily cancel all local party meetings following the suspension of an entire local Manchester branch on Tuesday evening. The Gorton constituency party was suspended by Labour, and is now under police investigation, after allegations of infighting, bullying and voting irregularities. These allegations “relate to the conduct of Labour Party members both during and outside of Labour Party meetings”, according to Labour HQ.

The morning following Gorton’s suspension, the Huffington Post revealed the NEC’s ban on local branches meeting until Jeremy Corbyn’s fate is decided, reporting: “The move to suspend local party meetings was to prevent further intimidation and violence of MPs and members.”

CLPs (Constituency Labour Parties) are now only permitted to meet to nominate a leadership candidate, and in the circumstance of a by-election or mayoral election:

Corbyn and the Labour leadership have been repeatedly urged to combat the climate of intimidation in their party. And this is an example of the party taking measures to prevent such situations arising.

But will it work?

While CLP meetings are easily suspended, MPs must, of course, continue to do constituency work. And there is nothing the party has done to prevent angry activists demonstrating outside the constituency offices/surgeries of MPs they’re not keen on, although Momentum has urged its supporters not to. This kind of protest can cause MPs and their staff to feel personally attacked simply for representing their constituents.

Also, some local members are getting around the ban by holding impromptu, informal meetings. For example, on Wednesday, 41 members of Hounslow’s local Labour party held a spontaneous meeting to reiterate their support for Corbyn after the official Brentford and Isleworth branch meeting was cancelled at short notice. Brentford Labour member James Rosen says: “With Labour branch meetings suspended until after the leadership contest, grassroots Labour members will continue to meet as planned to support Jeremy Corbyn.”

Temporarily cancelling meetings might give aggressors fewer places to go for now. But in a climate where a brick has been thrown through the window of leadership candidate Angela Eagle’s constituency office, there should also be a longer-term strategy to target abuse in and around the party.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.