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28 November 2017

Is Momentum really forcing out moderate Labour councillors?

Zoom out, and the more interesting story is the durability of the pre-Corbyn party.

By Stephen Bush

They’re making a list, they’re checking it twice, they’re gonna find out who’s Blairite or nice… Momentum is coming into town? That’s the story according to the Times today. Labour councillors are being deselected and replaced by Corbynites: “Moderates forced out by hard left in Labour purge” is the splash.

Well, sort of. Zoom out and the more interesting story is of the durability of the pre-Corbyn Labour Party. Don’t forget that the 2018 local map is the most favourable to Labour in general and the flavour served by Jeremy Corbyn in particular that you could imagine. Every seat across London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle is up for grabs. In addition, a third of the seats in Liverpool and across Merseyside are up.

It is significantly easier to subject sitting Labour councillors to a full selection process than MPs, as you can do it with a simple up-down vote rather than lots of complexity around branches. A spattering of councillors are being forced into full selection battles but the political complexion of Labour cities doesn’t, at present, look as if it will be significantly different after May 2018, with the exception of Haringey, where the Haringey Development Vehicle has badly split the local party.

Its supporters believe it will unlock much needed homes and regeneration, its opponents see it as social cleansing and privatisation by the back door. (Both the borough’s MPs, Catherine West and David Lammy oppose the scheme.)

I’m not going to pretend to be qualified to adjudicate on the rights and wrongs of the issue, but the important fact for those of us living outside Haringey is that the proposal, rightly or wrongly, has badly riled the local party. But even there, some pro-HDV candidates, including the sitting council leader, are surviving the purge. (In fact Claire Kober didn’t just survive but won re-selection by a landslide margin.)

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That isn’t to say that many Labour councillors aren’t deeply miserable. They’ve long felt as if their legal obligations coupled with cuts to their block grant have made them the public face of an economic strategy they don’t agree with. Now some feel as if they have been hung out to dry by the leadership and are going to lose their posts as a result.

But it is worth noting that most Labour councils will be led by the same faces after the last election as they are now – and that for all Jeremy Corbyn himself is hegemonic at the top of Labour, the electoral sweet spot in the party itself still seems to be, while significantly to the left of Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper, a little to the right of Corbyn himself. Permanent Corbynism? I wouldn’t bet on it.