Those of you who regularly read this blog will see I stood for Secretary of Lewisham Deptford Labour Party as part of left/momentum slate, and those of you who follow Momentum Exposed will know we lost. This was quite disappointing and we have had some difficulty in working out how to develop Labour’s campaigning beyond the electoralism & careerism practiced by the Labour First influenced majority. I think, and many of my allies agree that one of the differences is that on the Left we want to empower and engage our members and our voters; it’s been hard to do that and get the Deptford Labour Party via its General Committee (GC) to express its views when we are in contention with the new MP, and the Council majority. There would also seem to be a desire to exclude the ideas and enthusiasm of many of the new joiners. It was when looking back at what we as members had achieved, that I came to the conclusion that we haven’t done so badly and you can make a difference by joining the Labour Party. Over the last four years, we i.e. ordinary members of the Labour Party have made a difference, most recently on the New Bermondsey Development aka the Millwall CPO but also we have moved forward the national trade union campaign against blacklisting, the Council’s initiatives on welcoming refugees, on Education and have even won a commitment to return the Anchor to the High Street.
While at times the Labour Party’s procedures seem strange, and exceptionally ill-tempered, belonging to the Labour Party makes a difference. These decisions have involved us debating with and winning other members to our point of view and ensuring that our Councillors take this forward. We have often been helped by non-members who have joined or at times started the campaigns we came to support.
Lewisham Deptford Labour Party is a quite odd, in that it thinks it’s quite political but the right doesn’t want to discuss politics at the GC, won't establish a policy forum and claim to prioritise campaigning over policy formulation.
Thanks to the public activities of a small number of councillors, Millwall’s fans and the Guardian journalist Barney Ronay, the decisions related to the planning consent for a housing development requiring land currently rented by Millwall FC have come under increased public and council scrutiny, to the point where the Cllr Damien Egan, the Cabinet Member responsible for Housing has withdrawn his support, killing the scheme in its current form. This was happened after the Deptford Labour Party GC debated the issue and voted to oppose the CPO on the grounds it jeopardised the future of Football at the Den and that the proposed housing development delivered insufficient social housing for rent.
This vote recognised & reinforced the position taken by the vast majority of backbench members of the Labour Group, who had come to the position that this should not be proceeded with, joining an initial minority of one; Councillor Paul Bell has opposed the plan from the start. The Council has now voted to set up a lawyer led independent enquiry. It may be that the GC vote was only a small part of how the council and the Labour Group made up its mind, and it may be that future decisions to be taken have weighed on the minds of senior members of the Labour Group, but at least the Council gets the chance to think again, to ensure that football stays in Lewisham and that the development will benefit current residents and those seeking affordable homes.
The Guardian has run several stories and the council’s own scrutiny processes had begun to raise warning flags. Cllr Alan Hall, the Chair of Scrutiny “called in” the planning decisions at which point a massive majority of the Labour Group stated that they opposed the development in its current form and sent the decision back to Cabinet, which is code for think again. The minutes of the Group meeting at which this was discussed are, disgracefully, secret.
Trade Union members across the Borough, from New Cross to Downham and within the Town Hall have been raising the issue of blacklisting, the practice, particularly in the building industry of keeping lists of trade union activists and refusing them work; we are against this activity (obvs) and it’s against the law. These initiatives have been listened to sympathetically by Councillors and at the January Full Council meeting, it voted, to the extent permitted, to prohibit blacklisting and anti-union employers from Lewisham’s public procurements.
Last year, Momentum supporters brought a motion to the Deptford GC opposing the academisation of Prendergasts school. The GC adopted this motion, by an overwhelming majority and the Labour Party was an important part of the community campaign together with other parents, students and workers in successfully opposing the academisation. This campaign was supported by local Labour Councillors, and it won and no further academisation ballots have been proposed in Lewisham since then. The Mayor’s Education Commission report had been issued in April 2016 and this seemed to promote Multi-Academy Trusts as a model for Lewisham Schools. In response Momentum supporters moved a motion against the report and against academisation which was overwhelmingly passed and the CLP is now united in its opposition to academisation. Following this, the General Committee sent a similar motion supporting publicly controlled, comprehensive schools, and opposing Academies and new Grammars to Conference and while our words on academies were removed during the compositing process, both the Council and Government are much more careful in confronting communities in taking over their schools and even in the case of the Government in pursuing new Grammar Schools. When Sir Steve Bullock was challenged a couple of years ago at the Deptford GC on where he got a mandate for his “balanced education governance” policy, he said, “The Parents”; no more it would seem.
Lewisham’s flagship policy of welcoming Syrian refugees was originally started at the Deptford GC where it called on the Council to ensure that Lewisham carried its share of the UN’s target.
Again last year, the Council finally agreed to return Deptford’s Anchor to the High Street; this is another policy initiated in a branch meeting and agreed at Labour’s General Committee, perhaps not as important or life changing as some of the other issues above and in this case much of the noise and the energy in the campaign have come from outside the Labour Party, and I for one thank them for their persistence.