Birmingham Labour’s chickens come home to roost

I’ve written a series of pieces over the last few weeks detailing numerous irregularities in selection meetings across the city for the 2018 local elections.

Matters came to a head on Wednesday the 19th September, just before Labour Party Conference, when several members of the party’s National Executive Committee personally intervened, following what I have been told were over 50 complaints (at least two of which involved demonstrable dishonesty), to seek the suspension of all selection meetings across the city pending a review of the process and to allow outstanding panel applications and appeals to be addressed.

(I’m given to understand that much of the concern centres around the Harborne and Handsworth selection meetings – readers will be aware that I have covered the rollercoaster ride in Harborne ward in some detail.)

Furthermore, the planned Birmingham Board AGM and ordinary meeting on Friday September the 22nd was called off.

The AGM itself was called off also at the insistence of the NEC, although it is still unclear whether they instructed the whole meeting be cancelled entirely. Having such an important meeting of the Board when so many members were likely to be away for Conference was wholly inappropriate in any case.

The AGM, which hasn’t been held for years (despite the clue being in the name regarding frequency), was called at 6 days notice despite the rules making it clear that 28 were required for such an important event in the Birmingham Labour calendar.

There were also several attempted changes to the composition of the Board that have come to light in the week leading up to the meeting, which were, shall we say, interesting, and appear designed to ensure certain outcomes in certain votes (and will warrant further investigation by someone with the time…..) The most important of these was thankfully blocked.

And of course, all of this is set against the backdrop of the continued turmoil in the Labour-controlled city council, with the Group leadership election last week (that ordinary Birmingham party members had no say in at all, depressingly, despite clearly being the best judge of these things).

So all in all it wasn’t a terrific few days for the Labour Party hierarchy across our fair city and region.

In this context the seriousness of the National Executive Committee’s intervention cannot be exaggerated. For the NEC to get involved and suspend the selection process in the largest metropolitan council in the country, and just before Conference, represents an absolutely devastating vote of no confidence in the functioning of the local party apparatus.

I am told that several very senior individuals locally were in an absolute state of panic following the move – one feels that after a couple of decades of being allowed to act with complete impunity they suddenly realise that the repeated stitch-ups, irregularities and manoeuvrings are catching up with them. Not before time.

For many party members locally the NEC’s move is a welcome one and the vindication of a longstanding and at times demoralising campaign to democratize the city and regional parties. It is no more than a start, but nevertheless hugely significant.

It is clear to any objective observer of Birmingham Labour party politics that there is a serious problem, that the sheer scale and diversity of the irregularities across the city in the last couple of months suggests it is a huge, systemic problem, and given the sovereign power of the NEC within the party’s structures it probably required NEC intervention to try and address that systemic problem.

All that said, the decision does itself potentially pose a few problems. There has been some commentary on social media suggesting that the timing is disastrous and it could really hurt the party locally in May 2018, with candidates potentially not being in position for some time. There have been numerous delays already and selections were meant to begin a year ago.

I would argue however that doing nothing, and allowing this farce to proceed, would have been far more damaging. An attempt to clean this up was always going to be messy, whenever it began (and in many areas of the country selection meetings have barely started anyway).

The reality is that the West Midlands and Birmingham Labour Parties are rotten from top to bottom. There is no democracy and members have virtually no say. The Birmingham Board, on paper the ‘Local Campaign Forum’ which according to the rules is supposed to control candidate selection, in reality simply rubber-stamps decisions made by paid (or formerly paid) officials and senior MPs elsewhere.

Board meetings are months apart and no reports are provided to members unless huge pressure is applied. Minutes are impossible to get hold of and those that are produced are ludicrously brief.

For example, at the Board meeting that was due to be held on the 22nd, the minutes were to be handed out at the meeting and not circulated by email beforehand!

Many local members are still entirely unaware of the Board’s existence and in the last year the composition mysteriously has shifted before meetings where crucial votes may have been lost by the Regional Office.

That until recently four (now three with the lifting in Hall Green) of the ten Birmingham CLPs are in ‘Special Measures’, some for over 20 years and with seemingly no plan in the remaining three to lift them out, was and is used to justify the most Kafkaesque regime imaginable in the whole city.

The lack of democracy has real-world effects. There is no way that a Birmingham Labour Party more responsive to members would have treated the refuse workers so disgracefully.

A more democratic, member-led party would not have produced such a meek response to savage Tory-imposed austerity.

And a West Midlands Regional Office with any life and vibrancy in it at all would not have run such a spectacularly inept, and at times repugnant, mayoral campaign (if I wanted to give out leaflets with the Cross of St. George on the front I’d have joined the National Front).

Because of this we have a Tory regional mayor in a region that should comfortably have returned the Labour candidate. A more democratic regional party would have actually provided us with a choice of candidates and allow most members to participate in that selection – thus providing us with a final candidate who we could actually get behind rather than ending up campaigning, half-heartedly, for a candidate most of us (whether on the right or left) didn’t want, in an election the people of the region didn’t want in the first place.

The hollowed-out West Midlands party structures are what you are left with after decades of only sporadically interrupted and disrupted Labour First and right-wing control. The effects have been a disaster and unless and until things are cleaned up we will face repeat after repeat of the Sion Simon campaign.

Returning to Birmingham, Momentum members and sympathisers in the North and South of the city, along with members of all wings who just want a democratic, vibrant party, voted and campaigned for a more just and democratic freeze date for members to participate in selection meetings. Members were expected to have joined over two years ago to participate in meetings this year. The “freeze date” was set literally at the month when all the new members started joining to support the first Corbyn leadership campaign – July 2015. It was so blatant it was almost embarrassing.

The national rule is 6 months.

All the protests and resolutions were ignored; when it finally came to the Board for consideration (which in itself took Herculean efforts I understand) it was voted down by what I have also been told was an unconstitutional secret ballot.

It took a personal intervention by Jeremy Corbyn at an NEC sub-committee meeting to shift the freeze date to about a year. Far from perfect, but the fact that the party leader felt it necessary to intervene himself to protect members’ rights, over the head of the local party leadership, showed that something was seriously awry, and that the intelligent individuals in the West Midlands Regional Office would surely know that they were now on notice.

The recent developments would suggest that if there was a debate in the WMRO, however, it was won by the “carry on stitching-everything-up and bludgeoning through regardless” brigade.

The attempt to ram the AGM on the 22nd through at such short notice, the tin ears around the freeze date and the unending, clumsy, cack-handed attempts to manipulate the 2018 selections suggests a local party bureaucracy used to doing what it wants with impunity and incapable of reflecting on the mood shift in the party across the region and the country.

Members with any involvement in trying to assert and extend party democracy locally, in however small a way, will know the stock response they have always received from the machine: sullen, ignorant, po-faced, dishonest, indifferent and unbending intransigence every step of the way. No room for compromise. No meeting anyone half way or ever giving any ground on anything. Every setback, however minor, for the WMRO met with another attempt to force through what they wanted by another, invariably even less democratic route. Witness all the selection meetings held in August after they “lost” the freeze date battle.

The selection process in Birmingham has become the site of a civil war that the West Midlands Regional Office started. This mess is owned by them.

MW

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Monyhull and Druids Heath selection 

The attempts to manipulate the selection process in Birmingham for the 2018 local elections show no sign of abating.

Earlier in the year a plan was agreed by the Birmingham Board, in consultation with the NEC, for a significant number of wards and seats to have All Women Shortlists (AWS) in order to boost the number of women candidates and councillors, and to concurrently accelerate the outstanding and new applications of women members for the panel.

There have been persistent rumours of certain prominent (and always right-wing) individuals in the local party wanting to water the commitment for gender balance down in order to get their preferred candidates selected, and it is clear that the commitment to accelerate the applications of women applicants has not been kept. At the time of writing I’m aware of at least 5 women awaiting a decision, only one of whom has even been interviewed.

And in recent days a further development. A quick scan on the newly updated election section of the Birmingham Labour Party website reveals this juicy tidbit:

 


This seemingly innocuous piece of information marks an interesting and very significant shift. Druids Heath was up until very recently an AWS.

So why the change? Rumour has it that the West Midlands Regional Office (who have been coming up in these articles a fair bit haven’t they………) have decided to remove the AWS for a certain male individual’s benefit.

And on what authority did the change get made? The rules of the Birmingham Board state that the power over selections sits with the Birmingham Board, a body that hasn’t met since July and whose latest meeting, which was meant to be on the 8th September, was not for the first time, postponed until the 22nd. Who is calling the shots in between the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth Board meetings?

One wonders if the NEC will be happy with everything that is going on under their noses in the city……….

 

MW

The Birmingham Bin Strike continues

Refuse collectors in Birmingham have been forced into continuing industrial action following a treacherous u-turn by council leader John Clancy and his cabinet. Although the strike was originally called due to the council’s decision to sack over 100 grade 3 refuse workers, it was suspended after a deal was brokered between the council and Unite the Union, with John Clancy receiving high praise for his involvement.

Birmingham Binstagram

A fortnight later there is a different story. “Deal or no deal? There was no deal,” is what John Clancy sniggered as he spoke to the press. You would think that 100 job losses isn’t a laughing matter, but it’s easy to laugh when it’s not your job being cut. Howard Beckett, Unite the Union (Assistant General Secretary), stated that John Clancy has “declared war on the union,” accusing the council of committing “industrial sabotage.”


A South Birmingham Momentum member joined the picket line on Friday morning, speaking to one of the workers who had been sent a notice of redundancy. She heard the feeling of betrayal the workers felt about this u-turn from the council: “If I lose my job, I lose my house. Then what? Labour are supposed to be the party of the working class”. Those affected, who earn a maximum £23,000, must now choose between giving up their jobs or accepting a £5,000 pay cut. Birmingham City Council have already begun advertising jobs on the council website for Refuse Loaders in various depots across the city. These jobs are said to come with proper employment benefits such as holiday and sick pay, but this Labour Council has already been employing agency staff on zero hours contracts with no employment rights.


Many Labour Party members are rightly furious. “John (Clancy) owes his lucrative political career to the Labour Party,” said one disgruntled member. “He is selling the working-class down the river. He doesn’t represent me whatsoever. He doesn’t represent what the Labour Party stands for at all.”

ACAS have now officially confirmed that an agreement had been made on 15th August 2017 between BCC and Unite, and Unite have begun legal action to sue the council for breach of contract. It is not certain what the Council’s next move will be in this dispute but what is definite is John Clancy’s position as leader is increasing untenable. “Nobody will be losing their job” now almost sounds a desperate plea to hang onto his own position.

South Birmingham Momentum takes this opportunity to send messages of solidarity to the workers. We offer our 100% support in this battle to keep every single job, and in doing so, keeping our streets clean and our public safe. We have reported earlier on in the strike how unpleasant the job of a refuse worker can be, and have always been in full support of the earlier industrial action, taken partly because of the threats to grade-3 employment in the Waste Disposal Department of Birmingham City Council.

The curious case of the postponed selection meetings

The difficulty with reporting on the selection process in Birmingham Labour for the 2018 local elections is that in different areas democracy is being sidestepped in different ways.

  • So, in some wards meetings are forced through in August.
  • In some wards candidates are “accidentally” not informed about the meeting.
  • Certain applicants with empty activity diaries find it oddly easy to get approved for the panel.
  • Other applicants with far fuller activity diaries find it nigh on impossible to get a response to an email, let alone an interview for the panel.

We now have a new technique to add to the list – postpone the meeting.

The Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook selection meetings were due to be held on the 4th and 5th September but I’ve heard from several reliable sources that these meetings have been called off (with no new date agreed so far) at the insistence of the West Midlands Regional Office, who had in turn been urged to act by one of the candidates, currently a sitting councillor, who was not available on those dates. Those more familiar with the local minutiae can probably work out who that candidate is but suffice it to say they are known for having a bit of a volcanic temper.

There is something deeply problematic about a selection meeting being called off because one of the candidates decides they can’t make a given date outside of the traditional Summer holiday period, particularly when that candidate is a sitting councillor. It smacks of an abuse of incumbency.

There is also the small matter of the setting of a selection meeting being the decision of a CLP, not the Regional Office. Hall Green CLP, many of you may know, has recently come out of ‘Special Measures’ which means that it should, in theory, be able to make its own decisions about its own business.

But it would appear that certain individuals want to carry as if the lifting of ‘Special Measures’ never happened and the venerable tradition of Regional Office manipulation of selections in the area continues apace (both wards are considered rock solid Labour, you won’t be surprised to hear).

I’ve argued on these pages previously for delaying some of the selection meetings. But in Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook there is a real danger that if the delays continue then the candidates will be imposed – with the impositions being of individuals that would not have a prayer in an open, democratic selection meeting.

This is the fourth piece I’ve written in less than 3 weeks about these issues – I have a nasty feeling that there will be a lot more to come over the next few weeks. There is a serious problem becoming apparent and it is city-wide.

 

MW

#Meghanigate part 3 – this *is* the fault of the CLP.

The Harborne Labour 2018 selection farrago has being continuing apace – there have been more plot twists in a couple of weeks than there have been in 7 seasons of Game of Thrones.

There is to be a re-run of the selection that saw the ahem, controversial  candidate Sundip Meghani selected at a barely-quorate meeting held, bizarrely, in August.

After the decision to re-run, the Edgbaston CLP chair sent out the following email to Harborne party members:

Dear

I am writing to inform you that, after discussion with Harborne Branch Officers and Regional Office, we will be rerunning the Harborne Ward Council Candidate selection.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been in constant discussion with Regional Office to understand whether there were any procedural problems with the selection. It is clear that one candidate, who expressed an interested in the selection meeting, was not told of the date and location of the meeting by regional office and therefore was not able to attend. This candidate has now requested that the selection be repeated. Under these circumstances it is only right to rerun this selection.

I must stress that this was not a mistake made by CLP or Branch Officers; however we are in a position where we need to take the lead in putting it right.

I should also note that this is in no way a reflection on the candidates, successful or unsuccessful, who originally stood; it is solely a case of making sure that a procedural error is corrected.

You will be notified in due course of the date and time of the selection by post. It will be the open selection which is rerun. The All Women Shortlist selection had no irregularities, with Jayne Francis being selected unopposed – this result stands.

Apologies to those members who came to the last selection meeting. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

If you would like to speak to me about this please call on ***********

Yours sincerely

T**

 

More intriguingly, they also sent the following email to CLP officers:

 

“Dear Exec members,

Please see the text below of an email which is being sent to Harborne Members this evening.

I am not going to get into apportioning blame publicly, but as you can imagine this is hugely frustrating for Harborne Branch and not at all of their making. I will stress again that this is not the fault of any CLP or Ward officer. Regional Office have been very apologetic and will be paying for the full cost of the re-selection, the sending out of notifications and any incurred costs.

I am sorry that I have not been able to speak to many of you in person about this – however it has been discussed with all branch officers, selected candidates and the regional and deputy-regional director. I know that all exec members will treat this situation with the discretion it requires. If you have any questions please call me.

Thanks

T**”

 

It is little wonder the CLP chair doesn’t want to “apportion blame publicly” as it would involve admitting that this chain of events was largely of their own making.

1. The CLP chair was the one who chaired the selection meeting despite two (not one) of the candidates being both not present and not informed of the meeting – did any of the CLP or ward officers make any attempt at all to find out why they weren’t in attendance? I am told by those present that they did not.

2. Did the CLP chair ever see an expression of interest email from Sundip Meghani, as per the rules? No proof of the existence of the email has surfaced. And in the absence of this crucial email, did the CLP chair not think to query the legitimacy of the process that they were being asked to oversee?

3. I understand from various sources that the CLP chair pushed for the meeting to take place in August with members only having a few days notice of the meeting – increasing the likelihood of a “mistake” such as this.

4. If the CLP chair knew weeks ago that there were issues with the candidacy why did they sanction the printing and distribution of a full-colour campaigning leaflet for Sundip Meghani that has already been distributed widely? What if Meghani loses the next selection meeting?

5. Or is the CLP chair simply being somewhat economical with the truth and by rushing a leaflet out (again, in August, with the election 9 months away……) hoped to present Meghani’s candidacy as a fait accompli and head off any possibility of the legitimacy of the meeting being questioned afterwards?

6. Why did the official Harborne Labour Party Twitter account continue to retweet Sundip Meghani, including on the day that the re-run announcement was made and the officers must have known he was no longer the elected candidate – thus endorsing someone not yet selected?

7. I am also given to understand that it was Regional Office who ordered a re-run of the meeting – so it simply isn’t true to say that the CLP were the ones to “take the lead in putting it right”. Left up to them it is pretty clear that nothing would have happened and the result would have been allowed to stand. The rush to get the leaflet out is pretty conclusive proof in that regard. Repeated questions from ward and exec members on these issues have been completely stonewalled by the CLP chair and other officers for weeks, I understand.

There are a couple of other issues that this shambles throws up:

1. The selection meeting was chaired by the CLP chair as I am told that the meeting was informed that the ward chair was unavailable. Surely in those situations it would fall to the ward vice-chair to chair the meeting (who I understand was present)? If not then what is the point of having a ward vice-chair and did the CLP chair not think it inappropriate to chair the meeting when they are:

2. Part of the selection process in that constituency themselves? The CLP chair is of course also seeking to be a councillor. It does appear that there is something of a conflict of interest, given that Meghani appears to have been the regional office imposed candidate.

3. I do also wonder how the regional office will view the CLP chair not “apportioning blame publicly” but then going on to blame the regional office for this. Disloyal much?

This story has drawn the attention of the local press. I’m also given to understand that it has also come to the attention of senior members of the NEC. The reputation of one of our South Birmingham CLPs, Edgbaston, has been dragged through the mud and it was all totally unnecessary – all that needed to happen was to have the meeting in September when members were back from their holidays, give them plenty of notice it was happening, inform the candidates in good time and stick to the rules.

Why was that so difficult?

 

MW 

Birmingham needs more women councillors!

Birmingham Momentum women’s group has launched a campaign to get more Labour women onto Birmingham City Council.

Only 40% of Labour councillors in Birmingham are women – 32 out of the 80 seats Labour currently holds. That’s way below Labour’s national target of a minimum of 50% female representation amongst Labour councillors in every local authority in the country.

The ward boundary changes and all-out local government elections in 2018 are unlikely to see any improvement. Based on the 2016 council election results, the number of Labour-held seats is likely to drop from 80 to approximately 68. So hitting the 50% target would require 34 women to become Labour councillors.

At the moment there are 30 women councillors on the Local Government Panel (the list of people whose nominations have been approved). But of the 35 non councillors on the panel only four are women! So to achieve the target of 50% in 2018, 34 women would need to be shortlisted, selected and elected i.e. all of the 30 women councillors currently nominating and all four of the new nominees. That’s rather unrealistic given some wards are becoming two-seat wards, and that not all panel members want to represent any area in the city.

We’re encouraging women to apply for the Local Government Panel for 2018. To be shortlisted as a candidate you need to be on the panel – it’s as simple as that.
At the time of writing we are unsure when councillor selections will start – probably from early July. Panel applications will still be considered and may be approved even after the selection process has begun.

We know it’s a big step so Birmingham Women’s Momentum will be supporting women who apply, by sharing information and our experience as we go through the process.
We are also looking at what training is available for applicants, and other platforms that provide development opportunities. Watch this space in late summer/early Autumn.

Finally, being on the panel doesn’t mean you have to accept a nomination to stand for selection in any particular ward – just that by being on the panel you would be considered.

Application forms are available by logging in at: http://www.birmingham-labour.com/splash?splash=1 and clicking on ‘City Council Election 2018’.

If you have any queries or just want to chat contact momentumbhamsouth@hotmail.com and we’ll point you in the direction of your local Momentum contact on the issue!

Support the Burton Argos workers!

 

While of course the eyes of Momentum South Birmingham are mostly fixed on the general election and ensuring our city’s constituencies return Labour MPs, we should not forget that there are industrial disputes going on that can and should be supported.

 

aROGS

One of those is just down the road in Burton where Argos workers organised by the Unite are on strike.   

Argos warehouse workers who prepare deliveries for the catalogue stores are fearful that a contracting out culture will lead to job losses and a deterioration in their terms and conditions.

Earlier in the year Argos revealed plans to transfer nearly 500 workers from its Lutterworth distribution hub in Leicestershire to Wincanton logistics in Kettering. Despite repeated requests by Unite, Argos has refused to give guarantees at all its distribution sites that workers’ terms and conditions will be safeguarded in the future.

Mick Casey, a member of Unite’s executive council, said: “Argos has been despicable in the way they are behaving. This affects people’s lives, their families and whole communities.”

Donations and messages of support should be sent to:

Unite the Union Branch WM7680

Care of Mick. Casey, 140 BRANSTON RD, BURTON ON TRENT, DE14 3DQ

For readers information we’ve also cut and pasted below a press release from Unite welcoming the failure of Argos to secure an injunction to bring an end to the strike. There is also a piece in the Morning Star that can be read here.

 

Unite Press Release

For immediate use: Friday 26 May 2017

Argos loses High Court bid as warehouse strikes continue

A High Court judgement thwarting a further attempt by the retail giant Argos to stop a two week strike was hailed as a ‘significant’ victory by Britain’s largest union, Unite today (Friday 26 May), as it urged the company to stop trying to use the law to ride roughshod over workers’ legitimate concerns.

Today’s ruling is the second to go against Argos and comes just over midway through a two week continuous strike in a dispute over jobs and terms and conditions which started on 17 May.

Set to finish at 05:59 on Wednesday (31 May), the ongoing stoppage is causing disruption to store deliveries and involves approximately 1,400 warehouse workers at Argos distribution centres in Basildon, Bridgwater, Burton-on-Trent, Castleford, Heywood and Lutterworth.

The warehouse workers, who prepare deliveries for Argos stores, are fearful that a culture of contracting out and the reduction in operating sites will lead to a deterioration in their terms and conditions.

Earlier in the year Argos revealed plans to transfer nearly 500 workers from its Lutterworth distribution hub in Leicestershire to Wincanton logistics in Kettering. Despite repeated requests by Unite, Argos has refused to give guarantees at all its distribution sites that workers’ terms and conditions will be safeguarded in the future.

Commenting Unite national officer Matt Draper said: “The retail giant would do well to start engaging constructively with Unite, rather than repeatedly trying to use the law to ride roughshod over workers’ legitimate concerns and prolonging disruptive industrial action.

“Having seen how Argos has treated colleagues who were transferred to Wincanton, Unite members are seeking reasonable guarantees about terms and conditions.

“They are justifiably concerned about being transferred to another company or being offered alternative employment on potentially inferior terms, if they are unwilling to travel to a new site.

“Argos needs to send its senior decision makers to negotiate meaningfully with Unite, if a resolution is to be found.”

Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett added: “For the second time, a judge has ruled against Argos and its attempts to stop legitimate and lawful strike action. This significant ruling deals a blow to those employers who seek to silence workers and use bogus TUPE procedures to cut costs and terms and conditions.

“This is a dispute which won’t be settled in the court room, but around the negotiating table. Unite urges Argos to start engaging constructively and offer the guarantees directly employed warehouse workers are seeking.

“Once again Unite’s legal services have demonstrated that Unite will not allow its members to be bullied and silenced by employers, such as Argos. Bad bosses should beware that Unite will use the full might of the law to defend its members and their lawful right to strike.

“Unite would like to place on record its thanks to Thompsons Solicitors and Richard Arthur, as well as Ben Cooper QC of Old Square Chambers in assisting with this matter. We would urge Argos to get around the table to reach a negotiated settlement.”