Local election analysis – Harborne

On what was a fairly mixed but still relatively drama-free day of local election results for Labour in the second city there are a couple of contests that really stand out.

 

The Greens winning comfortably in Druids Heath to get their first ever councillor in Birmingham was of course the one that has generated the most headlines, but the results in Acocks Green and Harborne are also noteworthy as in both cases these two member wards had successful candidates from two parties. 

 

AG

 

I won’t dwell too much on Acocks Green but the 700+ vote gap between John O’Shea and Fiona Williams that allowed the Liberal Democrat Roger Harmer in is on the face of it highly unusual. Hopefully at some stage we will get an explanation, although clearly the two sitting councillors being re-elected, regardless of their party affiliation, may go some way in that regard.

 

I will concentrate here on Harborne, where one of the protagonists was none other than Sundip Meghani, a figure of some notoriety for those familiar with goings-on in Labour politics in the South of the city. He was beaten by both of the Tory candidates and thus finished fourth, nearly 600 votes behind sitting councillor Jayne Francis, the one sitting councillor standing in the ward. The other successful candidate was the Tory Peter Fowler, who has held elected office elsewhere in the region but I believe has not stood in Birmingham before. He beat Meghani by nearly 500 votes. 

 

H1.1 

It would be remiss to not begin with the tortuous process that led MeghanI being the second Labour candidate in the first place. It took an oft-reported three attempts (and a further meeting that had to be cancelled at the last minute following an NEC intervention across the city) after numerous irregularities were alleged. These have, to the best of my knowledge and that of my sources in the ward, not been disproven. A huge amount of avoidable political and PR damage was done which could have been avoided if the rulebook had just been stuck to rigorously.  

 

And while Meghani won a comfortable majority at the third and final run of the shortlisting and selection meeting on December 13th 2017 when all the candidates were given access to the membership list that he had somehow managed to get his hands on before the second attempt, I’m told that most of the people who voted for him were then conspicuous by their absence during the campaign.

 

So what other factors may have come in play?

 

One of course does notice the fact that the two white candidates standing for the major parties have been elected and the two Asian candidates have not. However Akaal Sidhu is less than 150 votes behind his counterpart Fowler, which is a pretty normal gap between two candidates of the same party (see the Acocks Green result for the Lib Dems), but Meghani is nearly 600 behind Francis and over 300 behind Sidhu. Clearly something else was going on.  

 

Speaking to Labour members in the ward they tell me that the Tories hammered the ward with literature and it was one of their main priorities across the city. Sidhu and Fowler appeared all over the place and clearly did the groundwork.

 

Labour’s first campaign leaflet (which appeared very quickly after the first disputed selection meeting) made no mention of the inclusion of the ward of the Welsh House Farm estate, which has been moved over from Quinton. Considering this is the most deprived part of what is in places a pretty affluent ward, this was a huge miscalculation almost designed to be a kick in the teeth. An incumbent with a pretty strong track record of being a conscientious councillor (which Francis has) can get away with something like that. A new candidate probably less so.

 

A look through Meghani’s Twitter account also provides some clues. 

 

 SM1

 

 SM 2.1.jpg

 

What’s interesting going through it as the weeks go by is that at no stage does he ever really talk about or engage with the key local issues with any specifics. If there is any commentary it invariably takes the form of generality, which is very surprising in a CLP like Edgbaston that I’m told focuses relentlessly on local matters. And the embarrassing hashtag #LoveHarborne comes across as painfully insincere.   

 

 SM 3.1.jpg

 

This one in particular is really embarrassing. Pretty much every week of the campaign Meghani announces a guest, uniformly on the hard right of the party, from outside of the CLP. So he cannot really talk about “outside help” without looking like a massive hypocrite.   

The other note-worthy theme, repeated to the point of cliché, is his invocation to voters to “reject the Tory hard-Brexit austerity agenda”. This mantra, I can only assume, is a tactic designed to appeal to the narrowly remain-voting electorate in the Edgbaston constituency. If so it is incredibly clumsy.

 

Brexit played no role in the local elections in Birmingham and to use the rejection of it as a tactic to win votes betrays a huge misunderstanding of the electorate – and is in fact hugely patronising. There is nothing that Meghani could do to stop the “Tory hard-Brexit austerity agenda” inside the council chamber and that isn’t what he is being elected to do anyway. The idea that voters in places like Welsh House Farm will respond to something like that is just silly, and a bizarrely rookie error from someone who stood a number of times for various types of elected office in Leicester.

 

Hopefully lessons will be learnt for 2022 and a repeat avoided. There is no reason why wards like Harborne shouldn’t be returning two Labour candidates – as Preet Gill’s thumping majority across the whole constituency in 2017 showed, there is a massive Labour vote in the area. The basics need to be got right and roots sunk in the local communities, especially Welsh House Farm, starting now. It is impossible to know if an alternative candidate to Meghani would have won – but either way things need to be done very differently next time.   

 

MW

 

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Conservative Councillor Peter Douglas Osborn’s offensive comments prove the Nasty Party never went away

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(Re-posted from https://francisclarke.org/)

On Thursday evening, I attended the local elections hustings event for Bournville & Cotteridge Ward, arranged and hosted by the ever civic-minded The Cotteridge Church.

 

As a Labour activist, I came along to support our two excellent candidates, Councillor Liz Clements and Fred Grindrod, and to speak up for the socialist policies in Birmingham Labour’s manifesto, Building a better Birmingham. I did not, however, expect, to have to challenge the Conservative candidate, Councillor Peter Douglas Osborn, over his use of the offensive terms “tinker” and “coloured”, and to hear him framing the dramatic increase in demand for our local B30 Foodbank by quoting the Bible and describing ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ people in need.

 

Sadly, my first close-up encounter with Peter Douglas Obsborn brought home to be me the harsh reality that, despite their best efforts to soften their public image, the Conservatives are still the “Nasty Party” of British politics.

 

No shows from Tory Rob Sealey and the Greens

 

The hustings started off predictably enough, with each of the candidates introducing themselves and setting out their respective stalls. In addition to Labour candidates Councillor Liz Clements and Fred  Grindrod and the Tory Peter Douglas Osborn, we also got to hear from the Lib Dem candidate David Radcliffe as well as Clive Walder, an affable person representing the left-wing Trade Union & Socialist Alliance. Sadly, the two Green candidates standing in Bournville & Cotteridge gave their apologies. A seat and a name sign were left for another Conservative candidate, Rob Sealey, but unfortunately he never turned up (we were told he was flying back to Brum that evening so he may well have been held up along the way).

 

Peter Douglas Osborn: back from the USSR

 

In retrospect, I should have picked up from Peter Douglas Osborn’s opening remarks that things were going to take a turn for the worse.

 

Whereas Liz presented a clear case for how the Tories’ politically motivated programme of austerity, driven by their ideological obsession with shrinking the state, was directly responsible for the social and economic problems facing Bournville & Cotteridge, Peter Douglas Osborne’s opening statement was somewhat more, well, ‘idiosyncratic’.

 

Peter Douglas Osborn started off by on a somewhat rambling account of a trip he’d made to the USSR 40 or so years ago. On this trip, we were told, Peter learned about how Soviet authorities took a dim view on religion and churches playing a role in political life. He then remarked on how great it was that we live in a country with religious and political freedoms that mean a church can host elections hustings.

 

As someone who specialised in Russian history at university, I actually quite enjoyed Peter Douglas Osborn’s story but I must confess I struggled to see how it was relevant to a local election campaign and the very severe challenges facing our community and city. In fact, the closest he got to even talking about Bournville & Cotteridge was when he recalled his days playing rugby in our local playing fields many years ago. And even this choice of anecdote was somewhat ill-advised, given the fact that we’ve only recently lost our park keeper thanks to the Tory austerity cuts our Labour-run city council has had to implement.

Question Time

 

Our host, Reverend Mike Claridge, then proceeded to read out a series of questions members of the public had sent him on a range of topics, including the impact of spending cuts, how to improve congestion and parking in Cotteridge. For me, what was striking was the way that both the Lib Dem candidate, David Radcliffe, and the Tory Peter Douglas Osborn, both conveniently overlooked the direct role both their parties have played in creating the austerity agenda the Labour-led Birmingham City Council is being forced to implement. This reached its zenith when Peter spoke up in favour of more public transport for school children. Did he forget that under the Tories bus budgets have been slashed by 40% since 2010?

 

“The poor will always be with us”

 

So far, so relatively harmless. That was until Reverend Michael Claridge asked each candidate for their thoughts on what’s behind the dramatic increase in local people accessing the B30 Foodbank, which is based out of The Cotteridge Church  (demand is estimated to have roughly doubled between 2016 and 2017).

 

Whereas Liz presented a convincing case for how the Tories’ politically motivated programme of austerity and dismantling the welfare state, combined with the rise of zero-hours contracts, has driven local people to crisis point, Peter Douglas Osborn took an altogether less analytical approach.

 

Rather than give a straight answer, he opted to quote the Bible: “for you have the poor always with you”, effectively dismissing the huge rise in demand as something beyond anyone’s control, let alone anything our politicians should seek to tackle. He also heavily implied people were motivated by the prospect of being able to obtain free food, rather than because they were experiencing genuine hardship.

 

Unconcerned with what he’d said about foodbank users, Peter Douglas Osborn then proceeded to spend the rest of his allotted time talking about his strong commitment to helping the people in our community who he felt deserved help, notably people with mental health difficulties, whose welfare he actually seemed quite concerned about.

 

Fortunately, the other candidates and members of The Cotteridge Church didn’t let Peter Douglas Osborn’s ignorant opinions go unchallenged. When Fred challenged Peter for essentially saying that the rise in foodbank usage was down to ‘scroungers’, Peter said in response that “people didn’t want to hear the truth”.

I’m pleased to say Reverend Roger Collins, who runs the B30 Foodbank, was also on hand to calmly present the candidates and members of the public with the statistics they collect on their service users. These clearly showed how changes to benefits, including the recent roll-out of Universal Credit, together with precarious work, was driving demandThings take a turn for the offensive

 

After thinking things couldn’t get any worse, Peter Douglas Osborn somehow managed to plumb new depths. In response to a simple question about the recycling service in Birmingham (something the Labour, Lib Dems and Trade Union & Socialist Alliance all agreed we as a city need to get better at), he again chose to take us on a trip down memory lane, this time talking about how, in years gone by, the “tinkers” would pick up items people had left out for them.

 

As an Irish person, I take issue with the ethnic slur”tinker”, although I appreciate some people use it without realising its true meaning. Here’s the Wikipedia definition for the avoidance of doubt:

 

Wikipedia defintion of tinker

 

As a former local government equality officer, I am well aware of the sensitivities which exist around language. I am also conscious of the fact that people can often unknowingly use offensive language and so I feel it’s important to give people a second chance when they do. This is what really troubles me about what happened next.

 

A case of ‘political correctness gone mad’ or simply treating everyone with respect?

 

After each of the candidates had finished making their statements, I expressed my concern over the language Peter Douglas Osborn had just used, explaining that I felt it was completely unacceptable for anyone, let alone a public servant, to be using such offensive language in Birmingham in 2018. Peter seemed surprised and annoyed that I had challenged him but not apologetic.

 

In order to test his true intent, I followed up with a question, “would you use the term ‘coloured’?”. Shockingly, he said yes he would and proceeded to say the words “tinker” and “coloured” back to me and the room. Seeing the expressions of disbelief in my face and the faces of the other candidates, he continued to talk. Instead of apologising, he criticised me for caring so much, saying words to the effect of “you can get upset as much as you like”. He then followed this up by dismissing  wider social concerns over offensive language and political correctness as being a “manufactured” upset, echoing the ‘political correctness gone mad’ attitude which is sometimes expressed. 25 years after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence and with the Windrush scandal showing no signs of easing, I was disturbed by Peter Douglas Obsborn’s comments, especially given that he currently sits on the West Midlands Police and Crime Panel, and so exercises influence over policing in our region.

 

Holding Peter Douglas Osborn and the Conservatives to account

 

After my encounter with Peter Douglas Osborn, I concentrated on simply getting through the remainder of the hustings without further incident. It was only afterwards, as I made my way home and told my wife about the evening, that I began to truly comprehend how unpleasantly the Conservative candidate for Bournville & Cotteridge had behaved.

 

If anything good has come out of my encounter with Peter Douglas Osborn, it’s that it has made more people realise what’s at stake when Birmingham goes to the polls this Thursday. The election here in Bournville & Cotteridge is not only a choice between Labour candidates  who will do everything they can to protect the most vulnerable in our community versus Conservative candiates who will happily go along with the austerity programme being orchestrated by the Tories in Westminster.

 

At a more basic level, it’s a choice between decent human beings (everyone on the panel bar PDO, it would seem) who believe we should look out for each other and someone who casually dismisses concerns over racial slurs and the very real hardship an ever increasing number of people in our local community are experiencing.

 

I’m pleased to report that the Labour candidates Councillor Liz Clements and candidate Fred Grindrod have written to the Conservative West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street and the leader of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council, Robert Alden, asking them to condemn the remarks made by Peter Douglas Osborn. I’m also heartened by the amount of support both Bournville & Cotteridge and I have received online and offline from people throughout Birmingham and beyond.

 

I hope the Conservatives will condemn and distance themselves from Peter Douglas Osborn’s unpleasant attitudes, otherwise I believe  this incident will only serve to conjure up memories of the Conservatives as the ‘Nasty Party’ of British politics.

 

I’ll aim to write an update post after the local elections are over. In the meantime, you can keep up-to-date with the latest developments by following me on Twitter @francisclarke. You also follow Bournville & Cotteridge Labour @LabBournville if you’d like to find out more about our campaign.

Francis Clarke

Vote Garnham, Dar and Lansman

It’s the last few days of an absolutely crucial NEC ballot and we cannot forget what is at stake.

We have an historic opportunity to have a left, pro-democracy majority on the party’s ruling body. One that can oversee a serious overhaul of the party structures, and, you never know, pay some attention to a few of the issues in the West Midlands covered on the pages of this blog and on social media over the last few months.

Clearly, there were issues with the decision-making process that led to us having Rachel Garnham, Yasmine Dar and John Lansman (or as we like to call him in Birmingham, John Lemon) on the Momentum/CLGA slate. The candidacy of Lansman/Lemon in particular has been identified as the weak link by Labour First and Progress, who are backing the LF slate that dare not speak its name of Eddie Izzard, Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan.

Many of us would have been happy with those three if it had been put to the membership of Momentum and we had been offered a vote, so it was unfortunate that we didn’t have that vote or a way for grassroots views to feed into the decision-making process. Let’s hope it isn’t repeated next time round.

But we are where we are and the decision, in my mind, is a pretty straightforward one. Either the left will have a majority or Labour First/Progress will, and all the signs are that many of the people in those two organisations, who are not the same but are getting closer and closer the more desperate they get, have learnt nothing in the last couple of years, and many are still unreconciled to a Corbyn leadership, whatever they may say publicly. Just have a read through the recent Daily Mail article that focused heavily on Birmingham if you can stomach it and you will see the real agenda, which was about undermining the left in the NEC election. Or have a read through the Twitter feed of someone like Richard Angell, which makes you feel like you’re Alice, in Wonderland.    

We have seen in Birmingham what happens when these people have control and it isn’t pretty. A left majority will give us a chance to change things permanently for the better and give members the power over what happens – and right now a left majority will ensure that all members, whether on the right or left, pro- or anti-Corbyn, will have more rights and more of a say.  

The members know what they are doing and what is necessary, and the kind of party we need to have an historic, game-changingly successful Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn and not repeat some of the mistakes of the Blair/Brown years.

So please, if you haven’t already, vote Rachel Garnham, Yasmine Dar and John Lansman/Lemon!

Rather than rolling over, they stood firm through thick and thin

Unite bin workers, took seven weeks of strike action throughout July and August in defiance of council plans to shed 120 refuse staff – 20 per cent of the workforce – and cut wages by up to £5,000 a year.

Councillor Lisa Trickett, BCC Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment ( Labour member for Moseley and Kings Heath), said:

 

‘None of the Grade 3 leading hands who are being made redundant need to lose their jobs with the council. Alternative Grade 3 posts, at the same salary in other parts of the council, are available for all those affected leading hands. No one needs to suffer a cut in their basic pay.’

 

Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett  rebutted:

 

‘The council claims alternative grade-three jobs are available, but this is disingenuous. Most of those jobs are on fixed-termrather than permanent contracts – and many of them need ITskills, hardly suitable for the people whose jobs are being downgraded. It’s simply not the case that these workers can just switch to a different job to maintain their pay.’

 

On 15 August Unite reached an honourable agreement with Birmingham City Council lead by Leader Councillor John Clancy. The Council accepted the refuse workers’ case and restored the grade 3 jobs, which are responsible for the safety at the rear of the refuse vehicles. This agreement was reached via ACAS whose director Malcolm Boswell announced:

‘ACAS can confirm that an agreement was reached by Birmingham City Council and Unite the union on 15th August 2017 following discussions at ACAS. The terms of the agreement were made public by ACAS at the request of both parties in a press release agreed with both parties.’

Strike action was suspended and Unite members vigorously began a great clear up.

Talks were due to resume on 1 September. Instead meetings were cancelled .Interim Chief Executive Manzie confirmed that the Council issued back dated redundancy notices to the Unite members .The notices contained humiliating terms. Ms Manzie is a Government appointee ,paid around £180,000 per year plus expenses. Her last employer, Rotherham, incurred  around £160,000 annual expenses from her.

Manzie contended:

‘the Council has taken the view that in order to protect its legal and financial position it has needed to issue redundancy notices.’

It is suggested that there were equal pay problems which arise from the 15 August agreement. However no such problems were particularised and the suggestion was questioned  in the strongest possible terms by Unite.

Clancy faced a vote of no confidence, having been elected Leader by a single vote against his Blairite rival.  It must be remembered that Clancy oversaw some improvements in Council policy and services, including the construction of homes. He resigned.

Unite obtained a High Court injunction to prevent the redundancy notices taking effect. The Council was ordered to pay legal costs. The matter was listed for a full hearing on 27th November 2017

On 25th November 2017 the dispute was concluded  with an agreement under which with the honourable terms agreed in August were ratified, albeit in different terms:

*All 109 leading hands will retain their grade 3 status and salary

*The ‘leading hand’ title will be abolished and replaced by a new ‘Waste Reduction and Collection’ role (WRCO), retaining safety responsibilities as well as communications with residents

*Each refuse wagon will have a team of driver, at least one loader and a WRCO –  for  crew and public and public safety

*Guaranteed protection against redundancies and any role changes for at least 12 months from the start of implementation

*Any future changes to waste collection services will be agreed by a joint ‘Service Improvement Board established jointly between BCC and the unions

 

Howard Beckett led the dispute. He stated:

‘This deal secures the grade three posts and protects the pay of workers who faced losing thousands of pounds. It is a victory for common sense and a victory for the people of Birmingham who no longer need worry about the disruption of industrial action. This deal, which protects the livelihoods of hardworking refuse workers ,would not have been possible without the determination and solidarity of Unite members. Rather than rolling over, they stood firm through thick and thin to defend their jobs and the service they provide to the city of Birmingham. The stand that Birmingham’s refuse workers took and the victory they have secured should be an inspiration to others right across the trade union movement.’

The Council paid private contractors  to inefficiently deal with clear-up during the strike It paid unnecessary legal costs.  It made the Council unpopular. It diverted resources from fighting the Tories. The money wasted could have been used to save frontline services for the young and elderly.

Momentum is proud to have stood with the bin workers. Mosely and Kings Heath ward Labour Party passed a motion supporting the dispute and held a members’ collection. Hall Green CLP supported the bin workers. Birmingham TUC established a support committee. Unite branches gave generous donations. The success of the dispute is due to the intelligent refuse workers, their principled Unite leadership and the support of the Movement.

Islwyn Ffowc Elis

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.