Brighton and Hove District Labour Party was suspended in July after Corbyn-supporting officers were elected at its AGM. Mark Sandell, the newly-elected Chair, describes what happened.
Since Corbyn was first elected in 2015 our local party, which has a rather peculiar structure across three constituencies, has grown from 2,000 members to 6,000.
In Brighton we have a Labour Council which makes cuts and a Labour MP in Hove, Peter Kyle, who is very vocally anti-Corbyn. We were pretty sure that most of the 4,000 new members were on our side. Our issue was how to reach all these new people.
Following the most recent moves to remove Corbyn we advertised a rally, on Saturday 9 July, to defend him. We had 300 inside a packed room and another 300 outside the hall. When a speaker finished on the inside they went to speak to the meeting outside the room. We had fixed the rally to take place a few hours before the Brighton, Hove and District LP AGM where we were standing a slate.
Although we had 600 present we still were not sure we would win at the AGM. We knew some of those who were at our meeting, to back Corbyn, are not Labour Party members. One important argument we have been having is to say firmly to those who back Corbyn: Join Labour. The point is not just to wear a Corbyn badge and join in political discussions, but actually to help to transform the Labour Party. And to do that you need to be a member. So we walked down from our rally to the AGM which was due to start at 4 pm.
I got there at 3:15 and discovered the college room that had been booked was already full, mainly of councillors and their mates. We couldn’t get in. Because we’d previously won the position of Chair we got an agreement to run the AGM in shifts. People would listen to the candidates, vote and leave. Then the next room-full would come in and do the same thing. Then the next. It was the politest meeting I’ve ever been at. Women’s Institute meetings are more rowdy. We were on particularly good behaviour because we knew the right would use any incident against us.
Our slate ran as “Confidence in Corbyn”. Not everyone on the slate was a Momentum supporter. We were open to those who just wanted to see fairness — people who were disgusted by the way Corbyn is being treated. In the end there were 610 votes cast. For the main officer positions our slate took about 65% of the vote. We won overwhelmingly and the right were deeply shocked. Then we were accused of two things: abusing the local MP, Peter Kyle; and spitting at a security guard.
I was stood close to Peter Kyle at the meeting and no one was rude to him. We investigated the “spitting incident” and all the security guards said there had been no spitting or swearing. The complaint was a complete fabrication.
I lasted as Chair of Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party for five days. We got a letter from the national Labour Party annulling the elections and forbidding us to meet because of these allegations. This had the effect of preventing us discussing the leadership and also stopping us organising work around a local council by-election.
We have carried on campaigning. We had a Momentum stall at last weekend’s Brighton Pride where Corbyn’s message was very, very popular. Last Tuesday, at three-days notice, we had a Corbyn rally in Brighton. The 1,500 seats were booked before I could get a ticket. So we held a rally outside, in the wind and rain, on Brighton seafront, with another 600 people. We’re not giving in. We’re not going away. This isn’t over.
• Speaking in a personal capacity at a meeting of Lewisham Momentum on Monday 8 August.