Jeremy Corbyn-Supporting Labour Members Are Being ‘Deliberately’ Shunned By Local Parties, NEC Member Claudia Webbe Claims

Thousands of people who joined Labour to support Jeremy Corbyn are being “deliberately” excluded from local party activity, a leading member of its National Executive Committee has suggested.

Claudia Webbe said she had picked up the issue during her work on the Democracy Review, which is examining the impact that the party’s huge surge in membership has had on political engagement.

Webbe said the recent low turnout in the Lewisham East by-election selection had underscored a failure to engage new members.

Webbe said that some “moderate” constituency Labour parties (CLPs) had not “embraced” the huge influx of people who had joined or rejoined since Corbyn’s 2015 and 2016 landslide leadership elections. “Some of it, sad to say, is deliberate,” she said.

In an interview with HuffPost UK, she also called for more Parliamentary selection panels to include black and minority ethnic (BAME) members and urged radical reform of disciplinary processes to deal with a backlog of anti-semitism allegations.

Webbe, a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) since 2016, is one of nine Left candidates standing for election to the party’s ruling body this summer, and is backed by both Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.

The election for the nine constituency places on the finely-balanced NEC will see yet another battle between the Left and centrist groups Labour First and Progress as they fight over the future direction of the party.

A long-standing ally of Corbyn, aide to Ken Livingstone and an Islington councillor, Webbe has been a fierce critic of Labour MPs who have criticised their leader, declaring previously that some of them “forgot what the real world is about”

She is currently helping Corbyn aide Katy Clark and NEC member Andy Kerr lead the Labour Democracy Review, which is conducting a root-and-branch look at all levels of how the party works.

But even though the party has more than doubled in size to around 550,000 members since Corbyn became leader, many are still not involved in the activities organised by their local CLP, she said.

Webbe was backed by Unite for the recent Lewisham East selection race but lost out to local councillor Janet Daby. Daby, backed by moderates who dominate the local party’s executive, won by an overwhelming margin of 288 votes to her nearest rival’s 135 votes.

Webbe, who won just 35 votes, said that the experience had laid bare the need for new members to be better included.

“We’ve got 1,600 members in Lewisham East but only 400 or so [458] came out and exercised their right to vote,” she said.

“That was about 29% of those entitled to vote. I would expect on an important matter like this that happens only once in a blue moon that over 50% of members exercise their right to vote.”

The central party’s decision to fast-track its selection process in just over one week had partly been to blame, Webbe suggested.

“We always have postal votes when we run a selection, we didn’t on this occasion because there wasn’t sufficient time. If there was more time, of the 1,600 members more of them would have participated.

“And more of those members are members who have joined since Jeremy Corbyn ran for the leadership. A large proportion of them have not yet engaged with their local party because their local party has not yet embraced them. From my conversations, speaking to people on the phone this would be the first time they’d participated in anything, should they have come along.”

After winning an extension to the timetable, Lewisham East CLP decided to maximise turnout by holding its selection meeting on a Saturday, before the Royal Wedding began.

But Webbe suggested this move had excluded key minority ethnic voters.

“The whole thing about participatory democracy is you do have to enable all of the people all of the time to be able to participate.

“Because of our cultural differences, for example my sister who lives in Lewisham, is a Seven Day Adventist. We had the selection on a Saturday where people like Seven-Day Adventists could not participate.”

Webbe said that if she’d had more time, she “could have overcome my opponents’ rather narrow arguments” that because she was from Islington she was not local enough for Lewisham.

“Such narrow arguments would confine Sakina [Sheikh, her Momentum-backed rival] to Lewisham East forever because she’d never be able to stand anywhere else. I think that’s a very naïve argument.”

There was a wider issue at stake, Webbe added. “I’m on the Democracy Review and part of what I pick up is that where it comes to new members or those members who rejoined since 2015, there are some CLPs that have not yet reached out to those new members. That’s the sort of issue that’s being picked up.

“If I take my own CLP in Islington South and Finsbury, we actively go out and embrace new members.

“Some say they haven’t got the resources to do so and that the membership has grown so significantly that the notion of all-member meetings cannot work for them because just to hire a venue is too expensive. So, some of it is structural, and some of it, sad to say, is deliberate.”

Webbe told Skawkbox this week about the first time she was alerted about the possibility of a Lewisham East by-election.

“Lewisham East was a strategic move to create a credible all-left, all-BAME shortlist. I was at my own count in the council elections in Islington when I got the call,” she told the leftwing site.

The count took place on May 4, four days before sitting MP Heidi Alexander had formally declared she would quit, but amid rumours that she was waiting to announce her resignation until after the local elections were over.

Asked from who she got “the call” from, Webbe replied: “I’ve got no comment to make on that.”

When asked if the leader’s office had phoned her, she said: “It’s not about who gave me the call…When I say ‘the call’ it’s a phrase. It’s a significant calling.” So it wasn’t a phone call? “I’ve got no comment on that, it’s going off track for me to comment on that,” she said.

“All I would say is that the notion of trying to bring about change within the party and more diversity has been a notion ongoing for some time. It’s about waiting for the opportunities to arise. There’s a group of us working on this project for some time.”

Webbe stressed that Corbyn’s leadership had been crucial in giving new opportunities for candidates from diverse backgrounds.

“Under previous leaderships, as experienced as I am, I would not have been allowed on the shortlist [in Lewisham East]. I say that with the greatest of respect to previous leaders. I would not even have been allowed. I’m the most experienced person in my view and they [the local party] didn’t even have me on their shortlist.”

“I put myself forward to say ‘you know what, we exist as credible, experienced black women in the party’. I’ve been well over 20 years as a member of the party and active in all aspects of the party.

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