The Richmond Revolution and its Repercussions

Mike Freedman

Friday, 02 December 2016

I want to address two issues: to review the Richmond Park “revolution”, its implications and the lessons learned; and secondly to offer practical help to Labour CLPs to enable them to   help develop a Progressive Alliance aimed at achieving the election of a sustainable left of centre Government. (Other parties like the Lib Dems and Greens may also find these ideas helpful.)

So………first the result………..which you will all know by now.

The Lib Dems won! Sarah Olney overturned Goldsmith’s majority of 23,000 with a huge swing giving her a 1,800 majority. Thanks to all those in the Progressive Alliance who in one way or another made this happen.

No thanks to Richmond Labour Party and its short sightedness in insisting on fielding a candidate. Who lost his deposit! Will they and other parties in unwinnable seats now take note?

The vote not only reflects distaste for Goldsmith’s support for a hard Brexit and his racism in the London Mayoralty election (which he also lost) but the nationwide horror at a nasty Tory Government obsessed with dogma rather than fairness, justice and  meeting the needs of the majority for decent housing, health, welfare and education.

The Heathrow expansion issue on which Goldsmith resigned was a red herring. Every candidate was against it and no-one considered it when casting their vote.

How did the Richmond Revolution begin?

As a pragmatic democratic socialist I always want Labour to win. But sometimes we cannot and this is the case in Richmond in parliamentary and local elections. The best we can hope for is to stop the Tories. That involves making unpalatable choices in the wider interest. That is why, despite attempts to gag me by Labour’s London Region Organiser I proposed at Labour’s selection meeting that we not stand and support the Lib Dems to stop the so called “independent” Tory, Zac Goldsmith. The better we did and the stronger the candidate we selected the more chance Goldsmith, a racist, supported by UKIP and a hard Brexiteer would win. The Heathrow issue was irrelevant.  Everyone in Richmond has been against Heathrow expansion for years. Goldsmith is a “Johnny come lately” to this cause.

Half the meeting supported my position during the debate which we were told we could not have! We had been warned that if we did not select a candidate one would be imposed on us by Labour’s HQ. Our CLP chair felt selecting our own candidate was better than an imposter so proceeded with the process. I left once the selection began, followed by a number of other members. I knew UKIP was not fielding a candidate but only later did I discover that the Greens and the Women’s Equality Party had done the same to give their support to the Lib Dems in a Progressive Alliance.

The debate focussed on the two issues. Is a Progressive Alliance better than fighting and losing unwinnable seats?  Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s call for more local democracy and authority why is it not happening? The NEC, the Leader and the General Secretary have all been apprised of these vital and urgent concerns.

By supporting the Lib Dems we are not supporting their policies unless they reflect ours like on Heathrow, nor are we endorsing their candidate. The position is unpalatable but is the lesser of two evils.

The big lesson? Look what can be done by coming together and putting aside differences in the interests of fighting a common enemy.

What happened in Richmond must be seen as the start of something even bigger. If we establish a strong, permanent, Progressive alliance we can keep the Tories from power for decades.

We need to get all progressive parties to agree this philosophy at a national level and then implement it locally.

Compass who did a lot to orchestrate the Richmond Revolution deserve huge credit and must be urged to go from strength to strength.

Repercussions: 

  1. To ensure that in unwinnable seats the right, including the Tories and their UKIP allies do not win elections and that Progressive Alliance candidates aimed at defeating them are actively supported. This applies at general, local, regional elections and by-elections.
  2. CLPs should submit motions to annual conference reflecting this philosophy and calling on the party to adopt it as policy.
  3. At other party conferences and in policy forums to ensure that this issue is debated.
  4. CLPs should align with organisations like Compass, and others that are like minded, as well as influential figures in the Labour movement as a whole, including Trades Unions and pressure groups.
  5. All media outlets should be used to promote these ideas and educate the voting electorate.
  6. To persuade the leader and the NEC to “walk the walk” and delegate to local CLPs the right to select, or not, candidates for election to office. To change the party’s rules so that party HQ do not have the right to impose candidates or slates. To do this through debate and motions to conference and elsewhere as above.
  7. For CLP’s to identify seats where they cannot win and enter into a Progressive Alliance with another party as long as there is a clear “quid pro quo” in seats they cannot win but Labour can. (For example, Labour does not stand in Richmond and the Lib Dems do not stand in Brentford. That way we get an MP each and the Tories none. Not to do this gives the Tories two seats!)
  8. To ensure Compass provides support to local CLP’s in this quest beginning with appropriate “model motions” for submission to or modification and then submission to the party.

All of the above actions need to be seen whilst remaining supportive of Labour’s overall goals in a pragmatic manner. This will mean supporting candidates from other parties as a Progressive Alliance candidate but without endorsing them or their policies.

Congratulations one and all!

Mike Freedman has been a Labour activist since the 1960s. He has been a parliamentary candidate. In addition he was Personal Advisor to Tom Sawyer, Labour’s General Secretary, a member of policy committees, a Foreign Office Commissioner and helped in a small way in the Peace Talks in Northern Ireland. 

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