A week in Walthamstow: Campaigning against our pro-war MP
Nancy Taaffe, Walthamstow
The drama that has played out in the community of Walthamstow, east London, in the last week is a sign of the fault lines which could affect Labour MPs everywhere. In the absence of Corbyn whipping his MPs, the struggle to compel them to vote against bombing Syria instead took to the streets and working class communities.
Many Walthamstow residents thought their letter writing campaign to local Labour MP Stella Creasy meant her ‘no’ vote was in the bag.
But as Sunday slipped into Monday and the vote loomed on the Wednesday, no news came from Stella that she was definitely going to vote against war. Like the sudden realisation that a love affair may be ending, the posts, tweets and discussions became more and more frantic and desperate.
On the Tuesday a vigil/demo was organised by Labour Party members and other local people. We marched from a local mosque to the Labour Party office. Children held candles in jam jars. The chanting varied from demands for peace, to a call for Stella to vote no. It was a completely peaceful local event.
As the debate began in Parliament on Wednesday morning, press reports began to emerge that the demo had marched to Stella’s house. Other reports tried to suggest that jam jar-shaking kids were terrorising Stella’s staff (who, it emerged, weren’t even in the building). Stella didn’t make any clear statement that this was not the case until three days later.
When her vote in favour of war was finally cast, a sense of bewilderment seemed to set in. Despair turned to anger and anger to rage.
Over a thousand people left messages on her Twitter and Facebook – including people who had voted and campaigned for her saying they could never do so again. Over 500 wrote emails – the vast majority to complain or ask questions.
On the Thursday I appeared on the Daily Politics show to counter some of the lies that had been told about the demo, and also to argue that the helplessness felt by this betrayal could be rectified if mandatory re-selection (see page 8) was reintroduced into the Labour Party.
This would make it much easier for the community, in this ‘safe’ Labour seat, to attempt to remove Stella as their MP and to ensure that she never did this to them again.
Suddenly a tiny number of abusive messages and even death threats – which are wrong and have no place in our movement – were being conflated with threats of re-selection.
We had to argue that, even though the threat of losing their cushy lifestyles and their peerages may feel like death, it is not a death threat – it is a democratic right.
Similarly we have the right to argue for this, whether we are in the Labour Party or not. Socialist Party members are pointing out the process of democratisation that would be necessary to transform the Labour Party into the anti-war, anti-cuts one urgently needed by the working class.
Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, appeared in the media to threaten Labour Party members who organise demos like the one in Walthamstow with investigation. There were echoes of suspension and expulsion.
The Socialist Party answered the lies and bullying tactics of the Labour right wing – a right wing which was furious with the mobilisation of pressure exerted from inside and outside of the Labour Party.
Like the movement to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-air strikes movement did not bother to ask itself whether it was a card-carrying member of the Labour Party before getting organised.
Such was the anger that engulfed the community, Stella was forced to organise a ‘public’ meeting. Everyone who wanted to go had to apply beforehand with full name and address to be checked against the electoral roll. Then they were supposedly at capacity so started turning people down.
And the venue was only announced one hour before the meeting was due to start – like a 90s rave. It was promised to be a ‘central Walthamstow location’ but ended up being in a school a 26 minute walk away from the station. How people with disabilities or the elderly were meant to get there is beyond me.
Scandalously her email responding to those requesting attendance said that this ‘security’ was because of: “the ongoing possibility of alternative political party representatives and campaign organisations from outside our community stating their intentions to disrupt this event”.
It became clear this was directed at me and the Socialist Party when I arrived, despite an email telling me I wasn’t welcome, and they tried to keep me out – including by physically resisting me entering the building.
My supposed threat to disrupt the event was that we intended to move a motion to the audience at the meeting.
This called for Stella to apologise, issue a statement against bombing, get behind Jeremy Corbyn and if she refused, that we would call a vote of no confidence in her as our MP.
I eventually got into the meeting. And despite all those who were excluded, around 200 other people turned up – really impressive considering the clandestine conditions. I sat for an hour with my hand up and never got called in to speak or move our motion – despite other people in the room calling for me to be allowed to.
As the Socialist Party has explained, unless we can hold our political representatives to account in between elections, then they are free to betray us again and again. The Walthamstow community learnt something this week.
The Socialist Party was bold under pressure and steadfast in our politics. There will be political ramifications of this vote and we will play our part in struggling for a mass workers’ party which has the right, not only to re-selection of candidates at election time, but to recall its MPs at any time.