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‘Smear’ accusations as Labour clash over Dame Tessa silence

Calls for Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency Labour Party to be suspended as tensions deepen

31 May, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Dame Tessa Jowell launching the 2014 local election campaign in Camden Town with Sarah Hayward

LEFT-WING members of the Labour Party say they are being targeted by “smear” stories after reports of resistance in Hampstead and Kilburn to a minute’s silence for Dame Tessa Jowell.

The New Journal’s Peeps column reported last week how around five members at a recent constituency meeting declined to stand for the period of silence, and that fellow members had been distressed that there had been some “muttering and mumbling”. That article sparked a media frenzy, with the incident being reported as more serious “heckling” in the national press, and a hailstorm of social media criticism.

In a chaotic week for the local party, former councillor Phil Rosenberg – who was not at the meeting – later wrote a detailed view of the proceedings for the Jewish News, warning that “a group of seriously nasty people” had “plumbed new depths”, while Sarah Hayward, the former Camden leader, suggested there could be a case for the entire constituency to be suspended due to bad behaviour.

This in turn has infuriated the members who say the episode has been grossly exaggerated, partly by people who were not in the room.

While accounts differ about what has gone on behind closed doors, members of different wings of the party – and those affiliated with neither caucus – have at different times talked privately about how tense meetings have become. The make-up of those who actually attend meetings is said to be roughly split 50/50 between members who are fully behind Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party and people who are sceptical about his chances of ever becoming prime minister.

The New Journal’s Peeps column on May 24

The period of silence for Dame Tessa was followed by calls for another minute of reflection for people who died in Gaza. Other disputes at the recent constituency meeting are said to have included a disagreement over whether or not to support a call to bond with neighbouring Brent over celebrations to mark 70 years of Windrush and a call to hold a recorded vote on a motion condemning Israel Defence Forces’ gunfire during the border protests.

In an email seen by the New Journal, constituency campaigns officer Rebecca Shirazi urged local organisers to hold peace talks. “A small minority of our membership in Hampstead & Kilburn are repeatedly briefing against us to the press after GC [general committee] meetings, with false and exaggerated versions of the meeting,” the message said. “These smears are intentional and directed at members on the left of the party, specifically targeted to undermine public confidence in us.”

Speaking at the Hay book festival earlier in the week, Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street adviser who lives in Gospel Oak, had said: “Tessa Jowell died … and you’ve had local parties refusing to have tributes to her because she helped Tony Blair. It’s madness.”

Mourners were at Dame Tessa’s funeral on Monday. The former Camden councillor who went on to become Culture Secretary passed away aged 70 from brain cancer, having campaigned in her final months for all patients to be granted access to new, experimental treatments.

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