Op-Ed: Harlow Labour and the Great Disruption of 1843

Your Say / Sun 30th Sep 2018 at 07:47pm

BY Michael Casey

I DON’T often break cover in my news pieces. Across both my on-line newspapers, I have published close to 45,000 stories. Most stories are attributed to “Staff Reporter”, in the manner of The Economist. It is the words that matter not the moniker.

Also, I make no great predictions as to how politics will go in Harlow and beyond. I thought Donald Trump would go the same as Barry Goldwater; that Yvette Cooper would trounce Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader and, as we write, I was sure the USA would defeat Europe. Oh and I got Brexit wrong as well.

However, recent events have motivated me to say a few words.

I have always been interested in politics. My earliest memories in the sixties and seventies were of local politicians courting my father, who was quite a figurehead in the Harlow Irish community. At that time, the Irish vote was vital and politicians trod carefully on issues such as abortion and Northern Ireland.

By sixth form, at St Marks, it was issues such as the 1979 General Election, the Iranian Revolution, Ronald Reagan and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I have to thank Mr Morson and Mr O’Shea for that.

On local level, I was always impressed by the commitment and energy of people involved in politics however, one of the stereotypes of the left was the in-fighting and factionalism. On any given Saturday at the Obelisk in Harlow Town Centre you would find different shades of Communists, Socialists, Trotskysites. Such scenes were lampooned by Monty Python in the Life of Brian with the Judea’s People’s Front etc but such parody was based on experience.

The question then, and now, were they a bar to Labour regaining power? If this was an essay: Labour was in power only 26 of the 100 years in the 20th century. To what extent were the far left, a reason for that?

For many, the early eighties was a nightmare, where Labour became a laughing stock, unelectable. The Tories even beat Harlow’s Labour MP with a candidate who had more in common with Timmy Mallet than Margaret Thatcher.

I left Harlow in 1981 to go to university in Stirling to study History and Politics. Funnily enough, my next experience with splits and schisms was when studying 19th centre Scottish religion (the 1843 Disruption anyone). In this unit, we were treated to the delights of the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Free Church and so on and so on. Scottish religion seemed to be the blue print for left wing politics in 1983.

The next thirty years meant meeting a lot of political figures from prime ministers, soviet defectors, the odd nazi and a claimant to the Austro-Hungarian empire to name a few but that is for another day…Did you know Barack Obama follows YourThurrock. Boy George follows YourHarlow…..anyway…

Jumping way ahead to 2013

In 2013, I started YourHarlow and soon got re-acquainted with the political scene. I had already been running YourThurrock since 2008. The Labour Party there was, and still is, a broad but moderate church. Infact, voters have tended to head right into the arms of BNP (25% of the vote in 2007 local elections) and UKIP (17 councillors in 2014) rather than left. In fact, now that you think of it, is there any evidence that the Harlow electorate are radically minded? If there is a common thread it is one of aspiration than desperation. They voted Maggie Thatcher first then Jerry Hayes and Tony Blair first then Bill Rammell. Likewise, they voted Robert Halfon because they were pretty fed up with Gordon Brown. Robert Halfon has increased his vote by creating an amazing brand (a brand that often appears to leave the word Conservative out).

I digress..

By 2013, Harlow Council was headed by Labour. This was a moderate Labour with a wise Mark Wilkinson at the helm. His cabinet was a blend of youth and experience with the cerebral Jon Clempner, the savvy Tony Durcan, sound Rod Truan to name just a few. It just looks like a solid team that was intent on running a district council.

Health issues meant that Mark was replaced by Jon but it still looked like a “Taking Care of Business” council.

Things seemed to be on an even keel until late last year, when Harlow Council leader Jon Clempner quit. I think it was a combination of factors but you got the feeling that, to some, Mr Clempner’s moderate leanings were of greater concern than his ability to oversee a multi-million pound organisation. Some were ignoring his deft ability to bring back street lights or oversee the unlawful encampment injunction but rather more concerned at the policy towards a new hospital in Harlow.

It was at this point that the first murmurings of Momentum started to rear its head. Sure enough it did seem confusing that there were people who were introducing themselves as “Harlow Momentum” as opposed to Harlow Labour. We seemed to be back at the Obeslisk in 1981 again.

In their defence, a few years ago, Harlow about could hardly field a full slate of candidates. Now, it looks very healthy indeed. There has been lots of events organised such as free film shows etc but somewhere along the line there has been a feeling that with left wing groups such as this comes the baggage of internal strife and disaffection.

The departure of Ian Beckett and Waida Forman may just prove it. For Ian and Waida, there is a palpable sense that they did not toe the line.

Certainly, Ian Beckett was always in danger of taking a hit after his outspoken criticism of those he felt were behind the Clempner coup but you have to ask what were the advantages to removing one of the hardest working councillors in the town?

It is still not clear as to why Waida Forman quit. My hunches that it has something not do with the film you see below. Waida’s husband, David Forman, had recently been very critical of Momentum and so when he asked a question on anti-semitism at full council, followed by Tory cllr Shona Johnson’s reference to Harlow Labour activist Brett Hawksbee. which was then followed by cllr Forman informing the chamber that the matter was under investigation. You had the feeling that Waida had gone off message.

It may also be of note that on all three occasions, whispering campaigns against all three have got back to this journalist.

What does this mean to the man on the street? Potentially, lots. There are major companies, major players that felt they had great synergy with the Malcolm Morley/Jon Clempner/Robert Halfon axis. They don’t feel that anymore. That is a concern.

That is not questioning the capabilities of Brian Keane and Mark Ingall.. It is hoped that the portfolio holders continue to take the town forward.

it is just that these are unstable times and if they are chatting to the little old press who else are they chatting to?

Harlow Council needs to be overseen by democratically elected councillors who are in tune with the demands of a town at the heart of the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor, speaking to those with aspirations as well as those living lives of not so quiet desperation.

What has been happening looks like it has come straight out of a left wing playbook. What has happened to Clempner/Beckett/Forman appears to be very similar to what has happened to Chris Leslie/Joan Ryan etc.

It looks like that which is supposed to be manifestations of discipline and democracies instead coming across as demonisation and demagoguery.

You know Labour, if you don’t want people to claim look divided then don’t have Harlow Young Labour and Harlow Momentum meetings at the same time as Harlow council meetings. Thirty evenings in a month and on two occasions you choose the same hour and maybe don’t organise Harlow Labour campaigning at the same time as the chair of Harlow Council’s Civic Service. Then again do what you like and let the electorate decide. Come November in the by-election, May in the local elections and then the General Election.

I will now return to Staff Reporter mode and objective reporting-ish.

I doubt if I am right but then again, as the Persians say: “Doubt is the key to knowledge”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

No Comments for Op-Ed: Harlow Labour and the Great Disruption of 1843:

Leave a Comment Below:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *