LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Battle between party left and right will shape future

THE four week drama of Cllr Tony Griffin, with his supporters and detractors attacking each other in the letters page, has been the best political soap opera in town for some time. I thank the Advertiser for the entertainment and enabling the public a small insight into the factional divisions of the ruling Labour group, which has important implications for the politics of Rotherham for the next generation.

Unlike the other letter writers, I don’t want to express my opinion on Cllr Griffin, but I do feel that after the month long saga your readers deserve some background, appreciating that not everyone is a political nerd like me.

In summary, to his supporters, Cllr Griffin is an outspoken Corbynista fighting for the future of socialism within the Rotherham Labour party, with strong unwaivering values and beliefs.

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To his detractors, Cllr Griffin is everything that Labour has tried to move away from over the last two years, the epitome of middle-class Corbynistas with an arguably unhealthy obsession on certain foreign policy issues, rather than focused on local issues like pot holes and parking.

This can all be viewed as a public reignition of the former internal Rotherham Labour battles during the Corbyn years, when Cllr Griffin (just a lowly parish councillor back then) was part of the left-wing which led the criticism of Sir Kevin Barron, former MP for Rother Valley, and his pro-Brexit deal/anti-Corbyn stance during his last two years in office.

Even after Barron said he was stepping down, the battle between the Corbynista supporters and the soft-left Blairites to install a candidate in Rother Valley led to open warfare when the Momentum backed Sophie Wilson was chosen and resulted in a flop of a general election campaign and a historic 6,000 Conservative majority.

Cllr Griffin has publicly been very unhappy with the new direction under Starmer, declaring he will “stay and fight” after the controversial decision that saw Corbyn lose the whip for refusing to retract his statement that anti-semitism in the Labour party had been overstated for political reasons. This of course is what some of the recent statements on Cllr Griffin have been about, centred on the argument that those that continue to espouse that anti-semitism was overstated should suffer the same punishment as Corbyn and be stripped of the whip. I don’t know enough about Cllr Griffin’s views to comment other than he has made it very clear that Corbyn should be reinstated.

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What we do know is that the local Labour leadership has not publicly spoken out either to criticise or support Cllr Griffin during this public spat, leading some to surmise and reach their own conclusions.

What was noticeable, and dare I say amusing, about last week’s letters from Tony Griffin supporters is that they heavily attacked the current Labour party and overspilled to attacks on John Healey and Sarah Champion. This will certainly lead to new questions about whether anyone knew or authorised the attacks on the loyalist wing by the self-declared “friends” of Cllr Griffin.

There is obviously a lot of bad blood between the two camps of Corbynistas and Starmer loyalists locally and nationally.

Tony Griffin and the other members in his councillor clique, such as Cllr Cooksey and Cllr Baker-Rogers, for the time-being continue to balance their anger at the Starmer leadership as it moves further and further away from the Corbyn policies they support, while continuing to at least in public silently accept what is in effect a very Blairite council lacking any real direction or ambition.

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Chris Read has been severely weakened since the last local elections as he led Labour to their most disastrous local election ever, and is now struggling to defend the Labour legacy of dodgy PFI contracts and public sector deals that have encompassed everything from leisure centres to cemeteries. For their part, Cllr Griffin and his ilk of like-minded Labour backbench councillors have stayed in noticeable stoney silence as the Conservatives and Liberals have attacked the continued legacy of these Blair policies.

If the left had an ambition that the Chris Read leadership would move away from outsourcing, rebalancing pay between the lowest and highest paid in the council, and heavily investing in social housing, then they have failed.

How long they will be happy to continue to rubber stamp their leadership’s decisions remains to be seen.

The next internal battle for this to play out is for selection as the candidate hoping to retake Rother Valley at the next general election for Labour.

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In the new era of Starmerism, the dilemma facing Labour’s left in Rotherham is whether they can with any conviction support a candidate willing to pose for photographs with Starmer, in the knowledge they will be unwilling even to publicly condemn Tory policies such as the Rwanda immigration policy and certainly will not be committed to the left’s key ambitions for nationalisation, public ownership and increased trade union power.

Can they stomach seeing a candidate installed that lacks firm socialist principles and, if unseats the Tories, ending up with another soft-left Kevin Barron Mark 2, who could potentially be a fixture locally for decades to come?

Can they get their act together and find a candidate suitably distanced from the council’s historic record, with a good socialist and union pedigree to get behind and how much will this be thwarted by interference from the Starmer-controlled NEC?

Hopefully this internal Labour drama will continue to play out on these letter pages for the entertainment and information of everyone. While it may seem as inconsequential to many, this battle has the potential to shape Rotherham politics for some time as the factions wrestle for control. Keep a close eye on it.

Mr A A Fletcher, Rother Valley resident