Former MP warns Portsmouth Labour faces '˜civil war' unless crisis is resolved
A FORMER Labour MP is calling on party bosses to sort out growing trouble in its Portsmouth branch.
Syd Rapson says something urgent must be done to stop a ‘civil war’ erupting within Portsmouth Labour heading in to the May local elections.
He believes a far-left movement called Portsmouth Momentum, which supports Jeremy Corbyn, is ‘controlling’ members and making them hostile to anyone against the party leader.
It comes after Sue Castillon quit as chair of the city Labour branch, saying her role had become ‘untenable’ due to the abusive behaviour of members.
Portsmouth councillor Aiden Gray is stepping down in May in light of the party’s direction, and Labour council group leader, Cllr John Ferrett, has clashed with pro-Corbyn supporters.
Mr Rapson, who represented Portsmouth North for Labour between 1997 and 2005, said: ‘I’ve contacted the party nationally to sort out the problems in the city.
‘It needs someone from outside to come in and see what is going on and pull people together.
‘We are heading to the elections in May.
‘Although we haven’t got a lot to lose as a party, as we don’t run the council, we have to build our base for the future.
‘We are not going to do it fighting. We will go into the elections with a civil war in Portsmouth. We have got to try and restore our position.’
Mr Rapson, who is still an active Labour member, added: ‘Momentum seems to be controlling a large number of members, yet it is not necessarily made up of Labour members.
‘We have never had an “alien” organisation in our midst pulling the levers of power in the Labour party.’
Sion Reynolds, deputy Portsmouth Labour chairman, said he was a Momentum follower but has now ‘stepped away’ from being associated with it given that he is ‘in line’ to be branch chair and needs to represent everyone.
But Mr Reynolds said: ‘There are many, many Momentum supporters in Portsmouth Labour Party.
‘The membership of the party has increased since last May from 400 to 1,000. We have had 600 people coming into the party locally, many of them appear to support Jeremy Corbyn.’
But he admitted ‘one or two’ of these Momentum followers may be affiliated with other left-wing groups.
Mr Reynolds added: ‘The atmosphere in the party locally isn’t great. I want to see people being able to discuss openly, in a way that is friendly and respectful.
‘I am working closely with regional officers and with the regional director to try and steady the ship.’