The New Battle of Lewisham

This weekend, the Observer has been documenting the growing power of Momentum within the Labour Party, casting the spotlight on Lewisham, which has been a key battleground between traditional Labour activists and Momentum members.

The paper's political editor Heather Stewart follows Heidi Alexander MP on the campaign trail and examines attitudes towards Corbynism among local voters and members:

Alexander says Corbyn is “Marmite” in Lewisham East. “Even amongst Labour voters, the range of views in this constituency at the last election was [like] nothing I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “You had people who loved Jeremy, people voting for Labour despite Jeremy – and a whole load in the middle who just wanted to kick the Tories out.”

But there could hardly be a better illustration of the power shift under way than a public meeting later the same day in nearby New Cross, in the neighbouring constituency of Lewisham Deptford, where Vicky Foxcroft is the MP.

Labour’s candidate for the directly elected post of executive mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, has come along to be grilled by members of the local Momentum group. Many of them backed an alternative candidate, Paul Bell – and are calling for the post to be abolished – but Egan is keen to win them over.

More than 40 people of a range of ages are perched on chairs in New Cross Learning, a former council library, now staffed largely by volunteers. Sharing the platform, and kicking off the discussion, is Jill Mountford – a combative and controversial local figure. As a prime mover in a group called the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), she has been suspended from Labour, and remains outside the party...

For Alexander, in Lewisham East, the influx of new members has sometimes represented a direct challenge. She was the first member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet to tender her resignation in the “coup” against him in 2016.

Afterwards, she endured a stormy CLP meeting in a hot and overcrowded hall followed by months of wrangling with local members who objected to her decision.

“There was a hardcore of Momentum who thought, we’ll take over the constituency and we’ll get rid of Heidi,” says the then chair of the CLP, who does not want her name to be published for professional reasons...

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