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Labour Faces New Challenge From the Left as Just Stop Oil-Linked Movement Throws Weight Behind Independent Candidates

The new ‘Assemble’ movement plans to back left-wing candidates running against Keir Starmer’s party, Byline Times can reveal

Members of the Just Stop Oil breakout group ‘Youth Demand’ target Labour party HQ on Rushworth street with red paint in April 2024. Credit Milo Chandler/Alamy Live News

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A new grassroots organisation that is part of Just Stop Oil’s campaign network has announced a plan to establish so-called People’s Assemblies across the UK – which aims to mobilise support for independent candidates in this year’s General Election. 

The Assemble initiative aims to create a national network of local gatherings where residents can participate directly in decision-making processes –  and try and win seats in Parliament on a new grassroots-democratic platform. 

It comes after independent candidates, including a handful from George Galloway’s Workers’ Party picked up seats from Labour in the recent local elections, as they capitalised on voter anger over Sir Keir Starmer’s position on the war in Gaza. 

The concept behind the People’s Assemblies, a spokesperson for the group said, is to provide a platform where local communities can discuss and decide how they wish to be governed. 

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A spokesperson for the group added: “Assemble is part of the Umbrella network along with Just Stop Oil and Youth Demand. This grassroots organisation will fund, support, and build a national network of People’s Assemblies – big meetups with neighbours – where local people decide how to run this country.

“It is delivering a systematic plan to stand hundreds of progressive independent candidates in the 2024 general election, in alliance with other radical networks. It will help build a mass movement which combines with a new House of the People, representing ordinary British people, to rival the House of Commons, supported by newly elected independent MPs.”

This weekend, Assemble will host a free conference in Birmingham, alongside what could become a new party dubbed ‘Reliance’. The event is the first in a series that will take place over the summer, in cities like Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, and Liverpool. 

In the first launch event, activists plan to discuss “Britain’s complicity in Gaza”, “dangerous pollution” and have pledged they will not “swear loyalty to one leader or one group” or “get bossed around”. 

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As the Independent reported on Friday, it is spearheaded by the vice-chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and civil engineering professor at the University of Birmingham, Kamel Hawwash. Prof Hawwash plans to try and unseat Labour Friends of Israel chairman Steve McCabe in his Selby Oak seat.

Reliance describes itself as a Birmingham-based “movement composed of candidates who are independent with a shared set of ideals, who are accountable, community-focused and with a moral compass who strive to change the broken political system that represents the interests of the establishment and preserves the status quo.” 

The weekend’s conference will include Claudia Webbe (independent MP for Leicester East) among its speakers. Webbe was found guilty of a charge of harassment against a friend of her partner in 2021, and subsequently suspended from the Labour Party. 

Also billed to speak are Ian Hodson, Baker’s Union President, and Fadel Takrouri (Founder of Reliance and the former Labour director for the West Midlands under Jeremy Corbyn. 

JSO-linked Assemble plans to work alongside groups like Collective, Ken Loach’s For The Many, and The Muslim Vote, and will be supporting independent candidates like Leanne Mohamad (Ilford North), Shannel Johnson (independent Redbridge councillor) , and Tanushka Marah (Hove Portslade). Ilford North’s current MP is Labour’s Wes Streeting, often seen as someone on the right of Labour’s parliamentary party.

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The organisation has experience in building large-scale social movements, as demonstrated by the prominence of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, both of which are part of the broader Umbrella network. Assemble is also inviting interested individuals to participate in weekly national briefing calls. 

But they will face an uphill battle under the First Past the Post voting system, and Labour’s current 30-point lead over the Conservatives.  

Tanushka Marah, independent candidate for Hove Portslade said in a recent speech: “I’d like to tell you about new ideas emerging – about ward-based people’s assemblies, even a long term goal from Assembly, emerging from XR and Just Stop Oil, for a House of the People, to replace the House of Lords.

“We are working with Assemble and other coalitions of independents to create a new model of grassroots democracy. We must radically overhaul our politics – the 20th century political model is dying. A new way of doing politics is needed to stop our addiction to war as we walk blindfolded into climate catastrophe.”

One Labour staffer told Byline Times they believed Labour’s position on Gaza, including calling for an immediate ceasefire, was closer to the new party’s than to the Government’s.

And a Labour spokesman told the Independent: “Keir Starmer has been clear that we need to see an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the immediate release of all hostages, and unimpeded aid that can be delivered regularly, quickly and safely. We must prevent any further civilian deaths, and with more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering in Rafah, an Israeli offensive must not go ahead.

“Last week’s local election results showed that people are putting their trust in this changed Labour Party.”

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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