Screaming, bullying, laziness and voting for the opposition: Welcome to Wirral Labour party

Uncut interviews veteran Labour official and northern legend, Sheila Murphy

“I’m holding onto my membership by my fingertips,” says an exasperated Sheila Murphy as we sit having coffee pondering the state of the party. It’s a sobering comment from Labour’s former top official in the north of England. However, she wants to voice her frustrations in public for the first time.

“I accept the left has have taken over. We’re a democratic party and I accept all that. I just think our electoral chances, both locally and nationally are at risk because of their behaviour,” she says.

What she means, it turns out, is a combination of bullying, extreme levels of micro-control and indolence from the hard left in her local party on the Wirral where she now lives, after retiring as the party’s former ‘super’ director covering the three northern regions.

“Forty-nine years a member and I’ve campaigned for every leader since Harold Wilson. I worked as hard for Michael Foot as I did for Tony Blair.”

For Sheila Murphy, campaigning for Labour is just second nature – but not to the thousands of new members that have flocked to the party under Jeremy Corbyn. Campaigning duties are still mainly carried out by the old hands who turn out to knock on doors, deliver leaflets or staff the phone banks, week in week out, all-year round.

Annoying though that is, she wants to speak out after facing bullying herself by some of the new members. “We have a new hard core whose behaviour is nasty, vicious, and controlling,” she says. “It’s a return to the factionalism of the 1980s. And we all know how that worked out.”

One recent incident saw a local male councillor scream in Murphy’s face demanding to know who had “given her permission” to be out door knocking. One of the women activists Murphy was with was so distraught she had to be driven home.

She reports this kind of aggravation and centralising control is now commonplace, but her major gripe concerns the behaviour of the hard left during the last local elections. Murphy was asked by the leader of the council and the local candidate to lead the campaign in a target ward as they tried to oust a Green councillor.

They lost, narrowly, by 72 votes. “We managed to speak to 4,000 people during the campaign and it was clear that some of our new members were actually voting Green,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

“We were knocking on these people’s doors and they were openly telling us they were voting Green instead of Labour and even had Green posters in their window.  I reported them to the Local Campaign Forum and was told: ‘It’s their choice’.” For good measure, the local branch even posted on their Facebook page that the Greens were not the problem – their Labour council was.

Banned from attending the branch by officers to offer a de-brief on the campaign, she had her efforts dismissed as “crap” by the local chair. Undaunted, she organised a “thank you” letter to voters. This act of defiance saw the chair post another message on Facebook, warning local people that the group out campaigning, which included the leader of the council (in his own ward), were not representing the Labour party.

“Honestly, looking back I wonder why I bothered!” she says with a wry smile. “But this is my party and I’m not being put off by bullies. Especially when they’re not prepared to do the work that keeps the party alive. Incidentally, no campaigning has been done in this ward for three months since I stopped organising, but the Greens are out in force determined to win the second seat at the next elections in May.”

Although retired from the party staff and a grandmother of eight, Sheila Murphy is something of a Labour legend and still in high demand as a campaign organiser.

Ed Miliband personally asked her to come out of retirement to sort out Labour’s faltering ground campaign during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. She was then involved in the successful effort to defeat Esther McVey in Wirral West in 2015.

After heading Yvette Cooper’s leadership campaign in 2015, Murphy ran Luciana Berger’s bid to become the Labour candidate for metro mayor of the Liverpool city-region – then went on to run Steve Rotheram’s actual metro mayor election campaign.

Her criticisms about the toxic culture in parts of her local party are specific. “My beef is not with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. I was often in the Green Room with him at events during the 2015 leadership campaign with Yvette and he was very kind to me,” she emphasises.

“Jeremy is our leader and I’d never say anything in public against him personally, but we’ve now got some members, acting in his name, who are completely out of control,” she says.

“He doesn’t seem to be directing them and neither does Jon Lansman [the founder of Momentum]. They are literally killing the party. Many long standing members have given up, choosing not to attend meetings or are simply resigning from the party.”

Painting a picture of Momentum on the Wirral as an undisciplined militia rather than a professional army, Murphy reports the left returning to bad habits. “Branches, CLPs the LCF have gone back to tabling motions – mostly against their own council.”

There’s also a fear of widespread deselections as the process to choose council candidates begins. “Hard working councillors are telling me that their mental health is suffering as a result of the pressures from local party members. It’s one of the reasons I have decided to speak out. I know I’ll be vilified for having done so,” she says.

“It’s just so frustrating. We’re not discussing the key issues or standing up for real people,” she complains. “Housing and Universal Credit don’t get a look in when we can pass resolutions against the newly established NHS birthing unit, or demand the whip is removed from Frank Field, or oppose the proposal to build a golf resort – anything that attacks the Labour Council.”

The fate of local MPs inevitably comes up in the conversation, with reported moves to deselect Field, who represents nearby Birkenhead. “If they move against Frank and he stands as an independent they are seriously underestimating how loyal the voters are to him personally and many in the party think he will walk it and take members with him.”

For a disciplined old soldier of the party like Murphy, it’s the lack of focus that irks. “They are just so out of touch with ordinary people and don’t seem to care whether or not Labour wins. They care more about ‘who controls what’ in the party rather than in getting Labour elected.

“They see members like me as the enemy and simply have no interest in working together.”

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15 Responses to “Screaming, bullying, laziness and voting for the opposition: Welcome to Wirral Labour party”

  1. A Wirral Labour Woman says:

    It is shameful what is happening in the Labour Party in Wirral.
    Bullying, intimidation, abuse and control – these are NOT our Labour Party values.
    They speak of democracy, inclusivity and collectivism – they are anything but!
    They sabotage, criticise, and attack our party whilst propping up this dreadful Tory government.
    Thank you for your courage, conviction and action Sheila Murphy. and for speaking out about what is going on

  2. Louise says:

    I am shocked by the constant sniping, wirral Labour group is absolutely full of bullying and nastiness. I would love to blame the left but this was happening befor Corbyn was ever on a ballot paper. I’m afraid Wirral Labour group cabinet behave in such a way to discredit and bully anyone who suggest change, change has to happen and top Labour councillors need to stop lining their pockets. It’s time for change and Wirral residents are begging for change, we don’t need private costly consultants to tell us how to do things, when we have such a range of highly skilled professionals as members who are willingly trying to help. Sheila may be stuck in the old times were we are told and all follow like sheep, those times have changed and everyone needs to move into the modern times.
    Causing trouble seems to be the way of the old guard!! Wirral meeting are pleasant and full of debate, before we were afraid to challenge, now we can speak and enjoy meetings again.

  3. Dave says:

    As a local member i really don’t recognise the picture painted here. The word ‘bullying’ is used but the only potential example of bullying provided is an instance of yelling. The context is not presented.

    Of course it is frustrating when younger or newer members of an organisation join and make changes. As an experienced campaigner and member, Murphy is entitled to hold a view about that. But disagreeing with people is ot the same as being bullied. Democracy is not bullying. Tabling motions is not bullying.

    If Murphy wants local members to work with her it would help if she does not smear them as bullies for exercising the powers bestowed on them by her party. If she has a problem with members having the power to table motions or vote for things or express their views within the rules of the party, she should work to change those rules.

  4. Yo Sushi says:


  5. Anon says:

    I am glad that there are evidently still some Wirral Labour members commenting here who have not experienced any of the behaviour described.

    However, I must say, I wholly recognise the behaviour Sheila describes here and have witnessed some of the incidents she discusses personally. There are too many members at the moment who want things done their way or no way. They shut down conversation, debate, and attempts at reasoning and have been hostile and aggressive towards members who aren’t in their cliques as they don’t want to hear any other perspective than their own.

    I have seen members criticise and put down the efforts of those who have been campaigning week in, week out and try to make it very difficult for any campaigning to take place at all without their full agreement (which is nigh impossible to acquire) – yet they aren’t the ones who go out to do any of this, they just prefer to pontificate from the sidelines. Meetings both at branch and CLP have, of late, been farcical as a result and those behaving in this nasty, petty manner should be very ashamed of themselves.

    We should be welcoming members to meetings, not trying to intimidate them until they stop coming – these meetings should be about sharing ideas, debate, and compromise to work towards a common goal. Members shouldn’t be sniding at each other or making engaging with the local branches an unbearable experience. It’s such a shame because there’s clearly a lot of passion there at the centre of all of this, but instead of having a conversation and both sides compromising to find ways around things that suit everyone, it has become a case of one faction, against another, against another, with whoever can shout the loudest getting their own way and it’s not going to get any of us anywhere.

  6. Dave Roberts says:

    It is instructive that Dave thinks that yelling at people is the only evidence of bullying presented by Ms Murphy. That on its own is unacceptable never mind anything stronger. I recognise what is happening in The Wirral from the situation in many parts of London especially Harringay. It’s Momentum and the loony left who have now joined Labour who are responsible but I am afraid the situation will get worse before it gets better.

  7. Dan says:

    I’d be interested to know in which context it is acceptable for a councillor to scream in the faces of a member. Surely it breaches the Council’s code of conduct as well as that of Labour?

    JC and the ‘new’ Labour Party was meant to be about opening things up to members, yet we’ve seen more centralisation and more command and control than we had even under Blair!

  8. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Sheila Murphy,
    Leave. Your loyalty to The Labour Party is a joke.
    The Labour Party lost its direction in the 1970’s. It has spiraled out of control ever since. The Labour Party gave the world Tony Blair. The war monger. GW Bush ‘s little helper in an illegal war that resulted in the death of millions and the destruction of the middle east that continues to this day.
    Please dont tell me of the good things Labour has done. In comparison to The Iraq war nothing compares. There is no excuse.
    The Labour Party’s present woes are all of its own making. It deserves all that is coming down the line and believe me there is much more humilaition to come. Maybe a bit of honesty over the war crimes of Blair at the time might have changed things but I doubt it. The only honest voice heard was that of Robin Cook. The rest of The Party went along with Blair. All of them. Too many good jobs to rock the boat. Even to this day The Labour Party is in denial over Blair’s crimes against humanity.
    So I hope you understand why I cannot take your hand wringing tales from The Wirral seriously. None the less if any others have similar stories from else where in the country, especially north London please keep them coming. It really does brighten up my day.

  9. Anon says:

    Believe me, as a Wirral Labour Party member this is absolutely happening, and worse. Branch members screaming “fascist” and “we’re coming for you next” at their own councillors. Hundreds of new members not helping campaign in any way, shape or form, but choosing instead to abuse their councillors and pass anti-Labour Council motions at every opportunity. I have witnessed this on a regular basis and been on the receiving end. Oh and btw – I’m a Corbynite. So think on when you reply. Sheila is bang on the money here.

  10. Vern says:

    Corbyn and Momentum are destroying a once great party – its now significantly out of control and is fuelled by hate and division. Ironically, they are the few in the party, somehow controlling the many. Carnage is coming.

  11. New Wirral Member says:

    I’m a local member and can’t say I recognise this picture either. What I have noticed is a desire for change within the local party to enhance democratic decision making and accountability within the party in order that residents are better served. I understand that change is often met with resistance, but as a new member who joined to help improve the lives of ordinary people and who has played a very active role in campaigning, it’s very disappointing to be painted in this light.

  12. Arthur Smith says:

    As a Wirral Labour Party Member, I would also like to reject all notions of this bullying, screaming etc being widespread in Wirral’s branches. Obviously, is does happen in isolated cases: namely, when Cllr Michael Sullivan screams at Pensby branch members, which was reported to Wirral West CLP (jumped before pushed perhaps?) or The Blessed Sheila when she grabs members and screams at them to fuck off! (witnessed) or when she tells her brainwashed minions “the fightback has begun” again, heavily witnessed, and just a couple of examples of behaviour from this leg-end. She’s a careerist bully, nothing more, nothing less. Her main gripe, as with the rest of the Progress Tendency, is that the Party is more open and democratic than it has been in years. Councillors will be selected on merit, by well-attended meetings of local members, not appointed by Sheila’s drones, at meetings attended by 5 members in wards of ten and a half thousand voters! That’s what really hurts control freaks like Murphy, the fact that people disagree with her dictats, that members can run campaigns better than her, and that those campaigns are no longer the outdated, negative crap that put so many voters off taking part in. Don’t believe me? Look at her Facebook photos! Everyone a Progress member, a paid Councillor, or a wannabe whose only ambition is to get THEIR snouts in the trough. The fact that we’re getting genuinely concerned residents coming forward, who believe that being a councillor means more than a payday or a lift up the greasy pole, really, really hurts these people. Expect to see more of them slagging off the Party that made them, and jumping ship before the members who see them for what they are get shut of them. Sheila Murphy is a legend in her own mind, and only those Wirral members who are less intelligent than her, with nothing to offer but naked ambition, will recognise this pathetic portrait of a Party that is clearly libellous. Expect to see more failed careerists jumping ship and clearing off to the private sector, like Warren Ward. By the way, if Michael Sullivan is so brave and principled, why isn’t he calling a by-election? He wasn’t elected as an Independent after all!

  13. Anon says:

    Hey Arthur, I assume with your utter contempt for Sheila and Wirral Councillors who have their ‘snouts in the trough’ that you’re quite happy to put yourself forward for local elections? The nasty tone of your comment has proved the point about bullying perfectly. And let’s be clear about things, Mike Sullivan won Labour Pensby, and played a large part in keeping it. Let’s see how we fare now he’s gone.

  14. John P Reid says:

    Is frank field award if this, it’s near his seat right?

  15. Rob Smiley says:

    A few points that require clarification.

    Sheila Murphy is not a member of Birkenhead and Tranmere branch. For reasons that must remain confidential, national party guidelines recommend she not accept an invitation to attend that one meeting of B+T branch given the circumstances involved. The branch has not “banned” her from attending.

    The 2018 campaign involved a new, and relatively unknown, candidate standing for the first time, against a well-known and highly promoted incumbent of 8 years. The candidate had been selected by the branch on the basis that he would be unencumbered by association with previous campaigns. Elsewhere, it was decided that the seat in question should be “targeted” and campaigners from outside the branch be brought in to supervise proceedings. Many in the branch felt, understandably, marginalised by this move by the local party hierarchy. Ms Murphy was appointed to act as agent and campaign manager without input from the branch.

    Ms Murphy’s handling of the campaign drew some criticism from local members, and in light of the subsequent narrow defeat, those members felt their questioning of her “traditional” methods was vindicated. Ms Murphy’s response to this criticism was regarded, by some, as less than constructive.

    It should be noted that a lot of these concerns had been voiced more than 8 years previously, when Labour still held the seat, but anyone speaking out was regarded as a malcontent or troublemaker. To be fair, the situation wasn’t helped by the party haemorrhaging members during the late nineties and early noughties… to the extent that party membership had dropped from around 200 in the late 80s to a total of 6 when the seat was lost in 2010.

    I should know. I was one of those six.

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