CLPs should demand the Labour leadership candidate distances herself from the ‘10 pledges’, writes Carla Roberts
Labour’s leadership contest has plunged many leftwingers and socialists into demoralisation, depression and despair. We hear of dozens, if not hundreds, of Corbyn supporters who have already dropped out of the party or who say that they want to abstain in the leadership elections. This is understandable, considering the quality of the candidates and their political platforms. But it is also entirely useless as a political strategy and exactly what the right in and outside the party was hoping for.
From our point of view, the Labour Party remains an important arena of the class struggle. This dictates that we actively intervene in this struggle. We have a lot of respect for Chris Williamson, the only MP who actively stood up to the witch-hunters and defended those falsely accused of anti-Semitism. But in our view he was wrong to walk out of the party – and he is wrong to try and set up a new left organisation, which we doubt will differ much politically from what is already on offer: People’s Assembly, Stand up to Racism, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, etc.
This leadership election is an important, politically fluid period and it gives us an opportunity not just to sound out the various candidates, but to attempt to pull them to the left – and in so doing influence Labour members to fight for what is necessary. There is no question that all the candidates could do with being pulled in that direction. Things have been dominated by a contest to see which of them is prepared to take the biggest dump on the political grave of one Jeremy Corbyn. As expected, Jess Philips is in the lead in that respect, closely followed by Emily Thornberry, who only just managed to convince enough MPs to nominate her. She scraped in with 23 nominations, literally at the last minute before the deadline of 2.30pm on January 13. She has, of course, no chance of winning, having managed to make herself incredibly unpopular with the left and the right – and she might yet drop out of the race.
Clive Lewis, who was also struggling to gather more than a handful of nominations, dropped out 20 minutes before the deadline. That has one (admittedly very small) political advantage: it does not confuse the picture about which leadership candidates might be on the ‘left’ – there is nobody apart from Rebecca Long-Bailey. Not that she is shouting it out – in fact, she is doing all she can to convince us she is much more moderate than Corbyn (more on that later).
The contest has also underlined how utterly irrelevant the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs has become since Corbyn became leader in 2015. Instead of developing radical ideas or exercising pressure from the left on ‘their’ party leader, the organisation seems to have all but dissolved. It currently has 22 members and, while all of them nominated Rebecca Long-Bailey, only 11 nominated Richard Burgon, the most leftwing of all the candidates (in his case for deputy leader) – and the group’s secretary! Eight of these ‘socialists’ nominated Angela Rayner for deputy leader, including ‘Momentum MPs’ Nav Mishra and Sam Tarry (the latter has not joined the Socialist Campaign Group). And Marsha de Cordova actually nominated Keir Starmer!
We should make special mention of Nadia Whittome, the MP for Nottingham East, who made some waves when she announced she would only keep the equivalent of “an average worker’s wage” of £35,000, and would donate the remainder of her £79,468 MP’s salary to local charities. Giving it to charity rather than working class organisations or the Labour Party itself is obviously not what we would advocate, but if anybody thought that this might make her a principled socialist, you can think again. She actually nominated Thornberry.
This makes more sense when we learn that Whittome is close to the wretched Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. She served as a national committee member of its pro-‘remain’ front group, Another Europe is Possible. And, when that got taken over, she was on the leadership of the AWL’s new front organisation, Labour for a Socialist Europe. She only managed to secure the selection as parliamentary candidate after local AWLers organised a smear campaign against the locally favoured leftwinger, Louise Regan. After allegations (never substantiated) of anti-Semitism, Regan was swiftly struck off the short list by the cowardly national executive committee – a fate that was bestowed on about a dozen leftwing candidates in the run-up to the snap election.
Thornberry was also nominated by Dawn Butler MP. Anybody considering backing Butler over Richard Burgon for the deputy leadership (or giving her their second vote) might consider that she also played her part in the witch-hunt: she joined rightwingers who protested against Chris Williamson’s reinstatement in June 2019, stating publicly that she “did not agree” with it and that she “probably would have imposed a tougher punishment”. She thereby played an active role in getting him resuspended. Nobody on the left should support her.
What about Burgon then? He is the best of a bad bunch. He is a staunch Corbyn supporter and did not participate in the witch-hunt. That cannot be said of many Labour MPs. But his campaign statement is not exactly hard-hitting – he clearly feels that he has to appeal to wider forces than just the hard core of Corbyn supporters, who are backing him enthusiastically. In his statement, he defends the last two manifestos, makes ample reference to the “communities” the party has to engage with, etc, etc – but says little about any radical policies he might pursue. He hints at perhaps being in favour of mandatory reselection: “I back a fully democratic system for members to choose Labour candidates.” I doubt that opponents of mandatory reselection would argue that the current system is not “fully democratic”.
Most worrying though is his last sentence: “Whoever is leader, I’ll be a team player focussed on our main task: winning back power.” That is exactly what we do not need: more ‘team players’, who are thinking first and foremost about the next general election, while they sacrifice principle after principle, throwing comrade after comrade to the wolves – all in the name of unity with the right. A unity, it should have become obvious by now, that is as unachievable as it is undesirable.
The last five years really should have taught us that Corbyn’s attempt to appease the right was utterly wrong – and suicidal: the right has finally got its scalp. But it will not stop until the last trace of Corbynism has been eradicated from the party. There cannot be any unity with those saboteurs, traitors and Blairites – and we certainly should not try to pursue it. In reality they should have no place in our party.
Much of the organised Labour left seems incapable of learning that lesson. Witness the swooning, utterly uncritical support that groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Red Labour give to Rebecca Long Bailey – simply switching their Corbyn fanboy attitude to the next person, even though this one deserves it even less.
The CLPD is “proud” to endorse Long-Bailey, because of her “commitment to socialism” and “the dedication [she has] shown to bring about a transformative Labour government and [her] support for continuing to democratise our party’s structures”. Worse is Red Labour (luckily this group only exists on the internet): it gushes that Long Bailey is “a socialist through and through”.
Both groups have nothing critical at all to say about her – not about her declaration that she would use nuclear weapons; her dumb article about “progressive patriotism” or her enthusiastic support for the Board of Deputies’ ‘10 pledges’ (on how to expand the witch-hunt).
The Communication Workers Union is showing a bit more imagination – it is asking all candidates a range of questions before it decides which to back. None of those questions are particular radical from our point of view and they all deal with issues primarily facing CWU members only, but that is to be expected. Unison, on the other hand, has fallen in behind Starmer, while the executive of the National Union of Mineworkers has nominated Lisa Nandy. Unite is likely to nominate Rebecca Long-Bailey, while the rightwing GMB union might well get behind the vile Jess Phillips.
We go one step further than the CWU. We urge Labour members to set Long Bailey a number of conditions before they agree to their CLP nominating her:
- Will you retract your support from the Board of Deputies’ 10 Pledges?
- Will you campaign for Labour to support the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign?
- Will you campaign for Labour to fight for the abolition of Trident and for unilateral nuclear disarmament?
- Will you campaign for the mandatory reselection of all parliamentary candidates and the further empowerment of Labour members?
- Will you issue an apology to Chris Williamson and ask him to rejoin the Labour Party?
Momentum owner Jon Lansman meanwhile is tirelessly working to make sure that the special place in hell reserved for former socialists who betray the movement is kept nice and warm for him. After Momentum’s so-called leadership body, the national coordinating group (NCG), agreed to back Rebecca Long Bailey and the dreadful Angela Rayner, earlier this week it sent out an email to its members (and everybody else on its database, it seems).
In true Lansman style, that email was not designed to ask Momentum supporters who they think the best candidates might be – after all, supporters of Jeremy Corbyn might well go for a leftwinger like Burgon over the centrist, Rayner. So, to make sure he got the result he wanted, Lansman’s so-called ballot merely allowed participants to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the NCG’s recommendation.
We also had to chuckle when we received Momentum’s email on January 13, inviting us to apply to become a Momentum-backed candidate in the forthcoming by-election to Labour’s ruling body, the NEC (two current executive members, Nav Mishra and Claudia Webbe, were elected as MPs in the general election). Momentum’s email gives a deadline of January 15 for applications – which is exactly one day after Momentum participated in a meeting of the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance, where it pushed for its already selected candidates to be adopted! Lansman really has no shame.
Incidentally, we hear the meeting did not go well and there might well be two ‘left’ slates. Judging by the candidates put up by Momentum for the NEC in the past, that is no bad thing – they can hardly be described as consistent leftwingers. None of them have stood up to the witch-hunt in the Labour movement – some even participated in it – voting, for example, to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance so-called definition of anti-Semitism, with all its 11 examples (many of which conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism). Nav Mishra, perhaps the worst of the Momentum lot, was even happy to pose in front of a banner of the Jewish Labour Movement when Momentum organised its daft campaign against David Icke’s speaking tour (pictured). This is the same JLM that was revived in 2015 with the explicit purpose of undermining and sabotaging Jeremy Corbyn.
There will be another meeting of the CLGA next week to try and come to an agreement – but we would not be surprised if Lansman once again jumps the gun and simply publishes his preferred list of candidates. One problem with having two leftish slates is, of course, the electoral system used for NEC elections: Unlike the leadership contest, where members can put their candidates in order of preference, members only have one vote for the NEC.
Having said that, we would argue there was not really very much political difference between most of the Momentum NEC members and those supposedly to their right. The only decent NEC member is Darren Williams of Welsh Labour Grassroots – he has publicly defended Chris Williamson, publishes regular updates of what is going on in the NEC and replies openly on social media when members ask him a question.
One thing is for sure: When all nine CLP representatives are up for re-election, the rest of the left has to unite to make sure that the wretched Jon Lansman does not get back on that committee – we have to stand a left candidate against him.
As Rebecca Long-Bailey’s campaign manager, Jon Lansman will have played a big role in getting her to sign up to the Board of Deputies’ ‘10 pledges’, which were published on January 12. She could have replied, for example, that it is not up to the leader of the Labour Party to commit themselves to such pledges, because this would undermine the democratic decision-making process in the party. But she enthusiastically nodded away in the interview with Sky News, having clearly studied the text of the pledges beforehand.
There is also a huge question mark over the legality of some of them – Long Bailey has now committed herself to handing over “regular, detailed case updates” to “Jewish representative bodies”. Needless to say, in the BoD’s view, that excludes “fringe organisations” like Jewish Voice for Labour, because it is non-Zionist. Pro-Zionist organisations like the Jewish Labour Movement, on the other hand, are naturally included – despite the fact that this organisation certainly has fewer active members than the JVL.
We recommend the excellent open letter to Rebecca Long Bailey drafted by Labour Against the Witchhunt, which makes most of the important political points much better than we could. It has been signed by a number of important experts on the Middle East, as well as left organisations and Labour councillors. It attracted almost 2,500 additional signatories within the first 24 hours – please sign if you have not already done so.