CorbynDontMention

Don’t mention Jeremy

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The NEC is now dominated by the right and arrogantly rides roughshod over rules not to its liking. Clive Dean ridicules the debilitating illusions of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

On May 16 the Labour Party selected Simon Lightwood as candidate for the forthcoming Wakefield by-election, caused by the resignation of disgraced Tory MP, Imran Khan.

However, just before the vote between the two shortlisted Starmerite hopefuls, the 16-strong Constituency Labour Party executive resigned en masse and led a walkout from the selection meeting. This was in protest at the way the process had been rigged to exclude any meaningful involvement of local members, contrary to party rules.

A rule change was passed at the Labour conference last September that requires a majority of local representatives on the panel selecting the shortlist for a parliamentary by-election. However, as in the three previous by-elections, this rule has been ignored by the party’s national executive committee, with just a single local voice allowed on the panel of five.[1]

You might think this arrogant disregard for the rules by the NEC would deter those claiming to be on the party’s ‘left’ from placing their hopes in further tinkering rule changes, but far from it. A recent email to members of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (entitled ‘Justice for Jeremy – should be the priority at annual conference!’) is urging its members to promote a rule change through their CLPs. This particular change is intended to allow Jeremy Corbyn to stand as an official Labour candidate in the next general election, even though he has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party precisely to prevent him from standing.

To achieve this trick requires some legalese in wording. The rule being changed currently begins: “If a CLP is represented in parliament by a member of the PLP …”; and is followed by sub-clauses detailing the processes for trigger ballots and reselection. The proposed new wording reads:

If a CLP is represented in parliament by either a member of the PLP or by a member of the Labour Party who has not had their membership rights to stand in internal selections to represent the party as a publicly elected representative suspended under the provisions of chapters 1, 2 or 6 of this rule book …

… then a further sub-clause is added to nullify any selection rushed through before this year’s conference in an effort to beat the rule change. The whole thing is a blatant contrivance to allow Jeremy Corbyn to keep his Islington North seat despite the machinations of Starmer and the PLP. After all, though he remains suspended from the PLP, he was reinstated as a Labour Party member in November 2020 after a 19-day suspension. But this rule change has a novel extra hurdle to clear. The CLPD provides guidance on how to move it within your CLP.

It points out:

Under the draconian restrictions on free speech that have been imposed on official Labour Party meetings it is not permitted to mention Jeremy Corbyn or discuss why he should be treated fairly by the party. This is a result of the extraordinary instructions that the general secretary has issued.

CLPD strongly advises Jeremy’s name should not be mentioned in any Labour Party meeting (branch or CLP) in connection with this rule change. It is not necessary to mention him in official meetings in order to explain the need for the rule book to be democratised in this way.

Pantomime

If the movers are unable to articulate the real purpose of the rule change in their speeches, then presumably they will have to use some other creative method to get the message across. It will be interesting to see how many CLPs manage to successfully submit this rule change before the deadline on June 17.

Then the real fun will begin. First it will need to be accepted as a valid rule change by the conference arrangements committee. In recent years this body has been tolerant of controversial proposals, correctly leaving it to conference to pass or reject them. However, there is no left majority here, so no guarantee it will reach conference floor. If it does, then no doubt it will be strongly opposed by the NEC (which now has a significant rightwing majority). That does not automatically mean it will fall – the NEC opposed the successful ‘by-election selections’ rule change referred to above. But every other CLP rule change fell last year.

There is a good chance that the majority of delegates representing CLPs will vote for it, but its real fate will be decided by trade union block votes. Here the horse-trading behind closed doors comes into play. Even if you have it in black and white, passed by your union’s full policy conference, there is nothing to stop the delegation to conference voting the other way as part of a bigger deal brokered by the general secretary.

But say, despite everything, the left has a good conference and the rule change is passed. What should we expect? Well, the NEC could easily get around it, as it has been doing with the ‘by-elections selections’ rule. Here it simply ‘determined’ that it was ‘inexpertly drafted’ and required NEC guidance to ‘clarify’ it. This guidance effectively turned it on its head, giving the NEC, instead of the local CLPs, a majority on the selection panels.

A more likely outcome is that the NEC will simply suspend Jeremy Corbyn over some other issue – perhaps something he has said criticising Nato during the war in Ukraine could form the basis of a complaint – and suspensions in the Labour Party can drag on for years. Whatever happens, the current balance of forces in Labour points to another defeat for the left, and no Jeremy on the ballot paper.

Clearly this whole pantomime is not the correct way for the Labour left to regroup and begin a fightback following the devastating defeats of the last two and a half years. The Corbyn period provided the left with the opportunity to put its strategy and tactics to the test, but they were found to be wanting. This is not the time for ‘back to business as usual’, as groups like the CLPD maintain: it is time to question everything, especially what socialism means, and what needs to change in the Labour Party to bring it about. The CLPD as an organisation is unworthy of its name. The changes it promotes just tinker around the edges of the rule book, and any ‘left’ victory it might win is dependent on a coalition with the right wing – and we have seen where that leads.

The CLPD will not call for the kind of democracy we need to transform the Labour Party into a genuine workers’ party. It is even against introducing democracy into the left itself. At its AGM earlier this year, questions were asked about its role in the secretive Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) and the way it imposed left candidates for internal party elections. The top-table reply was that the CLGA would not be expanded if it meant including left groups where some members had been expelled from Labour. And there was no chance of any transparency, because the groups that made up the CLGA were sovereign organisations and anyway there was no need to change things: the current set-up was delivering.

In order to make real progress, the Labour left requires its victories in the party to be accompanied by the destruction of the fortresses of the right – the party bureaucracy and domination by the PLP. This means defeating that part of the party that is loyal to the British state and US imperialism. Such an approach has to be based on the ideas of class struggle, the ideas of Marxism. Anything else will just take us further down the Corbyn sinkhole.

[1].  labourlist.org/2022/05/exclusive-labour-accused-of-breaching-rules-in-wakefield-candidate-selection.