The Labour left must get better organised, argues Gary Toms of Labour Party Marxists
The right held onto its Young Labour seat on the national executive committee by just a single vote. The Momentum-backed candidate, James Elliot, lost out to ‘moderate’ Jasmin Beckett, who had received the support of the hard-right Labour First and Progress groups. The circumstances of this victory at the February 27-28 Scarborough conference have been hotly contested.
The Unite union has called for an inquiry after it was revealed that Jasmin Beckett won her slender majority on the back of a foul Facebook and Twitter campaign against her rival. Beckett had suggested: “Get a few people tweeting saying, ‘Shocked my union GMB are supporting James Elliott, who is anti-Semitic’?” The national secretary of Labour Students, Josh Woolas, advised: “Needs to look like a genuine complaint about racism and not a smear campaign!” (Morning Star February 26). The full exchange between Beckett and her supporters has since been published anonymously on Twitter.
This was an attempt to link James Elliot to accusations levelled at the Oxford University Labour Club by its former co-chair, Alex Chalmers. His resignation came following the OULC’s announcement of support for Israeli Apartheid Week (and, of course, comrade Elliot is an ex-Oxford student). The Labour Party has since opened an inquiry (it is still unpublished, though its impartiality has been called into question, not least because it was conducted by Michael Rubin, a Progress partisan). The fact of the matter is that the OULC is simply committed to solidarity with the Palestinian people – not to demonising Jews. Nonetheless, the ridiculous accusations of anti-Semitism levelled by Alex Chalmers have been presented by McCarthyite journalists, such as Dan Hodges, as if they were simply facts (see ‘Is the Labour Party’s problem with racism beyond repair?’ The Daily Telegraph February 29).
Doubtless there are a tiny number of individuals within the left milieu who hold anti-Semitic views and obviously such people have no place within our movement. However, anyone expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people automatically faces charges of anti-Semitism. An accusation which comes from people who are determined to support Israel despite its dispossession of millions of Palestinians, despite its occupation of the West Bank and despite its readying itself for another bout of ethnic cleansing.
As well as the smear campaign conducted by Beckett and co, there are other complaints. Apparently she falsely presented herself to some voters as being linked to Momentum. Despite the tiny margin of her victory, calls for a recount were rejected by returning officer Stephen Donnelly (who, according to Jon Lansman, is a “recruiting sergeant for Progress”).1
Predictably there were accusations from the right of “intimidation” and “bullying” by the left and the unions. One delegate, Charlotte, a Unite shop steward, posted a picture of herself having a telephone conversation as ‘evidence’ of such behaviour. Unite official Zac Harvey had asked to see her ballot paper so as to check that she was abiding by her union mandate. Rightwing Labour MPs – eg, John Mann – and the bourgeois press, from The Guardian rightwards, have subsequently mounted a campaign for Young Labour to be made into a “safe space” (for Labour First and Progress).
It is worth mentioning that a week before the Young Labour conference, Momentum-backed candidates had won every seat on the youth wing’s national committee, a sure sign of the resurgence of the left – for the first time in 30 years. Given this, it is more than a pity that the Young Labour rep on the NEC remains a rightwinger. So Scarborough was a missed opportunity for Momentum (hopefully comrade Elliot will be lodging an appeal).
While the right urges the membership to ‘unite against the Tories’, it does everything to undermine the Jeremy Corbyn leadership and attack the left (seeking the expulsion of socialists with links to the far left, etc). The shrill condemnation of Momentum by rightwing MPs, their Labour First co-thinkers and the mainstream media is part of an ongoing civil war, even if the Parliamentary Labour Party right is not yet prepared to launch an open leadership bid at the moment – Corbyn is far too popular within the labour movement (even more so than when he was elected leader).
Against the machinations of the right our best response is organisation. Momentum needs cohesion and a clear orientation towards transforming the party through carrying out a democratic revolution. The right is not a legitimate trend in the labour movement. They are class enemies and ought to be driven out.
1 . www.leftfutures.org/2016/02/young-labour-in-left-landslide-but-chaos-manipulation-smears-mar-nec-election.