Category Archives: Elections in the Labour Party

Eighteen theses on Labour

Disputation on the self-defeating common sense of governmentalism and the illusions of broad left alternatives

1. The December 2019 general election defeat and Sir Keir Starmer’s subsequent leadership victory shows the bankruptcy of the reformist strategy for socialism. With Jeremy Corbyn they had their ideal leader, with John McDonnell they had their ideal shadow chancellor, with It’s time for real change they had their ideal manifesto.

2. Labour’s poor performance in 2019 is not only explained by ‘getting Brexit done’. Jeremy Corbyn faced unremitting hostility from the mainstream media, which did everything it could to feed and promote the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. But to have expected anything else would have been naive. The mainstream media “carry out a system-supportive propaganda function” (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky). In the absence of a full-spectrum mass media in the hands of the labour movement, Corbyn was forced to undergo trial by the bourgeois establishment’s papers and journals, radio and TV stations, and news and blog sites. He was never going to win.

3. A Corbyn-led government was not a prospect that the ruling class was prepared to countenance. Economically, they deemed its programme grossly irresponsible. It could, they feared, trigger a crisis of expectations. More than that, they considered Corbyn and his close allies totally unreliable when it came to international politics. So, if by some fluke a Corbyn-led government had taken office, their response would have been such tactics as an organised run on the pound, wrecking operations by the Parliamentary Labour Party right, MI5 subversion, an army mutiny, US ‘pushback’, a royal-blessed coup, etc.

4. While the chances of a Corbyn-led government were always exceedingly remote, that cannot be said of the possibility of making changes to the Labour Party’s rules and structures. Yet, whereas Tony Blair carried out a (counter) revolution, all that Corbyn managed to achieve were a few tinkering reforms. That need not have been the case. With a more determined, more politically clear-sighted left, there really could have been a revolution in the party.

6. However, the left is politically weak. Too often it was determined to simply tail Corbyn, while Corbyn was determined to maintain unity with the openly pro-capitalist right in the PLP. That meant dropping open selection of parliamentary candidates, leaving Blair’s clause four untouched and refusing to confront and call out the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign.

7. Corbyn did not protest, even as friend after friend, ally after ally, was thrown to the wolves. Instead of taking the fight to the Zionist forces, such as Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement (formerly Poale Zion), and championing the Palestinian cause through promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, on his watch there was a concerted drive to increase the number of expulsions and suspensions. The Corbyn-Formby regime itself became an agent of the witch-hunt. To even deny that Labour has a real, a significant, a widespread problem with anti-Semitism became a disciplinary offence in its own right.

8. Not surprisingly, with the December 2019 general election defeat, many disorientated former Corbyn supporters variously concluded that: there needs to be a safe, acceptable, suitably centrist Labour Party that can ‘rewin the trust’ of the so-called Jewish community; that Labour can never be changed; that the fight for radical social change lies not in permanent political organisation, but in ephemeral street protests, economic strikes, tenant campaigns; etc.

9. Also not surprisingly, Starmer – former member of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency and editor of Socialist Alternatives – stood for leader promising to remain fully committed to It’s time for real change. A cynical lie designed to pull wool over gullible eyes. Apart from getting himself into No10, he has no master plan nowadays. The latest round of the witch-hunt under Starmer owes nothing to defeating, finally seeing-off the left, that is for sure. With Corbyn gone, Rebecca Long-Bailey soundly beaten, David Evans as general secretary, a rightwing NEC majority, the PLP overwhelmingly dominated by the right and the three big union affiliates, GMB, Unite and Unison, unlikely to rock the boat, he has a controlling grip on the Labour Party.

10. No less to the point, the left in the CLPs is much reduced and organisations such as the Socialist Campaign Group, Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy are cowardly and display not the least appetite for a concerted fightback. Self-serving careerism counts for far more than the principle of solidarity: there is, for example, still a steadfast refusal to call out the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ big lie.

11. No, the suspensions and expulsions under Starmer are a matter of display. He wants to prove to the capitalist media, big business, the City, the establishment, the armed forces and the US state department that, as prime minister, he would be trustworthy, utterly loyal to the constitution, the UK state and its international alliances. That is why Starmer promises to “uproot” anti-Semitism, why Jeremy Corbyn remains suspended from the PLP, why Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Labour in Exile Network, Resist and Socialist Appeal have been banned and why Ken Loach was auto-expelled.

12. The failures, the cowardice, the treachery, the constantly repeated pattern of the official Labour left becoming the official Labour right has to be explained in materialist terms. It cannot be put down to individual oddity, personal weakness or some congenital tendency to betray. The Labour left is still the natural home for many trade union militants, socialist campaigners and those committed to radical social change. But Labour’s position as the alternative party of government also makes the official Labour left a breeding ground for careerists, who, often starting off with good intentions, slowly or speedily evolve to the right. The lure of elected positions, generous expense accounts, lucrative sinecures, sly backhanders, mixing with the great and good and eventually entry into the lower ranks of the bourgeoisie all smooth the way.

13. Both the official Labour left and the official Labour right share a ‘common sense’ that politics are about winning elections. Therefore, policies are limited to what can be ‘sold’ to the electorate. But it is the mainstream capitalist media that, ultimately, decides what is to be regarded as sensible and what is to be dismissed as sectarian craziness. Anything that gets in the way of winning elections must therefore be avoided like the plague. Hence it is not only the Labour right which attempts to restrict, muddy and segment debate, and impose bureaucratic limits and measures to sideline awkward minorities. The official Labour left behaves in exactly the same anti-democratic manner.

14. The Labour Party, as presently constituted, is certainly not a “true mass organisation of the working class”. Doubtless, although it is down by a hundred thousand, Labour still has a mass membership and relies on trade union money and working class voters. But, in the last analysis, what decides the class character of a political party is its leadership and its programme.

15. The election of Corbyn did not produce fundamental change here. Neither For the many, not the few (2017) nor It’s time for real change (2019) questioned the monarchical constitution, the standing army, judge-made law or the US-dominated international order, let alone the system of wage-slavery. So, even under Corbyn, Labour was neither a democratic nor a socialist party. It was, and remains, a bourgeois workers’ party, which has its place in capitalism’s many defensive moats, ramparts and walls.

16. Despite the failure of Corbyn and the election of Starmer, we remain committed to the complete transformation of the Labour Party, forging it into a permanent united front of the working class and equipping it with solid Marxist principles and a tried-and-tested Marxist leadership.

17. However, this positive perspective for Labour can only be realised through the struggle to unite the left inside and outside the Labour Party – but not into a broad front based on soggy, middle-ground compromises, like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Left Unity, Respect or the Socialist Alliance. Sadly, all these have been wasted opportunities. No, we need to unite in building a mass Marxist party – a party that applies to affiliate to Labour, but can operate within the party despite bans and proscriptions.

18. Without a mass Marxist party, the left is doomed to suffer one Sisyphean defeat after another.

The terrible logic of appeasement

Carla Roberts says that candidates in the Labour leadership elections can – and should be – pressurised from the left

We know, of course, that Jeremy Corbyn is not, and never has been, a Marxist. He is a sincere, but dithering, left reformist who will do anything to try and appease his opponents rather than fight them – we have had plenty of opportunity to witness this political weakness over the last five years.

And yet we have to admit to still being gobsmacked about his proposed nominations for the House of Lords. Firstly, the man is supposed to be a republican. Why on earth would he nominate anybody for this wretched symbol of privilege, whose only purpose is to stop and delay the ‘commoners’ from making any decisions that are seen as too radical? We note that Labour’s manifesto in the 2019 election promised to abolish the House of Lords (though it wants it replaced with an elected “senate” – but why should there be any checks and balances from above or “the regions”? Surely they’re voting for MPs in those “regions” too).

During his first leadership campaign in 2015, Corbyn told Channel 4 News he saw “no case” for appointing new peers. A position he should have stuck to. But he quickly backtracked, successively nominating, amongst others, Shami Chakrabarti in 2016 and, in 2018, former witch-finder general Iain McNicol. As general secretary of the Labour Party, McNicol helped to launch and maintain the witch-hunt against Corbyn and the left and appointed many of the rightwingers who still control layer upon layer of the party bureaucracy. He now goes by the fetching title, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, and makes ample use of claiming the attendance allowance of £305 per day (which he enjoys in addition to subsidised restaurant facilities and travel expenses).

His nomination was a way to sweeten and hasten his overdue departure from the general secretary post. We would have preferred it if Corbyn had tried to get him sacked outright – was there no chance of a majority on the national executive committee for that? Still, we can understand why Corbyn went down this route: it was a way to get rid of one of his biggest and most powerful opponents in the middle of the civil war, when he had everything still to play for.

The situation today is vastly different – Corbyn has finally been forced out of his job. Which is why we really cannot see any rational reason for him nominating Tom Watson, just before his own departure as leader of the Labour Party. For four and a half years, Twatson did everything in his power to undermine the leader. He orchestrated both coups against him, launched a number of open letters, and cohered the right wing inside the Labour Party. So, even if Corbyn had foolishly promised him a seat in the House of Lords in order to get rid of him just before the election, the result of that election surely should have led him to rip up that promise – after all, Watson’s activities have played a huge role in making sure Labour under the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn got trounced.

But the fact that Corbyn seems to feel the need to honour that promise just shows that he is and remains very much part of ‘the system’ – an honourable and thereby rather ineffective Labour politician. The nomination of the former speaker is easier to understand. John Bercow has been on a journey. Beginning as a Monday Club Tory he is now described as an “independent”. He certainly made life difficult for Theresa May and Boris Johnson over Brexit. That said, we are more than puzzled that Corbyn’s close comrades, Karie Murphy and Katy Clark, would be interested in taking up a position in that house of privilege. Like the hundreds of people who have over the years rejected the so-called ‘honours’ bestowed by the monarch, real socialists should just say no.

This is part of the astonishing legacy that Corbyn leaves behind. Yes, there was a mass influx into the party, a real sense of hope that things could be different. But we have to be honest: the political opportunities that opened up with Corbyn’s election were all but wasted. There has been almost no progress in terms of the democratisation of the party. Corbyn squandered the opportunity to reintroduce the mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates at the 2018 conference, by instructing Len McCluskey to use Unite’s block vote to stop open selection. And, worst of all, Corbyn and his allies have silently stood by and watched, as hundreds of his supporters were thrown to the wolves in the ongoing witch-hunt in the party.

The refusal by Corbyn and his advisors to stand up to the right is already having serious political consequences that go far wider than the Labour Party: council after council is banning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which before long could well be declared anti-Semitic and thereby illegal (witness the decision of the German parliament). Perhaps we will soon see official regulations characterising anti-Zionism as violating official anti-racism, being closely associated with terrorist tendencies and therefore notifiable to the Prevent bureaucracy (I am little bit surprised it has not happened already). Any war in the Middle East, especially if it involves Israel, will increase the intensity and scope of the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. Anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism could easily fall into the net too.

10 pledges

This is, of course, why most of the candidates in the Labour leadership elections have been falling over themselves to sign up to the so-called ‘10 pledges’ published by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. They all want to appear respectable and seen to be doing ‘everything in their power to eradicate anti-Semitism from the party’. However, most members know from first-hand experience that this is based on a lie. Anti-Semitism is not rife in the Labour Party – there have been a miniscule number of genuine cases, while most allegations were trumped up in order to smear Corbyn.

No wonder really that Rebecca Long Bailey’s enthusiastic support for the pledges has been hugely controversial on the left. There is a real risk that this has, in effect, handed the leadership to Keir Starmer: support for her campaign, which was only ever lukewarm, has cooled considerably as a result.

The reason is obvious. The pro-Tory BoD demands that the Labour Party hands over its disciplinary process to “an independent provider” (the BoD would probably volunteer itself) and wants to decide who should or should not be a member of the party: “prominent offenders such as Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker” should receive lifetime bans, the BoD demands.

As a much-publicised open letter by Labour Against the Witchhunt to Rebecca Long-Bailey (signed by almost 4,500 people) states,

The BoD is not a neutral body, but one with an evident political agenda: to attack, weaken and destroy any opposition to the systematic and brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli government. The BoD encourages the conflation of criticism of the Israeli government (anti-Zionism), with anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews). The BoD, and its individual officers, have maintained open hostility to Labour since Corbyn took leadership of the party. They organised the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration outside parliament in March 2018, which was clearly aimed at weakening and attacking Jeremy Corbyn.

We believe that the BoD’s ‘10 pledges’ are an outrageous political interference by an organisation that is overtly hostile to today’s Labour Party and everything it stands for. If implemented, these policies would, for example, result in the suspensions and expulsions of the thousands of Labour members who have stood in open solidarity with those wrongly accused of anti-Semitism, including Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone and Marc Wadsworth.

It was refreshing to see that Richard Burgon, standing for the deputy leader of the party, used the official hustings meeting in Liverpool last week to volunteer his position: “I have not signed and will not sign the 10 pledges. I have concerns, for example, about the outsourcing our disciplinary process.” He also said that he wants to work with all Jewish organisations and not just the ones the BoD considers worthy (needless to say, Jewish Voice for Labour is excluded from its list). He also pointed out that, “On the IHRA definition, the party agreed to add in a clear statement that it wouldn’t undermine freedom of expression on Israel and Palestine. These are points I want to raise with the Board of Deputies.”

Dawn Butler, at the same hustings event, also said she has not signed the pledges – however, in a rather rambling contribution, she suggested that instead she wants to make sure that the “report being produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into the Labour Party is fully implemented”. Without even knowing what kind of results or recommendations this biased body will come up with! Even the centrist, Angela Rayner, who has signed the pledges, disagreed with its key demand to hand over the disciplinary process: “I don’t want to outsource the problem – we have to deal with it ourselves.”

Rebecca Long Bailey would do well to row back on her support for the pledges – though her campaign manager, Jon Lansman, is probably stopping her from doing so. But, just like Corbyn, she will never be able to bend backwards far enough to appease the right. Surely, that is a lesson we all should have learned over the last five years.

Open selection

Lansman and Long Bailey have instead decided to go for the ‘open selection’ ticket to save her campaign. Momentum has sent out a rather strange email, celebrating this “huge news”: “Our movement has been pushing for open selections for years, and this announcement shows that Rebecca is a Labour leadership candidate who really listens to members.”

Well, it is not exactly the whole movement that has been pushing for open selection, is it, Jon? As soon as Corbyn became leader, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy – which then still involved Lansman – ditched its decades-long demand for the mandatory reselection of all parliamentary candidates, because Jeremy Corbyn was reluctant to go for it (in one of his many futile attempts to keep the right on board). And in the run-up to the 2018 party conference, Momentum argued against open selection, pushing for the lame reform of the trigger ballot instead.

However, when the campaign for mandatory reselection became absolutely huge in the party, Lansman changed tack and jumped on the bandwagon – one week before conference. Only to jump off it again at conference itself, when Corbyn let it be known publicly that he favoured the reform of the trigger ballot. While over 90% of the Constituency Labour Party delegates voted in favour of the rule change, the unions voted it down and went with the NEC compromise on reforming the trigger ballot. We have seen how useless that rule change has been – the few trigger ballots that did take place ended up with the confirmation of the sitting MP.

It remains to be seen though if this is enough to turn around Long Bailey’s faltering campaign. There is no doubt that she will join Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy on the ballot paper. Unite is about to nominate her, pushing her over the required 5% hurdle from affiliated organisations. The official decision will be made on January 24, but United Left, which won a majority of seats on the 63-strong Unite executive in 2017, has already endorsed her – and, somewhat more surprisingly, Richard Burgon for deputy. It would take some extraordinary action by Unite leader Len McCluskey to stop either from getting onto the ballot paper.

Emily Thornberry will hopefully soon go the same way as Jess Phillips, who has just stepped down from the leadership race – into political oblivion. Phillips proved to be absolutely useless, even when playing to a friendly media. Thornberry, on the other hand, has managed to alienate the left and the right and is bound to drop out of the race soon, having secured zero nominations, either from CLPs or affiliates. Lisa Nandy, who has just been nominated by the GMB union, has done surprisingly well and might yet slip in through the middle – she has quite successfully positioned herself as the ‘sensible candidate’ between the cold careerist, Starmer, and the Corbyn continuity candidate, Long Bailey. She probably does appeal to many of the over 100,000 new members who have joined since the 2019 election (the majority of whom will probably be somewhere on the political ‘soft left’, rather than the hard left or right of the party). In this context, it is interesting to note that only 15,000 people have paid £25 to become ‘registered supporters’ of the party in order to vote. Compare that to the 180,000 who made use of this provision in 2016 – overwhelmingly in order to support Jeremy Corbyn.

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. We urge Labour members to set Long Bailey a number of conditions before they agree to their CLP nominating her. All of these demands go to the heart of the ongoing civil war in the Labour Party:

  • 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?

Put pressure on Rebecca Long-Bailey

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.

Lesson learnt?

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

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). Navendu Mishra selfie with JLMNav 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.

‘10 pledges’

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.

BOD pleddges

Corbynism is over

Mike Macnair argues that the very aim of winning government office is misconceived and self-defeating

first published  by the Weekly Worker

Labour’s severe defeat means the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party; he has already said he will step down. The right is demanding his quick departure, in the hope that they can make a coup against the left and purge the party; the left has been pressing for a slower transition in the hope that they can salvage something. Even if the Labour left succeeds in this aim, ‘Corbynism’ as it has existed since 2015 is over.

Corbynism offered, for a while, an actual opposition which could give a voice to those who had been silenced by the insistence of ‘New Labour’ (and ‘Orange Book’ Liberalism) that only free-market solutions were possible. But that opposition has now failed as a result of Jeremy Corbyn and his allies’ commitment to attempting to form the next government – already announced in 2015. 1)Eg. Corbyn, quoted at http://labourlist.org/2015/10/jeremy-corbyn-campaigners-set-up-new-momentum-group/ (Oct 8 2015) The Labour left may survive the defeat; but it is most likely to do so if it accepts that what is on the agenda is the struggle for an opposition and a voice, not – until we have substantially rebuilt the movement – the immediate struggle for a government.

It is constitutional loyalism which lies behind Labour’s ‘governmental illness’ shared by left and right. To overcome the problem needs a disloyalist party, one which seeks in the long term to overthrow the constitution rather than to play the constitutional game. That is – a Communist Party. Such a party would still be needed if Labour could be turned into a real united front of the class by eliminating the witch-hunting operations and allowing the far left to openly affiliate to the party. It will be equally needed if – as seems likely – the right wing of the trade union leaderships put the Labour right back in the saddle and the party is thoroughly purged to prevent a repetition of 2015 in the future.

Effective

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader created a fundamental sea-change in British politics which Labour’s defeat has not reversed – yet. The sea-change consisted in the fact that a large constituency of opposition to the claims of neoliberalism, which had been effectively silenced under Blair, found a voice.

Throughout the Blairite ascendancy the subcurrent of popular grumbling could not find open expression. The Labour left remained utterly marginal. Although the far left outside the party could play an important role in single-issue street protests, as in the anti-war movement, its division into confessional sects (and the consequent unprincipled splitting operations of the Socialist Party in the Socialist Alliance, and then of the Socialist Workers’ Party in Respect, in search of apparatus control, and the self-sterilising bureaucratism of Left Unity) prevented it from giving a political voice to the silenced constituency.

Because of this new oppositional voice, Cameron failed to do to Labour in England in 2016 what he had done to it in Scotland in 2014 – get Labour to be ‘statesmanlike’ by backing the ‘establishment’ view, and then knife them with an English-nationalist turn. So it was necessary, for Cameron’s project, to take a sharp turn to the left as the Tories have succeeded in doing under Boris Johnson.

Theresa May fairly clearly thought that a limited rhetorical shift to the left would be enough. But in the 2017 election flatly contradictory messages came from May and some of her semi-‘Red Tory’ advisers on the one hand, and from the Chancellor ‘spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond on the other; and from a media trying simultaneously to promote Tory populism against Labour ‘elitism’ while denouncing Corbyn’s very limited reform proposals as wild ultra-leftism – a story which could not possibly be persuasive. Clinging desperately to it, May came across as the ‘May-Bot’ and lost the narrow majority she had inherited.2)Cf eg. A McElvoy, ‘Is Theresa May’s mix of tax justice, born-again statism and attacks on cartel capitalism a new ‘red’ Toryism?’ The Guardian October 9 2016; and ‘How a gamble that backfired brought Theresa May to the brink’ The Guardian June 11 2017

An immediate consequence was the overthrow, by the UK Supreme Court, of Vince Cable’s abolition of the employment rights by stealth, through raising tribunal fees. The government did not, as Thatcher would have done, promptly reverse the decision by statute.3)More discussion in M Macnair, ‘Rhetoric and political realities’ Weekly Worker August 3 2017 ore, May’s “austerity is over” announcement had to be delayed until October 2018. 4)‘Theresa May declares ‘austerity is over’ after eight years of cuts and tax increases’ Independent October 3 2018 ‘Austerity’ was always really a policy of privatisations and redistribution towards the Tories’ favoured groups; 5)Cf eg C Berry, ‘Austerity is over? It never really began’ https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/austerity-ending-hypothesis/. Also, among many others, A Chakrabortty, ‘Austerity is far more than just cuts. It’s about privatising everything we own’ The Guardian May 24 2016 but the abandonment of the rhetoric was evidence that concessions had to be made, as a result of the creation of a voice for the silenced opposition.

The effects persist, in Johnson’s announcement of major infrastructure spending in the north, and in his explicit rejection of Brino by proposing a hard deadline on trade negotiations with the EU. Thus Johnson is still, even after his election victory, continuing to push Brexit-based nationalist populism.6)‘Boris Johnson plans to pour billions into Midlands and North’ Financial Times December 15 2019; ‘Brexit bill to rule out extension to transition period’ BBC News December 17 2019. A more general (if implausible) argument is made by Robert Colvile, ‘Johnson is serious about Tory transformation’ The Times December 16 2019

Concessions can be won from a Tory government – if an open opposition projects a radical alternative. A Labour government, on the other hand, might force through the most effective anti-union laws, as the 1974-79 Wilson-Callaghan government did, or privatisations and fraudulent ‘private finance initiative’ deals which cripple health and education with debt burdens, as the 1997-2010 Blair-Brown government did.

Governmentalism

Corbyn and his associates could only see a way forward through winning a general election and forming a government. The politics of effective long-term opposition were beyond their ken – and remain beyond the horizon of most of the left. This short time-horizon and fetishism of government can be seen in three ways.

First, the Labour right have been campaigning for a Tory victory since 2015, through endless attacks on Corbyn, his allies and his authority, hoping it would allow them to regain control of the party as happened after 1983. In addition, they have been pushing endlessly for the ‘statesmanlike’ remain policy. The right’s victories in moving Labour towards remain were decisive in returning Tory MPs in traditional Labour seats. The Corbyn leadership has done hardly anything to fight this.

Any actual crack-down on the Labour right would have been met with a split and the creation of a new ‘Social Democrat Party’ – leading to electoral defeat, as in 1983 and 1987. Allowing the right freedom to campaign against the party from within, however, has led to just such a defeat – and, moreover, a severe defeat, without even the merit a split might have had of getting rid of many of the right-wingers or creating the conditions for a revival of grassroots party organisations which rightist apparatchiks have held onto and held down. In the medium-term aftermath of the 1931 split and defeat, Labour rebuilt its base. Without ousting the right and de-managerializing the left, that cannot be done.

Second, the Labour leadership has essentially adopted a policy dependent on not confronting the effective monopoly of the advertising-funded and hence corrupt media and the state’s BBC. The very late production of the manifesto – some of it quite good – and the accompanying efforts to use ‘new media’ to get the message across, were too little, too late. The leadership’s policy has been – most strikingly in relation to the ‘anti-Semitism’ defamation – to try to divert attention, and hope any issues except the NHS and ‘austerity’ will go away.

This issue is interlocked with that of the Labour right. To campaign effectively against media defamation, and to get the Corbynistas’ policy messages across, would have required reviving the actual face-to-face operations of the constituency and ward branch parties, as well as Labour working to create its own media. This would require facing down the Labour right, who remain determined to hold on to the party apparat and to keep the party dependent on the corrupt media.

Thirdly, Labour manoeuvring itself into a position where it would be seen as a remainer party was not only the work of the party right, nor even of them together with the purblind ‘left remainers’. Rather, the party leadership has been persistently seeking and demanding an early general election. It was the hope of bringing the government down through parliamentary manoeuvres which led them to support a succession of remainer procedural initiatives in which Tory remainers refused to actually bring the government down. The Labour parliamentary leadership, by stringing along with these initiatives, presented themselves over months as a mere tail to the parliamentary cretinism of the Tory and Lib Dem remainers.

The denouement of this policy arrived at the end of October, when the SNP and Lib Dems backed Johnson’s call for a general election, forcing Labour’s hand and producing an election at Johnson’s preferred time and on Johnson’s terms. 7)J Rentoul ‘Boris Johnson has got the election he wanted – thanks to Jo Swinson’ Independent October 29; ‘Blundering Swinson’s gamble on forcing poll’ The Express December 15 2019 Idiot elements of the left, like Socialist Worker, were still demanding an early election when it was entirely clear that this was Johnson’s demand. But the idiocy was prepared by the Labour leadership themselves over the past four years.

Loyalist delusions

Underlying Labour’s governmental illness is a delusion that if Labour commits to playing by the rules of the constitutional order, partial concessions to the working class can be won through forming a government. This supposition is expressed in the idea that the UK is a ‘democracy’ and that the governmentalist line is ‘democratic socialism’. 2015-19 was a demonstration of the falsity of the idea. The capitalist class does not play by the rules. Loyalty to the United States, and willingness to accept the generalised bribery regime (‘sleaze’), are demanded of British politicians by both the state core and the corrupt media. The demands are enforced by Big Lie techniques: the ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal is only a ‘Zinoviev letter’ on a larger scale. 8)‘Zinoviev letter was dirty trick by MI6’ The Guardian February 4 1999 The Liberal Democrats and the Scots nats are not potential allies of Labour, but political enemies. Concessions are won from the capitalists not by playing nice, but by the combination of carrot and stick; Corbyn and McDonnell’s policy has been all carrot and no stick.

The stick has to be threats to the constitutional order. The concessions of 1948-78 were products of Soviet tanks on the Elbe, mass communist parties in France, southern Europe and in many colonial countries, and broader mass hostility to capitalism as a result of the 1930s and 40s. As long as the capitalists think that their regime will remain undisturbed, the concessions disappear; the brief life of Labour as an opposition has produced some limited concessions.

The future of the Labour Party can go in one of two directions. The first, if unlikely, would be a break with the right and their witch-hunting and constituting Labour as a united front party of the whole workers’ movement – a party of opposition, because it could not hope to form a government at the next general election.

Such a party would need within it an affiliate party which posed socialism – not as moral values but as an actual alternative to capitalist order – and fought openly for the overthrow of the constitution. It would work continuously to discredit both British and ‘European’ nationalism, the monarchy and House of Lords, the officer corps, the sale and denial of justice through the ‘free market in legal services’, the advertising-funded media, and so on: a Communist Party, in other words. That long-term activity would undermine the manipulations of the regime which have allowed Johnson to win.

The more likely future is that the trade union leaders are conned into purging the party of leftists for the benefit of the rightwing, in the hope of a new 1997. This hope is delusional: as we have seen in Scotland in 2015 and in northern and midlands England in this election, the restoration of Blairism leads only to Pasokification and the marginalization of Labour.

But suppose it happens. The left would be motivated to try, yet again, to create a new party. But if they don’t draw the lesson of breaking with the Corbynites’ governmental illness, what they will create will inevitably be a new Syriza at best – the road to another episode of demoralization. It remains the case that what is needed and missing is a party disloyal to the constitution: a Communist Party l

mike.macnair@weeklyworker.co.uk


  1. ↩︎
  2.   Cf eg. A McElvoy, ‘Is Theresa May’s mix of tax justice, born-again statism and attacks on cartel capitalism a new ‘red’ Toryism?’ The Guardian October 9 2016; and ‘How a gamble that backfired brought Theresa May to the brink’ The Guardian June 11 2017.↩︎
  3.   More discussion in M Macnair, ‘Rhetoric and political realities’ Weekly Worker August 3 2017.↩︎
  4.   ‘Theresa May declares ‘austerity is over’ after eight years of cuts and tax increases’ Independent October 3 2018.↩︎
  5.   Cf eg C Berry, ‘Austerity is over? It never really began’ https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/austerity-ending-hypothesis/. Also, among many others, A Chakrabortty, ‘Austerity is far more than just cuts. It’s about privatising everything we own’ The Guardian May 24 2016.↩︎
  6.   ‘Boris Johnson plans to pour billions into Midlands and North’ Financial Times December 15 2019; ‘Brexit bill to rule out extension to transition period’ BBC News December 17 2019. A more general (if implausible) argument is made by Robert Colvile, ‘Johnson is serious about Tory transformation’ The Times December 16 2019.↩︎
  7.   J Rentoul ‘Boris Johnson has got the election he wanted – thanks to Jo Swinson’ Independent October 29; ‘Blundering Swinson’s gamble on forcing poll’ The Express December 15 2019.↩︎
  8.   ‘Zinoviev letter was dirty trick by MI6’ The Guardian February 4 1999

References

References
1 Eg. Corbyn, quoted at http://labourlist.org/2015/10/jeremy-corbyn-campaigners-set-up-new-momentum-group/ (Oct 8 2015
2 Cf eg. A McElvoy, ‘Is Theresa May’s mix of tax justice, born-again statism and attacks on cartel capitalism a new ‘red’ Toryism?’ The Guardian October 9 2016; and ‘How a gamble that backfired brought Theresa May to the brink’ The Guardian June 11 2017
3 More discussion in M Macnair, ‘Rhetoric and political realities’ Weekly Worker August 3 2017
4 ‘Theresa May declares ‘austerity is over’ after eight years of cuts and tax increases’ Independent October 3 2018
5 Cf eg C Berry, ‘Austerity is over? It never really began’ https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/austerity-ending-hypothesis/. Also, among many others, A Chakrabortty, ‘Austerity is far more than just cuts. It’s about privatising everything we own’ The Guardian May 24 2016
6 ‘Boris Johnson plans to pour billions into Midlands and North’ Financial Times December 15 2019; ‘Brexit bill to rule out extension to transition period’ BBC News December 17 2019. A more general (if implausible) argument is made by Robert Colvile, ‘Johnson is serious about Tory transformation’ The Times December 16 2019
7 J Rentoul ‘Boris Johnson has got the election he wanted – thanks to Jo Swinson’ Independent October 29; ‘Blundering Swinson’s gamble on forcing poll’ The Express December 15 2019
8 ‘Zinoviev letter was dirty trick by MI6’ The Guardian February 4 1999

Possible Corbyn successors: Unworthy crew

Like Corbyn, none of his prospective successors are prepared to challenge the Labour right head on, says Stan Keable

Although not surprising, Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to stand down as leader after resisting for so long the unremitting bullying by Labour’s right wing and the entire establishment is immensely disappointing for the party’s mass rank and file, who would still vote him in, given the chance.

For all their noise, the right cannot force him out. They can easily muster the required 20% of the combined MPs (203) and MEPs (10) to nominate a challenger, but they dare not, because in a ‘one member, one vote’ contest any so-called ‘moderate’ would be thrashed by the leftwing membership.

Corbyn does not have to go; he ought not to resign – he should stay at his post in order to lead the fight to empower Labour’s membership, oust the party’s pro-capitalism career politicians and bureaucrats and show what the workers’ movement can do in opposition. But that is not Corbyn. His time in office has been frittered away appeasing the right, not fighting them.

In the election for leader and deputy leader, when the time comes, each candidate will require nominations by 10% of the combined Parliamentary Labour Party and European PLP – ie, 22 parliamentarians – as well as either 5% of Constituency Labour Parties or “3 affiliates (at least 2 of which shall be trade union affiliates) compromising 5 percent of affiliated membership” (rule 2Bi).

We can be sure, this time, that no rightwing “morons” will ‘lend’ their nominations to a left candidate. But although the parliamentary left can surely muster 22 nominees, can they be brought behind the same candidates for leader and deputy leader – and how will this slate be chosen? If Momentum is touting Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long-Bailey, as the Daily Mail states, we should treat those contenders with some considerable caution.

What an unworthy crew of potential candidates is on offer. None has stood up against the false anti-Semitism claims, as Chris Williamson did; none has shown solidarity with its victims.

Keir Starmer: chair of the PLP and the preferred candidate of its rightwing majority, he is unlikely to gain the votes of the left membership under present circumstances. His claim to be a “socialist” is accompanied by what amounts to a promise to continue appeasing Labour’s Blairites. True, he seems to have been a member of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency and served on the editorial board of Socialist Alternatives (an obscure, soft left, quarterly Pabloite publication). But that was in the 1980s – a lifetime ago.

Emily Thornberry: a wolf in sheep’s clothing, she is apparently loyal to both Corbyn and Labour Friends of Israel, which protects her from the anti-Semitism smear. Can garner left votes by using vicarious anti-fascist rhetoric: she would have fought the blackshirts at Cable Street, of course.

Rebecca Long-Bailey: the continuity candidate promoted by John McDonnell and frequently praised by Len McCluskey.Would use nuclear weapons “if circumstances required” – a signal to the capitalist establishment that she would be a loyal servant of the current order.

Lisa Nandy: a ‘moderate’ remainer, she was suggested as a possible leader by the soft left Owen Jones at the time of the Owen Smith (who?) leadership challenge. Resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in June 2016 as part of the rightwing bid to remove him.

Angela Rayner: softest of the soft left, she preferred Harriet Harman to Corbyn as leader. Voted against an enquiry into the Iraq war and took up the luxury, all-expenses-paid propaganda visit to Israel offered to all new MPs by Labour Friends of Israel. Back in 2015, Angela “ideology never put food on my table” Rayner gave honest praise to Norman Finkelstein’s The holocaust industry as a “seminal” book, but retracted this when faced with the Labour anti-Semitism witch-hunt. When she was shadow education secretary in December 2018, she told the Board of Deputies annual Chanukah reception “how sorry I am for that”. Over the last few days she has pared down her ambitions. The story is that she will run for deputy leader on Long-Bailey’s ticket. Richard Burgon is also considering the same proposition.

Jess Phillips: although the Daily Mail’s favourite, she is being sold as a ‘salt of the earth’ real working class woman from Brum, unlike all those with a London accent. Has the gift of the gab, able to dismiss potential rivals to her left as being not really working class. Has joined with the campaign of expelled Blairite spin doctor Alastair Campbell to recruit 100,000 “centrists” to rejoin the party and prevent figures “similar” to Corbyn “such as Rebecca Long-Bailey or Angela Rayner taking the reins”. She will surely have Tony Blair and some big money behind her campaign – perhaps the prelude to a rightwing split, if a Corbyn-continuity candidate wins. She claims that “millions” have asked her to be Labour leader.

Yvette Cooper: ran against Corbyn in 2015. From the right of the PLP. However, the more thinking sections of the right may well prefer going with a candidate from the shadow cabinet in the expectation that they can be turned against the left – like Neil Kinnock. Doubtless she wants to keep her profile high in the hope of promotion.

Clive Lewis: dabbles with the left occasionally, but has made his position perfectly clear when it comes to the anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism witch-hunt: he is on the wrong side. Lewis talks about wanting to “play a key role in helping rebuilding our party.” By that he means himself as leader and rebuilding the PLP, not Labour’s constituency organisations. He too peddles the line that he will be “able to take the left and centre of the party, and beyond, and be able to defend our democracy and be in a position where aggressive politics of this country can challenge the Conservatives” – code for attacking the left and capitulating to the Blairite right. Paul Mason’s perfect candidate: he too calls for the unity of “left and centre” and “reaching out”.

David Lammy: a failed Blairite, though he has won the support of The Spectator’s Rod Liddle. Stands little chance, given that he is coming from backbench obscurity.

The media mincer

Jim Grant looks back at the Labour leadership’s attempts to conciliate the media

One of the benefits of receiving dozens of emails from various layers of the Labour Party during this election campaign is a clear sense of the leadership’s overall pitch to its own members.

The impression you get is of a siege mentality, particularly in relation to the media. Thus a mass email with Jeremy Corbyn’s name all over it the morning after the leaders debate, noting that £100,000 had been raised after the performance. “If we’re going to take on the billionaire media and Boris Johnson’s billionaire backers, it’s going to take more than that,” the Dear Leader wisely noted. At the manifesto launch, Corbyn openly challenged the bourgeois media to do its worst.

This attitude is welcome and appropriate, of course, and, as I write, the possibility is not excluded that it will ‘work’ and cause a dramatic upset. There is a real danger, however, that it is too little, and far too late – at least to make much difference to the result of the December 12 election, or to the shape of the government that emerges from it.

For the Corbyn leadership’s attitude to the bourgeois media has been conciliatory and occasionally cringe-inducing. We have sat through far too many attempts to appear ‘responsible’, when it comes to the economy, promises to ‘balance the budget’, apologies for their more hair-raising bits of past leftism.

On the other hand we have had attempts to ingratiate, rather than detoxify, of which Corbyn’s appearance on The last leg in a full-length, snowy-white pimp coat is the most striking; but more generally the Corbyn movement has attempted to make use of ‘non-traditional’ outlets of various sorts, from social media in general to encouraging an ecosystem of Labour-supporting news sites of varying quality (Skwawkbox, The Canary and so on). Corbyn and McDonnell even showed up in the football magazine When Saturday Comes, to promote their football-related manifesto pledges and make awkward banter about their Arsenal and Liverpool commitments.

It must be said that this strategy has not, in the end, succeeded in seriously threatening the mainstream media narrative. The recent absurd non-scandal about whether Corbyn watches the queen’s Christmas message or not is a case in point: if he does not, he is hardly alone in the Britain of 2019, so why even respond to such frivolous questions? But, even if he had demanded the ITV presenters stick to serious matters, it would have been pitched as his being ‘evasive’. The Skwawkbox-type operations will denounce this absurd deviousness on the part of the mainstream media, but they are nonetheless dragged into treating such absurdities seriously by responding to them.

The clearest example, however, is the hysteria over the Labour Party’s supposed ‘anti-Semitism’ problem. Though the agenda issues ultimately from the US state department and – concurrently – an Israeli establishment facing a pile-up of bad PR from small matters like the collective punishment of Gazans and unending far-right governments, it is the media that retails the lies. And lies they are: despite years of dragnet-fishing, even Jesus could not feed so many hungry hacks with such a meagre catch of actual anti-Semites.

Throughout this sorry saga, Corbyn and co have capitulated again and again. These lies have never been denounced. Natural justice was left in smoking ruins, for the sake of looking sufficiently penitent before the degenerate persons in the press gallery. There might have been a rationale for justifying this if capitulating had actually worked, and the sting had been drawn from the issue of Zionism and by extension Corbyn’s state-loyalism. It might then have gone down in the history books like other dishonourable compromises, like the mouths Nye Bevan stuffed with gold to get the national health service set up. Instead, lies gave way to grovelling, and grovelling to new lies; and ally after ally was thrown under the bus. It did not work. It was worse than a crime – it was a mistake, as was once said of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

Opportunity

This all goes back to the contradictions at the heart of the Corbyn moment, and thus to the beginning of his run at the leadership four and a half years ago. A complacent Labour right helped put him on the ballot to make the whole affair seem more democratic – they had already taken steps to turn leadership elections into something resembling American primaries. This turned out to be an epic tactical blunder, and years of pent-up frustration – fuelled by anger at the manifestly unjust aftermath of the financial crisis that saw the elite shake out fine, while the rest of us suffered – spilled into a spontaneous mass movement.

This presented the British labour movement with a historic opportunity, but it did so at a moment of profound weakness. The radical left was divided between the remnants of the various Marxist grouplets and the even-more-fissile identity politics that tended to replace them. Union membership was at a low ebb. The local Labour Party organisations, into which these new members were thrust, were in disarray after decades of bureaucratic obstruction. The leadership now belonged to the left, but the machine and the parliamentary party to the right, and so life at the grassroots was choked off by the desperate police actions of the old guard. In Labour Party Marxists, we called – indeed, starting before the Corbyn movement – for the democratic transformation of the Labour Party, but the priority for everyone else was a Labour government with Corbyn in No10, with the result that this institutional disrepair has never been addressed seriously.

One aspect of that disrepair – and a very long-standing one – is the weakness of our own media. The Labour Party itself has made apparently no efforts on this front at all – the exhortations of the campaigning office into our inbox will have to do. The papers and wider output of the far left are increasingly dominated by delusional cheerleading for ephemeral protest movements, often of very dubious politics (wide-eyed enthusiasm for the protests in Hong Kong and les gilets jaunes in France, despite the obvious participation of the far right, spring to mind). The closest thing to a bright spot is probably the Morning Star, which has improved in quality – admittedly from a very poor starting position – but it is hamstrung by its absolute unwillingness to criticise the Labour leadership at all, even when it contradicts other deeply held convictions of the Star and its Communist Party of Britain, such as over Brexit.

The shiny new Corbynista outlets are not a long-term solution to this problem, because they are over-fitted to this situation. The refusal to confront the question of the party and the labour movement’s domination by the bureaucracy means working around or outside of such structures, and in effect means the multiplication of fiefdoms. The most striking example of this is not a media outlet, but Momentum – or, to give it its proper name, Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd – proprietor: J Lansman. Yet it is equally true of The Canary, Skwawkbox and co, which are basically beholden to one or another member of King Jeremy’s court in completely opaque and unaccountable ways.

Social media is not the answer either, because Facebook and Twitter are no less in enemy hands than The Daily Telegraph; moreover, it is plain that the ‘wild west’ era of content on these platforms is coming to an end, and moral panics over the far right (and even genocide in Myanmar) are the thin end of a wedge that implies far more pervasive policing of content and subservience to the state.

In truth, the bourgeois news media is having a sticky moment. It is broadly untrusted. Quality of output is way down after decades of cost-cutting exercises; hastily rewritten wire copy and industrially extruded clickbait predominate. The most partisan outlets within it do better – the Daily Mail and Fox News, sure, but The Guardian reached profitability recently on the back of an unending drive for donations and, while it is hardly our idea of a leftwing paper, it is more so than any of its competitors – but only within its immediate target markets. Various attempts at cordons sanitaires around ‘unacceptable’ political outcomes – Corbyn, Brexit, Trump – have failed. The backlash against social media companies, meanwhile, is also in full swing.

In theory, this is a promising situation for the workers’ movement to build up its own organs of mass communication. Unlike the bourgeois media, workers’ media are dependent neither on advertisers nor state largesse; they thrive, if thrive they do, on the creative energy of our movement’s partisans in service of our goals and each other. In a vibrant, democratic movement, the possibilities are very great to supplant bourgeois sources as the media of first resort; and there is no reason why we should stop merely at the level of publications. After all, the structure of the new internet platforms – as this paper has argued repeatedly – is determined no less by capitalist political economy. We should take seriously, for example, this question: what would a search engine that did not ultimately make money by advertising brokerage look like?

Just as Corbyn and co took for granted the structure of the Labour Party, and left the right in charge of its little power bases for far too long, so it refused to denounce the structurally necessary lies of the media. Whatever the December 12 result turned out to be, that was an error in the long-term view, and it remains for us to correct it.

Wales: Blairite right clings on

William Phillips looks at the forthcoming leadership election in Welsh Labour

Jeremy Corbyn was the first Labour Party leader to be elected under the ‘one member, one vote’ system. Welsh Labour might well follow this lead. Its April 20-22 Llandudno conference agreed to review how it elects the Labour leader in Wales – something which became particularly urgent after Carwyn Jones dramatically announced his resignation in his final speech to conference. Elections are due in the autumn.

Under existing rules the leader is chosen through an electoral college system that gives equals votes to (1) members, (2) the unions and other affiliated organisations, and (3) MPs, MEPs and AMs. While Unison and the GMB are keen on retaining their union block votes, they have talked about reducing the vote wielded by the politicians or eliminating it in its entirety. Others, however, including Mark Drakeford – finance secretary in the Welsh government and a candidate to succeed Carwyn Jones – are campaigning for Omov.

Who emerges as the new leader will obviously depend on the election system. But some idea of the balance of forces can be gleaned from Llandudno.

It is unlikely any trend or group would have left conference fully satisfied. “A score draw,” some comrades I spoke to reckoned; “2-1 to the right, but with the second half still to come”, was the verdict of another leftwing delegate. A deep fault line runs between the rank and file, which is left-leaning, and most union bureaucrats, councillors, assembly members, etc, who are still dominated by the right. Whereas the rank and file identify with Corbyn, the officialdom is determined to distance itself from the UK leadership.

Superficially, the bare facts of the conference appear to support a sober assessment for the left. Its candidate for the new post of deputy leader in Wales was defeated. Two motions addressing the electoral college system that delivered this victory for the right were rejected by the standing orders committee (SOC) in the run-up to Llandudno, and energetic lobbying at the event itself by comrades from the Constituency Labour Parties and Welsh Labour Grassroots/Momentum could not reverse the SOC’s ruling.

In November of last year, the Welsh executive committee (WEC) adopted the electoral college for leader and deputy leader elections. The WEC’s contempt for the membership it purports to serve was illustrated by the high-handed way it ignored the pro-Omov submissions from 19 of the 27 CLPs which responded to the membership consultation that itactually initiated.

The anger this sparked on the left is all the more understandable when you look at the victory margin for the right’s candidate for deputy leader, Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris. The result was 51.5% for Harris and 48.5% for the left’s candidate, Julie Morgan. (Their current locations on the political spectrum are relative and highly mobile, it must be said.)

However, burrow deeper into the detail and the real story of the deputy leadership election emerges. In terms of the combined 16,819 votes cast, Morgan had beaten Harris by 9,110 votes to 7,709. Particularly significant was that in the members’ section Morgan won by 6,244 votes to 3,336 – a ratio of almost 2:1 (although on a disappointing turnout of 38.2%).

It was the weighted electoral college system that had swung it for Harris, to the anger and frustration of many. The sections for elected representatives and unions, etc have been so far the least affected by the changes that have come with Corbyn.

Leftwingers are naturally annoyed that their votes were swamped. One particular statistic that is being bitterly repeated by comrades is that the vote of one elected AM or MP is worth the vote of 400 ranks-and-file members.

Omov

There is no question that the campaign for Omov – pushed energetically by many CLPs and members in the branches – will have received a boost from this widely discredited election. The notion that our elected representatives should command such a disproportionately huge influence is clearly absurd. By definition, our MPs, MEPs and AMs are the most susceptible to the seductions of power. They are the people who we really need to keep an eye on.

Tactically, it may be correct to support Omov at this stage in the fight in Welsh Labour. It would certainly make short work of the current leadership of Welsh Labour and install a pro-Corbyn team. However, as a general principle we should be against plebiscites in the party – for electoral contests or otherwise. Comrades should remember that the move to Omov for the election of the party leader began with the likes of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, and culminated in Ed Miliband’s Collins review – it was a rightwing ploy to dilute the working class nature of our party. 1)https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1000/labour-unions-vote-to-be-distanced/

Comrades should bear in mind the farce that was John Lansman’s Momentum coup, cynically wrapped as it was in a veneer of ‘democracy from below’. In fact, this pseudo-inclusive manoeuvre crushed the embryonic democratic structures of the organisation and substituted online voting of the entire, atomised and easily steered membership. Omov in Lansman’s hands was the vehicle for a profoundly undemocratic plot against the interests of the membership – one that stymied Momentum’s potential to be an effective, dynamic left trend in the party.

Moreover – despite our recent negative experience in Wales – it is in general an enormous strength of the Labour Party that it has the affiliation of important unions. It is pleasing that no comrades here seem to have had a ‘Christine Shawcroft moment’2)Specifically, her outburst on Facebook: “It is time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party” – questioning Labour’s historic links with these vital working class institutions. In fact, as part of the democracy review that was won at the Llandudno conference (see below), we should include a commitment to a vigorous national campaign to affiliate all unions to Labour – a development that would go a huge way to making the party a genuine united front of the working class.

That would require rank-and-file initiative in the unions; hard campaigning work and persuasive arguments; and – crucially – a thorough-going democratisation of the unions from top to bottom.

Positive

Despite the results of this year’s conference, there were positive developments that could open up real opportunities for the left.

Firstly there is Mark Drakeford. He is, of this moment, the bookies’ favourite. Drakeford has a long history on the left in Wales and has been a consistent supporter of Corbyn.

Certainly, he could hardly be more inconsistent than the outgoing Blairite incumbent and supporter of Syrian air strikes, Carwyn Jones. The Jones ‘brand’ was undoubtedly tainted by his and his team’s handling of charges of inappropriate sexual conduct against Carl Sargeant, a Welsh government minister – resulting in the man’s suicide in November last year. But politically, Jones had already lost a great deal of authority, given the nature of the general election campaign that official Welsh Labour had foisted on the membership in June 2017.

This was clearly devised to dramatically distance the party in Wales from the leadership in London – Corbyn and McDonnell in particular. The Cardiff HQ drew up a different election platform, and pictures of Corbyn on official material were rarer than dragon’s eggs. Many rank-and-file members were angry at this sidelining of the leader and made their views known with some energy.

Other encouraging developments for the left came out of this year’s conference:

  • CLPs organised a useful fringe meeting on Omov, convened by the umbrella organisation, Cyfle (‘Opportunity’ in Welsh). By all accounts it was a lively meeting, with a combative resolution on display that the fight for the democratisation of our party would go on and intensify.
  • There was also some success for WLG/Momentum in elections to the SOC and even those lefts who were unsuccessful replicated the general pattern of support that was displayed in the deputy leadership contest. That is, the left won amongst the branch members; they lost out to the voting weight of the affiliate organisations.
  • WLG/Momentum-backed candidates won eight out of the 10 available CLP seats on the leadership.

I have already referenced the democracy review. The motion for this was moved by delegate Sue Hagerty and her call for the initial phase of the process to be completed this summer, ending with a special conference on the leadership election method in advance of the election itself, needs to be vigorously supported by the membership (especially because – while this proposal was very popular with delegates – worryingly, the final decision rests with the incoming Welsh executive).

The motion passed with very few dissenters and so comrades in Wales now have an opportunity to discuss this pivotal issue. Although the remit of the democracy review in Wales only covers issues specifically devolved to the WEC (which, happily, include the election format for leadership and deputy leadership elections), the logic of the discussion must take us far beyond these parameters and towards a permanent, democratic and militant organisation of the rank and file in Wales and beyond.