Category Archives: the right

George Galloway and Claire Fox: Left cover for Farage’s Brexit Party

Nigel Farage is back. Again. And it looks like his fourth (or is it his fifth?) incarnation might be his most successful one yet. A YouGov poll for the May 23 European Union elections has his Brexit Party on 27% (sharply up from 15% the week before), followed by Labour on 22%, the Tories on 15% and the UK Independence Party on 7%. The Greens are on 10%, the Liberal Democrats on 9% and the saboteurs of the snappily titled ‘Change UK’ – formerly known as The Independent Group – are languishing at 6%. There was an expectation that Change UK and the Lib Dems would get it together in some kind of ‘remain’ alliance – perhaps with the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party. After all, fighting for a second referendum was officially one of the key reasons for TIG’s split from the Labour Party (along with Labour’s alleged widespread anti-Semitism, of course).

But, somewhat surprisingly, it is not to be, as Chuka Ummuna explains:

Change UK-TIG has not been formally approached by any of the other pro-EU parties with a view to running one list of candidates. That is because it is impossible to run one list of candidates unless you merge to form one party, which, not unreasonably, none of us are prepared to do.

Various disappointed bourgeois commentators have already pointed out that there were other methods with which pro-‘remain’ parties could have presented a more effective challenge: for example, by dividing up regions between them.

Overconfident public schoolboy that he is, Ummuna tries to assure them that “there is already a grassroots, ‘remain’ alliance – Change UK-TIG is it.” But, as they have also buggered up their application to stand in the local elections, these anti-Corbyn rightwingers continue to make headlines only for their ineptness: in the first 24 hours after the launch of its EU election campaign, two of Change UK’s European candidates have already been forced to step down for posting racist tweets. The only real ‘success’ they can claim is the fact that they got the Corbyn leadership to take yet another step back: in the hope of stopping other MPs from splitting because they fear being deselected by the local membership, Labour HQ has still not published a timetable to implement the reformed trigger ballot system – the only realistic way local Labour members can get rid of their sitting MP.

The undemocratic selection method for Labour’s EU candidates underlines the problem: ordinary members had zero input. In a brief email they have been informed – after the fact – that, “sitting MEPs who wished to stand again have been re-selected. Candidates for remaining places on the list have been appointed by joint NEC and regional selections boards following interviews earlier this week.” That means 16 out of Labour’s 20 sitting MEPs have automatically been reselected. The newcomers include Jeremy Corbyn’s right-hand woman, Katy Clarke, and Momentum organiser Laura Parker, who has been heavily promoted by her boss, national executive member Jon Lansman. But overall the selection process has demonstrated yet again that the Corbyn leadership is continuing to try and appease the right in the party – even though this demonstratively does not work.

It seems unlikely that those elected on May 23 will remain MEPs only until October 31; we expect there will be more ‘deadlines’ and more extensions of Britain’s EU membership. And the fact that we are the middle of a huge constitutional crisis clearly makes this an important election. When have candidates for MEP positions ever received so much coverage in the national press?

Only one thing seems clear: unless the Tories get shot of Theresa May pronto – replacing her with somebody who looks like he/she could make Brexit work (a miracle) – they will receive an absolute trashing on May 23. A questionnaire of Tory members for the Conservative Home website found 62% were planning to vote for the Brexit Party, and only 23% intended to vote for their own. And a poll of Conservative councillors for the Mail on Sunday found that 40% of them were planning to vote for Nigel Farage’s party, and only 52% for the Tories. Sure, a lot can happen in six weeks and these polls are clearly biased – but undoubtedly they are telling a certain truth.

Nigel Farage’s latest organisation certainly has a lot of forward momentum. Former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe is the latest ‘celebrity’ to join the former Ukip leader. All things being equal, it looks as if the party will do as well as – if not better than – Ukip did at the last European elections in 2014, when it came first with 27.5 % of the vote. The Brexit Party already has a sizeable fraction in the European parliament – 14 of the 24 MEPs elected as Ukip members have already switched allegiance since it was launched in January.

Nigel’s former party, Ukip, meanwhile, has Tommy Robinson, Carl Benjamin (he who “wouldn’t even rape” Jess Phillips MP) and Mark Meechan, also known as Count Dankula – the man who was fined £800 for teaching his dog to perform a Nazi salute when he shouted things like “Sieg Heil”. They seem to be aiming to win the votes of – how to put this? – a particularly narrow and alienated section of the working class, which tends to be male and very white.

Compared to those clowns, the Brexit Party really does look rather sane. Farage is, of course, a Tory at heart, albeit a very rightwing one. He has assured people that he is “sorry to be taking votes from the Conservatives” and that his main target are “disappointed Labour voters in the northern heartlands”.

And a certain Claire Fox is supposed to be covering his left flank. Fox was a leading member in the Revolutionary Communist Party and all its transformations since: Living Marxism, Spiked and the Institute of Ideas, which is now the Academy (!) of Ideas. Her sharp move to the right has been characterised by the belief that capitalism is a really good thing and that the world needs more of it (for example, to end hunger in Africa). For the last decade or so, the output of Fox and other co-thinkers like Frank Furedi and Mick Hume could at best be described as rightwing libertarian.

Another candidate on Farage’s list is Spiked contributor Alka Sehgal Cuthbert. She unconvincingly explains how she, “as an Indian”, can support a party committed to keeping out refugees and foreigners:

The EU is not a haven of social justice – it is a thoroughly racist institution. In order to maintain EU free movement, it has to ensure its borders are kept tightly sealed against non-EU people.

She is obviously aware that Farage happens to be the guy who during the 2016 referendum campaign unveiled his ‘Breaking Point’ poster, which depicted threatening masses of Syrian refugees bound for the UK. So she quickly and unconvincingly points out: “That poster, or anything else Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage may have said, pales into insignificance compared with the egregious racism of the EU.” So Farage is not quite as bad as the EU then. Not much of an endorsement.

Claire Fox, on the other hand, overplays her leftie credentials just a little bit when she assures us in an article for the Daily Mail that she has been a “leftwing campaigner for 35 years. I’ve been arrested on picket lines, led anti-imperialist demonstrations and spoken at anti-deportation protests outside police stations.”It’s been a while though, hasn’t it, Claire?

She leaves out the fact that Spiked has been arguing for years that the labels ‘left’ and ‘right’ are oh so wrong and old-fashioned, because, don’t you know, “We live in a world beyond left and right politics”. In her article, she briefly references this position by claiming that, “the left-right divide has been replaced by democrats vs anti-democrats”, before describing herself as a “lefty” a few more times. To top it all, she claims to be acting in the tradition of the “Levellers during the Civil War, the Chartists in the 19th century or the suffragettes in early 20th”.

For Claire Fox and her ilk, “sovereignty” is the key, because we “remain shackled to Brussels”. She cannot see any problem with standing alongside Farage, because this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to save “our democracy” from those evil foes in the EU. Fox has a problem only with the EU version of capitalism, because it is too regulated and Spiked very much believes in the free market – free for the capitalists, not for immigrants, obviously. Some “lefty”.

Slightly more sad – though not entirely surprising – is George Galloway’s support for Farage. On April 17, he declared on Twitter:

Given the nature of Labour’s Euro-fanatic candidates list and the crucial juncture we have reached in the fight for the full implementation of the Brexit referendum result and for one time only, I will be supporting Nigel Farage in next month’s elections.”

Clearly, he has given up hope of ever getting back into the Labour Party. Galloway seems to agree with Farage on the need for tougher immigration controls: “Being opposed to mass immigration is not (necessarily) racist,” he writes – “only Trotskyites and globalised capitalists really believe in ‘open borders’.”

This is nothing new, of course. He already outlined his reactionary beliefs in 2005 when he was still allied with the Socialist Workers Party in Respect. The SWP kept schtum when he wrote an infamous article in the Morning Star, where he called for “an economic-social-demographic plan for population growth based on a points system and our own needs” (ie, the needs of British capital). He claimed that the scrapping of immigration controls would mean “urging all the most accomplished and determined people to leave the poor countries of the world and come to the richest, [making] the poor countries even poorer and the rich countries richer”. 1)Morning Star February 12 2005

No doubt, Farage will have some success in appealing to Brexit-supporting members of the working class who usually vote Labour and would probably do so in a general election – in fact, we have been rather disturbed to see evidence of that in Corbyn-supporting Facebook groups. Not because of Claire Fox posing unconvincingly as a leftwinger, but because the Labour Party will have to continue to ‘sit on the fence’ for as long as possible, if it does not want to seriously alienate large sections of its electoral base on either side of the Brexit divide.

In the EU poll (as well as the local elections), we urge our supporters to vote Labour – despite the many, many shortcomings of the Corbyn leadership. There remains a window of opportunity to radically transform the Labour Party into a united front of a special kind.

Carla Roberts

References

References
1 Morning Star February 12 2005

Jewish Labour Movement: In praise of Momentum

(our picture shows Momentum’s Navendu Mishra posing with the JLM outside a protest against a David Icke event)

The Jewish Labour Movement has recognised Jon Lansman’s ‘valuable work’ in support of Zionism, reports Carla Roberts

Reports of the AGM of the Jewish Labour Movement have been splashed all over the bourgeois media, because it voted “almost unanimously” for a motion stating that “the leadership of the Labour Party have demonstrated that they are anti-Semitic and have presided over a culture of anti- Semitism”; that “Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be prime minister and that a Labour government led by him would not be in the interest of British Jews”; and that therefore the JLM has “no confidence” in Corbyn.

So far, so predictable. Gathered in the JLM are, after all, some of the most vile rightwingers who have been plotting against Jeremy Corbyn from day one – ie, long before the smear campaign to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism really took off. You would have thought that this campaign – which has proven so incredibly successful since then and has led to the suspensions and expulsions of thousands of Corbyn supporters – would have led to a massive influx into the JLM.

But we read that in “the closest vote of the day” a mere 148 people took part. And apparently that is not down to huge numbers of abstentions, as elsewhere an attendance of 160 has been reported. Now remember, you do not have to be Jewish or a Labour Party member to join the JLM – for example, Gordon Brown recently signed up. He thought it would be a good idea to join his former nemesis, Tony Blair, and engage in a bit of anti-Corbyn propaganda just before the local elections. He ‘stars’ in a video produced by Hope Not Hate – or ‘No Hope, Hate Corbyn’ as it should henceforth be known. In the video, Brown claims that “the Labour Party has let the Jewish community and itself down. They should never have allowed legitimate criticism, that I share, of the current Israeli government to act as a cover for the demonisation of the entire Jewish people.” Who exactly is ‘demonising’ the entire Jewish population, Gordon?

Anyway, on this basis, 160 members coming to an AGM is, to put it mildly, pathetic. This organisation claims to be “the” voice of Jewish members in the Labour Party. Clearly it is not. Jewish Voice for Labour should reconsider its policy of not publishing its membership figures, because it would quite clearly and easily trump this hands down.

This “closest vote of the day” does affect the JVL, as it happens. And it makes for interesting reading. The main motion (besides expressing no confidence in Corbyn) concerned itself, naturally, with anti-Semitism. After all, that is the main reason why the JLM, which was pretty inactive for a number of years, relaunched in 2015 with the expressed aim of harming Jeremy Corbyn, as the award-winning Electronic Intifada has uncovered.

This main motion contained a sentence that charged Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Labour Representation Committee as having “acted … to protect and support those engaging in anti-Semitism”. This displays a considerable lack of actual knowledge when it comes to the left of the party. The CLPD has been shamefully quiet on the witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters.

As for Momentum – or, more precisely, its owner, Jon Lansman – it has been playing a very active role … on the side of the witch-hunters: as soon as Jackie Walker was first suspended from the party (over charges that were later dropped because they were so flimsy), Lansman immediately moved to have her removed as vice-chair of Momentum – with the help of the pro-Zionist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who were in turn booted out during his coup of January 10 2017.

He then turned on his long-term comrade in the CLPD, Pete Willsman, when he was accused of being soft on anti-Semitism, removing him from the Momentum-endorsed list of candidates for Labour’s national executive committee (Willsman was re-elected nevertheless).

When Chris Williamson MP was suspended for stating that the party had “apologised too much” over the charge of anti-Semitism, Lansman did not say a word in his defence – but a day later publicised and spread a letter, in which Labour Party members “sincerely apologise to the Jewish community over our collective failure on the issue”, using similar vocabulary to that of Chris Williamson, but, of course, stating the opposite. In other words, it is a vile, scabbing letter. And that is the role that Jon Lansman has been playing for some time: he is a scab who is not just happy to throw Corbyn supporters to the wolves, but is actively undermining Jeremy Corbyn himself.

The majority at the JLM AGM, however, seems to have recognised that, in fact, Momentum is not the enemy any longer and that Jon Lansman has been acting like a witch-finder general. An amendment was moved to delete Momentum from the list of organisations said to be ‘protecting’ and ‘supporting’ anti-Semites – and replace it with Jewish Voice for Labour. That does indeed make a lot more sense.

The amendment also added a sentence, praising Lansman’s good work: “… Momentum has, for the last year, committed itself to tackling anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and wider society, through educational videos directed at Labour Party members, calling out and reporting anti-Semitic posts online, and joining JLM and other groups in protest against the likes of David Icke and Gilad Atzmon.”

Indeed it has. The mover could have added plenty of other examples of Momentum – just like the JLM – propagating and fostering the lie that Labour is overrun with anti-Semites. Not everybody in the room was convinced – too deep-seated is their hatred of what they conceive to be the left, no doubt. But 81 voted in favour of the amendment, while 67 were against.

Did the latter figure include Ruth Smeeth MP, who replaces Luciana Berger as national parliamentary chair of the JLM? After all, just after the AGM she claimed on Sky News that Jeremy Corbyn was, in fact, “responsible for anti-Semitism inside and outside of the party” (my emphasis).
Last but not least, the AGM also saw the return of Ella Rose, who quietly disappeared after the Al Jazeera documentary The lobby exposed how closely she was working with Shai Masot – “the senior political officer at the centre of the Israeli embassy’s covert efforts to influence British politics in an even more pro-Israel direction”, as the Electronic Intifada reported. In the documentary, she is heard angrily talking about how her previous employment at the Israeli embassy had been publicised: “Anti-Semites, the lot of them”, she fumes. Masot, incidentally, talks about Jackie Walker, whom he calls “problematic”, indicating she was on the Israeli government’s radar. Asked by the Al Jazeera undercover reporter what can be done about Jackie Walker, Masot responds: “Do not let it go.”

At the AGM, Ella Rose was elected unopposed as “JLM network officer” – no prizes for guessing who she might be networking with. But the main question that springs to mind is: why on earth is this rightwing outfit allowed to remain a Labour Party affiliate?

TIG: Getting trigger happy

What does the formation of the so-called Independent Group and the suspension of Chris Williamson tell us about the balance of forces? William Sarsfield gives his view

The Independent Group (TIG) has the potential to grow, despite its initial small numbers, its chaotic launch and the absence of policy. Over the coming weeks and months, we can expect money to flow its way, major news outlets to corral behind it and further defections from the venal majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who have attempted unsuccessfully to thwart and derail the leadership of Corbyn from day one.

TIG currently stands at around 8% in some opinion polls – not huge, but not statistically insignificant either. Moreover, we hear murmurs from Chuka Umunna that up to a third of Labour MPs have expressed some sympathy for the venture. Others may well be in political solidarity in the abstract, but are holding back for fear of the damage a split from Labour may do to their own parliamentary careers.

That said, it is worthwhile underlining just how poor this launch was. Despite the obvious fact that this small splinter from Labour (plus its even smaller Tory cohort) had been quite some time coming, there has been glaring lack of basic spadework. So, despite its relatively long gestation period, there are no books, pamphlets, recruitment videos that let us into the Weltanschauung of these intrepid mould-breakers. Indeed, journalists at the group’s launch reported it was a struggle to find coherent ideas strung together coming from the individual TIGers, let alone the group as a collective.

This underlines that this new organisation has little in the way of political gravitas. It is responsive, short-termist and very much of the political moment – specifically, Brexit; the ‘anti-Semitism contagion’ that apparently continues to rip through Labour’s ranks; and the intensely uncomfortable fact of who the current Labour leader is – his history, links, his ‘unpatriotic’ baggage, etc. For the three Tory TIGers – Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen – the key issue was obviously Brexit, of course.

The response from the Labour leadership has once again been extremely disappointing. Publicly, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have bent over backwards to conciliate – and not just by jumping onto the ‘second referendum’ bandwagon. There has been talk of not enough support offered to Luciana Berger MP – effectively putting two fingers up to the rank and file of her Constituency Labour Party, Wavertree, who were threatened with suspension by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson for having the temerity to discuss two motions of no-confidence in the woman.

It may seem a paradox, but objectively the TIG departure reflects the growing strength of the left in the party. The Labour right views the past three-plus years of Corbyn’s leadership as a disaster. Frustration levels have mounted, as every ploy to get rid of this turbulent priest have come to naught.

Early on, we had the plotting of the unctuous Hilary Benn to organise mass resignations from the shadow cabinet following the EU referendum, which came to nothing. Then the wretched Margaret Hodge and sidekick Ann Coffey (a founding member of TIG, of course) tabled a motion of no confidence in the Labour leader in June 2016 – again over his performance in the EU campaign. It was carried by the PLP by 172 votes to 40, but, when it came to the membership, Corbyn was re-elected with an increased majority.

Below

For Camilla Cavendish – a former advisor to Cameron and now a Financial Times columnist – the establishment of TIG is to be warmly welcomed, primarily as it precipitates the disintegration of the rigid, class-based political architecture of the two-party system. This is regarded as an especially necessary corrective, given what she sees as the appalling rise of runaway ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘bullying’ in today’s Labour Party. Despite this all this, she huffs with an impressive degree of faux incomprehension that Corbyn still has the temerity to make “claims” to have the membership on his side.

Of course, there have also been (partially successful) attempts to tame Corbyn – a stratagem that sporadically ran alongside the ‘anti-Semitism’ provocation. All too frequently, both Corbyn and McDonnell have buckled under this pressure and made important – and totally unprincipled – concessions to the right. The latest example being, of course, the suspension of left Labour MP Chris Williamson. After putting up some token resistance Corbyn caved in to the demands of the Labour Parliamentary Committee (made up of 3 Labour peers, five senior Labour MPs, Tom Watson and John Cryer, chair of the PLP). Meeting on the Wednesday afternoon it unanimously demanded his scalp.

However, the right wing of the PLP will now calculate, correctly, that the real danger emanates not from the leader’s office, but from below, in the form of an overwhelmingly pro-Corbyn left in the CLPs, invested with new powers to hold their MPs to account and challenge their assumed right to a ‘job for life’. Specifically, delegates scored an important, if partial, democratic victory at last year’s Labour conference in Liverpool, which enhanced the ability of members to pursue successful trigger ballots to replace sitting MPs. Constituency parties now have far more leeway to call their recalcitrant rightwing MPs to order and get shot of them if needed. The simplified and more democratic provision of trigger ballots could well turn out to be the biggest recruiting tool for TIG, as more MPs jump before they are pushed.

The threat of deselection was clearly the deciding factor for some of the TIG founders … and it is a nightmare scenario that will be playing on the minds many rightwing MPs still parked on the Labour benches. The hoi-polloi – the chumps who should be content with knocking on doors and handing out the leaflets – now have the potential to put an end to the glittering careers of these professional politicians. The nerve of it!

Inevitably, there are qualifications to this good news. It would not be a shock if the central Labour apparatus – in keeping with the quite wretched conciliatory culture promoted by Corbyn and McDonnell – put pressure on local CLPs to drop trigger ballots aimed at replacing local rightist MPs. According to The Guardian, “Labour could delay the start of deselection battles that party sources fear may prompt further resignations.” After all, “We don’t want to further antagonise” (February 26).

For an indicator of the way the political wind blows on this, we must wait for the appearance of a document outlining how and when the newly reformed trigger ballot provisions can be fired up in local CLPs. General secretary Jennie Formby was commissioned at Labour’s January 22 national executive committee meeting to produce a ‘trigger ballot manual’, with the recommendation that it is produced in short order. NEC member Darren Williams confirmed that this was supposed to be published in February. The delay is worrying.

The overwhelming majority of active Labour Party members are now quite clearly to the left and – although there has been a worrying lack of detail from the central apparatus around Jennie Formby – these new provisions are at least somewhere in the pipeline. Across the country, groups of eager left CLP members are keen to get cracking. So, we anticipate more ‘centrists’ bailing out or being given the heave-ho by their members – either way, fingers crossed that their days are numbered …

The key problem for the Labour left is that this objective strength on the ground has yet to translate into a coherent form as a united, national organisation with an ambitious political programme – not simply to purge the existing pro-capitalist right, but for the root-and-branch remaking of the Labour Party, the abolition of the bans and proscriptions on working class organisations, and the radical refounding of Labour as a genuine party of the working class, influenced by the world view of Marxism.

This fight is still hampered not simply by the left’s lack of vision, but also by the fact that Momentum (for the moment) still ‘squats’ the space where a fighting organisation ought to operate. Undoubtedly, Momentum’s lustre faded pretty damn quick and recent scab comments from the organisation’s CEO – Jon Lansman – will no doubt further disillusion many members, if not the few who rely on the organisation for employment. Disillusionment is not a mobilising force, however. (As numerous comrades have commented, Momentum itself is essentially an online mobilising tool these days, as well as a flag of convenience for Lansman to run up when he wants to spout crap.)

Left organisation

The Labour left needs to build a national organisation which embodies a political independence from the current leadership of our party, not simply forms of organisational autonomy as the vast majority of the existing left organisations in Labour restrict themselves to. Perforce, such an organisation would be an open, multi-tendency alliance. Thus, transparency and democracy would be vital components (as it should be in all working class formations) and this culture would demand an explicit statement of our aims and clear perspectives on how to fight the battle. This would find expression in our attitude to Corbyn, McDonnell and their team – we offer them support to the extent that they fight for the interests of our class as a whole; we would criticise and censure them when they renege on that duty.

As an aside, Labour Party Marxists supporters are putting forward exactly such an amendment to the AGM of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Motion 1 – the “work programme” put forward by CLPD secretary Pete Willsman – states: “Full support to the party leader at all times.” This is a crass and misguided approach that smacks of religion. Instead, we think this should be changed to: “We will defend Jeremy Corbyn from any further coups and acts of sabotage. We will support him where he fights for the thorough democratisation of the Labour Party and wider society. But we will also criticise him when and where necessary – for example, over his silence when it comes to the witch-hunt against his supporters in the Labour Party.”

Meanwhile, and paradoxically, Emily Thornberry has launched the most vociferous attack on TIG, telling a Labour rally that she would “rather die” than leave the party, that the quitters are “cuddling up to the Tories” and if they ever found the courage to stand in a by-election, Labour would “crush” them. This might be little more than an exercise in positioning – a chance for Thornberry, the Zionist, to buff up her left street-fighting credentials, perhaps. We can make educated guesses, but we really do not know ….

Berger, Umunna & Co: Good riddance to bad rubbish

The formation of the Independent Group vindicates what the left has long been saying. So called ‘moderate’ Labour MPs belong in another party

As everyone knows, on February 18, seven parliamentarians – Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey and Mike Gapes – announced that they were forming the ‘Independent Group’ of MPs, and the next day they were followed by Joan Ryan. Then, on February 20, they were joined by three Conservative MPs: Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen.

But let me deal first with the Labour defectors. Typical was Ryan’s statement: “I cannot remain a member of the Labour Party, while its leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed, have their motives questioned and their integrity called into doubt.” The others made similar claims, with Berger stating that since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader Labour had become “institutionally anti-Semitic”. In reality, what we have, of course, is not a situation where Jews are “abused with impunity”, but one where rightwing Labour MPs – some of whom happen to be Jewish – are being criticised for their disloyalty.

For example, as far as I know, there is no evidence that any of the Wavertree Labour members supporting a motion of no confidence against Berger had made any anti-Semitic comments. She was targeted not because she is Jewish, but because of her refusal to commit to the party! Just before the original seven quit, a statement was being circulated on social media calling on all Labour MPs to pledge to work for a Labour government “under whatever leadership members elect”. Reasonable, you might think. But Gavin Shuker complained that, by being approached in this way, he was being told to “completely obey and not question Great Leader Jeremy Corbyn”.

However, while such responses are self-evidently pathetic, the media for the most part is behaving as though they are totally in order. For instance, on February 20, Radio Five Live featured a phone-in, where listeners were asked why they thought that prejudice against Jews was not being countered as rigorously as racism against black people – the assumption being, of course, that this was the attitude of the Labour leadership.

Yet no examples of actual anti-Semitism were given. A representative of the Jewish Labour Movement was asked to relate his own personal experience and he immediately came up with a comment directed against him at a recent Labour Party meeting: someone had responded to what he had said by stating that he was a “well-known Zionist”!

And what about deputy leader Tom Watson? He has declared that Berger was the “first casualty” of anti-Semitism and he “no longer recognises” his own party. Acting as though the eight were genuinely committed to ‘Labour values’, he complained that “There are those who are already celebrating the departure of colleagues with whom they disagree”. Talk of “betrayal”, he said, does nothing to help explain why “good colleagues” might want to leave Labour. He called on Corbyn to bring Labour back into the “mainstream tradition”.

In other words, the party’s number two is only just stopping short of saying that the eight were right to leave, because, following Corbyn’s election, ‘Labour is no longer the party I joined’. Watson is clearly unfit to serve as deputy leader. But the real agenda is obvious. It is to prevent by any means possible the election of a Corbyn-led government in the interests of the establishment and British capital.

Just look at the statement promoted by the Independent Group at its launch press conference. It does not take much reading between the lines to see what they are up to. They want to “pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology”: we need to “reach across outdated divides”. The “ideology” they are particularly opposed to, of course, is Corbyn’s. After all, “Britain works best as a diverse, mixed social-market economy, in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress.” By contrast, Labour is now “hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives”. There is no “ideology” behind this blatant pro-capitalism, is there?

As for foreign policy, “We believe in maintaining strong alliances with our closest European and international allies on trade, regulation, defence, security and counter-terrorism.” Yet Labour “now pursues policies that would weaken our national security” and “accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country”. In other words, Labour must remain firmly in the imperialist camp.

Centrist party

It was hardly an impressive launch, with each of the seven giving their own separate, often incoherent assessments of the way ahead. For the most part – unlike the Gang of Four, which split to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981 – they are nonentities.

But that does not mean they can just be written off. For example, that is exactly the implication in the Morning Star front-page headline – “The insignificant seven” (February 19). But Joan Ryan is only the first of a number of other Labour rightwing MPs likely to join them. Those said to be on the verge of quitting include Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman, David Lammy and Ian Austin. As for Jess Phillips MP, who has also come under attack for failing to commit fully to the party, she “has had to put nine locks on her door out of fear for her safety” (The Daily Telegraph February 19). Well, what can you say about behaviour that forces you to put nine locks on your door?

And when the Parliamentary Labour Party – meeting in the evening following the Independent Group’s initial press conference – heard John Cryer, the PLP chair, “pay tribute” to the defectors, it reacted mostly with applause. But this response has hardly been countered by the leadership, with Corbyn himself saying he was “disappointed” the original seven had left and publicly thanking them for their past service to the party. As for John McDonnell, although he correctly stated that the defectors should now do the “honourable thing” by resigning as MPs and standing for re-election, he also bent over backwards before their accusations (particularly over ‘anti-Semitism’), promising a “mammoth listening exercise”.

We should not be misled by the relatively low profile of the original defectors. It is not only other Labour MPs who are considering joining them. In addition to Soubry, Wollaston and Allen, an unnamed minister and three other MPs are also said to be considering doing so. Of course, it is not Corbyn’s leadership of Labour that motivates the Tories, but their own government’s stance on Brexit. If Theresa May presses ahead with a ‘no deal’, that will surely trigger a reaction of some kind – no doubt this has already been taken into account by the Independent Group following their prior discussions with such Tories.

The IG statement declares that, in addition to all its other shortcomings, Labour under Corbyn’s leadership has “failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives’ approach”. This is a key motive in the thinking of those who want to form a new centrist party – stay in the European Union, possibly after a second referendum. It also no doubt figures prominently in the thinking of the likes of Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who is said to be considering stepping down to make way for a new centre party under a different leader after the local elections in May.

We should not underestimate the damage such a party could cause. It is not its electoral impact that should worry us though. Unless we are talking about a national government – far from impossible – a new centrist party will not sweep the board at the next general election. Indeed it would be lucky to retain the MPs it already has. No, it is the chilling effect that a rightwing split might have within the Labour Party. The cowardly statements coming from Corbyn and McDonnell do nothing to embolden the leftwing rank and file in the constituencies. But if anyone wants Jeremy Corbyn in No10 and John McDonnell in No11 committed to actually enacting the programme outlined in For the many, not the few, then the Parliamentary Labour Party has to be thoroughly renewed.

The careerists, the pro-Nato, pro-capitalist right must be deselected and replaced by candidates who are not only committed to defend Corbyn against the right, but who have a proven record as class fighters and are committed to genuine socialism.

Unless that happens, there are a numbers of dangers. Firstly, Corbyn could be nudged, bullied and forced ever further to the right – we have already seen his collapse over Trident renewal, his now Platonic republicanism, his criminal silence over the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt. Secondly, the left in the constituencies could be lent on by the leader’s office not to hold trigger ballots in order to avoid adding to the number of defectors. Thirdly, in the event of Corbyn rediscovering his left-reformist past, the present rightwing majority of Labour MPs will not give Corbyn the parliamentary vote of confidence the constitution requires in order to form a government. The monarch will be advised by the privy council to look at another figure in the House of Commons who can get a vote of confidence.

So the formation of the Independent Group needs to be turned from a warning that Labour will suffer further splits, if the left presses ahead with trigger ballots, into proof that the majority of sitting Labour MPs are traitors to the working class and ought to go – and go quickly.

Peter Manson
(this article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)

Humpty Dumpty and ‘anti-Semitism’

The Jewish Labour Movement claims its rule change has been adopted by the Labour Party NEC, Kat Gugino begs to differ

On September 18, The Guardian claimed that Corbyn would be “backing” a rule change to this year’s Labour Party conference, moved by the Jewish Labour Movement.1)The Guardian September 18 Lo and behold, on September 19, the Jewish Chronicle joyfully reported that the Labour Party’s national executive committee, meeting earlier in the day, “unanimously” passed the JLM’s proposal.2)www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/labour- executive-gives-backing-to-new-measures-on- antisemitism-1.444751 Leftwing NEC member Darren Williams, however, writes on social media that “we approved an NEC rule change on dealing with prejudiced views and behaviour that avoided the more draconian approach favoured by the Jewish Labour Movement”. So who is telling the truth?

Well, that depends on who you ask and what question you ask. Clearly, the JLM’s fingerprints are all over the NEC compromise formulation (see below for the full text). The Jewish Chronicle quotes in its article “a spokesman from Jeremy Corbyn” as saying: “Jeremy thanks all those involved with drafting this motion, including the Jewish Labour Movement and Shami Chakrabarti.”

It is true, however, that the original JLM motion was not accepted. Tony Greenstein, a frequent writer in the Weekly Worker, believes the new formulation might simply represent a “pyrrhic victory” for the JLM. And he is right that one of the key aspects of the original motion was rejected: the JLM wanted a “hate incident” to be “defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation” (our emphasis).

This was a rather clumsy attempt by the JLM to misuse the recommendations of the MacPherson report, established after the killing of Stephen Lawrence, which found the police to be “institutionally racist”. MacPherson recommended that when a victim or someone else perceives an attack or hate incident as racially motivated, then the police must record it as such.

In that sense, the JLM has failed in its outrageous attempt to enshrine in the party’s rules that the Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic! The NEC formulation enshrines the need for at least some kind of evidence: “any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice”. The JLM also failed in their attempt to explicitly enshrine the disciplining of members for comments or actions made in “private”.

If successful, the motion would have handed Iain McNicol and the compliance unit a devastatingly effective witch-hunting app: members could have been explicitly punished on the basis of what others perceive to be their motivation for specific comments or actions, not what is was actually done or stated.

JLM threats

Take the following threat from the JLM that we have received via a bourgeois journalist. Lucy Fisher, senior political correspondent of The Times, wrote to us on September 18:

“I was hoping to talk to someone at Labour Party Marxists about your conference voting guide, which we propose to report on tomorrow. The Jewish Labour Movement has expressed concern about lines in the document such as:

“‘This is supported by the Jewish Labour Movement, which already tells you that you should oppose without even having to read it.’

“‘The motion starts from the premise that the party has an “anti-Semitism problem”, which is palpably untrue.’

“‘This motion puts anti-Semitism (and cleverly, Islamophobia and racism) above the right to express opinions.’

“The chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement [presumably Jeremy Newmark] has said the document provides ‘an indication of the scale of the problem’ of anti-Semitism in Labour and has called on Labour to establish who is involved in your group, take action to discipline those involved and remove any representative platform from the group at conference.”

As you would expect from a reporter who works for a newspaper hostile to the left, Lucy has forgotten the word “probably” in the first sentence and is quoting half-sentences from our guide – and those entirely out of context. Still, even then, anybody apart from Jeremy Newark will struggle to find anything “anti- Semitic” in the above sentences.

Had Newmark had his way, then the mere fact that he feels we are acting out of “hostility or prejudice” would have been enough to see LPM members sent to the compliance unit. As the NEC formulation stands, this will not be enough.

Thinking bad things

Of course, Newmark is right: we are hostile to the Jewish Labour Movement. The JLM is, of course, an affiliate to the World Labour Zionist Movement, a loyal supporter of the state of Israel and home to many of those who have been so keen to save the Labour Party from its ‘unelectable’ leader.

Unfortunately, we are seeing yet another compromise that has characterised much of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Clearly, Corbyn and his allies seem to believe that they can pacify saboteurs and achieve ‘party unity’ by giving ground on these sorts of issues. This is dangerously naive. The outcome of the Chakrabarti enquiry showed the opposite to be true. The witch-hunters’ appetite will grow in the eating.

The worst excesses of the JLM motion (which, worryingly, also successfully went through six CLPs) have been removed, yes. But the fact remains that the NEC – and Corbyn – now seem to accept, albeit implicitly, the premise that Labour does indeed have an anti-Semitism problem. That is palpably untrue. It clearly does have an anti-left witch-hunt problem, as the suspensions of Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and others clearly demonstrate. No doubt there are a minuscule number of individual members who hold anti- Semitic views – most of whom you would expect to belong to the party right, by the way. Labour is not some chemically pure ideological sect of a few hundred acolytes. We are a mass movement and therefore, to varying levels, may find in our ranks trace elements of some irrational minority prejudices that exist in wider society. The party – or, more specifically, the Labour left – has no more of an institutional anti-Semitism ‘problem’ than we have a problem with paranoid notions that 9/11 was an inside job or that shape- shifting space lizards run the world.3)All genuine manifestations of the poison of anti- Semitism must be fought vigorously. However,
it accounts for a small very small percentage
of ‘hate crimes’ in this country. The House of Commons home affairs committee published an October 2016 report, ‘Anti-Semitism in the UK’, noting that anti-Semitic hate crimes, however defined, total 1.4% of all racially inspired attacks. In the first half of the year there had been a rise
of 11% in anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 2015. Numerically, this rise was from 500 to 557. However, 24% of the total – 133 incidents in all – were on social media. And social media accounted for 44 out of the increase of 57

Clearly, the huge scale of the ‘scandal’ that broke over members in 2016 (and still reverberates) is actually in inverse proportion to the real size of the problem itself. Even at the height of the feverish hunt for ‘anti-Semites’, the NEC only ‘identified’ and took action against a grand total of 18 members.4)Labour List May 4 2016 Quite a few (like MP Naz Shah) were fully reinstated. Others, like Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker, should be fully reinstated – nothing they said was even vaguely anti-Semitic.

In truth, we are in Alice in Wonderland territory here – or rather, Humpty Dumpty’s corner of it and his fast and loose approach to semantics.5)“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
 Sections of the right of the party – with quite stomach-churning cynicism – have attempted to rebrand as ‘anti- Semitism’ even the discussion of some sensitive, but real facts of Zionism’s relationship with the early Nazi regime and the left’s critical stance on the Israeli state’s savage oppression of the Palestinian people.

The latter is a particularly smart move on behalf of the witch-hunters. With a few dishonourable exceptions,6)The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, for instance the Labour left is highly critical of the Israeli state’s ongoing colonial/expansionist oppression of the Palestinians and the appalling discrimination, displacement and denial of basic democratic rights that go with it. However, it is a crude and transparently false conclusion to draw from this that the left of the party wishes to see the poles of oppression simply reversed. There are different strategic approaches amongst comrades in solidarity with the Palestinian people (a single secular state, two viable state formations, etc). But a common theme of the left is the need for democratic consent of these two peoples to live side by side, sharing common, substantive democratic rights. In other words, the left in the party is overwhelmingly anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. These two very distinct categories have been conflated for the most contemptible of reasons. In the struggle between the left and right for the soul of the party, ‘anti-Semitism’ has been “weaponised”, as Chris Williamson MP quite rightly put it.7)The Guardian September 18 It has proved to be a successful tool in the drawn-out campaign to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn. Historically, Corbyn has been an ardent supporter of Palestinian rights. Worryingly, we are not sure where he stands now. It is probably fair to say that his stance has become more ‘flexible’.

We sincerely hope he has not come around to the stance of the national policy forum. The NPF is recommending a document to this year’s conference that would dramatically change the party’s stance on the question of Israel/Palestine. The 2017 election manifesto called for an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. But these basic democratic demands have been dropped, along with the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

We would urge delegates to vote to refer back the NPF international document.


Original rule change proposed by Jewish Labour Movement

Bury South, Chipping Barnet, Hertsmere, Jewish Labour Movement, Manchester Withington, Streatham, Warrington South, referencing: Chapter 2, Clause I, Section 8 Conditions of membership, Page 9.

After the first sentence add a new sentence: A member of the Party who uses anti-semitic, Islamophobic, racist language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions in public, private, online or offline, as determined by the NEC, shall be deemed to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the Party.

Add at the end of the final sentence after “opinions”: except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism.

Insert new paragraph E: Where a member is responsible for a hate incident, being defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation, the NEC may have the right to impose the appropriate disciplinary options from the following options: [same as D]


New proposed section on ‘Conditions of Membership’ (Chapter 2, Clause 1, Section 8) new additions in [brackets]

No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the Party. [The NEC shall take account of any codes of conduct currently in force and shall regard any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on age; disability; gender reassignment or identity; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or sexual orientation as conduct prejudicial to the Party: these shall include but not be limited to incidents involving racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia or otherwise racist language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions, sexual harassment, bullying or any form of intimidation towards another person on the basis of a protected characteristic as determined by the NEC, wherever it occurs, as conduct prejudicial to the Party.] Any dispute as to whether a member is in breach of the provisions of this sub-clause shall be determined by the NCC in accordance with Chapter 1 Clause IX above and the disciplinary rules and guidelines in Chapter 6 below. Where appropriate the NCC shall have regard to involvement in financial support for the organisation and/or the activities of any organisation declared ineligible for affiliation to the Party under Chapter 1.II.5 or 3.C above; or to the candidature of the members in opposition to an officially endorsed Labour Party candidate or the support for such candidature. The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions [, except in any instance inconsistent with the Party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic.]

References

References
1 The Guardian September 18
2 www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/labour- executive-gives-backing-to-new-measures-on- antisemitism-1.444751
3 All genuine manifestations of the poison of anti- Semitism must be fought vigorously. However,
it accounts for a small very small percentage
of ‘hate crimes’ in this country. The House of Commons home affairs committee published an October 2016 report, ‘Anti-Semitism in the UK’, noting that anti-Semitic hate crimes, however defined, total 1.4% of all racially inspired attacks. In the first half of the year there had been a rise
of 11% in anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 2015. Numerically, this rise was from 500 to 557. However, 24% of the total – 133 incidents in all – were on social media. And social media accounted for 44 out of the increase of 57
4 Labour List May 4 2016
5 “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

6 The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, for instance
7 The Guardian September 18

The witch-hunt by the right continues

As the Ken Livingstone case demonstrates, the right’s call for ‘party unity’ should not be taken at face value, argues David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists

(this article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)

Reports from around the country confirm that, for the moment, the Blairites and Labour right are no longer directly attacking, condemning and generally criticising Jeremy Corbyn. How could they? Two months ago, Labour bounced back from the trouncing it seemed to be heading for just a couple of weeks earlier and won the highest proportion of votes for Labour since Tony Blair’s first campaign as leader in 1997.

And now, because of the fragile nature of the Conservative alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party, the ability of the minority Tory government to carry through the main strands of its legislative programme is by no means a certainty – as everyone knows, another general election could be called at any time. Quite clearly then, the right wing, which dominates the Parliamentary Labour Party, must do nothing to undermine Labour’s chances, upon which the survival of its MPs depends.

As I noted in an article just before the election,

An increase in the popular vote for Labour next week would put the right on the back foot and hopefully instil fresh confidence in the likes of Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, who have been busy back-pedalling on previous long-held progressive positions in a futile attempt to appease the Parliamentary Labour Party and the right in general. Such an outcome would add momentum to the necessary fight to rid Labour of those saboteurs.

It is true that Corbyn and co are behaving slightly more confidently. For example, at the July 18 meeting of the national executive, they won a narrow majority for a new system for selecting parliamentary candidates in a small number of target seats. The power to do that will rest with locally elected panels – as opposed to the current centralised control of the party machine under general secretary Iain McNicol.

However, in general there is little sign from Corbyn of a forceful demonstration of authority and the reassertion of the kind of left positions he used to uphold – let alone a campaign to defeat the “saboteurs” of the right once and for all. To appease them Corbyn is, for example, continuing to suppress his own deeply felt disgust at nuclear weapons – after all, the party has decided that Britain needs Trident and the leader must not comment on the obscenity of nuclear mass murder.

In fact the leadership is going along with the right in its insistence that Labour is a ‘broad party’ – with plenty of room for the overt pro-capitalists, as well as those who attempt to promote (or pretend to promote) the interests of the working class. For the present that means the right is making no overt move against Corbyn.

For example, reports are coming in of Constituency Labour Parties – even those dominated by the right – voting for motions, originating with Momentum, which “call on all elements of the party … to come together and support the leadership”. Such motions “congratulate the party leadership” on the “great result in the June general election” and hail “the socialist policies set out in the manifesto”. In general the right is prepared to go along with them.

For one thing, it is well aware that the “policies set out in the manifesto” were far from “socialist” – overwhelmingly they were acceptable even to the Blairites. And, as I have said, for the moment the right is willing to make the appropriate noises in favour of ‘unity’ and even pretend it favours “support” for the current leadership.

For instance, a circular issued by Luke Akehust on behalf of the rightwing Labour First faction reads:

We will be working all out to ensure the strongest possible moderate voice at annual conference, to promote party unity and to stop divisive and partisan changes to Labour’s rules. We want an annual conference that focuses on showcasing what unites Labour, on our team and policies for government, and preparing us in case there is another general election. We will be working to stop Momentum from turning it into a 1980s-style conference about what divides Labour, about factionalism, internal rule changes, and disruptive and boring procedural wrangling. 1)My emphasis – update, July 31

As this makes clear, the right is hardly reconciled to that leadership. That is why it is targeting Momentum – set up specifically to generate and consolidate support for Jeremy Corbyn. It is true that Corbyn has continued to compromise, giving the right grounds for hope that he could yet be ‘tamed’. But he is still unacceptably leftwing for both the Labour right and the whole political establishment.

In reality the adoption by the right of the ‘united party’ slogan is a continuation of its civil war. So, because Labour must be a ‘broad church’, the right demands that there should be no deselection of sitting MPs – irrespective of their contempt for party democracy. The new selection panels may well be set up in those 75 target seats, but before they can operate there must first be a vacancy: there is no question of a general deselection of current MPs.

‘Anti-Semitism’

The right also insists that Corbyn must not ‘interfere’ in disciplinary cases – which over the past couple of years have been used overwhelmingly to target the left. In fact McNicol is now inviting applications to join his witch-hunting team investigating suspect (ie, leftwing) individuals and groups operating in the Labour Party, as the following advert makes clear:

The Labour Party is looking to recruit an Investigations Officer, to work as a key member of the disputes team. The post holder will assist in the investigations relating to individual Labour Party members or groups of members, which may lead to disciplinary proceedings or other interventions by the national or regional parties.

The successful candidate, who will be employed at the party HQ in London, will need “experience of conducting investigations or fact-finding” and of “regulatory or governance issues” to qualify for the £35,000 salary, plus £1,000 annual allowance.

No doubt the new recruit will continue the good work of disciplining, suspending and eventually expelling leftwing comrades – particularly those accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ simply for opposing Zionism and actions of the Israeli state.

Last week the Jewish Chronicle reported that the ‘investigation’ into Ken Livingstone’s 2016 comments in defence of Naz Shah MP – in which he said that Hitler had “supported Zionism” before “he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews” – is still ongoing.

Livingstone was suspended for two years in June 2016: not, of course, for actual anti-Semitism, which would have been totally absurd, but for “bringing the party into disrepute” (for saying something that some people – not least Zionists and supporters of the Israeli state – claim was ‘anti-Semitic’). Since then he has refused to apologise for his comments and stated that they were factually correct.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, “Labour sources have confirmed to the JC that another probe into the former mayor of London ‘is underway’”. Apparently he is accused of “failure to show any remorse” for his original comments, even though “those bringing the new complaints against Mr Livingstone are believed to have been advised not to revisit the original remarks on Hitler and Zionism”.

Those “new complaints” are said to centre on Livingstone’s subsequent media interviews, when he correctly insisted that his original comment was (apart from some inaccuracies and clumsy phrasing) simply a statement of fact. It is indeed true that, as this paper has frequently pointed out, the Nazis did at first cooperate with the Zionists in order to achieve a shared aim – the emigration of German Jews, so that they could settle in Palestine. It is, of course, this cooperation which today’s Zionists and Israeli apologists wish to cover up.

But Corbyn went along with the witch-hunt and went so far as to condemn Livingstone for his “grossly insensitive” comments, claiming that his failure to apologise for telling the truth had been “deeply disappointing”.

Surely now is the time to say, ‘Enough is enough’. Corbyn should state the obvious – the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign was and is a witch-hunt and all those who were falsely accused, including Ken Livingstone, should be reinstated. He should exercise his authority as party leader to demand that the compliance unit and the right-controlled party machine calls off that farcical campaign.

References

References
1 My emphasis – update, July 31

Sheffield Hallam: a parallel campaign to defeat Nick Clegg

One the greatest upsets of the election took place in Sheffield Hallam, where a pro-Corbyn candidate defeated Nick Clegg. Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists reports

original article was updated on June 15 2017

Sheffield Hallam is one of the richest constituencies in the country and had never previously been in Labour hands. 1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheffield_Hallam_(UK_Parliament_constituency) Yet on June 8 Labour’s Jared O’Mara, a member of Momentum, defeated former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

Oddly enough, it was also an upset for the regional Labour Party too. The campaign was underfunded, understaffed and would have not have got off the ground without the help of local Momentum supporters. No cash was allocated from the regional party office for Hallam’s campaign, and so the entire £4,000 spent (compared to the maximum of £12,000 per constituency) was raised locally. This leaves Hallam rather short financially, especially when it comes to sending delegates to annual conference in September.

Was this just the result of the defensive campaign run by the Labour HQ – an effort to protect Labour seats rather than take the fight to the Tories? That is what is being argued now. But The Skwawkbox reports similar underfunding problems in other parts of the country2)https://skwawkbox.org/2017/06/12/proof-labour-hq-funnelled-resources-away-from-pro-corbyn-marginals – including in areas with marginal Labour seats held by leftwingers, such as Wirral West.

But how come any leftwingers were chosen to contest in this election in the first place? We know that candidates were selected in backroom deals between Corbyn’s people and the national executive. But the allocation of funds, resources and manpower is organised via regional Labour Parties – ie, full-timers appointed by general secretary Iain McNicol and co.

It seems to us that what happened in Hallam has indeed been part of an organised, Britain-wide attempt by Labour HQ to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, prop up the vote of rightwing MPs – and accept that marginal seats with leftwing candidates would be lost. If that is indeed the case – and the evidence is mounting up – then heads must now roll: McNicol must go.

Sheffield Hallam was not identified as a marginal that would be worth fighting for. The regional Labour Party – no doubt under instruction from Labour HQ – had decided that all fire should be concentrated on supporting the rightwing Progress supporter, Angela Smith (who has called for Corbyn’s resignation many times and will undoubtedly do so again3)www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtVoeTOAp2U), in Penistone and Stocksbridge constituency to the north of the city and directed volunteers from across the other five Sheffield constituencies to that area. Hallam was effectively written off, despite the fact that in 2015 Nick Clegg only won the seat with a margin of just over 2,500 votes.

Jared O’Mara has a very low profile, to put it mildly.4)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jared_O%27Mara He is a disability campaigner with cerebral palsy, has run twice – unsuccessfully – for the local council and is treasurer of the small Sheffield City Labour Party branch. In effect he was regarded as a mere paper candidate.

But, once local Momentum members and others on the Labour left heard that a fellow Corbyn supporter had been selected as the candidate, they pulled out all the stops to make it a successful campaign. It was an uphill struggle against the Labour bureaucracy: for days after the election was called there were no leaflets, no web presence and hardly any official support for the campaign. Residents in Hallam were bombarded with one glossy, pre-produced Lib Dem leaflet after the next, while the scruffy black and white numbers produced for Jared looked like something the cat had dragged in. Large areas of Hallam were entirely left out of the ‘campaign plan’ and no effort was made to leaflet or canvass there.

It was Momentum members who first got together with Jared to take some photographs of him, plan the campaign and discuss how to make it as vibrant as possible. It was Momentum members who drove Jared to leafleting sessions and events, because his official agent was hardly ever around.

At times, almost a parallel campaign had to be organised, bypassing official Labour structures. Sometimes it felt as though the bureaucracy was hell-bent on sabotaging things. Right until the end, even volunteers from Hallam itself were encouraged to campaign for Angela Smith. Campaigners were told not to drive around with a megaphone, not to produce specific leaflets to hand out outside schools and not to organise any public meetings or even a fundraising event. But leftwingers in Hallam did most of those things anyway and some were eventually adopted by the campaign.

The left really started to get its act together at a crucial CLP campaign meeting a week after the election was called. Over a hundred people turned up and it became clear that a majority was not happy with the official mantra being put out by most of the local leadership that ‘Hallam could not be won’. Momentum supporters and other leftwingers in the meeting disagreed and encouraged others to at least try and run a campaign to win the seat.

The ball really got rolling when Momentum organised a canvassing training session in Hallam at the beginning of May with a campaigner from Bernie Sanders’ team. For three hours the importance of actually talking to people was discussed, to try and convince them to vote for Labour. That sounds like an obvious thing to do, but the official election agent – who came along for a Q&A and to hand out material for the first canvassing session of the campaign – insisted that “everybody has to stick to the script”. Of course, the so-called national “script” consists of nothing more than asking people on the doorstep which party they will vote for and which one they voted for last time. This is called ‘voter ID’ – a hangover from the Blair years which needs to be got rid off.

Clearly, if you want to build a real party of the working class, then speaking to people is a pretty basic necessity. Momentum’s fact sheet provided people with arguments to take on the Liberal Democrats over their U-turn on tuition fees, their responsibility for austerity – as well as their role in privatising a lot of services across Sheffield, when they were the largest party in the local council. Luckily, most people ignored the ‘advice’ of the agent to stick to the script and left the training session enthused and equipped with some useful ‘persuasion techniques’. The video is now online.5)www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpOfgUIzjxg&t=180s

After that, the left continued to organise, mainly via email and Facebook (all Labour Party meetings were, of course, suspended). It took some effort to convince other lefties from across Sheffield to come to Hallam. Incredibly, many of them had followed the Labour HQ instructions and went to campaign for Angela Smith. But many of them eventually joined us in Hallam and on polling day more than 200 people crammed into the campaign headquarters.

There was an incredible buzz on June 8. Campaigners drove around Hallam in a decorated car with a megaphone, playing ‘Liar, liar’ and ‘The magic money tree’, and calling on people to vote Labour. Groups of teenagers waved back and shouted ‘Vote Labour!’, while passing drivers raised their fists in support. Campaigners started to believe they could actually win the seat – although it still came as a shock to many when the result came through. The story goes that Jared was so convinced he would come second that he had to shoot off in the middle of a night to a nearby 24-hour Tesco to buy himself a new suit for his acceptance speech! Alas, we can reveal that this is not true: he was wearing his dad’s jacket and a black pair of jeans.

Despite our well-known criticism of the Lansman coup in Momentum6)http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/yes-to-a-momentum-opposition-no-to-a-split, I have to admit that Momentum nationally was most helpful. Once they were informed by local members that Hallam was indeed a marginal seat – and one contested by a pro-Corbyn candidate – they really pushed for Momentum supporters across the area to come out and help (and surprisingly went against the instructions of the local Labour Party). Local Momentum supporters from across Sheffield report receiving several phone calls and text messages urging them to get involved.

In that sense, Jared O’Mara really is Momentum’s first MP. Can you imagine what kind of impact an organisation like Momentum could make it if it were a democratic, members-led campaign? But I am not sure Momentum is up for doing what is now necessary: helping to get rid of the saboteurs in the Labour Party – and not just in Sheffield Hallam.