Category Archives: The right

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.

Crush the saboteurs

Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election looks more of a no-brainer with each day that passes. The prime minister might have been tempted to let Labour’s right wing continue their wrecking activity until 2020, but that always carried the risk of events intervening at some point – so go for it. Rather just play safe and take advantage of the Labour Party’s weakness – denuded as it is in Scotland, riven by civil war and dogged by dismal poll ratings. It is hard to imagine any Tory prime minister doing anything different.

Of course, various factors affected her decision. One of them being the growing realisation that the Brexit negotiations with the European Union are going to be extremely gruelling. Any delusions about them being a shoo-in have evaporated – reports of the ‘frosty’ No10 dinner with Jean-Claude Junker confirms it.

Another possible, and related, consideration is that Donald Trump seems ready to do a trade deal with the EU ahead of any agreement with Britain following discussions with Angela Merkel – where she purportedly reminded the US president a number of times that he would not be allowed to conduct a unilateral trade deal with Germany. Obviously, Britain is small fry compared to the EU bloc, with the US exporting $270 billion in goods to the EU last year, making it America’s major trading partner – whilst exports to the UK were only worth $55 billion. If Britain does find itself at the “back of the queue” – or not near the front, as Barack Obama warned during the referendum campaign – then the Brexit self-image of Britain as a newly liberated global player cutting ‘free trade’ deals here, there and everywhere is severely punctured. That would put Theresa May in a tricky situation, meaning she needs a solid parliamentary base to weather the inevitable political and economic storm.

At the end of the day though, the prime minister’s calculation was simple – now is the chance to convert a slim majority into an overwhelming one. Don’t dither or dally like Gordon Brown in 2007. Naturally, no-one knows what the exact size of the majority will be. But in betting shop terms, the odds of a Labour victory are pretty slim (perhaps rather generously, William Hill has it on 12 to one).

Some polls suggest that the Tories are on course for a 150 – seat Commons majority – notching up a 17% lead in marginal seats, where Labour have a majority of 15% or less, which would see Labour losing 65 seats to the Tories (representing a swing of 130 seats between the two parties). Other polls put the Tories ahead of Labour in London, Scotland and even on course to win a majority of seats in Wales. The last time that happened was 1859. Another poll has the Conservatives winning 12 seats in Scotland, taking 10 from the Scottish National Party. But one thing we can say for sure is that Theresa May did not call an early election out of “weakness” because she was facing a “rising tide of anger” from the British working class, as suggested by Paula Mitchell of the Socialist Party of England and Wales – maybe she lives on a different planet (The Socialist April 18 2017). Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true – the Tories are going from strength to strength, politically and electorally.

Civil war

As for the Labour Party, the civil war continues. Even though there is an election campaign going on. Tony Blair has refused to endorse Corbyn as potential prime minister and calls for voters to back any candidate willing to oppose “Brexit at any costs” – including “reasonable” Tories and Lib Dems. Peter Mandelson’s think tank, Policy Network, warns that a bad election result for Labour might strengthen Corbyn. Not to be outdone, John Woodcock and Neil Coyle have been talking about the damage being done by Corbyn’s leadership to Labour’s election chances. And, embracing cross-class liberalism, Jon Cruddas, Clive Lewis, Helena Kennedy, Hilary Wainwright, Tulip Saddiq, Paul Mason and Owen Jones have been calling for Labour to step aside for the Greens in Brighton Pavilion and the Isle of Wight (Letters The Guardian April 30 2017).

Meanwhile, rightwing Labour candidates are running campaigns which claim that they put their constituents before their party. Jeremy Corbyn does not get a mention. But that hardly applies to the Tories. They will bang on and on about Corbyn. The idea that you can somehow uninvent Corbyn, make him disappear, is for the birds – people will be asking you about him regardless. The fact of the matter is that Theresa May says she is calling this election not because she wants to massively increase her parliamentary majority (though she is and probably will), but by claiming it is a choice between stability and chaos – between a strong Conservative government and a “floundering, weak and nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn that will put our nation’s future at risk” – essentially making this a rerun of the 2015 election, in which David Cameron campaigned relentlessly about Ed Miliband being in the pocket of Alex Salmond, and so on.

Displaying their confidence, Philip Hammond said that the May government will not be tied to David Cameron’s pledge not to increase income tax, national insurance or VAT. So tax rises are on the horizon. Earlier, infuriating rightwing Tory backbenchers and grassroots activists, Theresa May said she would retain a pledge to allocate 0.7% of national income to international aid and – more significantly – would not commit her government to the so-called triple lock for pensioners, which ensures that the state pension rises by the higher of the inflation rate, average earnings or 2.5%.

Of course, the daft Cameron-Osborne ‘promise’ to achieving a budget surplus by 2020 was ditched long ago – but the recent comments, or non-comments, by both Hammond and May represent another scrubbing away of the past: Cameron and Osborne seem like distant memories now. The distinct message from today’s Tory government is that pensioners are far too well off and should be made to feel guilty about the fact that their pensions have been going up each year – obviously it is their fault that young people cannot get jobs and houses. Therefore punish ‘rich’ pensioners and help out young people.

Utterly idiotic from any rational, economic point of view – if not downright deceitful, though some people might fall for it. But the calculation is that most pensioners who traditionally vote Tory will continue to vote Tory. Who else are they going to vote for? Not the Lib Dems, as most of them voted ‘leave’- definitely not Corbyn’s Labour Party. After all, the Labour right seems to have persuaded the majority of Labour voters – reinforced endlessly by the colluding media – that, although Corbyn may be a thoroughly nice bloke, he is completely incompetent. Not a devil, but more a fool – a bit like Ed Miliband, who could not even eat a bacon sandwich properly. If his own party, or at least the Parliamentary Labour Party, do not think Corbyn should even be the leader, never mind prime minister, then why should you trust him or vote for him? This is the story so far.

Our own expectation, for what it is worth, is that the media and the Tories have plenty of things up their sleeves to use against Corbyn if necessary – multiple examples of his ‘anti-Semitism’, statements on the Soviet Union, pro-IRA sympathies, etc. Pictures of him alongside whoever at some rally, demonstration or meeting. They are just waiting to be deployed if he appears to be making tangible progress in the run-up to June 8.

Stay or go?

Yes, of course, it is possible that Labour will not do quite as badly as we fear – but we strongly suspect that things will turn out badly. We have been going on for some time about the likelihood of some sort of repeat of 1931 and the national government – when Ramsay MacDonald joined a coalition with the Tories and Liberals because at least some in the Labour cabinet refused to sanction cuts, especially to unemployment benefit. As a result, Labour was hammered at the polls, because they faced not only Tories, but Liberals too – who were still a significant force at the time. It is interesting to note that MacDonald did not want to go for an early election, but the Tories forced his hand – wanting to crush Labour, which they did.

What is most crucial is not the actual election result, but what happens after June 8. In other words, will Jeremy Corbyn stay or will he go? History, for about the last 30 years, has been of leaders falling on their sword to make way for someone fresh. We are no wiser than anybody else about what Corbyn will do, but the left should be urging him to stay on and fight the right. But if you look at the Owen Jones version of events, apparently there is a bright younger leftwinger ready to take over from Corbyn. Well, he or she might be bright and younger than Corbyn – but leftwing? Clive Lewis, Rosie Winterton, Jon Cruddas? You must be kidding. There is no-one obviously credible in terms of a sustained history of principled leftwing politics.

Anyhow, replacement candidates for sitting Labour MPs who stand down are being chosen by the national executive committee – so there has been a bias towards safe rightwingers rather than dangerous leftwingers.

Having said all that, the chances of Corbyn staying on as leader has increased due to the recent Unite election – which saw Len McCluskey beat the right’s candidate, Gerard Coyne, albeit on a depressingly low turnout of 12.2%. McCluskey won 59,067 votes (45.4%) and Coyne got 53,544 (41.5%), with Ian Allinson – a member of the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century split from the Socialist Workers Party – on 17,143 (13.1%).

In our view, it was a wrong call by RS21 to stand a candidate against McCluskey. The fact that Allinson was backed by other sections of the left, including the SWP, shows that they are incapable of strategic thinking. Clearly, the election was far less about actual internal Unite politics and far more of an overspill of the Labour civil war – that was certainly how the Labour right saw it and the media too.

For instance, look at the response to the election result by The Economist. It ran the instructive headline, “The tragedy of Len McCluskey’s re-election as head of Unite” (April 22). The article touchingly claimed that McCluskey’s narrow victory is a “tragedy for the British left”, as it “condemns Unite to another five years of incompetent leadership, while significantly increasing Mr Corbyn’s chances of holding onto the leadership of the Labour Party after losing the general election” – which, of course, is the real point.

Naturally, various MPs and grandees of the Labour right have lined up in the media to attack McCluskey for being far too close to Corbyn – exactly why Allinson’s participation in the election was so mistaken, as he could have been responsible for McCluskey’s defeat. Not that we should have any illusions in the left bureaucrat, Len McCluskey, it goes without saying, but it is far more likely that he will urge Corbyn not to fall on his sword post-June 8.

McCluskey’s Unite – as opposed to Coyne’s Unite – could provide an organisational base for the left to do what they ought to be doing: that is attacking the right for losing the election. Ever since it looked likely that Corbyn was going to win the leadership, the right has conducted a civil war that has continued all the way through. Corbyn’s re-election on an increased mandate did not stop the civil war – no, they just toned it down a bit whilst plotting away.

But once the election is over we should expect an explosion of anger from the right, magnified by the enemy media, the likes of which we have not seen before – more no-confidence motions, more parliamentary harassment and scheming, more attempts to give Jeremy Corbyn a nervous breakdown, and all the rest. Full of vindictiveness, rage in their heart, the right will get the really sharp knives out and fight to retake the party, guided by the slogan, ‘Never again’.

Tom Watson inflicts further damage on Labour Party

There is a real danger that after triggering article 50 Theresa May will follow through with a snap general election, writes Eddie Ford (this article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)

Looking to the future, Tom Watson has shifted the right’s focus from a direct attack on Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership to Momentum and Unite’s general secretary election. Obviously the right wants to see the back of Len McCluskey and a victory for his challenger, Gerald Coyne. Jon Lansman, the chair and effective owner of Momentum, was, of course, taped in Richmond on March 1, and the transcript was carefully released, to full media publicity, just as polling papers were being sent out to Unite members. How convenient.

Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson have issued a joint statement agreeing that groups have a right to influence the Labour Party so long as they “operate within the rules.” But what Watson was trying to do was to influence the Unite election, not expose any wrong doing by Momentum.

So it is worth asking whether or not Watson and Coyne are involved in a Machiavellian plot to shift opinion in Unite and maintain the right’s grip over the structures of the Labour Party, up to and including the Parliamentary Labour Party, in perpetuity. Did brothers Watson and Coyne know about the “secret” Richmond tape before the “shocking revelation” was made public? Were they involved in any way in the taping, in transcribing it or in timing its release to The Observer?

Jon Lansman says he hopes that both Unite and the Communication Workers Union will soon affiliate to Momentum. Nothing sinister in that. They would merely be following in the footsteps of the TSSA and FBU. Doubtless that would mean more money in Momentum’s coffers and more full-timers for Jon Lansman to appoint. A leftwing bureaucracy to rival the rightwing bureaucracy of the hugely well financed – not least thanks to Lord David Sainsbury – Progress faction.

Watson claims Momentum will “destroy Labour as an election force”. Certainly the intervention in Unite’s election and the civil war unleashed against Corbyn – by Iain McNicol, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Watson himself and the vast majority of the PLP – has severely damaged Labour’s chances in a general election.

The by-election results in Stoke and Copeland surely prove it. Yes, Labour won in Stoke Central. But unfortunately this did not represent an endorsement of the Labour Party, nor was Ukip “well and truly stuffed” – a rather silly statement made by the ex-Trotskyist, Paul Mason, who went on to claim that Stoke “shows how to destroy” Ukip (actually it is Theresa May and her pursuit of a hard Brexit that is doing that).1)www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/27/stoke-destroy-ukip-brexit-byelection

Back in the real world though, Labour’s candidate, Gareth Snell, did well to get 7,853 votes (37.1%), as opposed to ‘Dr’ Paul Nuttall’s 5,233 (24.7%) on a very diminished turnout of 38.2% (down 11.7% from 2015).2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoke-on-Trent_Central_by-election,_2017 But Labour’s vote declined both in absolute and relative terms. In percentage terms we lost 2.2%, while Ukip gained 2.0%. Moreover, both the Tories and Liberal Democrats increased their share of the vote: 1.8% and 5.67% respectively. And, of course, if Ukip were “well and truly stuffed”, it would have seen them come not second, but at the bottom of the list, along with the Monster Raving Loony Party, the British National Party and the Christian People’s Alliance.

True, there had been intense media speculation, ever since Tristram Hunt resigned the seat for his “dream job” of director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, that Stoke Central could fall into the hands of Ukip – for fairly good reasons, it does have to be said. Stoke council, though not the same as the constituency, has been under ‘no overall control’ since 2015, with Ukip at its core. Stoke, of course, notched up the highest Brexit vote of any UK city with 69.7% – hence the exaggerated talk about the “Brexit capital of Britain”, and so on. Generally, Labour’s base in the area has undergone a considerable erosion in recent years, enabling Ukip to make relatively impressive gains in all three of the city’s constituencies at the last general election – for example, closing the gap with Labour to just 2.7% in neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent North.

Overall, you can say that Stoke was not a disaster for either Labour or Ukip – depending on what their expectations were. At Ukip’s recent spring conference, Nigel Farage set the bar very high, describing Stoke as “fundamental” for “the futures of both the Labour Party and indeed of Ukip too” – it “matters and it matters hugely”. By that criterion, Stoke was a failure – but, regardless, for the time being Farage is publicly standing by Nuttall. Only time will tell. Anyway, Stoke was only a “decisive rejection” of Ukip if you were genuinely convinced that it should have been a shoe-in for Nuttall – which was always a dubious proposition.

Copeland, however, is a different matter. Yes, you can talk about special circumstances – such as the importance of the nuclear industry as a major local employer, Storm Doris, and the fairly small size of the Labour majority (2,147). Nevertheless, in terms of the core constituency, Labour has held Copeland3)Or its predecessor, Whitehaven – created in 1832 and renamed Copeland in 1983 since 1935, when it was recovering from the debacle of the 1931 national government. In the end, the Tory candidate, Trudi Harrison, won with 13,748 votes (44.2%) on a much higher turnout than Stoke of 51.33% – amounting to a 6.7% swing to the Tories. Labour slumped to 11,601 (37.3%), down 4.9% – whilst the Lib Dems and Ukip trailed well behind, getting 7.2% and 6.5% respectively (meaning that Ukip’s vote fell sharply by 9%).4)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copeland_by-election,_2017 This represented the first gain for a governing party at a UK by-election since 1982. Copeland also saw the largest increase in a governing party’s share of the vote in a by-election since 1966.

Hence, Labour’s situation is even worse than it first seems, when you remember that by-elections tend to underestimate support for the governing party and reward oppositional parties – an opportunity to give the government a mid-term kicking. This makes it all the more telling, and ominous, that it was May who had the most to celebrate afterwards. If we are to be brutally honest, Labour is in danger of decimation at the next general election.

Revival?

These by-elections raise a number of questions. Firstly, does Ukip have a long-term future? You do not have to be a genius to think it is pure nonsense to believe that Ukip is on the road to replacing Labour as the official opposition or natural voice of the working class. The Labour Party is a historically constituted party based on the trade union movement. True, that movement may have considerably declined over the decades, yet we are still dealing with a membership of six million – not something that will go away easily.

Ukip, on the other hand, is an ephemeral organisation based fundamentally on opposition to the European Union. In that sense, Ukip can only be defined negatively – by what it is against, not what it is for. Now, after June 23 – with Theresa May skilfully appropriating the ‘hard Brexit’ agenda – what actually is the point of Ukip? Maybe to stumble on as a pressure group, making sure the prime minster keeps to her pledge – which is not much of a reason to exist. No wonder Ukip tops are falling out with each other. Arron Banks with Douglas Carswell, Nigel Farage with Douglas Carswell, Neil Hammond with Nigel Farage, etc.

Essentially, in Copeland a big slice of the Ukip vote simply marched into the Tory camp. There is every reason to think that that this pattern will be replicated, to one degree or another, in the general election, as May ploughs ahead with her Brexit plans – EU deal or not, World Trade Organisation rules or not. If Brexit actually happens, which is a real possibility in the new world of Trump, that would further place a question mark over Ukip’s future – with job done, surely time to close shop. Then again, if Marine Le Pen does defy the polls and becomes president of France – not something you can completely dismiss – then the EU will be finished anyway, almost making Brexit redundant. There would be nothing to exit.

What about the Lib Dems? Historically speaking, these should be ideal conditions for a revival after they were punished by voters for getting into bed with the Conservative Party in the coalition government. We have had the unedifying spectacle of Jeremy Corbyn getting out his three-line whip and urging Labour MPs to vote with the Tories to trigger article 50 and proceed with what Labour was telling us would be a catastrophe for the British economy – in which case, surely we should be duty-bound to oppose it? Step forward the Lib Dems, saviours of the country from Brexit darkness. After all, almost half of the electorate voted ‘remain’ and even in Stoke just over 30% came out for continued EU membership. And here is the party that is making opposition to Brexit its core issue. Yet what did they get in the by-elections? In Stoke, their vote only went up 5.7% (to 9.8% – at least they saved their deposit this time) and it was pretty much the same in Copeland – only increasing by 3.8%, putting them on 7.3% of the total vote.

You could argue that we could be seeing another attempt to create a centrist third party – in that the cross-party Open Britain has been backed by Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, John Major and others. Thus John Prescott in the Sunday Mirror says that OB “looks like an SDP mark two”, with Mandelson and Blair “whipping up dissent to split Labour”, just like Roy Jenkins and David Owen did before they launched the Social Democratic Party in 1981.5)www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/after-disappointment-copeland-labour-must-9916059 This is very unconvincing, to say the least. In the 1980s you saw an upsurge of the centre ground – just as importantly, if not more so, for a while it looked as if joining the SDP could possibly be a good career move: it seemed to be going places.

But the situation today is totally different. British politics is increasingly polarised, albeit in contradictory ways, between left and right – and now is being repolarised along Brexit lines, with even more contradictory outcomes. The centre ground is not undergoing a significant revival. In Stoke and Copeland the Lib Dems merely showed that they still exist. Nor does anyone in the Labour Party seriously think that there is going to be another SDP that is going to provide them with an alternative career plan – or dislodge Jeremy Corbyn.

This explains Tom Watson’s reaction to the by-election results at the Scottish Labour Party conference in Perth – he argued strongly that there should be no more challenges to Corbyn’s leadership. Further attacks on Corbyn from the PLP could result in Labour MPs losing their seats (and lucrative careers) – and for what? Corbyn cannot be removed under current circumstances, as the mass membership retains faith in him – that was recently tested with the second leadership contest. Owen Smith, the right’s candidate, for all the backing from MPs and the media, lost badly – therefore to keep openly attacking Corbyn would be self-defeating. That is the calculation of most of the PLP: stick with JC as leader for now and muddle through to the next election, hoping that events might come to your rescue.

Flawed

When you look at opinion polls, what is immediately noticeable is not the growth of the centre – forget it – but the strength of the Tory Party, increasing its standing over this period to almost 1950s levels of support. Recent polls have put the Conservatives on over 40% and Labour as low as 24%. Theresa May continues to be the favoured choice for prime minister, with one poll showing 49% of people preferring her to Corbyn. The Labour leader is backed by only 15% of voters, whilst 36% don’t know.

The last time the monthly Guardian series, for instance, produced a larger Conservative lead was back in 1983, just before the June general election trouncing of Michael Foot. In other words, in terms of popular support, it is the Labour Party that is losing out – in Scotland to the Scottish National Party, and in England and Wales to the Conservatives. Stoke and Copeland just underline the growing ascendancy of the Tory Party.

Needless to say, this poses acute problems for the Corbyn-McDonnell-Milne strategy – which appears fundamentally flawed, as argued by professor John Curtice in The Guardian. Curtice notes that Labour seems to have “misguidedly” decided that its “first priority” is to “stave off the threat from Ukip to its traditional working class vote – much of which supposedly voted ‘leave’ in the EU referendum”. But in so doing, he writes, Labour “seems to have forgotten (or not realised) that most of those who voted Labour in 2015 – including those living in Labour seats in the north and the Midlands – backed ‘remain’”. Therefore the party, he concludes, is “at greater risk of losing votes to the pro-‘remain’ Liberal Democrats than to pro-Brexit Ukip” – with Stoke and Copeland seeming to prove that ‘remain’ voters “must now be Labour’s top priority”.

Instead of ‘respecting’ the verdict of the British people in David Cameron’s botched referendum, Labour needs a clear perspective when it come to Europe. Labour Party Marxists opposes all Brexit calls – even at this stage. However, that implies no illusions in the EU as presently constituted. Yet for socialism to be a viable project Europe must be our decisive point of departure. So we should commit ourselves not to making Brexit a success, but developing links and coordination with working class and leftwing forces in Europe.

Far-reaching

Our main goal should certainly not be the attempt to win the next general election by rebranding Jeremy Corbyn as a populist, courting the capitalist media or striking the latest compromise deal with Tom Watson, let alone going for a “a broad political alliance” with the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish and Welsh nationalists. A well-trodden road to disaster. No, our main goal should be transforming the Labour Party, so that, in the words of Keir Hardie, it can “organise the working class into a great, independent political power to fight for the coming of socialism”.

Towards that end we need rule changes to permit left, communist and revolutionary parties to affiliate once again. As long as they do not stand against us in elections, this can only but strengthen us as a federal party. Today affiliate organisations include the Fabians, Christians on the Left, the Cooperative Party, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Business. Allow the SWP, SPEW, CPGB, the Morning Star’s CPB, etc, to join our ranks.

Moreover, programmatically, we should consider a new clause four. Not a return to the old, 1918, version, but a commitment to working class rule and a society which aims for a stateless, classless, moneyless society, embodying the principle, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. Towards that end the Labour Party should commit itself to achieving a democratic republic. The standing army, the monarchy, the House of Lords and the state sponsorship of the Church of England must go. We should support a single-chamber parliament, proportional representation and annual elections. All of that ought to be included in our new clause four (see box).

The PLP’s perpetual rebels are out-and-out opportunists. Once and for all, we must put an end to such types exploiting our party. Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder, not a way for university graduates to secure a lucrative living.

A particularly potent weapon here is the demand that all our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker. A principle upheld by the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution. Even the Italian Communist Party under Enrico Berlinguer applied the ‘partymax’ in the 1970s. With the PCI’s huge parliamentary fraction this proved to be a vital source of funds.

Our MPs are on a basic £67,060 annual salary. On top of that they get around £12,000 in expenses and allowance, putting them on £79,060 (yet at present Labour MPs are only obliged to pay the £82 parliamentarian’s subscription rate). Moreover, as leader of the official opposition, Jeremy Corbyn not only gets his MPs salary. He is entitled to an additional £73,617.6)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leader_of_the_Opposition_(United_Kingdom)

Let them keep the average skilled workers’ wage – say £40,000 (plus legitimate expenses). Then, however, they should hand the balance over to the party. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Dianne Abbott ought to take the lead in this.

Imposing a partymax would give a considerable boost to our finances. Even if we leave out our 20 MEPs from the calculation, it would amount to a £900,000 addition. Anyway, whatever our finances, there is the basic principle. Our representatives ought to live like ordinary workers, not pampered members of the middle class. So, yes, let us agree the partymax as a basic principle.

Given the huge challenges before us, we urgently need to reach out to all those who are disgusted by corrupt career politicians, all those who aspire for a better world, all those who have an objective interest in ending capitalism. Towards that end we must establish our own press, radio and TV. To state the obvious, tweeting and texting have severe limits. They are brilliant media for transmitting simple, short and sharp messages. But, when it comes to complex ideas, debating history and charting political strategies, they are worse than useless.

Relying on the favours of the capitalist press, radio and TV is a game for fools. True, it worked splendidly for Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell. But as Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband found to their cost, to live by the mainstream media is to die by the mainstream media.

No, to set the agenda we need our own full-spectrum alternative.

The established media can be used, of course. But, as shown with the last anti-Corbyn coup, Tom Watson’s latest stunt and the Unite elections, when things really matter, we hardly get a look in. Indeed the capitalist press, radio and TV are an integral part of the ruling class establishment. There are, of course, siren voices to the contrary. Those who think we can win over The Guardian, the Mirror, etc. But, frankly, only the determinedly naive could not have anticipated the poisonous bias, the mockery, the hatchet-jobs, the implacable opposition.

Once we had the Daily Herald. Now we have nothing. Well, apart from the deadly dull trade union house journals, the advertising sheets of the confessional sects and the Morning Star (which is still in the grip of unreconstructed Stalinites).

We should aim for an opinion-forming daily paper of the labour movement and seek out trade union, cooperative, crowd and other such sources of funding. And, to succeed, we have to be brave – iconoclastic viewpoints, difficult issues, two-way arguments, must be included as a matter of course. The possibility of distributing it free of charge should be considered and, naturally, everything should be put up on the web without paywalls. We should also launch a range of internet-based TV and radio stations. With the abundant riches of dedication, passion and ideas that exist on the left here in Britain and far beyond, we can surely better the BBC, Al Jazeera, Russia Today and Sky.

Of course, the Jeremy Corbyn-John McDonnell leadership faces both an enemy without, in the PLP, and an enemy within, in their own reformist ideology. They seriously seem to believe that socialism can be brought about piecemeal, through a series of left and ever lefter Labour governments. In reality, though, a Labour government committed to the existing state and the existing constitutional order would produce not decisive steps in the direction of socialism, but attacks on the working class … and then, as we have repeatedly seen, beginning with the January-November 1924 Ramsay MacDonald government, the re-election of the Tories.

Right’s floundering coup

Where next for the Labour right? Jim Grant considers the options

What was it Marx said about history repeating itself?

This time last year, the Weekly Worker was already confidently predicting that Jeremy Corbyn would win a crushing victory in the first round of the Labour Party leadership election. It seems odd in hindsight, but many comrades were very much more cautious, despite polling figures the three stooges must surely have viewed as impossible to overcome.

Some on the far left were engaged in spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in order to save their own perspectives, which were crumbling to nothing before their eyes (Peter ‘Nostradamus’ Taaffe of the Socialist Party springs to mind); others, we fear, had become so utterly accustomed to defeat over the last few decades that they refused to believe it was not some sort of cruel prank.

A year passes, and we are back in the same situation. Corbyn is once again fighting a leadership battle. His opponent, Owen Smith, despite his mendacious self-presentation as a leftwinger, is actually a centre-right hack (although this time there is only one of him). And once more, unless the courts choose a perverse interpretation of the Labour’s rules (more than possible, alas), or some other rabbit is pulled out of a hat, Corbyn is on course to win a crushing victory. Nothing is moving the needle – not the gerrymandering, the fabricated accusations of harassment, nor anything else.

On the assumption – which we stress is hardly a safe one, but anyway – that the courts do not hew to a perverse interpretation of the rulebook and deny Corbyn his candidacy, then, our first goal is to make sure his victory is appropriately demonstrative. Our second, however, is to think more than two months ahead.

After all, we must assume that our enemies are doing just that: the inevitability of Smith’s defeat in anything resembling a fair fight can be more obvious to nobody than Smith himself. We must ask: what is the right’s plan B? At the moment, there are several candidates; all, it must be said, are unattractive.

Version one: the split

There is, first of all, the possibility of some kind of split.

Let us sketch out a scenario: the moment Jeremy Corbyn begins his victory speech at conference in September, the anointed leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s predominant traitor faction declares that the PLP is no longer under the discipline of ‘the Corbyn organisation’, riddled as it is with Trotskyites, anti-Semites and what have you. We will call this leader ‘Owen Smith’, although we doubt he would be suitable for the role, given his mediocrity and the energy with which he is presently pretending to be a leftwinger.

The PLP takes with it a reasonable cache of activists, if not a majority; crucially, in the Commons it dwarfs, in the short term, the official Labour Party, and becomes her majesty’s official opposition. At prime minister’s questions, it is ‘Smith’, not Corbyn, who is called upon to hold Theresa May to account, which he accomplishes by wittering on about his ancestors with a thousand-yard stare.

While attractive in the short term (and if there is one lesson to be drawn from David Cameron’s career, it is that the short term offers a dangerous attraction to today’s bourgeois politicians), the difficulty with this approach to the situation is: what happens when there is an election? To be sure, no split in the PLP has ever taken more than a small minority of it out of the party. Ramsay MacDonald took only 15 with him into the national government in 1931, and the Social Democratic Party 28 in 1981. That 28 became six after the 1983 general election. A traitor organisation of the PLP will have the support of Murdoch, but not of the unions; and it is the latter support that is measured, at the end of the day, in pounds and pence.

Both sides would be likely to suffer; but the traitor side would be likely to suffer worse. And what conclusion would ordinary members draw – that it was Corbyn’s leftism or the Blairites’ sabotage that had led them to defeat? In all likelihood, the split is good for one term only; and, while Theresa May might deny it, one term might not be all that long.

Version two: see you next year!

If an immediate split seems imprudent, our rightists could acknowledge what certainly seems to be the case: that their brave insurrection was, like the Spartacist uprising and the Paris Commune, tragically premature. The solution, then, is to wait until the time is right, and challenge Corbyn then, when he truly gets himself into a pickle. There will still be time to eject him this way before too long, and for a new leader to bed him or herself in for the next election Labour has any chance of winning.

The deficiency of this approach is obvious – if you cannot make a coup against Corbyn now, when will you be able to do so? We on the left can give our rightwing friends a few hard-learned lessons about how long it can take for an enemy to ‘discredit himself’, so long did we wait (for example) for the shine to come off Tony Blair. Insanity, according to an old saying, is characterised by repeating the same action over and over again and expecting different results.

Version three: well grubbed …

So what is left then? Only total inaction and paralysis; waiting for this leftwing fever to usurp itself.

The problem with this approach for the actual individual MPs is that it may bear fruit far too late for them; a promising career will have been mired hopelessly in the wilderness for half a decade or more, maybe. They may well rotate, disillusioned, into sensible jobs in lobbying, PR or high finance, where they will never have to pretend to be leftwing in order to attract the votes of people they truly despise again.

From the point of view of the Labour right as a historic force – the bourgeois pole of this bourgeois workers’ party – things look a little healthier. For, if nothing fundamental changes in the mode of organisation and social basis of the Labour Party, the existence of a pro-capitalist right wing, and its eventual resurgence, is guaranteed.

The Labour left, in its current moment of aberrant ascendancy, has been fortunate, in that its enemies were at first helpful in the shape of the “morons” who agreed to nominate Corbyn. It, also, is a historic force, devilishly hard to kill (it is not like Blair did not try); and a component in Corbyn’s victory and the associated tumult is surely that the right imagined that there was nothing in Labour left of Ed Miliband, and so there was no risk in putting Corbyn on the ballot … before discovering that its own internal cohesion and ability to fight for mass support had withered in the New Labour years of absolute press office diktat.

We cannot imagine that this weakness will last forever, not least because the next generation of Labour rightwingers are going to learn very quickly how to fight effectively for apparatus control, how to lie and smear and exploit the preference of the courts and bourgeois press – an experience denied to the likes of Owen Smith, who had Neil Kinnock, Blair and the rest to do the hard yards for him in advance.

What is necessary then – as this paper has repeatedly argued – is for the left to press its advantage and make war upon the right. Reselections, trigger ballots and expulsions are the order of the day; and the democratic transformation of the party, so that the PLP can be permanently subordinated to the membership. Yet this is not the left’s focus; instead, the obsession is the same as the right’s – with winning the next election. This obsession is the leash by which the left is bound to the right.

Left unchecked, it will destroy the gains made in the last year. Owen Smith will not bring things back into their ‘proper’ order, of course, but – say – Owen Jones might. His press output has been getting wobblier by the week; we read now, on the Guardian website, his idiotic plea to the remaining rump of Bernie Sanders diehards in the States to unite with Hillary Clinton to beat Donald Trump,1 and we wonder whether his real audience is American Democrats after all.

The right is in a bad position to win the coming battles in the Labour Party. But the left is still perfectly capable of giving victory away. Only when our political horizon is no longer circumscribed by an irrational fear of a Tory government – Labour must win at all costs – will real political change become possible; until then, despite their current weakness, we remain the hostages of the coup-makers and their friends in the press l

Notes

1. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/26/sanders-movement-bernie-hillary-donald-trump.

No safe spaces for traitors

Jeremy Corbyn not only faces the nonentity, Owen Smith, but a legal challenge in the high court. Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists says the left must toughen up.

Writing on the Labour leadership crisis is no easy feat for a weekly paper [this article was written for Weekly Worker, July 21 – Ed.], so full is the saga with twists and turns, so leavened is the story with unconfirmed, rapidly disproven and probably maliciously spread rumours, and – in reality – so desperate and chaotically conducted is the struggle on both sides.

Nevertheless, the overall shape of events is clear, and at the moment the picture is of a determined rearguard action by the right to minimise, by fair means and (mostly) foul, the chances of a second victory for Jeremy Corbyn.

Bureaucratic outrages

We begin with the quite astonishing vigour and almost endearing lack of shame with which the right attempted to stitch up the contest in its very mechanics. Readers will be aware of the broad outlines of the story: at the end of last week’s crunch meeting of the national executive committee, after Corbyn’s status on the ballot had been confirmed and one or two naive loyalists had left, the traitor bloc found itself with a narrow majority, and an item on the agenda before it called ‘any other business’.

There, they took ‘business’ submitted to the meeting a whole 30 minutes before its beginning (according to NEC soft left Ann Black), the outcome of which was the wholesale disenfranchisement of a quarter of the party membership, the suspension of all meetings of constituency and ward branches, an eightfold increase in the registered supporter’s fee, and the constriction of the period for registration for the latter to two days. All in all, an unusually productive meeting of the NEC … Since then, we have had the suspension of Brighton and Hove District Labour Party for (let us be honest about this) daring to replace a rightwing local executive with a leftwing one at its recent annual general meeting. Whatever will Iain ‘Mugabe’ McNicol think of next?

Again, what is striking about this is the sheer brazenness of the gerrymandering – so overt that it would shame 1950s Ulster Unionists or the Putin regime. Above all, it demonstrates that a substantial, dominant faction of the Labour Party apparatus has taken the side of the right in this whole farrago – something, of course, we already knew from the endless leaks of confidential data from the compliance unit to such friends of the labour movement as The Daily Telegraph and the Tory muckraker, Guido Fawkes.

Their opponents are: the bulk of the trade union bureaucracy, perhaps surprisingly (with the exception of the GMB, whose leadership is playing its usual scab role over Trident); and the hundreds of thousands of Labour members either attracted by Corbyn’s campaign and victory last year or sick to the back teeth of the contempt in which Blairites, Brownites and the like held the rank and file, as its numbers dwindled to historic lows, and – evidently – all the more so now those members are getting assertive.

Choosing a ‘leader’

The ‘anyone but Corbyn’ part of the coup has been proceeding with ruthless single-mindedness, in spite of the probably fatal setback of failing to keep the incumbent off the ballot – the latest legal challenge notwithstanding (see below). However, the ‘who exactly other than Corbyn’ part has been rather more tortuous. This is hardly surprising – it is, after all, a coup that has been launched on the principle of naked, apolitical careerism, the principle of opposition to principle.

Indeed, so far as the ridiculous Angela Eagle/Owen Smith business has been concerned, we have been here before, when both Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper pitched themselves as the only reasonable challenger to Corbyn last summer, but were unable to resolve their differences, since only their national insurance numbers actually differed. (We note, parenthetically, that Burnham has rather remarkably taken the high road and refused to join in the coup, although this may be merely to enhance his chances of being selected as Labour’s mayoral candidate in Greater Manchester.)

At least it is over now – Smith has the support of the Parliamentary Labour Party. His pitch was that he was the ‘soft left’, and that – being a relatively fresh face, having entered the Commons in 2010 – he would be better able to win over Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters (translation: he is not tainted by the Iraq debacle as obviously as Eagle). Enough of his co-conspirators in the PLP agreed for him to get 25 more PLP nominations than Angela Eagle (18 more overall, including MEPs). Indeed, the fact that nobody had heard of him until a couple of weeks ago is a distinct advantage – especially given that he is on record (as of 2006) as having supported, in vague terms, “the tradition of leftwing engagement to remove dictators”, while ducking the question of Iraq specifically (he voted for military action in Libya in 2011, however, which turned out just great); the carving off of parts of the NHS for the private sector; and PFI hospitals and academies.1 He was also, before formal involvement in politics, a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer.

Of course, he now accepts he was wrong on most of these things – how could he not? Who would vote for some Blairite nonentity under these circumstances? In any case, we hope that voters in the coming election have the elementary intelligence to at least look the guy up on Wikipedia before

Of course, he now accepts he was wrong on most of these things – how could he not? Who would vote for some Blairite nonentity under these circumstances? In any case, we hope that voters in the coming election have the elementary intelligence to at least look the guy up on Wikipedia before they take his assurances of honest ‘soft leftism’ as good coin. He is a possibly reformed Blairite – but a traitor like the rest of them.

Help! I’m being oppressed

The other tactic being deployed is the multiplication of accusations of ‘bullying’ and ‘harassment’. The suspension of Brighton and Hove appears to be on the basis that the outgoing officials considered the manner and comprehensiveness of their defeat a form of harassment; the interdiction of CLP meetings and suchlike across the board is supposedly a preventative measure against the excessive rancour and bile-spitting of Jeremy’s rabid Red Guards.

There are two explanations for this offensive: the first is that we are dealing with a flood of crocodile tears, the assiduous cultivation of a spurious victimhood, cynically designed to delegitimise wholly justified anger at the traitorous actions of the PLP majority. The second is, well, just the opposite: these people are genuinely put out by feeling a little pressure, and simply cannot imagine what they have done to deserve it. Both seem to be true, one way or the other; we cannot imagine Angela Eagle (who is, according to her own account, a ‘tough’ sort) is really in fear of her life. On the other hand, there is NEC nonentity Johanna Baxter, whose account of the Big Day collapsed into peals of sobbing at the memory of potentially being denied a secret ballot for NEC decisions. She looks for all the world like somebody in the midst of a breakdown, which, of course, was not enough to stop the media exploiting her misery to paint Corbyn supporters as – in the words of the Mirror’s Carole Malone – “Lenin-style bully boys who’d send women to the gulag”.2

In reality, the ‘honest’ trauma of Baxter and (perhaps) other ‘short-beaked pigeons’ of the Blair generation is exactly the same as the fabricated fear of more serious politicians – in both cases, what is not accepted is accountability. Both Baxter and Eagle, and Smith, and Hilary Benn, are conspirators against the clearly expressed will of their party. They have seized, as factional property, the principal means of disciplinary procedure. The only means available to ordinary members to hold their MPs to account are the very ones decried as ‘intimidation’ by the MPs – open ballots, verbal censure, and above all deselection and trigger ballots (of which we expect there would have been a good few, if CLP meetings had not been suspended).

Making omelettes, breaking eggs

This is, unfortunately, an acute weak spot of the left, which has become in the main consumed by fatuous victimology over the past few years. This paper has argued repeatedly that ‘safe spaces’ and the interpretation of everything through the prism of preventing harassment is in fact a form of politics ultimately in service of the bureaucracy as a caste in society at large. The illusion that is possible to ‘do politics differently’, for a definition of the same that means we are all going to be terribly nice to each other or else, is one promoted heavily by the likes of Momentum, as with almost all leftwing political movements that present themselves as ‘new’.

In doing so, the leadership of the Corbyn movement has disarmed its rank and file, holding back on deselection, collapsing disgracefully over the fabricated ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal – need we go on? In truth, politics is war by peaceful means. Whatever else we may think of the traitors, they at least understand this: thus, their tactics are not constrained unduly by high-minded attention to moral principle, focusing merely on the effective application of force.

It had looked as though Corbyn would come out the other side of all this victorious. The plotters had lost the initiative, and had more or less been dragged, kicking and screaming, into an electoral contest, which the latest available data suggests they could lose by a demonstratively punishing margin. But now, of course, there is the previously half-expected legal challenge to the NEC decision to include Corbyn on the ballot. This has been brought by former Labour parliamentary candidate Michael Foster, who subsequently became a substantial donor to party funds, and both McNicol and Corbyn himself will be the defendants.

Of course, it is useful for the PLP right that this challenge has been mounted by someone not directly involved in the battle. If it was successful then they could claim that they would have preferred Corbyn to have been defeated in a democratic ballot … But what can you do? However, will it be successful? That is very dubious, to say the least.3 So, assuming the challenge fails and Corbyn does indeed win the leadership contest, what will the right do then? Will Corbyn suddenly enjoy the confidence of Eagle, Smith, Benn and co, who have all hated him since day zero? What are they planning to do if he is re-elected?

The official policy of the Corbyn office in this whole period has been, in paraphrase, that “we need to unite, at this time of all times, when the Tories are in turmoil” – and, now that the Tories are no longer very much in turmoil, to fight a general election in the short term against a government with no mandate. We doubt there is much else an old-fashioned party leader’s office can say at a time like this.

Yet it is plain that it presents a fantasy, at best of rhetorical value (‘they started it’) and the principal dynamic is towards a split, and thus an ugly battle over every inch of political territory from Cornwall to the Outer Hebrides. Unity between the PLP as it exists and the membership it holds in such hatred and contempt is, at this point, impossible. There is merely victory, if we are bold, or defeat, if we allow ourselves to be disarmed.

Notes
1. www.walesonline.co.uk/news/politics/owen-smith-iraq-war-working-2338066.
2. Daily Mirror July 16.
3. See ‘Don’t rely on the courts’ Weekly Worker July 14 2016.

Time to counterattack

The Labour plotters are well organised, but weaker than they look. Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists urges that we take the fight to them

[This article first appeared in Weekly Worker on Thursday July 7 – when Angela Eagle was dithering, hoping to launch her coup attempt with Jeremy Corbyn excluded. Now the Labour leader election is on, and the July 12 NEC meeting has, thankfully, put  Corbyn on the ballot paper. Expect a dirty campaign. Will the courts be asked to reverse that decision? If Corbyn wins, expect the PLP rightwing majority to split from the party. Good riddance. We urge all socialists to join Labour, and fight, fight and fight again to democratise the party and transform it into a permanent united front of all sections of the working class.]

Christopher Clark’s extraordinary account of the background to World War I, The sleepwalkers, begins with the story of the violent overthrow of the Serbian king Alexandar in 1903:

Shortly after two o’clock on the morning of June 11 1903, 28 officers of the Serbian army approached the main entrance of the royal palace in Belgrade. After an exchange of fire, the sentries standing guard before the building were arrested and disarmed … Finding the king’s apartments barred by a pair of heavy oaken doors, the conspirators blew them open with a carton of dynamite. The charge was so strong that the doors were torn from their hinges and thrown across the antechamber inside, killing the royal adjutant behind them …

The [royal] couple were cut down in a hail of shots at point-blank range … An orgy of gratuitous violence followed. The corpses were stabbed with swords, torn with a bayonet, partially disembowelled and hacked with an axe, until they were mutilated beyond recognition.1

We bring this to readers’ attention not only to commend the book, which is an illuminating popular introduction to its subject, but to point out some of the essential features of a successful coup. One has to act swiftly and decisively, leaving no room for doubt. The outcome must be spectacular. Superior numbers must be ensured wherever the spilling of blood is likely. And, while coups are often foretold long in advance, it is a good idea to retain the element of surprise.

It is against the 1903 efforts of Dragutin Dimitrijević and his comrades that we must measure the more recent, peaceful coup attempts in British politics. For illustrative purposes, we include Michael Gove’s undoing of Boris Johnson’s prime ministerial ambitions; sure, Boris is formally no lower in the world than he was last Wednesday, but he was the Tory heir apparent for, at a conservative estimate, the whole period between last year’s general election and last week. In a few short hours, Gove put paid to that with a truly bewildering and highly effective piece of political chicanery, which has rather left the parliamentary Conservative Party looking like a monstrous conga-line of backstabbers. Who’s next?

Our real focus, of course, is the sustained assault on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. It at least has some of the features of a successful coup. For a start, the plotters are very well organised. Our minds are cast back to June 26; after Hilary Benn more or less demanded his own sacking, things took on a remarkable rhythm, almost turgid in its regularity; an hour would pass, and another junior shadow minister would resign. Each, individually, had weighed up their options and with an agonising cry of conscience, decided to resign exactly an hour after the previous one. A suspicious mind would suggest that they planned it that way.

The shadow cabinet crisis gave way to the vote of no confidence, which went more or less to plan, and since then the pressure on Corbyn to resign has been intense. The most significant element of this part of the offensive has been the aggressive dissemination of straightforward lies in the press – Corbyn is striking a deal with this person or that; John McDonnell is about to throw him to the wolves … When the outlandish scenarios outlined failed to come to pass, the lie is not admitted – the whole thing is written up as “Jeremy changed his mind at the last minute – doesn’t he know it is not leader-like to dither?”

The whole thing is almost reminiscent of the FBI’s Cointelpro tactics. Indeed, according to a relatively fresh-faced Corbynite news website, The Canary, the whole thing has been engineered by a couple of PR firms on behalf of the Fabian Society. This, on the whole, strikes us as a little too neat, but only inasmuch as the individuals cited can have only the most tenuous connection to Fabianism; we are dealing fundamentally with a well-organised clique.2

This is a detail, of course. The thing about conspiracies is that – contra 9/11 ‘truthers’ and the like – they are blindingly bloody obvious after about five minutes. Thus, the anti-Corbyn conspirators had to act fast, and so they did for about a day and a half.

And then … nothing.

Stale tactics

Angela Eagle, who seems to have registered the domain, angela4leader.org, two days before she supposedly lost confidence in the man she seeks to defenestrate, has become suddenly very coy. She was ready to stand – and then she wasn’t; something about Corbyn imminently standing down (one of the aforementioned pieces of made-up nonsense). She is now, magnanimously, giving Jeremy yet “more time” to do the right thing.

Yet it is looking less and less likely by the day. The plotters’ tactics have become stale. They have become so because Corbyn is confident that he will win any leadership election; and (presumably) no ‘private polling’ on the part of the plotters tells them any different. The one thing they cannot do, ironically, is actually challenge him. No doubt his standing is weaker now than it has been in recent history; but so is that of the plotters, suffering from the fact that blatant and deliberate sabotage is not a good look among those with even a homeopathic dose of party loyalty.

Things are worse even than that for the traitors. They are on two strict timetables. The first and more significant is that of Labour’s conferences. At the 2016 annual conference in September, the left will seek to ‘clarify’ the currently ambiguous rules over whether an incumbent leader is automatically on the ballot if challenged. There is a very good chance of success. There is also the small matter of the Chilcot inquiry: we cannot imagine the likes of Benn and Eagle, who voted for the disastrous imperialist adventure, are having a good time of it at the moment. (Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party has proposed this as the main issue.)

The latest rumblings are that there are formal ‘peace talks’ going on; yet the small print is quite clear. There will be no immediate resignation. While Corbyn’s Parliamentary Labour Party enemies declare that broad support in the wider membership is not enough to save him, it is quite clear that the lack of broad support they enjoy in the wider party is enough to leave them in this embarrassing position. It is as if Dimitrijević and his cohorts had paused outside the royal bedchamber, on the brink of their victory, suddenly overcome by doubt – and stayed there for three weeks. I write at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the reader, which is to say, at some remove of time into the past. You may already be coming to terms with Corbyn’s grudging resignation. If you are, there is nothing to blame for it except his own personal weakness. If he is defeated, then defeat has been snatched from the jaws of victory.

Because, even if some phoney ‘deal’ is agreed that Corbyn will resign before such and such a date, those he seeks to placate will never be stronger than they are now. For by the time Corbyn is supposed to stand down – whenever that is – there will be one or more Labour Party conferences, at which there is the possibility that the position of the left within the party can become strengthened.

At this point, it is necessary to point out that this advantage is hardly likely to just drop into our laps. The left must first understand that it has a stronger position than the relentless barrage of fabricated media hype attests, and then grasp the opportunity to exploit that position. As usual, neither of these relatively simple tasks is the gimme it ought to be.

What would pressing the advantage look like? Let us imagine, as we said before, the Serbian regicides frozen in fear at the threshold of success. What would actually have become of them? Perhaps not the spectacular disembowelling they, in reality, put upon the king; but it would not have been pretty. That is the most important lesson for all plotters of coups – make sure you win, because, if you do not, a sensible ruler will not leave you the opportunity for a do-over in a year or two.

A sensible ruler; but here we are. Maoists, in the old days, used to talk of ‘two-line struggle’, and there is something similar going on in the Labour Party today: there is the line of conciliation, of peace talks, of ‘uniting against the Tories’ and what have you, and there is the line of war, of giving no quarter to the traitors, of deselection and expulsion for all who have participated in this brazen and cynical attempt to overthrow the democracy of the party. Regular readers will be unsurprised to find Labour Party Marxists in the latter camp, and Corbyn himself in the former.

The important question is where Momentum will fall, and beyond it the Labour left at large. The Momentum line so far seems to be Corbynite in the narrow sense: for abandoning these senseless ‘squabbles’ and getting on with fighting the main enemy; but reports from meetings of the Labour left are encouraging, in that they suggest that there is at least some constituency for more radical measures. The idea that unity is possible between principled socialists and pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist careerists like Hilary Benn and Angela Eagle is risible. Only the capitulation of the socialists, or the defeat of the right, will solve the dilemma.

Notes
1. C Clark The sleepwalkers London 2012, pp3-4.
2. www.thecanary.co/2016/06/28/truth-behind-labour-coup-really-began-manufactured-exclusive.

Turn the tables on the right

The coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn presents the left with both a huge challenge and an historic opportunity. James Marshall, writing for Labour Party Marxists, assesses the balance of forces, and outlines a programme of immediate action and long-term strategic aims

During the EU referendum campaign Labour’s right, Cameron’s Tories and the ‘remain’ media all observed a kind of ceasefire. Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smearing, ‘Labour is bound to lose’ predictions, etc, were temporarily put on hold. They needed him to bring on board traditional Labour voters and the young. But, once the EU results were announced, Operation Get Jeremy Corbyn was set in motion.

In a late-night phone call Hilary Benn told Corbyn he had “lost confidence” in his leadership. Following Benn’s inevitable sacking, two thirds of the shadow cabinet subsequently resigned, along with dozens of junior shadow ministers and numerous aides and advisors. Operation Get Jeremy Corbyn is, undoubtedly, carefully choreographed. One after the other they resigned and duly lined up to appear on eagerly waiting TV and radio stations. Steve Bassam – Baron Bassam of Brighton, leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords – played his part too. He formally broke links with Corbyn’s office. Then there was the joint letter of 57 prospective parliamentary candidates, Alan Johnson, Lisa Dugdale, Ed Miliband, etc. All played their pre-planned role in Operation Get Jeremy Corbyn. Crucially, there was, of course, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the 172-40 no confidence vote. The main blow. So there will definitely be a leadership contest.

Rules

Given this predictable outcome, it is clear that Jeremy Corbyn has been badly advised. From the beginning he had the majority of the PLP profoundly, implacably, irreconcilably set against him. He should have been told that in no uncertain terms. Instead, he had Seumas Milne’s widely over-optimistic spreadsheet. It showed just 85 MPs who could be considered “core group negatives” or “hostile”. Milne was providing misinformation. He put 19 MPs in Corbyn’s “core group”, while 56 were classified as “core group plus” and 71 as “neutral but not hostile”.1 Obviously, the 172-strong right were never reconciled to Corbyn’s stunning leadership victory in September 2015.

And Corbyn still remains hugely popular at a rank-and-file level. Opinion polls show that in no uncertain terms. He has also received the solid backing of Unite, GMB, Unison and other unions. Nevertheless, Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, promises a bruising contest. Here, at least, he is being honest. Expect, therefore, an unremitting anti-Corbyn media barrage. More ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smears. More suspensions. More exclusions. More accusations of intimidation. More so-called revelations about the left.

But will there be a contest? Everyone knows our rule B (ii) is ambiguous. That is why the left has understandably concentrated efforts on ensuring a rule change at this year’s Liverpool conference. Till then, however, doubt remains. Does a sitting leader automatically appear on the ballot paper? Do they have to pass the 20% nomination threshold of MPs and MEPs?

The national executive committee could well decide that Jeremy Corbyn, being the incumbent, should automatically be allowed to stand, if he so wishes. If that happens, then the chances are that the right’s ‘unity’ candidate will be soundly beaten. To prevent such a totally unacceptable outcome expect the right – maybe in the form of general secretary Iain McNicol – to take matters to the courts. Needless to say, the judicial system is no friend of the working class or the left. Remember the Taff Vale judgement (1901), the Osborne judgement (1909), the Viking, Laval, Rüffert and Luxembourg judgements (2007, 2008).

Huffington Post UK reports legal advice from Doughty Street Chambers. It concludes that B (ii) only applies to a “potential challenger”. The right, however, has “two rival legal opinions, suggesting that, because the current rules are ‘silent’ on the explicit need for nominations, he [Corbyn – JM] would indeed need nominations from MPs”.2 The precedent of Neil Kinnock securing the backing of numerous Labour MPs when faced with Tony Benn’s leadership bid in 1988 is frequently cited (Benn was trounced, picking up 11.4% to Kinnock’s 88.6%).

Hence, we can certainly imagine a leadership contest where the right’s ‘unity’ candidate is thrashed by Corbyn. What would the PLP majority do after that? On the other hand, it is quite conceivable that Corbyn fails to secure enough nominations and, thanks to a court judgement, there is only one runner – the ‘unity’ candidate of the right. What would the party’s affiliates, members and supporters then do?

A historic split is clearly on the cards.

Our best-case scenario is that Corbyn soundly beats the right’s ‘unity’ candidate. Maybe then, all the 172 rebel MPs will do us a favour: they go for another Social Democratic Party. Admittedly this is an outside possibility – political suicide is an unattractive prospect for most of the PLP. They remain acutely aware of the sorry fate of the SDP. Moreover, unlike the early 1980s, the political centre is not enjoying a sustained revival.3 At the last general election the Lib Dems were decimated. They remain marginalised and widely despised.

Given the punishing logic of the first-past-the-post election system, it is therefore unlikely that the PLP majority will do us that favour. No, probably the right will rely on the rule-based fact that as sitting MPs they are set to be the official Labour candidate in a November 2016 or February 2017 general election.

Also, well before that, expect the PLP to elect its own, unconstitutional, leader (ie, their leadership candidate). The result: two rival parties. A rightwing Labour Party with by far the biggest parliamentary presence. Then, on the other hand, a leftwing Labour Party with trade union support, but a much smaller number of MPs.

However, there is an obvious problem for the right. The Liverpool conference, or a special conference before that, can be expected to change the rules. Not only B (ii). New rules will surely be introduced subjecting all elected representatives, crucially MPs, to mandatory reselection. A welcome threat now coming from Len McCluskey and Unite, which we have every interest getting into the rule book.

So, on balance, I would guess. the right is probably banking on excluding Corbyn from the ballot. It therefore expects the courts to oblige. With its ‘unity’ candidate elected by default, the right would then do everything within its power to ensure that the trade unions, the left, the majority of members and supporters are driven away. Obviously a high-risk strategy. But it shows just how desperate the right actually is.

Split

The well-timed resignations by members of the shadow cabinet need to be understood not, as claimed, as heavy-hearted responses to Corbyn’s “weak role” in the EU referendum, lack of “leadership skills”, etc. The right wants to split the Labour Party and establish an out-and-out bourgeois party on its ruins.

What should the left be doing under these unprecedented circumstances? As the right goes in for the kill, we must respond using all our energy and all the weapons at our disposal. Obviously Corbyn must be unconditionally, but critically, defended. Certainly this is no time to faint-heartedly opt out of “Labour’s internecine strife” (Owen Jones).4 Unite’s Len McCluskey has warned the right that a leadership election without Corbyn on the ballot paper will set the Labour Party “on course for a split”.5 However, that split should not come from the left. Instead, we should use our conference majority to change the rules and if necessary rerun the leadership election … with Corbyn on the ballot paper. If the right refuses to accept conference decisions the NEC should swiftly counter with expulsions.

Hence the Labour left has four immediate tasks.

Firstly, we should support demands for a special conference. Change the rules on the leadership election, lower the threshold, confirm that the incumbent is automatically on the ballot paper. Put in place rules stipulating that all elected representatives are subject to mandatory reselection. Abolish the compliance unit. Restore full membership rights to those cynically charged with anti-Semitism. Welcome in those good socialists who have been barred from membership because, mainly out of frustration, they supported the Greens, Left Unity or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition at the last general election. Meanwhile, take full advantage of our current rules. The ‘trigger’ mechanism allows local party units, including both individual members and affiliated organisations, to “determine whether the constituency holds a full, open selection contest for its next candidate, in which other potential candidates are nominated, or reselects the sitting MP without such a contest”.6

Secondly, Momentum must be given momentum. That can only come about through democracy and the election of and right to recall all Momentum officials. Membership lists must be handed over to the local branches, so as to maximise mobilisation. That will facilitate a renewed drive to win all Corbyn supporters to become full individual Labour Party members. If they want to defend him, if they want to ensure that he stays true to his principles, if they want to transform the Labour Party, then the best thing that they can do is to get themselves a vote – not only when it comes to the leader, but when it comes to the NEC, the selection and re-selection of MPs, MEPs, councillors, etc. Card-carrying members can attend ward and constituency meetings and stand for officer positions.

Thirdly, within the affiliated trade unions we must fight to win many, many more to enrol. Just over 70,000 affiliated supporters voted in the 2015 leadership election. A tiny portion of what could be. There are well over four million who pay the political levy.7 Given that they can sign up to the Labour Party with no more than an online click, we really ought to have a million affiliated supporters as a minimum target figure.

Fourthly, every constituency, branch (ward) and other such basic units must be seized, revived and galvanised by the left. The right has done everything to make them cold, uninviting, bureaucratic and lifeless. The left must convince the sea of young new members, and the elder returnees, to attend meetings … and organise to drive out the right. Elect officers who defend the Corbyn leadership. Our constituency and branches can then be made into vibrant centres of organisation, education and action. As such they would be well placed to hold wayward councillors and MPs to account.

Long term

Whatever the particular scenario, the Labour Party must be reorganised from top to bottom. That should be our overriding aim – as opposed to trying to win the next general election by concocting some rotten compromise with the right.

Organisationally and politically radical change must be put on the agenda. We need a sovereign conference. We need to subordinate MPs to the NEC. We also need to sweep away the undemocratic rules and structures put in place under Blair. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums, the whole horrible rigmarole must go at the earliest possible opportunity. Politically we need a new clause four and a programmatic commitment to working class rule and international socialism.

Labour is rightly proud of being a federal party. Therefore securing new affiliates ought to be a priority. The Fire Brigades Union has reaffiliated. Excellent. But what about the Rail, Maritime and Transport union? Let us win RMT militants to drop their misplaced support for Tusc. Instead affiliate to the Labour Party. And what about the National Union of Teachers? Why can’t we win them to affiliate? Surely we can … if we fight for hearts and minds.

Then there is the Public and Commercial Services union. Thankfully, Mark Serwotka, its leftwing general secretary, has at last come round to the idea. The main block to affiliation now comes in the form of opposition from the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales. True, PCS affiliation will run up against the Trades Disputes and Trade Union Act (1927), introduced by a vengeful Tory government in the aftermath of the general strike, whereby civil service unions were barred from affiliating to the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress. The Civil and Public Services Association – predecessor of PSC – reaffiliated to the TUC in 1946. Now, surely, it is time for the PCS to reaffiliate to the Labour Party.

True, when we in LPM moved a motion at the February 2015 AGM of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy calling for all trade unions to be encouraged to affiliate, we were met with the objection that for the PCS it would be illegal. However, as NEC member Christine Shawcroft, who was sitting next to me, said: “What does that matter?” Here comrade Shawcroft, a close ally of Corbyn, shows the exact right spirit. Force another change in the law.

Then there are the leftwing groups and parties. They too can be brought under our banner. Labour can become the common home of every socialist organisation, cooperative and trade union – the agreed goal of our founders.8 In other words, the Labour Party can become what Leon Trotsky called a permanent united front of the working class.

Yet, sadly, especially with those outside Labour, there has been a distinct lack of imagination. Instead of a banging on the door, there has been cowardly disengagement. An approach undoubtedly designed to preserve sectarian interests and brittle reputations.

Take the SWP. In an official statement the organisation off-handedly admitted that its much depleted band of followers “did not sign up to vote in the [Labour leadership] election”. Why did the comrades refuse to register as Labour Party supporters? Why did they stand aloof? After all, to have voted for Corbyn cost a mere £3 … and for levy-paying members of affiliated trade unions it was free. So why did the SWP refrain from giving Corbyn voting support? The statement pathetically explained. Corbyn faces “a firestorm of opposition” from the right. There are no more than 20 MPs “who really support Corbyn”. Etc, etc.9

What ought to be a challenge to throw oneself into an historic fight becomes an excuse to stay clear. Yet, having been torn by splits and divisions in the 1970s and then again in the 2010s, the SWP apparatus wants nothing to do with anything that carries even the whiff of factional strife. So there is the call for marches, protests and strikes … as counterpoised to the Labour Party, PLP battles and taking sides in a concentrated form of the class war. However, in rejecting any sort of front-line involvement in Labour’s civil war, the SWP stays true to its modern-day version of Bakuninism.

Then we have SPEW. Having categorically dismissed the Labour Party as an out and out capitalist party since the mid-1990s, it has been busily rowing … backwards. The old Militant logo was cosmetically placed on the masthead of The Socialist. Despite that, Peter Taaffe, SPEW’s founder-leader, steadfastly refuses to join the battle in the Labour Party. Instead he clings to Tusc as if it were a comfort blanket. If Tusc stood on something that resembled a Marxist programme, that would still be a strategic mistake. But what passes for Tusc’s programme is barely distinguishable form Corbynism. Yet, whereas Corbyn has a mass base, Tusc is organisationally and electorally a nothing.

Left Unity is essentially no different. As with SPEW and the SWP, members peeled away to join the Labour Party as individuals. Undaunted, LU is determined to carry on as a halfway house project that merely comments on developments in the Labour Party. A platonic form of politics.

We in Labour Party Marxists unapologetically take our programmatic lead from the CPGB. Having been demanding the right to affiliate since its foundation in 1920, today we simply demand that the CPGB ought to be accorded the same rights as the Cooperative Party, the Fabians, Christians on the Left, Scientists for Labour, etc.10 However, we also extend that demand to include the SWP, SPEW, LU and other such organisations.

Partymax

The PLP rebels are out-and-out opportunists. Once and for all we must put an end to such types exploiting our party for their own narrow purposes. Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder, not a way for university graduates to secure a lucrative living.

A particularly potent weapon here is the demand that all our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker. A principle upheld by the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution. Even the Italian Communist Party under Enrico Berlinguer applied the ‘partymax’ in the 1970s. With the PCI’s huge parliamentary fraction this proved to be a vital source of funds.

Our MPs are on a basic £67,060 annual salary. On top of that they get around £12,000 in expenses and allowances, putting them on £79,060 (yet at present Labour MPs are only obliged to pay the annual £82 parliamentarian’s subscription fee to the party). Moreover, as leader of the official opposition, Jeremy Corbyn not only gets his MP’s salary: he is entitled to an additional £73,617.11

We in LPM say, let them live on the average skilled workers’ wage – say £40,000 (plus legitimate expenses). Then, however, they should hand the balance over to the party. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott should take the lead. That would give a considerable boost to our finances. Even if we leave out Labour’s 20 MEPs from the calculation, with 229 MPs it would amount to roughly £900,000 extra. Anyway, whatever our finances, there is the basic principle. Our representatives ought to live like ordinary workers, not pampered members of the middle class. So, yes, let us impose the partymax.

Given the Labour Party’s mass membership, affiliated trade unions and the huge challenges before us, we urgently need to reach out to all those who are disgusted by corrupt career politicians, all those who aspire to a better world, all those who have an objective interest in ending capitalism. Towards that end we must establish our own press, radio and TV. To state the obvious, tweeting and texting have severe limits. They are brilliant mediums for transmitting short, sharp, clear messages. But, when it comes to complex ideas, debating principles and charting political strategies, they are worse than useless.

Relying on the favours of the capitalist press, radio and TV is a fool’s game. True, it worked splendidly for Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell. But, as Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband found to their cost, to live by the mainstream media is to die by the mainstream media. No, to set the agenda we need our own full-spectrum alternative. The established media can be used, of course. But, as shown with the anti-Corbyn coup, when things really matter, we get hardly a look in. Indeed the capitalist press, radio and TV are integral to the anti-Corbyn coup. There were, of course, idiot voices to the contrary – those who wanted to court The Guardian, the Mirror, etc.12 But, frankly, we should have anticipated the lies, the bile, the mockery, the implacable opposition.

Once we had the Daily Herald. Now we have not a thing. Well, apart from the deadly-dull trade union house journals, the advertising sheets of the confessional sects and the Morning Star (which in reality is still under the control of unreconstructed Stalinites).

We should aim for an opinion-forming daily paper of the labour movement and seek out trade union, cooperative, crowd and other such sources of funding. And, to succeed, we have to be brave: iconoclastic viewpoints, difficult issues, two-way arguments must be included as a matter of course. The possibility of distributing such a paper free of charge should be considered and, naturally, everything should be put up on the web without pay walls or subscription charges. We should also launch a range of internet-based TV and radio stations. With the abundant riches of dedication, passion and ideas that exist on the left here in Britain and far beyond we can surely better the BBC, Al Jazeera, Russia Today and Sky.

Leader

Of course, in the medium to long term we Marxists want the abolition of the Bonapartist post of leader. But these are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures. Ed Miliband abolished the fleeting practice of having the PLP elect the shadow cabinet and understandably with the election of Corbyn the right touted the idea of a restoration. That would have left Corbyn without John McDonnell and Diane Abbott and utterly isolated in the shadow cabinet. Thankfully Corbyn’s early pronouncements favouring such an outcome were quickly rethought. He wisely opted to keep the dictatorial powers long favoured by past Labour leaders.

Appointing the shadow chancellor was always going to be a litmus test. The more timid members of Corbyn’s inner circle were reportedly urging him to opt for someone from the centre. Instead he chose John McDonnell. Hence the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership. Offering shadow cabinet seats to the likes of Hilary Benn, Angela Eagle, Lucy Powell, Lord Falconer, Chris Bryant, Owen Smith and Lisa Nandy was always going to happen. Corbyn is a natural conciliator. And the fact of the matter is that Seumas Milne’s “core group” of 19 loyalist MPs was too small if all posts were to be filled. Unless, that is, Corbyn went for a pocket-sized shadow cabinet and even drew upon talents from outside parliament (as seen during World War II under Winston Churchill with Ernest Bevin – he was appointed minister of labour in 1940 despite not being an MP). That is what we LPMers advocated.

Nevertheless, equipped with his left-centre-right coalition, Corbyn could claim the moral high ground. He was reaching out to all sections of the party. Now, in terms of internal perceptions, it is the “hostile” and “core negative group” of MPs who, hopefully, will be squarely blamed for undertaking a completely cynical coup attempt against Corbyn, that, whatever the outcome, will surely badly damage Labour’s chances in a widely expected early general election. That plays well with traditional Labour activists. Normally, they do not take kindly to anyone damaging Labour’s chances at the polls. After all, for most of them, the be-all and end-all of politics is getting elected and re-elected … even if the manifesto promises little more than managing capitalism better than the Tories. A misplaced common sense that wide swathes of the Labour left, including Corbyn and McDonnell, have thoroughly internalised.

However, the “hostile” and “core negative group” of Labour MPs have the full backing of the capitalist media, the City of London, the military-industrial complex, special branch, MI5 and their American cousins. Corbyn’s much publicised admiration for Karl Marx, his campaigning against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, opposition to US-led imperialist wars, call to junk Trident and nuclear weapons, his commitment to increase the tax taken from transnational corporations, the banks and the mega rich, his Platonic republicanism, even his timid mumbling of the royal anthem mark him out as completely unacceptable.

Of course, there was always the danger that the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership would have their agenda set for them by their futile attempt to maintain PLP unity. Put another way, in what was a coalition cabinet, it was always the right that set the limits and therefore determined the political programme. Why? Because they were always prepared to walk. That is what Lord Charlie Faulkner made clear over the EU, nuclear weapons, the monarchy, etc. The decision by Corbyn to kiss the hand of Elizabeth Windsor, though not to kneel, in order to gain access to the privy council was therefore highly symbolic.

Staying silent, abandoning principles or putting them on the backburner in an attempt to placate the right was never a good strategy. We saw that with John McDonnell’s pusillanimous statements on Ireland, Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to defend the victims of the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt. Now there is the call from the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership to have a “sensible” discussion on immigration. After the EU referendum McDonnell says we are no longer obliged to defend the principle of the right of people to free movement (he was disgracefully backed by Unite’s gemerald secretary, Len McCluskey). Such a course may court the working class EU exiters. But it demobilises, demoralises and drains away Corbyn’s mass support.

Reclaim

So, the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership faces both an enemy within the PLP and an enemy within their own reformist ideology. They seriously seem to believe that socialism can be brought about piecemeal, through a series of left and ever lefter Labour governments. In reality, though, a Labour government committed to the existing state and the existing constitutional order produces not decisive steps in the direction of socialism, but attacks on the working class … and then the election of a Tory government.

Tactically, Marxists are right to concentrate fire on the 172 “core negative group” of “hostile” MPs. ‘Blairites out’, should be the common slogan on the left. The majority of Labour affiliates, members and supporters still trust the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership. Now, however, they have to be presented with a programme that decisively breaks with their conciliations, compromises and concessions. Everyone on the left will have an instinctive loathing of all those seeking to oust Jeremy Corbyn, who support US imperialism, who follow the lead of Progress, Labour First, etc. Therefore our call is to turn the tables. Purge the right and transform the Labour Party.

Naturally, real Marxists, not fake Marxists, never talk of ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party. It has never been ours in the sense of being a “political weapon for the workers’ movement”. No, despite the electoral base and trade union affiliations, our party has been dominated throughout its entire history by career politicians and trade union bureaucrats. A distinct social stratum which in the last analysis serves not the interests of the working class, but the continuation of capitalist exploitation.
Speaking in the context of the need for the newly formed CPGB to affiliate to the Labour Party, Lenin had this to say:

[W]hether or not a party is really a political party of the workers does not depend solely upon a membership of workers, but also upon the men that lead it, and the content of its actions and its political tactics. Only this latter determines whether we really have before us a political party of the proletariat.

Regarded from this, the only correct, point of view, the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers with the aid of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns [the executioners of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht].13

An assessment which retains its essential purchase. But the PLP is now two parties. One is a 172-strong bourgeois party. The other is a 40-strong potential workers’ party. However, the potential workers’ party has every chance of keeping the loyalty of the affiliated trade unions, the leftwing mass membership, the working class electoral base, etc. With Corbyn’s election in September came the chance to transform the Labour Party by attacking the right both from below and above. It was never going to be easy and not easy it has proved. But that chance still remains before us. Hence, we must ensure that Corbyn is re-elected and the right is humiliatingly defeated. Then we can regrow the PLP, not as the master, but as the servant of the labour movement. That prospect genuinely sends shivers of fear throughout the bourgeois establishment. No wonder the PLP right, the Mirror, the Sun and now David Cameron are united in wanting Jeremy Corbyn to throw in the towel and resign. The last thing they want is a democratic election with Corbyn as a candidate.

Notes
1. The Guardian March 23 2016.
2. www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jeremy-corbyn-legal-advice-automatically-on-ballot-leadership-challenge_uk_577003cfe4b0d2571149d42a.
3. From a 2.5% historic low point the Liberal Party saw a revival in the 1970s, which saw it win 19.3% of the popular vote in the February 1974 general election.
4. https://medium.com/@OwenJones84/my-thoughts-on-the-plight-of-labour-38413229f88#.13swc959x.
5. The Guardian June 26 2016.
6. www.grassrootslabour.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=200:how-labours-trigger-works&catid=43:forum&Itemid=60.
7. D Pryer Trade union political funds and levy House of Commons briefing paper No00593, August 8 2013, p8.
8. At the 1899 TUC, JH Holmes, a delegate of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, moved this resolution: “That this congress, having regard to its decisions in former years, and with a view to securing a better representation of the interests of labour in the House of Commons, hereby instructs the parliamentary committee to invite the cooperation of all cooperative, socialistic, trade unions and other working class organisations to jointly cooperate on lines mutually agreed upon, in convening a special congress of representatives from such of the above-named organisations as may be willing to take part to devise ways and means for securing the return of an increased number of labour members to the next parliament” (www.unionhistory.info/timeline/1880_14_Narr_Display.php?Where=NarTitle+contains+%27The+Labour+Party%27+AND+DesPurpose+contains+%27WebDisplay%27).
9. Socialist Worker September 8 2015.
10. www.labour.org.uk/pages/affiliated-organisations.
11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leader_of_the_Opposition_(United_Kingdom).
12. Eg, Owen Jones The Guardian September 16 2015.
13. VI Lenin CW Vol 31, Moscow 1977, pp257-58.