Category Archives: The right

Anti-Semitic smears employed by the right

The Labour left must get better organised, argues Gary Toms of Labour Party Marxists

The right held onto its Young Labour seat on the national executive committee by just a single vote. The Momentum-backed candidate, James Elliot, lost out to ‘moderate’ Jasmin Beckett, who had received the support of the hard-right Labour First and Progress groups. The circumstances of this victory at the February 27-28 Scarborough conference have been hotly contested.

The Unite union has called for an inquiry after it was revealed that Jasmin Beckett won her slender majority on the back of a foul Facebook and Twitter campaign against her rival. Beckett had suggested: “Get a few people tweeting saying, ‘Shocked my union GMB are supporting James Elliott, who is anti-Semitic’?” The national secretary of Labour Students, Josh Woolas, advised: “Needs to look like a genuine complaint about racism and not a smear campaign!” (Morning Star February 26). The full exchange between Beckett and her supporters has since been published anonymously on Twitter.

This was an attempt to link James Elliot to accusations levelled at the Oxford University Labour Club by its former co-chair, Alex Chalmers. His resignation came following the OULC’s announcement of support for Israeli Apartheid Week (and, of course, comrade Elliot is an ex-Oxford student). The Labour Party has since opened an inquiry (it is still unpublished, though its impartiality has been called into question, not least because it was conducted by Michael Rubin, a Progress partisan). The fact of the matter is that the OULC is simply committed to solidarity with the Palestinian people – not to demonising Jews. Nonetheless, the ridiculous accusations of anti-Semitism levelled by Alex Chalmers have been presented by McCarthyite journalists, such as Dan Hodges, as if they were simply facts (see ‘Is the Labour Party’s problem with racism beyond repair?’ The Daily Telegraph February 29).

Doubtless there are a tiny number of individuals within the left milieu who hold anti-Semitic views and obviously such people have no place within our movement. However, anyone expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people automatically faces charges of anti-Semitism. An accusation which comes from people who are determined to support Israel despite its dispossession of millions of Palestinians, despite its occupation of the West Bank and despite its readying itself for another bout of ethnic cleansing.

‘Intimidation’

As well as the smear campaign conducted by Beckett and co, there are other complaints. Apparently she falsely presented herself to some voters as being linked to Momentum. Despite the tiny margin of her victory, calls for a recount were rejected by returning officer Stephen Donnelly (who, according to Jon Lansman, is a “recruiting sergeant for Progress”).1

Predictably there were accusations from the right of “intimidation” and “bullying” by the left and the unions. One delegate, Charlotte, a Unite shop steward, posted a picture of herself having a telephone conversation as ‘evidence’ of such behaviour. Unite official Zac Harvey had asked to see her ballot paper so as to check that she was abiding by her union mandate. Rightwing Labour MPs – eg, John Mann – and the bourgeois press, from The Guardian rightwards, have subsequently mounted a campaign for Young Labour to be made into a “safe space” (for Labour First and Progress).

It is worth mentioning that a week before the Young Labour conference, Momentum-backed candidates had won every seat on the youth wing’s national committee, a sure sign of the resurgence of the left – for the first time in 30 years. Given this, it is more than a pity that the Young Labour rep on the NEC remains a rightwinger. So Scarborough was a missed opportunity for Momentum (hopefully comrade Elliot will be lodging an appeal).

While the right urges the membership to ‘unite against the Tories’, it does everything to undermine the Jeremy Corbyn leadership and attack the left (seeking the expulsion of socialists with links to the far left, etc). The shrill condemnation of Momentum by rightwing MPs, their Labour First co-thinkers and the mainstream media is part of an ongoing civil war, even if the Parliamentary Labour Party right is not yet prepared to launch an open leadership bid at the moment – Corbyn is far too popular within the labour movement (even more so than when he was elected leader).

Against the machinations of the right our best response is organisation. Momentum needs cohesion and a clear orientation towards transforming the party through carrying out a democratic revolution. The right is not a legitimate trend in the labour movement. They are class enemies and ought to be driven out.

Notes

1 . www.leftfutures.org/2016/02/young-labour-in-left-landslide-but-chaos-manipulation-smears-mar-nec-election.

Something for everyone

Readers of Margaret Beckett’s report on the general election defeat see only what they want to see – and miss the big picture, argues Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists

It can sometimes seem nowadays that the Labour Party is divided into two internally united and violently opposed camps – the left and the right, with the suitability of the party’s new leader as the issue of principle on which they are divided.

In fact, the upper echelons of Labour have always contained a morass of centrists: grey people who worship government office above all else, and will pull behind those who promise it. It so happens that those promises are most compellingly made by the right in ‘normal’ times (we shall see why later), and so we find such people most often under the right’s magnanimous care. They include former rightwingers left behind, somewhat bewildered, by the aggressive Toryward trajectory of the Blair years; high-profile and basically apolitical ‘safe pairs of hands’ (Jack Straw, say); and a rump of also-rans and sometimes-weres.

Among the latter, we might name Margaret Beckett. Beckett picked up a few front-line roles in the Blair years, becoming Britain’s first female foreign secretary, for those who keep track of that kind of thing. Yet she has been quiet for the last few years, after being sidelined by Brown. She got back in the news last year as one of the “morons” who nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership; but by that time, presumably, she was already compiling her most recent ticket to the front pages – a 36-page report on how Labour can have been so blindsided by defeat last May – on the say-so of interim leader Harriet Harman.

As befitting her political profile, Beckett has produced a report regarded as most amenable by, well, almost everyone. The left will be reassured that Ed Miliband’s periodic ‘left turns’ produced his team’s most popular policies – a freeze on energy prices, the mansion tax, the gentlest nudges against the corrupt bonanza of privatised rail transport. The right will find their catch-words in there too, in Labour’s failure to make the case for its economic competence, and its failure to close the gap with the Tories over touchy subjects like immigration. Stephen Bush rather acidly notes on the New Statesman website:

A failure to win trust on “issues of connection” – ie, welfare and immigration – is blamed in part for the defeat, but whether that involves a harsher tone or “winning the argument” for either high immigration, higher social security or both is left unclear. Labour divides into four quarters on this … None of these groups can say with any honesty that the Beckett report provides them with any clarity as to which approach to pursue.1

Quite apart from giving warring camps within Labour something new to squabble over, Beckett’s report has been met with the usual potluck of cherry-picking and outright mendacity from the press. We were right all along, they say: nobody “trusted” Labour on the economy, nobody “trusted” Labour on immigration, and nobody could see Ed Miliband as prime ministerial material – you know: his teeth, his bacon sandwiches, etc.

Thus findings on the popularity of Miliband’s anaemically leftwing policy platforms are, of course, ignored. It does not fit into the prevailing narrative of ‘economic trust’, though we note that this phrase can mean an awful lot of things, depending on who you ask and how. Democratic primary voters in America, for example, ‘trust’ the reformist-socialist, Bernie Sanders, over Hillary Clinton on economic matters – presumably meaning that they trust him to actually make Wall Street bankers’ lives a little more difficult, rather than just huff and puff a little under pressure (however naive this trust actually is).

The bigger lie, however, is a sneakier one. All these problems have one thing in common (alongside their vagueness and artificiality): they are all matters of perception. Yet they are being presented as if the Labour Party’s fate last May was entirely in its own hands. Miliband could have been more ‘prime ministerial’. ‘Economic trust’ could have been restored.

But this is not how political perceptions work. There is another agent in the process that has a big impact on how policies, politicians and so forth are perceived. This agent is, of course, the very same media currently crowing about their correctness.

Believing their lies

So to return to ‘economic trust’ for a moment – the claim, again, is that the Labour Party was not able to shake the perception that it was at fault for creating the post-2007 mess. This is a truly fantastical notion at face value. There was a global financial crisis, for heaven’s sake. Britain was not one island of disorder in a calm ocean of prosperity. Yet this absurd accusation was hurled about by Tory frontbenchers as if it were self-evident. Given that they did so, it would be quite simple for the lowliest hack on a national newspaper to demonstrate how risible the line was every time it was trotted out.

This, obviously, did not happen – even The Guardian and the like were often too busy aiding Blairite manoeuvres against Miliband to point this out with much force. Most other papers repeated such horseshit in every other editorial. What is true of ‘economic trust’ is true also of the immigration issue, and most especially the doomsday scenario of a Labour-Scottish National Party coalition government – Rupert Murdoch played a devilishly clever game by having his papers simultaneously support the SNP in Scotland and whip up chauvinist hysteria against them in England. The crowing of the Mail, Times and company thus amounts to the following statement: ‘Labour lost the election because people believed the lies we told them repeatedly over the course of five years.’ Any Labour politician who repeats any of these question-begging non-explanations for Labour’s defeat is thereby exposed as a traitor and an enemy agent.

For what this whole rigmarole amounts to is nothing short of a protection racket – in fact it is worse. The mafia will take your money in return for not burning down your restaurant; if you pay, they will at least keep to their end of the bargain. When it comes to the press, however, they will demand genuflection before their interests, and in return they might choose not to ridicule you at some later date. Those who urge Labour to make the necessary payments can promise nothing, and if it does not work the prescription will be the same: give more ground, bend the knee further, still with no guarantee, or even reasonable expectation, of success.

Our centrists will, of course, be concerned that this is the only game in town – even if the house always wins. Indeed, it is – at the moment. We in Labour Party Marxists are often ridiculed for not encouraging the formation of ‘left governments’ under conditions where they will lead to disappointment, and many of these same critical comrades were holding their noses and voting for Miliband in May. Yet what if Beckett’s report had been unnecessary, and Ed had triumphed (with or without nationalist support)? Where would we be now?

Stuck with an unpopular Labour PM in pell-mell retreat, obviously enough. That energy price freeze would not have made it to Christmas. The Tories would not be in government, but they would transparently be a government in waiting, no doubt with someone worse than Cameron in charge. And at the grassroots? Would we have a 400,000-strong Labour Party, replenished overwhelmingly with leftwing recruits?

The point of this digression is simple: for the working class under a bourgeois political regime, the pursuit of government at all costs drags politics as a whole to the right. This is why we find the likes of Margaret Beckett more comfortable with Tony Blair than Jeremy Corbyn – Blair’s promises of power have a truer ring to them, what with Rupert Murdoch singing backing vocals and everything.

We need to escape from this bind, and that means changing the rules. We do not need a Labour government in 2020 nearly as much as we need an effective opposition now. Many Labour left groupings, from the likes of the marginal Labour Representation Committee, through Momentum, up to Corbyn’s inner circle itself, like to talk about making Labour into a great mass movement again. That is a correct impulse. The trouble is that they invariably fail to see that this aim is in contradiction with the exclusive veneration of getting into government, and even more sharply the belief that any Labour government is better than any Tory government. Look at the threadbare state in which the Labour Party was left by Blair and Brown – that is where 13 years of ‘sensible’ government gets you.

If, on the other hand, we become an effective opposition – that is, one that stands for an alternative form of society, for the rule of the working class – then we can change the rules l

Notes

1. www.newstatesman.com/politics/elections/2016/01/beckett-report-wont-help-labour-win-next-election.

Fear of a Corbyn victory

Surging support for Corbyn is terrifying both the media and the right of the party, writes Charles Gradnitzer of Labour Party Marxists

On July 5 Unite the Union announced that its executive committee had voted to advise members to give Jeremy Corbyn their first preference in the leadership contest.
One can imagine the head- scratching that must have occurred at Unite’s EC meeting: do we back the candidate who supports our policies or do we back Scott Tracy’s doppelganger who was booed by all of our members at the union hustings? Decisions, decisions.
Unite follows other affiliated unions, such as Aslef and Bfawu, in giving their support to the Corbyn campaign. Unaffiliated unions like the FBU and RMT are also backing him, although in their case it will be a little more difficult, as their members can only sign up as registered supporters rather than affiliated supporters, which will cost them £3 instead of being free. The RMT was disaffiliated by the Labour Party in 2004 for allowing individual branches to support the Scottish Socialist Party and, though it continued to send in its affiliation cheques, this money was rejected.
There are also rumours that the GMB will endorse Corbyn,1 but it has yet to announce this decision. Unison appears to be sitting on the fence nationally, though individual branches have passed sometimes unanimous motions of support for his leadership bid and are active in rallying support.
With the weight of the unions behind him, his enormous grassroots support, his popularity at every hustings and months to go before the election takes place, Corbyn is in a position to seriously challenge for the leadership. Luke Akehurst predicts that Corbyn could win on first preferences, only to lose on transfers from supporters of the other candidates, who are hell-bent on preventing a leftwinger being elected.2
Attacks
With his campaign gathering momentum, even the liberal The Guardian has begun to panic – senior editor Michael White wrote: “Unite gets carried away over Jeremy Corbyn.”3 For his part, Jon Craig, chief political correspondent of Sky News, wrote that the “Labour leadership race sinks deeper into farce”.4
Joining the media hacks were the usual suspects from the Labour right. Jonathan Reynolds MP tweeted: “… if Jeremy was leader the Tories would win a majority of at least a 100, and possibly more”. John Mann MP wrote that Corbyn’s support signalled Labour’s “desire never to win again”.5 In the Daily Mail one unnamed “senior Labour MP” promised to throw himself under a bus, should Corbyn win the contest.6 One can only hope.
Of course, no media campaign against Corbyn would be complete without the Eustonite warmongers accusing him of being a crypto-Islamist and anti-Semite, with their desperate ‘guilt by association’ arguments. Nick Cohen calls him “Hezbollah’s man in London”,7 rehashing Alan Johnson’s argument that Corbyn is a totally unsupportable fascist because his opposition to Zionist settler-colonialism has led him speak on platforms alongside Islamists.
Cohen goes on to argue that Corbyn supports “goose-stepping Shia militias slaughtering Sunni Muslims”. While Cohen’s new found support for Sunnis is heart-warming, it is somewhat at odds with his continuing defence and support for the Iraq war, which killed at least half a million people and featured US-backed Shia death squads ethnically cleansing Sunnis in Baghdad (an acceptable price for toppling Saddam Hussein, according to Cohen8).
The attacks from the Eustonites, started by Alan Johnson on James Bloodworth’s Left Foot Forward website, have now found their way into the mainstream media. With the Daily Mail and other sites now hosting a video, for which Johnson originally provided the link, of Corbyn referring to Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends”.
Tactical voting
Labour First, the secretive rightwing group within the Labour Party run by Luke Akehurst,9 sent out an email stating:
“We clearly do not share Jeremy Corbyn’s politics and believe these would destroy Labour’s chances of electability. We would therefore encourage supporters of Andy, Yvette and Liz to transfer votes to each other at CLP nomination meetings so that as few CLPs as possible make supporting nominations for Jeremy.”10
This campaign to use transfers to ensure that Corbyn does not win the leadership demonstrates, as I previously noted, that he “represents a line of political demarcation within Labour”11: he has turned the leadership contest into a straight-up battle between a resurgent left and the right that has dominated the party for decades.
Although the Unite NEC is advising members to give Corbyn their first preference, you cannot expect Unite to take a sensible decision without ruining it in some way: it also made the decision to advise members to give Andy Burnham their second preference. This is the man who supports the benefits cap, favours deficit reduction against the advice of such leftwing organisations as the International Monetary Fund, and claims that we need to celebrate the “wealth-creators” and “entrepreneurs”. This led to the Daily Mail claiming that Unite advised members to give Burnham their second preference to avoid “making him look like he is a union stooge”.12
That is a difficult allegation to sustain in any case, given that he has appointed Katie Myler – the director and senior consultant at Burson-Marsteller from 2010 to 2015 – as his communications director. Burston-Marsteller’s clients include Ineos, the company that owns the Grangemouth oil refinery, which was shut down temporarily by Ineos after a long-running dispute with Unite. It was only reopened after the union agreed to a three-year strike freeze, a three-year pay freeze, massive pension ‘reforms’ and the abolition of full-time union convenors.
Ineos then hounded Stephen Deans, who had served as the Unite convenor at Grangemouth for 25 years, out of his job. The Blairite think-tank, Progress, along with their friends in the rightwing press, ran a vicious campaign against Deans and Unite, claiming they had attempted to rig the Falkirk parliamentary selection. Unite was eventually cleared by an internal Labour Party investigation and a separate one conducted by the police, but not before the smear campaign led the Labour Party to hold a special conference, resulting in the weakening of the historic link between the party and the unions.
Burnham, just like Kendall and Cooper, does not represent the interests of Unite in any way. Unite members should not give him their second preference and the Unite NEC should rescind its decision to give Burnham any support at all.
Supporting nominations
Constituency Labour Parties will be holding their ‘supporting nomination’ meetings until July 31. Any member or affiliated trade unionist is entitled to attend them, and there is no freeze-date in place to stop recent members/ supporters from attending or voting. The guidance from Labour HQ recommends that these be all-member meetings, but they could be held as delegate-based general council meetings in less democratic CLPs that would like to stitch up the nomination process.
At the time of writing, Corbyn has already secured supporting nominations from 34 CLPs and, with many more yet to hold their meetings, this support could grow further, so it is important for the left to attend them to make the case for Corbyn and win as many supporting nominations as possible.
As Andy Burnham wrote in a recent email to members, “Your local party’s nomination could easily swing on just one or two votes – please don’t miss your chance to play a potentially huge role in deciding the future of our party.”
Notes
1. See www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ labour/11717428/Unite-and-GMB-join-forces-to-back-Jeremy-Corbyn-to-teach-party-a-lesson.html. 2. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/la-bour/11720055/Jeremy-Corbyn-is-a-close-second-in-Labour-leadership-race.html.
3. www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/06/unite-jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership.
4. http://news.sky.com/story/1513709/labour-leadership-race-sinks-deeper-into-farce.
5. https://twitter.com/johnmannmp/sta-tus/610403164714627072.
6. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3126320/Crazy-decision-include-hard-left-socialist-Jeremy- Corbyn-Labour-leadership-contest-sparks-furious-backlash.html.
7. https://twitter.com/NickCohen4/sta-tus/618391575786299392.
8. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/03/10-years-right-invaded-iraq.
9. www.leftfutures.org/2012/02/the-labour-right-and-democracy.
10. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-33504201.11. ‘It can still be done’ Weekly Worker June 6 2015.
12. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3150016/Boost-Jeremy-Corbyn-giant-Unite-union-backs- hard-left-candidate-Labour-leader.html.

Out come the Blairites

As the results rolled in the ghosts of New Labour began to rise. Charles Gradnitzer of Labour Party Marxists reports

Since the general election there has been a constant barrage of rightwing Labour figures talking about the party’s failure to address middle class ‘aspiration’ and include ‘wealth-creators’ in its programme as part of a last-ditch effort to elect another Blairite leader and shift the party back to the right.

It is telling that these people have nothing to say about the electoral catastrophe in Scotland, the effect this has had on the English electorate, and the successes of the Left Platform MPs who publicly stood against austerity and won, some being returned to parliament with increased majorities. The rightwing Progress group is dead – one of its fringe meetings at the last Labour conference attracted only 15 people. Yet its spirit lives on.

Aspirational

On May 11 David Miliband gave an interview to the BBC in which he blamed the failure of Labour to secure a majority on its unwillingness to appeal to “aspirational” middle class voters.1 This was a clear attempt to smear the left by rolling out the ‘sensible’ brother ‘Red Ed’ stabbed in the back in order to lead the Labour Party to electoral ruin. There was no other reason to interview David Miliband. Once he lost the leadership election, he resigned as an MP, abandoning his constituents, to earn six figures in America – perversely as the CEO of a charity dedicated to helping the victims of the very war he voted for in 2003.

On May 10, Peter Mandelson put it more bluntly, claiming that Labour had spent too much time saying the poor “hate the rich, ignoring completely the vast swathes of the population who exist in between.”2 On the same day Chuka Umunna spelled out exactly what was meant by an “aspirational voter” when he said: “there was not enough of an aspirational offer there … I don’t think you can argue you are pro-business if you are always beating up on the terms and conditions of the people who make business work.3 But the most sick-making comment came from Ben Bradshaw, when he said Labour must “celebrate our entrepreneurs and wealth-creators and not leave the impression they are part of the problem.”4

Ben Bradshaw’s statement is both perverse and ironic. The “entrepreneurs” and the “wealth-creators” – or rather capital and the capitalists – are exactly the problem. It is widely accepted, even by the bourgeoisie itself, that the global economic crisis and recession was set in motion by the US subprime mortgage crisis. Moreover, the capitalist class is the problem because it violently perpetuates and maintains the very economic system that exploits the majority, all the while demanding that the working class pay for the crises that are intrinsic to capitalism itself.

It is ironic because Labour really has distanced itself from the actual “wealth-creators” – the working class – by repeatedly attacking the trade unions, weakening the union link and announcing that it would continue to punish workers with austerity, in a desperate attempt to court the capitalist class. On May 11 Mandelson spoke of the trade unions’ “abuse and inappropriate” influence over the Labour Party.5 It was the unions themselves that voted to loosen the historic link with the Labour Party in 2014. However, in a sense Mandelson is right when he claims the unions abuse their influence in the Labour Party, but this is not in the interests of the left or the working class. Instead union officials act as the enforcers of the right’s hegemony.

It is clear what the Blairites mean when they talk about appealing to “middle class aspiration” and “wealth-creators” – they are talking about capital. They want to finish their project of transforming Labour into a bourgeois party, ridding it of “trade union influence” and hoping working class voters will have nowhere else to turn.

Scotland and Ukip

The Blairites’ silence over the electoral wipeout in Scotland is telling. Scottish Labour’s credibility as a party that could represent the working class was seriously undermined by its engagement in the cross-class Better Together campaign in the run-up to the September 2014 referendum.

Labour was unable or unwilling to attack the Tories. In the August referendum debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, Darling was unable to respond to allegations that Labour were “in bed with the Tories” because they were. It also allowed Salmond to attack Labour from the left, promising to save the NHS and stop the welfare cuts if Scotland voted ‘yes’. It was during this time that Labour began to be known in Scotland as the ‘red Tories’. For the most part this moniker was probably well deserved, although in the case of Katy Clark and other the signatories of the Left Platform it was clearly untrue.

Another enormous mistake was the election of Jim Murphy as leader of Scottish Labour. This man is an unreconstructed Blairite. During his time as president of the National Union of Students he had one vice-president unconstitutionally suspended for simply attending Campaign for Free Education meetings, which opposed Labour’s introduction of tuition fees. His behaviour as NUS president was so bad there was even an early day motion submitted by Labour Party MPs condemning his “dictatorial” behaviour. The EDM was amended by Alex Salmond.6

Salmond and the rest of Scotland know exactly who and what Jim Murphy is and quite rightly found his claims that he would “end austerity in Scotland” absolutely risible. If he would not even oppose Labour policy when he was supposed to be representing the interests of students, how could he ever represent the interests of the Scottish working class?

With the SNP landslide an absolute certainty, the Conservatives mobilised a section of the electorate against Labour with well-alliterated scaremongering about an SNP-Labour “coalition of chaos” that would “break up and bankrupt Britain”.7 This mobilisation is reflected in Labour’s failure to capitalise on the Liberal Democrat collapse by taking marginal seats from the Tories. In many of them the Lib Dem collapse saw a swing to the UK Independence Party, whose national-chauvinist rhetoric Labour proved incapable of countering. Labour’s anti-Ukip campaigning was couched in purely bourgeois terms about the economic benefits of EU membership and the net contribution of immigrants to the British economy.

Even when the party attempted to produce a policy that sounded as though it vaguely championed working class interests, such as the ban on “exploitative agencies”, it still engaged in fear-mongering about foreigners stealing jobs and suppressing wages. But for the most part it tried to out-Ukip Ukip, selling “Controls on immigration” mugs for a fiver on the Labour website. Mugs with which the totally delusional Ed Balls promised to toast a Labour victory.

Left Platform

The success of the anti-austerity Left Platform Labour MPs in the election should give everybody pause for thought. Barring the Scottish signatories of the statement, who were doomed to failure thanks to the Better Together campaign, 92% of the platform’s sitting MPs were re-elected.

John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Mearns, Michael Meacher, Ian Lavery, Grahame Morris, and Kelvin Hopkins all secured majorities comfortably above 50% – Corbyn, McDonnell and Morris won more than 60%. John Cryer, an initial signatory of the platform, enjoyed a 15% swing, which secured him a 58% majority. For his part, Chris Williamson failed to win his seat by just 41 votes, but he did manage a 3.5% swing to Labour.

The Left Platform reconvened on May 12 to discuss what to do next. John McDonnell told the meeting that the next queen’s speech would be the most reactionary the country had ever seen. He also pointed out that there would be no left candidate in the leadership election, given that a candidate now needs to be nominated by 35 MPs. An “unrealistic proposition” – especially now that the number of MPs that the Weekly Worker considered worthy of critical support has been reduced to just 15. With there being no possibility for a left candidate, comrade McDonnell, both in the meeting and in an article for The Guardian, argued that Labour needed to “return to being a social movement aiming to transform our society” and “link up with the many other progressive social movements that people are increasingly forming”.8

At the same meeting Ted Knight argued: “We’ve been marching. We’ve had the politics of protest and we’ve got a Tory government! We need to get people together – not to exchange horror stories, but to discuss how to take control of the economy, how to change society.” The problem, however, lies in transforming such rhetoric into concrete proposals and a concrete strategy.

Notes

1. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32697212.

2. www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/10/miliband-made-terrible-mistake-in-ditching-new-labour-says-mandelson.

3. www.ft.com/cms/s/2/6ffcde0c-f6fd-11e4-99aa-00144feab7de.html.

4. www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/09/alan-johnson-labour-aspirational-voters-tony-blair.

5. www.itv.com/news/update/2015-05-10/mandelson-labour-must-end-unhealthy-unions-dependence.

6. www.parliament.uk/edm/1995-96/991.

7. www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/17/david-cameron-labour-snp-coalition-of-chaos.

8. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/12/forget-leadership-contest-new-labour-roots-social-movement-supporters-save-party.

Progress: Capitalism’s Trojan horse

Attacks on Progress should be welcomed, but should the left vote for Aslef’s rule change? Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists looks at the issues

Lord David Sainsbury

Lord Sainsbury: main backer

Pledging, on day one of the Labour Party conference, to “kick the New Labour cuckoo out of our nest”,1 Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, Labour’s biggest affiliated trade union and biggest financial backer, declared war – on behalf of the trade union bureaucracy – against the party’s pro-capitalist Trojan horse inside the party, Progress.

He was backed up by the leaders of the second and third biggest affiliated unions – Dave Prentis of Unison and the GMB’s Paul Kenny, and by a rule-change resolution from leftwing train drivers’ union Aslef, which Kenny told the GMB conference in June “will outlaw Progress as part of the Labour Party – and long overdue it is”. He added: “This is about an organisation funded by external vested interests, who seek to gain influence over candidate selection and in internal elections.”

The Aslef motion, however, like all rule-change proposals not backed by the party’s national executive committee, will only come before Labour conference next year.

McCluskey further upped the stakes by saying Unite would be prepared to end its affiliation if it decided it was no longer being listened to: “The Labour Party has no god-given right to exist. The Labour Party can only exist if it is the voice of ordinary working people and in particular of organised labour.”

Though this sounds admirably leftwing, what is really at issue is the power of the trade union bureaucracy, as opposed to those who would turn the Labour Party into a British version of the US Democratic Party. Of course, it was the trade union bureaucracy, an inherently conservative social caste, which made the Labour Party an electoral runner at the start of the 20th century. The big unions switched their support from the Liberals and opted instead for the newly formed party of Kier Hardie and Arthur Henderson. While the trade union bureaucracy has traditionally provided most of the Labour Party’s funds, they have often used their block votes and organisational muscle to hold the party to the right and defeat leftwing critics.

That was overtly the case until Tony Blair, who managed to remove the old clause four, turn the annual conference into a media circus, get the backing of the Murdoch empire and secure significant donations from the super-rich, big business and media celebs. For a time it looked as if he was going to delabourise the Labour Party. So what we are seeing is a rearguard action by the trade union bureaucracy.

For the “Blairite dead”, as McCluskey called them, electoral success is everything; class struggle is old hat. For careerists, on the other hand, gaining office is what it is all about. Their self-justifying claim is that Labour in office can deliver fairness and protect the poor and vulnerable – but fighting for our rights disqualifies us from their benevolence. They see the trade union link, along with strikes and demonstrations, as a vote loser.

Although their candidate, David Miliband, was narrowly defeated, crucially by the votes of trade unionists, in the 2010 leadership election, the Blairites are far from “dead”, and remain a threat to the traditional role of the trade union barons in the party. With swathes of MPs, many of them in the shadow cabinet, the ‘project’ is busily renewing itself. And, through Progress, they are having considerable success – in the selection of council and parliamentary candidates and in setting the agenda for Labour’s “priorities in government”. Progress is extraordinarily well financed, thanks to the largesse of Lord Sainsbury (see below). Claiming to be merely “a journal which organises events”, its mentoring, web of well connected contacts, ability to shoo people in as interns and research assistants, and the production of a wide range of well researched policy papers gives the budding careerist everything they need for success.

Dossier

It was back in February that the attack on Progress began in earnest, with the circulation to all Constituency Labour Party secretaries of an anonymous dossier: ‘A report into the constitution, structure, activities and funding of Progress’.2

This dossier informed CLPs that a company called Progress Limited was created in 1994, and is controlled not by shareholders, but by its guarantors, whose names are “unavailable for public inspection”. So “we do not know who owns or controls the private company”. Its first director, appointed by the guarantors in 1995, was Derek Draper – at the time a researcher for New Labour’s ‘third man’ (after Blair and Brown), Peter Mandelson. Because Progress consists “wholly or mainly” of members of a registered political party, it is legally obliged by the electoral commission to report all donations of £7,500 or more. As a result the dossier was able to reveal the £250,000 per year donated by Lord Sainsbury since 2001, which he raised to £260,000 in 2010.

“Vesting power of political activities … to a democratically constituted membership structure,” the report concludes, “appears entirely absent.” Members of Progress receive its journal and discounted access to events, the report says, but have no democratic say in the organisation – more like being a member of a fitness club than a political organisation. When, in January 2012, Progress announced a range of new officers, there was “no evidence of a notice of poll, nomination period, electoral procedure, or publication of result, as would be expected in a democratic organisation”. Unrepentant ex-New Labour minister Stephen Twigg replaced coalition collaborator Alan Milburn (David Cameron’s social mobility tsar) as honorary president, and ex-Liberal Democrat and ex-New Labour minister Lord Andrew Adonis became chairperson.

Unfortunately, the anonymous dossier looked for technical rather than political means to defeat Progress, suggesting the expulsion of Militant as a model. “The last time the NEC considered the matter of non-affiliated organisations operating within our party was during the battle to expel the Militant Tendency, when the NEC determined to set up a ‘register of non-affiliated groups to be recognised and allowed to operate within the party’.” So in place of the old list of proscribed organisations, the NEC now has a ‘legitimate affiliates’ list. “The terms of eligibility are revealing – groups had to be open and democratic, should not be allowed to operate their own internal discipline, and could not be associated with any international organisation not supported by Labour or the Socialist International. Where an organisation was unable to meet these criteria, they were to be given a three-month period to put their house in order.”

From 1996 to 2006, says the dossier, the media reported Progress as a “Blairite think-tank”, but from 2010 it “underwent a transition from loyalty to the leader to providing a platform for supporters of ‘New Labour’ against the new leader”: ie, against Ed Miliband. So, instead of condemning the New Labour politics of Progress, the dossier attacks it for becoming that evil thing, a faction: “Progress has transformed itself into a factional body that self-identifies with New Labour and as such has its own ideology, policies, candidates and campaigns.”

The anonymous authors are here displaying their own bureaucratic propensities. They do not recognise a leadership faction as such. So New Labour control-freakery was okay when it demanded “loyalty to the leader”, presumably with their backing. “Whilst this form of organisation is distasteful” – god forbid that party members should organise freely around their own ideas (eg, Marxism and the supersession of capitalism) – “we would be foolish to believe that similar organisations do not operate at the fringes of our party. The key difference … is that those organisations do not have the funding available to Progress …” Yes, massive business funding is “distasteful” in a workers’ party. After all, who pays the piper calls the tune.

The dossier ends with the recommendation that the NEC should set up “an inquiry into the organisation and activities of Progress” and “must consider amending the rules of the party to place constitutional requirements upon members associations in matters of fundraising, governance and discipline”. In other words, an administrative fix for a political problem, in a way that strengthens the bureaucracy’s control over the rank and file. Unfortunately, Aslef’s rule-change proposal fits the bill.

Defending Progress on February 21, Robert Philpot admitted on its website that there was a democratic deficit. Progress “never claimed that membership of the organisation bestows rights other than to receive the magazine and attend our events”, he stated. “We are a magazine which organises events, like the New Statesman,” he proclaimed, with tactical nous. “There has been no change in Progress’s purpose since its creation. The organisation was established to promote the modernisation of the Labour Party and the election or re-election of Labour governments: something we continue to vigorously support.”3

Legitimacy

The attack on Progress was continued by Michael Meacher in theNew Statesman (March 15), repeating everything in the anonymous dossier, including its factual errors and implied condemnation of factions of all hues. He accused Progress of “crossing the red line of legitimacy” from being a political campaigning body to “a party within a party”.

In June, the GMB conference carried a resolution against Progress, entitled ‘Maintaining unity in the Labour Party’, which highlighted its immense business funding and sponsorship and pointed out that “the November 2001 edition of Progress magazine sought to undermine Ken Livingstone’s campaign for London mayor”. The resolution also “noted” that Progress “argued that Labour’s front bench needed to support cuts and wage restraint” – thus “Progress advances the strategy of accepting the Tory arguments for public spending cuts.”4

Unison’s Dave Prentis emphasised his dislike of factions, more than of rightwing politics: “Progress seems like a party within a party. Our affiliation is to the Labour Party. We don’t expect an organisation to be able to grow within it.”5 Ed Miliband’s riposte should be noted, and we should hold him to it with respect to left views and organisations: “We should be a party open to ideas, open to organisations and open to people that want to be part of it, not excluding people or closing it down.”6 But unfortunately he was defending the free expression of anti-working class politics within the party.

McCluskey accepted Miliband’s argument, undermining Kenny’s and Prentis’s hard line (but he has now rejoined them with his ‘Kick the cuckoo out’ slogan). The furore, McCluskey said, was due to “the amount of money being ploughed in”. However, “I would be concerned about banning any group. It is a dangerous route to go down”.7

Progress, for its part, denies having any policies – it simply wants to get Labour into government. But its promotion of New Labour is announced proudly on its website: “Progress is the New Labour pressure group which aims to promote radical and progressive politics for the 21st century.”8 And its business-sponsored events give plenty of scope for ideas which weaken trade union influence and undermine working class party membership. In his speech to the Progress rally at Labour’s conference, president Stephen Twigg called for building “Labour supporters’ networks in constituencies up and down the country. If we can get hundreds and thousands of Labour supporters signed up, we strengthen our relationship with local communities. And we should then look to reform our party to give supporters a bigger say – perhaps starting with the London mayoral selection for 2016.”9

This contempt for the right of members to democratically control the party is beautifully illustrated in an angry blog comment by a Progress supporter: “… does coughing up £40 a year [membership fee] entitle anyone to special privileges [ie, members’ rights] over the party to influence policy?”10

In response to the demand for “acceptable standards of democracy, governance and transparency”, Progress has tried to clean up its undemocratic image. It held an election! A “strategy board” was elected in September, consisting of four members chosen by each section – members, councillors and parliamentarians: 425 members and 86 councillors voted, but the parliamentarians were “uncontested”.11 Trouble is, the elected board does not run the show – it meets just three times a year to “approve” decisions made by the organisation’s directors. And it is allowed one “representative on any interview panel constituted to appoint a new director of Progress”.12In short this is sham democracy.

Pre-split

Progress, it seems obvious, is a pre-split formation. For all its supporters’ proclaimed single-minded devotion to getting Labour elected, their real interest is getting themselves into government. Their chief financial backer, David Sainsbury, was New Labour’s chief backer, donating £18.5 million to the party between 1996 and 2008, but when Miliband won the leader election the donations dried up. During the 13 years of New Labour government, he was the longest serving minister.

But Sainsbury has a fickle history. If (when) the fight against austerity produces a stronger Labour left, we should not be surprised to see Sainsbury and Progress ditch Labour and split to the right, as he has done before. After joining Labour in the 1960s, he was one of the 100 signatories of the infamous 1981 ‘Limehouse declaration’, which led to David Owen’s Social Democratic Party, a rightwing split because of “the drift towards extremism in the Labour Party” and because “a handful of trade union leaders can now dictate the choice of a future prime minister”.13

When, after the 1987 general election, the SDP merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats, Sainsbury and David Owen created the “continuing” SDP, which was wound up in 1990. With Labour already committed to neoliberalism by Blair, Sainsbury rejoined in 1996, becoming a key player in Blair’s team. A year later, Blair made him a lord. Nothing to do with his money, of course.

The Aslef rule-change proposal is the wrong way to tackle Progress. A capitalist Trojan horse should have no place in a genuine workers’ party and Progress should be opposed on that basis.

Notes

1. The Sunday Times September 30.

2. The dossier can be downloaded fromhttp://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/02/20/revealed-that-dossier-on-progress.

3. www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/02/21/response-to-the-recent-document-concerning-progress.

4. www.gmb.org.uk/pdf/Motion%20154.pdf.

5. The Guardian June 18.

6. The Guardian June 22.

7. Ibid.

8. www.progressonline.org.uk.

9. www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/09/30/progress-rally-speech-stephen-twigg.

10. www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/05/12/keynote-address.

11. www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/09/27/results-of-progress-strategy-board-elections-2012.

12. www.progressonline.org.uk/campaigns/progress-strategy-board-elections/terms.

13. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Limehouse_Declaration.