Category Archives: Labour Party Marxists

LPM @ Labour conference: Wednesday September 27

In this issue of Red Pages:

  • Don’t relax – now the real work begins!
  • Stuffed parrots, texts from Momentum – but very little real decision-making. A first time delegate reports
  • Transform the Labour Party – the basis of our submission to the Corbyn review
  • Support trade unionists in Iran!

Download the PDF version of this issue here: part 1 and part 2


Don’t relax – now the real work begins!

This conference was certainly historic: almost 1,200 delegates and 13,000 visitors made this the largest Labour conference ever. It was also very left-wing, at least in its composition. There are lots of things the left can celebrate:

  • We defeated attempts by the right to portray Corbyn supporters as anti-Semites. Clearly designed to shut up the left, it achieved exactly the opposite effect: there were dozens of speakers at conference who spoke out against the right wing’s vile witch-hunt and in favour of the rights of Palestinians. This ran like a red thread through conference.
  • Pressure from below (and perhaps Corbyn?) forced the Conference Arrangements Committee to re-insert Labour’s support for the Palestinian cause into the National Policy Forum’s report.
  • Labour First and Progress played no role at conference – and were visibly upset about it: their dismissal of the majority of new members as “naïve” and their rants against the Marxist “bullies”show that they have their backs against the wall.

But conference business itself was still firmly in the hands of the right:

  • There were no real debates on anything. The documents produced by the National Policy Forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy making) are full of waffle and without any concrete policies. Contemporary motions were distributed way too late and, once merged, were too vague and non-committal.
  • The NEC exercised a lot of pressure on delegates to remit all their rule change proposals in favour of the ‘Party Democracy Review’, even those that do not fall in the review’s remit. Conference should have had a chance to properly debate and vote on, say, the McDonnell amendment, the need to abolish the 12 months delay affecting CLP rule changes and the fight to democratise Young Labour.
  • About a third of contemporary motions were ruled out of order by the CAC, including some that wanted to end British weapons exports to Saudi-Arabia, because a NPF document touches on the issue.

Clearly, the left still has a long way to go in its fight to transform the Labour Party. For a start, conference must become the sole, sovereign decision-making body of the party and the NPF should be abolished. It is an instrument to stop members from shaping party policy.

The next 12 months are going to be crucial in our fight to democratise the party and take it out of the hands of people like Iain McNicol. It is the bureaucratic middle layer that has been resisting reforms; the top and the bottom are now firmly in the hands of the left:

  • With the addition of three more members chosen by CLPs, the NEC will have a (slim) left-wing majority.
  • The new CAC (in office for two years), has a pro-Corbyn majority: Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes were elected by the membership; two more seats are held by the Unite union.
  • The so-called ‘Corbyn review’ will be run by Katy Clarke, Claudia Webbe and Andy Kerr – all in the Corbyn camp.

This gives us an unprecedented opportunity to transform the party. However! We urge Labour Party members not to rely on Jeremy Corbyn and his allies on the NEC to sort things out for them. Corbyn has relented to pressure from the right on too many issues, be it the ‘anti-Semitism scandal’, Trident or free movement. Corbyn and his allies seem to believe that the saboteurs can been pacified and ‘party unity’ consolidated by giving ground on these issues. This is dangerously naive. The outcome of the Chakrabarti enquiry shows the opposite to be true. The witch-hunters’ appetites grow in the eating.

Members need to exercise as much pressure as possible over two concrete issues arising from conference:

1. The Corbyn review must be as democratic and wide-ranging as possible. Clearly, the party is ripe for radical reform. Branches must be invited to have their views heard – and then implemented! The review could easily become a pseudo-democratic exercise, where people send in their thoughts and we end up with another compromise between the left and the right. This is, of course, the way the NPF currently works.

2. The NEC compromise on ‘prejudice’ is a fudge. The worst excesses of the Jewish Labour Movement’s rule change have been removed. But its fingerprints are all over the compromise and they are trying to enshrine in the new code of conduct the controversial ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’, which conflates anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The JLM must not be allowed to continue to exercise pressure beyond its numerical size. Conference has shown clearly that the membership has no interest in appeasing those determined to destabilise Corbyn’s leadership.


 

Stuffed parrots, texts from Momentum – but very little real decision-making

A first-time delegate gives his impressions of conference

I really enjoyed my first time at conference. It was fantastic to see so many like-minded people, quite a few of whom were very happy to describe themselves openly as Marxists. I did not expect the mood to be so overwhelmingly pro-left, so clearly behind Corbyn and so visibly pro-Palestinian. It’s evident that the panic in the right-wing press over the anti-Semitism scandal helped to consolidate the left at conference. Of course, delegates were eating out of John McDonnell’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s hands. But I did not expect everybody around me to get up to whoop and cheer when Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi made her pro-Palestinian speech. I could not see anybody staying in their seat. Another speaker got a standing ovation for mentioning that she was a member of Momentum.

I also did not expect the right to be quite so small and useless. Apart from a small group of people handing out Labour First’s White Pages, I hardly came across them and they were almost invisible at conference.

Having said all of that, I can’t say I really understood what was going on most of the time. I don’t think delegates were really in control of things here. Everything is left to the last moment, and because of the various NEC compromises it was difficult to prepare. You really have to study the daily update from the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC). For example, it was only by chance that I saw the proposed change to the National Policy Forum’s document on Israel/Palestine in Sunday’s report.

This year’s conference agenda was designed, so we were told, to maximise the number of contributions from the conference floor, as opposed to just the party big-wigs. But the method of selecting these ordinary delegates was hard to believe. Speakers were selected by the chair in groups of three, from different parts of the floor. However, up to fifty would-be speakers attempting to catch the eye of the chair led to the employment of ever more bizarre theatrics: comrades were seen holding up hats, scarves, stuffed parrots, inflated bananas, open umbrellas… you get the picture. Those just raising their hand stood no chance.

But it was worse than that – in one session the chair admitted that they could only see the delegates in the front section of the audience, so anyone wanting to speak from the raised section at the rear would have a long wait. Delegates around me noticed that often the randomly selected speakers seemed to be very well informed with speeches that must have taken a while to prepare. Perhaps it was not that random after all.

This chaotic method of speaker selection was matched by the incoherent structure of the sessions. In no way could they be called debates – there was no order to the contributions and many topics in the NPF documents (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making) were not covered at all.

It was not much better when it came to contemporary motions. We only got to see them in the CAC’s report on Sunday morning: a thick booklet with over 120 motions, which were grouped into different ‘themes’. And by 3.30pm we were supposed to have read them all and then decide in the ‘priorities ballot’ which four themes we would like to see debated at conference. That is impossible of course. And of course it is designed to be impossible.

This is where the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy comes in. They certainly worked through the conference agenda (and dragged Momentum along with them – they are linked, of course. As I understand it, Momentum’s owner Jon Lansman used to be a leading light in the CLPD back in the day).

As CLPD’s Pete Willsman has been sitting on the NEC for decades, he gets prior access to material and so his comrades were able to read through all the motions in advance. They used their fringe meeting on Saturday evening to instruct/suggest to delegates which themes to vote on. They already knew that the unions would go for growth and investment, public sector pay, workers’ rights and Grenfell. So, in order to maximise the motions heard, delegates were urged to vote for social care, NHS, housing and railways. Lo and behold, these themes got the vast majority of CLPs’ votes.

As a normal delegate, I felt pretty much out of the loop most of the time, so this attempt to coordinate and explain issues was most welcome. At their fringe meeting on Tuesday night, CLPD comrades also urged CLP delegates to remit all their rule changes in order to get the ‘Corbyn review’ through unopposed. I must say I had my doubts about that tactic, as my own CLP was one of those who voted through the ‘McDonnell amendment’: we wanted to see a dramatic reduction to 5 per cent of the nominations needed from MPs and MEPs in order to get a leadership candidate on to the ballot paper. In th end, we were one of the many CLPs who “regretfully” remitted their rule change.

Momentum was a bit short on the arguments, but better with technology. They were texting us throughout the conference, giving voting advice. Particularly the session on Monday afternoon has to be regarded as a brilliant example of Momentum’s ability to issue voting instructions to delegates at very short notice. The very last speaker in the session moved a reference back of a couple of paragraphs in the NPF document on ‘Work, Pensions and Equality’. As he was literally the last speaker, there was no time to hear other speakers for or against, so delegates really had no idea which way to vote.

But the Momentum organisers must have decided it was an important issue, because text messages were despatched to all their supporting delegates on the conference floor: “Please vote for the reference back to reverse cuts to social security!” The document only criticised the cuts, but the delegate wanted the Labour Party to commit itself to reversing them. By the time the vote was taken a few minutes later, the message had got through. The reference back was carried, with support from a huge majority of CLP delegates. The NPF will now have to look at it again – though of course ordinary members will have to wait to see if the 200 or so members of the NPF will actually enforce this in their next annual report.

This kind of decision-making is very much hit and miss. There were plenty of other issues in the very vacuous NPF reports that deserved to be referenced back, but I presume nobody was called in to make the point! In the end, I ended up abstaining on all of the documents, because they are really full of waffle, without any clear, coherent policy proposals. Ditto the composited contemporary motions. As has been common practice, they have been merged into the most bland and uncontroversial motherhood and apple pie-type statements. Impossible to vote against.

The atmosphere of conference was joyous, even jubilant. It’s just a shame that we haven’t got a hold on conference and the party bureaucracy yet. Conference really hammered home to me the need to change that!


 

 

Transform the Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn says he wants to find ways to give more power to ordinary members and a conference that makes the final decision on policy. The democracy commission has now been agreed and will report next year. All this is very welcome. James Marshall presents a 13-point platform that will provide the basis for the submission by Labour Party Marxists

1. Mandatory reselection is crucial,   though it terrifies the right. We read that this, “even more than nuclear disarmament and membership of the European Community, became the main catalyst for the launch of the breakaway Social Democratic Party” in March 1981. In that same treacherous spirit as the founders of the SDP, Progress – Lord David Sainsbury’s party within a party – furiously denounces mandatory reselection as “a weapon of fear and intimidation”. Yes, mandatory reselection is viewed as an affront by every rightwing wrecker, every hireling, every parliamentary careerist.

It is worth looking at the background. Interestingly, and with good foundation, we read on the Progress website that mandatory reselection carries “echoes of the Paris Commune, and of the Russian soviets, where delegates were subject to recall if they displeased their local citizenry. It rests on the idea that leaders will always be tempted to sell you out, once they get power.” Well, surely, that is what history actually shows.

For decades, sitting Labour MPs – certainly those with safe seats – enjoyed a job for life (or for as long as no better offer came along). They might have deigned to visit their constituency once or twice a year, deliver a speech to the AGM and write an occasional letter to the local newspaper. Meanwhile they lived a pampered, middle class life, frequented various London gentlemen’s clubs and spent their weekends in the home counties with Lord this and Lady that. Despite such evident moral corruption, they were automatically the candidate for the next election. Unless found guilty of an act of gross indecency or had the party whip withdrawn, they could do as they pleased.

With the insurgent rise of Bennism that totally unacceptable situation was called into question. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, founded in 1973, committed itself to a range of rule changes – the mandatory reselection of MPs was finally agreed by the 1980 conference. What this saw, however, was  not a Labour Party equivalent of the Paris Commune or the Russian soviets. There was no right to instantly recall. Nevertheless, once in each parliament, our MPs had to secure the endorsement of their local General Management Committee. Note, GMCs were made up of delegates elected by local party and trade union branches. They were sizable bodies too, typically consisting of 80, 90, 100 or even more delegates.

At the prompting of the bourgeois media, Neil Kinnock, desperately seeking acceptability, sought to extract trade unions from the voting process altogether. He failed, but accepted a compromise. A local electoral college for the selection and reselection of candidates was introduced. Ordinary members were given a direct vote for the first time, leaving GMCs with the right to nominate and shortlist only. This electoral college system gave unions and affiliated organisations up to 40% of the vote, with ordinary members having some 60% (the actual balance was different in each seat, depending on party and union membership).

Trigger ballots were a product of the 1990s. Formally honouring conference’s “desire to maintain reselection”, they made it significantly “easier for MPs to defend their positions”. Trigger ballots allowed for a sitting MP to be subject to a full-scale ballot of the membership. But only if they lost a trigger ballot.

We say, all elected Labour representatives must, by rule, be subject to a one-member, one-vote mandatory reselection. MPs have to be brought under democratic control – from above, by the National Executive Committee; from below by Constituency Labour Parties.

2. We urgently need a sovereign conference once again. The cumbersome, undemocratic and oppressive structures, especially those put in place under the Blair supremacy, must be abolished. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums, etc, have to go.

3. We are against the idea of electing the general secretary through an all-member   ballot. The NEC should elect all national officers. Therefore the post of Labour leader should be replaced by the post of NEC chair. We favour annual elections with the right to recall at any time. As a matter of basic principle Marxists oppose all forms of Bonapartism.

4. In Scotland and Wales, their executive committees should likewise elect their own officers, including their representatives on the all-UK NEC. We are against a single individual in Scotland and Wales having the right to appoint themselves, or a trusted clone.

5. Scrap the hated compliance unit “and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up” (John McDonnell). The compliance unit operates in the murky shadows, routinely leaks to the capitalist media and makes rulings in a completely biased manner. We want to welcome into our ranks the bulk of those who have been barred from membership by the compliance unit. Many of them are good socialists with a proven record.

6. Those expelled from membership ought to have the right to reapply, not after five years, but just one year. All disciplinary procedures should be completed within three months. Endless delay violates natural justice.

7. The huge swing towards Labour in the June 2017 general election happened in no small part due to the enthusiasm of young voters. Yet Young Labour a is creaking, uninviting, thoroughly bureaucratic construction. We need a one-member-one-vote organisation. That must include Young Labour’s National Committee. At present, two-thirds of votes are accounted for by appointees from affiliated organisations, eg, the Fabians and Co-op Party, and affiliated trade unions. Instead of the bi-annual policy and national committee elections, their must be an annual conference that can both decide on policy and elect a leadership. Young Labour has to have the right to decide on its own constitution and standing orders.

8. We need a rule that commits the NEC to securing the affiliation of all trade unions to the Labour Party. The FBU has already reaffiliated. Excellent. But what about the RMT? Let us win RMT militants to finally drop their support for the thoroughly misconceived Tusc project. Instead reaffiliate to the Labour Party. And what about the NUT? This year’s Cardiff conference saw the executive narrowly win an amendment, by 50.63% to 49.37%, which in effect ruled out considering affiliation … at this moment. This can be changed … if we campaign to win hearts and minds. Then there is PCS. Thankfully, Mark Serwotka, its leftwing general secretary, has at last come round to the idea. Yes, 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. Civil service unions were barred from affiliating to the Labour Party and the TUC. The Civil and Public Services Association – predecessor of PCS – reaffiliated to the TUC in 1946. Now, however, surely, it is time for PCS to reaffiliate to the Labour Party. Force another change in the law.

9. There has to be a shift in the party, away from the HQ, regional officers, the leader’s office, the Parliamentary Labour Party, etc. CLPs must be empowered. Towards that end there has to be proper financing. CLPs should be allocated 50% of the individual membership dues. That will help with producing publicity material, hiring rooms, paying for full-time officers, providing transport, setting up websites, etc. That way our CLPs can be made into vibrant centres of socialist organisation, education and action.

10. Our goal must be a Labour Party, that, in the words of Keir Hardie, can “organise the working class into a great, independent political power to fight for the coming of socialism”. We therefore need rule changes to once again allow left, communist and revolutionary groups and parties to affiliate. As long as they do not stand against us in elections, this can only but strengthen Labour as a federal party. Nowadays affiliated organisations include the Fabians, Christians on the left, the Cooperative Party and, problematically, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Business. Encourage the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Communist Party of Great Britain, etc, to join our ranks.

11. 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 would be a rule requiring all our elected representatives and officials to take only the average wage of a skilled worker – a principle upheld by the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution. 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 £82 parliamentarians’ subscription rate).

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. Even without a rule change Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Dianne Abbott ought to take the lead here.

12. Relying on the favours of the capitalist press, radio and TV is a fools game. Yes, 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.

The NEC should, by rule, establish and maintain our own press, radio and TV. To state the obvious, tweeting and texting have severe limits. Brilliant mediums for transmitting simple, short and sharp messages to the already converted. But, when it comes to complex ideas, debating history and charting out political strategies they are worse than useless. We should provide time and space for controversy and the whole range of different opinions within the party. Without that our media will be dull, lifeless, pointless. We should also take full advantage of parliamentary immunity to circumvent the oppressive libel laws. Then we can say the unsayable. That would prove to be electric in terms of shaping and mobilising public opinion.

13. We should adopt 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, which embodies the principle, ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’. That is what socialism is all about. Not a measly £10 per hour “living wage”, shifting the tax balance and a state investment bank. No, re-establishing socialism in the mainstream of politics means committing the Labour Party to achieving a “democratic republic”.


johnMcDonnell HopiSupport trade unionists in Iran!

John McDonnell has been the honorary chair of the anti-war/solidarity campaign Hands Off the people of Iran for many years. He outlined its core principles in a speech to our 2011 conference:

“While opposing any imperialist attacks, we positioned ourselves in clear, active solidarity with the people of Iran who are fighting against their theocratic regime. That also led us to clearly oppose all sanctions on the country, because in our view that is just another form of imperialism attacking the people of Iran. I think we have successfully engaged others in that discussion.”

HOPI is now calling for solidarity with three prominent worker activists in Iran. Please sign and circulate this statement and contact HOPI (details below) to receive more info on this important campaign:

Three prominent activists are on hunger strike in an Iranian prison. They are protesting against unjust sentences handed down to them by the Islamic courts. The comrades are in urgent need of solidarity, especially from trade unionists and democrats internationally. The three are:

• Reza Shahbi ‐ a member of the coordinating committee of the syndicate of the Vahed Bus Company;

• Abbas Abdi ‐ executive member of teachers’ guild;

• Mahmoud Beheshti Langaroudi ‐ former spokesperson of the teachers’ guild.

Shahabi, Abdi and Langaroudi have had these sentences imposed as a result of their activities in defence of their fellow workers. Worryingly, the hunger strike is starting to have a serious effect on their health and is now endangering their lives. Reza Shahabi, for example, has refused food for more than six weeks.

We call on labour activists and defenders of the working class worldwide to do everything they can to save the lives of these leading activists and to build solidarity with them. We also express our grave concern for the lives of these labour activists and urge them to consider ending their hunger strike. The essential work they undertake in defence of thousands of workers in Iran is vital.

To add your name, email office@hopoi.info

Red Pages, Tuesday September 26 2017

In this issue:

  • Anti-Semitism witch-hunt: Conference fights back!
  • Interview with Jackie Walker
  • Labour First: Over the top … again
  • Mandatory selection: essential democratic demand


Click here
to download the September 26 issue in PDF format


Anti-Semitism witch-hunt: Conference fights back!

As Jonathan Rosenhead and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi note in Labour Briefing, “there is something relentless about the pressure on the Labour Party to be nicer to Israel and more inhospitable to its critics.”

Thus, it has been very encouraging to see delegates at this year’s conference push back against that “relentless” (and utterly cynical) pressure from the right. Fringe meetings organised by ‘Free Speech on Israel’ and ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ were packed out, as was Jackie Walker’s show ‘The Lynching’. Comrade Wimborne-Idrissi (a member of the new ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’) made an impassioned pro-Palestinian speech at conference yesterday and deservedly got a standing ovation when she concluded with “The Labour Party does not have a problem with Jews”. She clearly spoke for the overwhelming majority in the hall.

The comrade mentioned that the National Policy Forum’s international document had been updated, after Palestine campaigners had noticed a glaring omission. The election manifesto called for an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. But these basic demands had been dropped, as had the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Presumably, this would have overridden the election manifesto. But after pressure from anti-Zionist campaigners (possibly Jeremy Corbyn himself?), it was put back into the NPF document by the CAC to avert a major controversy at conference itself. Excellent.

The same kind of pressure should be put on the NEC’s new compromise formulation on ‘prejudice and hate’, to be discussed on Tuesday morning. The Jewish Labour Movement’s fingerprints are all over this compromise and we hear that they are lobbying Corbyn and the NEC to be allowed to help write the new code of conduct. The JLM hopes this will enshrine the controversial ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’ into our rulebook. This conflates anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and has been widely criticised.

Unfortunately, the NEC compromise is a deliberate fudge to appease the right. The response of Corbyn and his close allies to crude mendacious ‘anti-Semitism’ charges against the left has been disappointing. They seem to believe that the saboteurs can been pacified and ‘party unity’ consolidated by giving ground on this issue. This is dangerously naive. The outcome of the Chakrabarti enquiry showed the opposite to be true. The witch-hunters’ appetites grow in the eating.

But conference has shown that the wider membership has no interest in appeasing those determined to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – as the standing ovation for Naomi dramatically illustrated.


protest Jackie


Jackie Walker says…

Jewish anti-Zionist campaigner Jackie Walker, suspended from the Labour Party, talked to Red Pages ahead of her widely praised show ‘The Lynching’. This was staged with much secrecy on Monday night in Brighton

Things are clearly changing in the party. So, are you expected to be reinstated anytime soon? 

I don’t expect it to change soon, no. I’ve been told by somebody in the know that it could be another year before my case comes up. It will now involve a number of barristers on the Labour Party side and my solicitor. They have got to get their papers together. The state of the papers that were sent to the NEC was so appalling that they would be in bad trouble if they were distributed in a similar state again. It will take them some time to get it together.

You have been suspended for a year now; surely this cannot go on indefinitely? 

You’re right; this is an outrage. My solicitor will probably have to make some kind of application under national justice soon. But there are others who have been suspended longer than me – and they don’t even know what they have been suspended for! And this is all happening on the watch of general secretary Iain McNicol.

You took part in yesterday’s protest urging McNicol to go. 

Yes, but he is just one person. I think we need an overhaul of the whole disciplinary process, to ensure that it is not so easily manipulated for political interest. You would have to be a fool not to believe that behind the anti-Semitism witch hunt and the expulsions and suspensions of members is a political ideology.

Are you hopeful that so-called Corbyn review will look at these issues?

Oh yes, because if we keep the current structures we will be embroiled in this kind of nonsense forever. The data protection agency ICO had so many complaints about the Labour Party disciplinary process that enquiries now take three months to be answered – it was two weeks until recently.

What are your thoughts on Iain McNicol awarding the Del Singh memorial price for ‘best practice for a members-led affiliate’ to the Jewish Labour Movement?

It is very unfortunate. This award was established to honour a man who was a real supporter of the Palestinians. Del Singh would be turning in his grave. As I understand it, it’s the Conference Arrangements Committee that decides who wins the prize, so this just shows how right wing the outgoing CAC is. In terms of the JLM’s “best practice”, I have to remind people that this was the organisation that has allowed their official to make a secret film during a training session at last year’s conference, then sent it to the media – a provocation which got me suspended, of course.

You are a supporter of Jewish Voice for Labour, which had its inaugural meeting last night here in Brighton. 

It is a travesty that the Jewish Labour Movement, a Zionist grouping, is the only recognised Jewish voice in Labour. You can bend numbers as much as you want, but there are many, many Jewish members of the Labour Party who are not Zionists and we need to have a voice too.

Are you trying to affiliate to the Labour Party?

It takes time before an organisation can affiliate. I think first of all we’re trying to grow our numbers. We are having a very positive response and I would urge everybody to get involved in the organisation. You don’t have to be Jewish to become a supporter – though you can’t be a full member unless you’re Jewish.

I hear Tony Greenstein hasn’t been allowed to join? Barring people is not a very good start…

My personal view is that this should not have happened, but I am not a member of the executive.

Is the party too broad a church?

I believe in free speech. If you have Zionists in the Labour Party, they should be able to give their view. People should be able to hear both sides. Progress, Labour First – they have the right to speak. But they should not be allowed to shut down debate and silence opinions that they don’t agree with. The party is changing, but this censorship is still going on.


Labour First: Over the top … again

A first-time delegate from Wales gave his impressions of this year’s conference to a Red Pages distributor. He observed that the right was “near invisible, low key and shoddy looking”.

That just about sums up the 2017 ‘moderate left’ line-up that we have come across. We have reported the slightly weird attack on our comrades who attended the Labour First rally on Sunday. The two comrades we sent along to flood the event were blasted as “Stalinists” and subjected to a stern telling off for their adherence to the “hate filled ideology” of Marxism.

Monday’s new bulletin from our temperate friends has a very odd, over-the-top and laughably ignorant rant against the “cynical Leninists” who have wormed their way into the party. The majority of the Corbyn intake is just “a bit naïve”. Marxists, on the other hand, are “bullies”; fans of “secret police goons”; fetishists for “the violence of the Russian revolution” and South American “authoritarianism” and people who are “happy to impose political change through violent revolution”.

You get the idea. We’re definitely off their Xmas card list.

But then, shit is water-soluble – it washes off pretty easily. This idiotic rant is only worth noting for one thing – it illustrates that the right is under pressure, feels its grip on the party slipping away and it simply hasn’t got the politics to argue cogently against the left – Marxist or otherwise. LPMers confidently expect that LF types will refuse to even talk about these issues when we approach them; to just brush Marxists aside as irrelevant. Although, we note, not too irrelevant to spend well over 500 words maligning us.

They’re on the run, comrades!


Mandatory selection: essential democratic demand

MPs, like all our reps, must be under democratic control from above, by the NEC; from below by the CLPs. Unfortunately, this year’s conference will not hear any motions on the subject – though at least two have been submitted to the 2018 conference. Whatever happens in Brighton, this is a key issue for the left and must be part of the ‘Corbyn review’.

Mandatory reselection terrifies the right. For decades, sitting Labour MPs enjoyed a job for life. They might visit their constituency once or twice a year, deliver a speech to the AGM and write the occasional letter to a local newspaper. Unless found guilty of an act of gross indecency, they could do as they pleased.

With the insurgent rise of Bennism that situation was challenged. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy committed itself to the fight for mandatory reselection of MPs, finally agreed by the 1980 conference. What this saw, however, was not a Labour Party equivalent of the Paris Commune or the Russian soviets, as our friends in Progress foolishly warn on their website. There was no right to instant recall. Nevertheless, once in each parliament, our MPs had to get the endorsement of the local local party and trade union branches. Under Neil Kinnock, this was watered down and eventually today’s trigger ballot was introduced in the 1990s, which makes it significantly easier for MPs to defend their positions.

Clearly, this process is badly flawed. The ‘checks and balances’ that delay and complicate members ability to ‘sack’ the people who are meant to politically represent them and their constituency should be abolished. We need a system of true mandatory selection.

Two rule change motions (from International Labour and Rochester and Strood CLP) that would introduce this mandatory selection of MPs have been voted through CLPs in time for conference 2017 – but in accordance with one of the plethora of undemocratic clauses in the LP rule book, these motions have now been ‘parked’ for almost 14 months before they can be finally discussed by delegates at next year’s conference.

IL’s motion would delete any reference to ‘trigger ballots’ in the rule book and introduce a very simply system, where “The sitting Member of Parliament shall be automatically included on the shortlist of candidates, unless they request to retire or resign from the PLP. The CLP Shortlisting Committee shall draw up a shortlist of interested candidates to present to all members of the CLP who are eligible to vote.”

This is very simple, very fair and eminently supportable!

Red Pages @ LP conference: Monday, September 25

Click here to download the September 25 issue of Red Pages in PDF format.

Articles in today’s issue:

  • Brexit: To debate or not to debate?
  • We need a positive vision for Europe, not a pro-business one
  • Protest against Iain McNicol
  • Labour First rally: all about Marxism
  • Conference Arrangements Committee: Death throes of the right
  • Success! NPF document on Israel/Palestine is amended

Brexit: To debate or not to debate?

Comrades should be wary of the ‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’: many of its leading lights do notsupport the free movement of labour

If the anti-Semitism furore in the party has shown one thing, it illustrates that the developing fault lines between left and right in the party produce some strange configurations.

Conference has been seeing an odd debate/non-debate around Brexit. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and Momentum really did not want this thorny question discussed at conference and urged delegates not to choose the issue in Sunday’s priorities ballot. (This decides which ‘themes’ are allocated time for discussion).

The CLPD argued that, “it serves no purpose to debate the different views on Brexit at this stage. The NEC’s statement and the plenary session on Monday morning are quite enough at the moment. We should try and limit the damage the right can inflict upon conference”, as Barry Gray said at the CLPD fringe meeting on Saturday.

Ranged against them, you have the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (in formal terms, also on the left) who sided with none other than Labour First’s Luke Akehurst to urge delegates to vote in favour of a Brexit debate.

As a general principle, Marxists argue that organisations in the workers’ movement should be able to have frank and transparent discussions on any issue, even uncomfortable ones. Political differences should not be viewed as a problem per se. A thinking organisation will always have disputes, and it is almost always right to argue them out publicly.

We need to be concrete, however. Labour First and Akehurst wanted this issue discussed because they perceive Corbyn and the left are vulnerable on it. For instance, at the Labour First rally on Sunday, the CLP delegates in the audience were strongly urged to give their first vote in the priorities ballot to a debate on Brexit. Apart from any other considerations, it was given this importance by LF because Momentum is politically fractured on the issue, with deep disagreements between its “Stalinist” and “Trotskyist” factions. (LPM comrades who braved the wrath of the angry rightists at this gathering report that our organisation also warranted a few mentions from the platform. None complimentary – though we would have been mortally offended if any were, of course.)

So, the right has correctly identified Europe as one of Jeremy’s weak spots. While the Labour leader has been reasonably successful in simply standing back and giving the Tory government sufficient Brexit rope to hang itself, the Labour Party’s position is hardly coherent or convincing. Thus, Labour First, Progress and the whole rightwing gang in the party are jostling for a chance to attack Corbyn on the issue and show him up for the benefit of their allies in the yellow press. Concretely, therefore, the demand for a debate on Brexit is a rightwing tactic, another attempt to beat up Corbyn and his allies. 

Balance of forces

Thankfully, they have not succeeded: during Sunday’s priorities ballot, conference voted overwhelmingly to follow the advice given by CLPD and Momentum. Contemporary motions on Brexit will not be discussed, after that subject received 72,000 CLP votes. As a comparison: The NHS and housing received 187,000 votes each, social care 145,000 and the railways 120,000. This gives a useful snapshot of the balance of forces at this year’s conference. 

Mindful of this background, it may seem strange that an ostensibly left organisation like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty should prioritise building a campaign (‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’) that offers platforms to the likes of Tulip Siddiq (who in January resigned as a shadow minister following Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50) and Clive Lewis MP, who has of course spoken out against free movement.

In response to Jeremy Corbyn stating publicly that he saw “no need” to curb immigration or impose more controls, Lewis said: “We have to acknowledge that free movement of labour hasn’t worked for a lot of people. It hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut, who feel insecure, who feel they’re not getting any of the benefits that immigration has clearly had in our economy.” 

Now, it would be foolish in the extreme to argue – in the manner of a sect like the Socialist Worker Party – that mass immigration always and everywhere brings unalloyed economic benefits and social harmony to indigenous working class communities. However, this in no way implies that we should oppose the right of working people to free movement; to be able to seek a life for themselves and their families in any part of the world they choose. 

Voluntary unity

The key is unity, won from below. We need to fight for the integration of migrants into the culture of struggle of a native working class (a reciprocal process of learning, of course), into common organisation and unity against our class enemies. 

This voluntary, combative unity is a million miles away from what the likes of Clive Lewis advocate when they call for obligatory union membership for migrant workers (as a precondition of their right to enter the country) to stop them “undercutting wages” – a proposal motivated, he admits, by his core concern to “have an impact on the number of people coming to this country”, to “make it more difficult for employers to bring people in” and thus to push companies to “begin to take people more often from this country”. Fairly bog-standard Brit nationalism masquerading as ‘internationalism’, in other words.

The very fact of the AWL’s involvement in the ‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’ should set alarm bells ringing for Labour comrades. This is an organisation infamous for arguing against the right of Palestinian people to free movement – concretely the right to return to areas they were forcibly ejected from by the colonialist Israeli state.

Among their leaders are people who are happy to call themselves “Zionists” and this softness on reaction saw them support the purging of Jackie Walker as vice-chair of Momentum. Their ‘fellow traveller’ on the Labour Party NEC, Rhea Wholfson, voted to refer Jackie Walker’s case to Iain McNicol’s compliance unit – and happily speaks at meetings organised by the Jewish Labour Movement, an affiliate to the World Labour Zionist Movement, a loyal supporter of the state of Israel and home to many of those who have been so keen to save the Labour Party from its ‘unelectable’ leader.

This campaign needs to be given a very wide berth. As with every other issue and debate in the Labour Party these days, context is everything.


 

We need a positive vision for Europe, not a pro-business one

Keir Starmer has succeeded in getting the shadow cabinet to come out in favour of staying in the single market (though in an interview on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Jeremy Corbyn seemed to backtrack somewhat from this again). Still, there remains a striking paradox. On Europe, Labour is articulating the interests of big capital. Not that big capital will reciprocate and back the Labour Party. It is, after all, led by Jeremy Corbyn: pro-trade union, pacifistic and a friend of all manner of unacceptable leftists.

For the sake of appearances, Keir Starmer pays lip service to the 2016 referendum result. There is no wish to alienate the minority of Labour voters who backed ‘leave’. More through luck than judgement, ambiguity served the party well during the general election campaign. The contradiction between Corbyn’s historical hostility towards the EU – now represented in the Commons by the Dennis Skinner-Kelvin Hopkins rump – and the mass of Labour’s pro-‘remain’ members and voters resulted in a fudge.

However, instead of getting embroiled in the argument about what is and what is not in the ‘national interest’ – eg, staying in the single market versus leaving the single market – Labour needs a class perspective. We should have no illusions in the European Union. It is a bosses’ club, it is by treaty committed to neoliberalism and it is by law anti-working class (note the European Court of Justice and its Viking, Laval and Rüffert judgements). But nor should we have any illusions in a so-called Lexit perspective.

On the contrary the EU should be seen as a site of struggle. We should aim to unite the working class in the EU in order to end the rule of capital and establish socialism on a continental scale. That would be the biggest contribution we can make to the global struggle for human liberation.

 

LPMers happily joined the 30 or so protestors outside Labour Party conference this morning to demand that general secretary Ian McNicol should resign (actually, he should be sacked!). Not only is McNicol responsible for the suspensions and expulsions of thousands of leftwing Labour Party members, he is also in the frame for attempts to sabotage Labour’s electoral challenge in June’s snap election. He and other right wingers were clearly hoping for a Labour result so dire that Jeremy Corbyn would have to fall on his sword. Thus, many CLPs were woefully under-resourced and a large number received not a single penny. (For example, Sheffield Hallam, where the pro-Corbyn left managed to oust Lib Dem luminary Nick Clegg and win the first ever Labour MP in the constituency, received precisely zip from either the region or HQ).

The rightwing response to the protest was predictable. Johanna Baxter expressed to conference her tremulous outrage at this protest and railed that a demo against “an employee of the party should not be allowed”. Deservedly, she was booed.

Of course, the issue wasn’t really Ian McNicol’s employment rights, but Baxter’s solidarity with his politics. Before she was booted off the NEC last year, she managed to use the then wafer-thin right wing majority on the NEC to push through changes to give Wales and Scotland two extra NEC seats. This was not prompted by democratic concerns around regional devolution. No, Baxter was confident that the vacancies would be filled by supporters of the right in the party.

Subsequently, of course, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has resigned and been replaced (temporarily) by leftwing deputy leader Alex Rowley. This produced a small left NEC majority. In turn, this was enough to push through the ‘Corbyn review’ and expand the CLP representation from six to nine, producing a leftwing majority on our leading body for the near future. Clearly, the right is in some pain. Happy days!

Labour First rally: all about Marxism

The crowd at the Labour First rally on Sunday afternoon was a pretty riled up bunch. Luke Akehurst and his mates are clearly feeling under pressure from left-wing delegates at this year’s Labour Party conference … and they are not handling the stress at all well. The chair launched an attack on LPM as “not real Labour” – unlike the rows of Tory-lite manikins in the hall, for whom genuine Labour principles are as expendable as autumn leaves. Furthermore, our very name is a “a contradiction in terms” – a short course in dialectics might clear up any confusion.

The ever-delightful John Mann MP scowled at our comrades, but didn’t deign to speak to them – presumably because there were no cameras nearby. However, he did prevail upon a minion to pick up a copy of the latest issue of Labour Party Marxists Bulletin.

Not surprisingly, given the general election result and Jeremy’s huge spike in popularity and profile, Luke Akehurst and his chums didn’t attack Corbyn directly. Instead, they concentrated their attacks on his supporters – the organised Corbynistas particularly. These were “Stalinists” who “fetishise military dictatorships” like Venezuela and Cuba. The June poll was run down, however – “We have even fewer seats than under Neil Kinnock”, Chris Leslie MP complained. He went on to illustrate his encyclopaedic ignorance of Marxism, which he dismissed as a “destructive, hate filled ideology”. In comments that must have shocked many in the audience, he also revealed that Marxism is “revolutionary” and wants to “overturn capitalism” (well spotted).

Akehurst suggested that the Labour Party should “purge the Anti-Semites” (for this, read “the left”) and “stand up to the bullies” (that is, “silence all criticism of the right”). Pretty classic -and pathetic – tactics of bureaucrats who are politically incapable of answering critics and are aware the game is moving away from them. For instance, in one of his more honest moments, Akehurst had to acknowledge that the right’s forces are now too weak to “stop the McDonnell amendment”.

Conference Arrangements Committee:
Death throes of the right

The Conference Arrangements Committee reported two records: there have never been so many delegates at Labour Party conference – almost 1,200. And over 1,000 of these are first timers. Of course, that reflects the tremendous sea change within the party. But it also presents the left with a problem. We have the numbers, but we do not have the organisation yet to halt the undemocratic shenanigans by the right.

Take the CAC, which is still dominated by the old guard. Their report on Sunday morning provoked angry responses from conference floor. Two disputed issues should really have led to votes being taken to refer the report back; but the left was not organised enough to see this challenge through.

First was the CAC’s sneaky move to provide time for London mayor Sadiq Khan to address conference, although this is clearly not within the CAC’s remit. The NEC had previously decided not to allow any of the city mayors to speak, to give more space for delegates to contribute. Once the CAC had made its invitation public, the NEC caved in, presumably for fear of media ridicule and scathing headlines. If Khan uses his allotted time to undermine Corbyn or belittle the scale of the party’s achievement in June, then we trust delegates will not be shy about voicing disapproval.

The other issue is related to the CAC’s implementation of last year’s rule change to allow the partial reference back of National Policy Forum documents. Any delegate can now challenge part of the NPF’s (extremely long-winded) documents and demand that the issue is revisited by the body. Of course, if the chair is happy with a challenge, s/he will simply “ask conference if the reference back is agreed”, as it says in the CAC report.

However, if the chair is not happy about the issue in dispute, then it will be up the person chairing that session to decide if a vote is conducted by show of hands or by a card vote.

The difference between the two is crucial. The unions and other affiliates have 300 delegates at conference, the CLPs have sent 1,200. But in a card vote, the affiliates’ vote counts for 50% of the total vote, ditto the CLPs’ vote (which is then further divided according to how many members a CLP has). Roughly, a union delegate’s vote counts four times as much as the vote of a CLP delegate – and that can make all the difference in a dispute.

This chair’s discretion over the format of voting is within the current rules, but normal practice in recent years – when it comes to reference back of a CAC report, composite motions etc – has been to allow any delegate to make a call for a card vote, which the chair is then obliged accept.

This posed almost no problem in the Blairite period of the party: real disputes were absent from conference floor, which had become a tedious, stage-managed affair. The election of Jeremy Corbyn has changed all that. Last year, a huge row broke out at conference over the NEC’s “reform package” that snuck in two additional NEC seats for the leaders of Welsh and Scottish Labour. Delegates were on their feet, shouting “card vote, card vote” – but the chair simply refused and declared that the hand vote had “clearly won”. In a card vote, the result would have gone the other way, as the unions were firmly against the addition of two right wingers.

This shows how important it is for the left to show its muscle in every party arena – including the middle layers of the party bureaucracy, of which the CAC is a part. Yes, Momentum and CLPD successfully campaigned for two leftwingers, Billy Hayes and Seema Chandwani, to be elected onto the committee by direct ballot of the membership. But the CAC is made up of seven members, five of whom will be elected by other methods. Therefore, we are not entirely confident that the left will actually be running next year’s conference.

Success! NPF document on Israel/Palestine is amended

The National Policy Forum is a relic of the dark days of Blairism; a body Blair established to outsource the party’s policy-making. When it published its dire, 90-page annual report in June, Palestine campaigners quickly noticed a glaring omission. The 2017 election manifesto called for an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. But these basic democratic demands had been dropped from the NPF document, along with the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Had conference supported this document, it would have overridden the pledges in the manifesto, as conference is – at least on paper – the sovereign decision-making body of the party. This omission was no ‘oversight’. Campaigners went into overdrive; LPM joined others calling on delegates to refer back this section of the document.

But page 14 of yesterday’s Conference Arrangements Committee report includes, without explanation, this small paragraph:
“The following text, as agreed in the Labour Party Manifesto 2017, is now included in the National Policy Forum Annual Report 2017. On page 56, column 2, line 43, add:

‘There can be no military solution to this conflict and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve. That means both an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements, and an end to rocket and terror attacks. Labour will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution. A Labour government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine.’”

It is not the kind of programme we would write on the Middle East (there is clearly a tendency to equate the violence of the oppressor state Israel with the struggle of the oppressed Palestinian people – note the mention of “rocket attacks”). But a return to the original formulation is a victory against those (like the Jewish Labour Movement) who want us to take the side of the Israeli state. The fact that the JLM has perversely been given the ‘best practice award’ by Ian McNicol serves as a reminder of how well connected this organisation is to the party bureaucracy.

Sack McNicol protest at Labour Party conference

LPMers happily joined 30 or so protestors outside Labour Party conference this morning to demand that general secretary Ian McNicol be sacked. Not only is McNicol responsible for the suspensions and expulsions of thousands of left-wing Labour Party members, he is also in the frame for attempts to sabotage Labour’s electoral challenge in the June’s snap election. He and other rightwingers were clearly hoping for a result so dire for Labour that Jeremy Corbyn would have to fall on his sword. Thus, many CLPs were woefully underfunded and a large number received not a single penny. (For example, Sheffield Hallam, where the pro-Corbyn left managed to oust Lib Dem luminary Nick Clegg and win the first ever Labour Party MP in the constituency, received precisely zip from either the region or HQ).

protest

The response to the protest was predictable. Right-winger Johanna Baxter expressed her tremulous outrage to conference at this protest against “an employee of the party”. She really should have added ‘and my fellow political traveller on the right’: Before she was booted off the NEC last year, Baxter managed to use the then wafer-thin right wing majority on the NEC to push through changes to give Wales and Scotland two extra seats on the NEC. This was not prompted by democratic concerns around regional devolution. No, Baxter was confident that the vacancies would be filled by supporters of the right in the party.

Subsequently, of course, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale resigned and was replaced (temporarily) by left wing deputy leader Alex Rowley. This produced a small left NEC majority. In turn, this was enough to push through the ‘Corbyn review’ and expand the CLP representation from six to nine, enshrining a left wing majority on our leading body for the near future. Clearly, the right is in some pain. Happy days!

Red Pages @ LP conference: Sunday, September 24

Click here to download the September 24 issue of Red Pages in PDF format.

Articles in this issue:

  • Voting recommendation: today’s priorities ballot
  • ‘Corbyn review’: Now keep up the pressure
  • Vote against the NEC ‘compromise’ on anti-Semitism

 

Voting recommendation: today’s priorities ballot

Yesterday’s meeting of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy was so packed that a few dozen delegates were briefed on the lawn outside Friends’ House.  Barry Gray urged CLP delegates to vote for the following four thematic issues, so that they can be debated by conference throughout the week: Social care; NHS; Housing; Railyways.

The unions have already decided on the following four subjects, which means delegates should not vote for them, as they will be discussed anyway:

Growth & Investment; Public sector pay; workers rights; Grenfell. 

Comrade Gray explained that a staggering 185 ‘contemporary motions’ had been submitted by CLPs. As usual, about a third had been ruled ‘out of order’ – mainly because the motion was dealing with issues already “substantially covered” by the documents produced by the National Policy Forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making in the party). However, the NPF documents are incredibly vacuous and bland and, as comrade Gray said, the application of this rule tends to be “very flexible” – ie, the conference arrangements committee rules out whatever it likes. This means we will not be hearing motions on, for example, Saudi-Arabia, grammar schools, fracking and nuclear weapons.

While left-wingers Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes have been elected onto next year’s CAC, this  year’s proceedings are unfortunately still dominated by a right-wing CAC. Incidentally, it was also this body that went well beyond its remit and offered  Sadiq Khan a speaking slot at conference, despite the NEC having previously decided against it.

We believe that conference should be the sovereign body of the party: The NPF should be abolished, as should the practice of “merging” all contemporary motions that fall into the same theme. The end result tends to be final motions that are so bland and uncontroversial that they really clarify nothing.

 


 

‘Corbyn review’: Now keep up the pressure
Labour’s NEC has opened the door for much-needed change – now the left needs to take advantage of that opening

Meeting on September 19, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies on the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) made good use of their wafer-thin left majority, which is down to the resignation of Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and her temporary replacement by leftwing deputy leader Alex Rowley.

The NEC agreed to put a ‘reform package’ to this year’s conference that sees a compromise on the so-called McDonnell amendment (see below) and, crucially, an increase in the number of NEC delegates from Constituency Labour Parties from six to nine, to be elected by the whole membership within the next three months. The unions will get one additional seat and, despite the fact that this seat will go to the ‘moderate’-led Usdaw union (which will take up the seat in three months’ time) it is looking good for the left. Even if (and that’s a big if) Labour Party members in Scotland vote for a rightwinger to replace Dugdale on the NEC, this leaves the left in a majority on the NEC, albeit a very slim one.

But the NEC is also proposing to conduct a review of party rules, to be led by Corbyn’s political secretary, Katy Clark. It is a shame that the NEC is strong-arming CLPs to withdraw all rule changes submitted, even those dealing with issues not covered by the ‘terms of reference’ of the review. An open and frank discussion on various issues like the leadership elections, and, of course, the various amendments moved on the question of the entirely fabricated ‘anti-Semitism scandal’ in the party would have been very useful, in our view (see page 3 of this issue).

Unhappy CLPs

We also hear that at least two of the CLPs who moved the original ’McDonnell amendment’ are refusing to remit their rule change. Currently, 15% of the “combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP” must nominate a candidate for leader or deputy leader of the party. The original rule change suggests reducing it to 5% per cent; the NEC compromise is 10%. In our view, it should actually be 0%. The relatively tiny numbers of Labour MPs and MEPs should not have any inbuilt constitutional right to thwart the democratic will of our mass membership!

We therefore urge delegates – if they get the chance – to vote for the original McDonnell amendment. It seems Corbyn and his allies on the NEC were forced to agree to the 10% compromise in order to get the increase of CLP reps onto the NEC through.

But if Momentum’s “survey”, which apparently shows that of the 1,155 delegates chosen by CLPs, 844 “back reforms proposed by Momentum”, is half-way correct, then we do have enough delegates to fight for a more serious change.

Temporary compromise

The “terms of reference” of the “Party Democracy Review”, which “will aim to produce a first report within 12 months”, includes a review of the method on how to elect the party leader (“including the role of registered supporters and the issue of nominating thresholds”) and the “composition of the NEC”. In other words, much of the compromise agreed at the September 19 NEC meeting is temporary. The battle is not yet won.

This is, however, a watershed moment for the future of the party. The left must make sure that it uses this review to full advantage, pushing for the kind of changes needed to transform it into a real party of the working class. The review could easily become a pseudo-democratic exercise, where thousands of people send in their blue-sky thoughts and we end up with another compromise between the left and the right. This is, of course, the way the national policy forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making in the party) currently works. The NPF report produced in time for this year’s conference is truly atrocious – full of waffle about the wonderful “process” employed in compiling it, but devoid of any concrete policies.

Unfortunately, judging from Jeremy Corbyn’s performance so far, we are not hopeful that he is prepared to fight for some of the reforms that are urgently needed to transform Labour into real party of the working class. Corbyn’s method of operation is still characterised by the ill-conceived attempt to appease the right in order to win some kind of ‘party unity’. But the right, with the energetic aid of the bourgeois media, will not rest until they get rid of him (and the entire left). It is high time he came out fighting – and the left needs to push him along in this fight to transform the Labour Party.

Meaningful reforms

ï All elected Labour representatives must be subject to mandatory selection based on ‘one member, one vote’. MPs must be brought under democratic control.

ï We need a sovereign conference once again. The cumbersome, undemocratic and oppressive structures, especially those put in place under the Blair supremacy, must be rolled back. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums, etc, must go.

• Scrap the Compliance Unit “and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up” (John McDonnell). We say, allow in those good socialists who have been barred, reinstate those good socialists who have been expelled or suspended.

• Winning new trade union affiliates ought to be a top priority. The FBU has re-affiliated, the RMT is in the process of doing so. But we should also fight for the NUT, PCS, NUJ and others to join.

• We need to remake every branch, every constituency – only then can we sweep out the right from the NEC, the HQ, the councils and the PLP. Elect officers who support genuine socialism and who are committed to transforming all LP units into vibrant centres of socialist organisation, education and action.

• Our goal should be to transform 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”. The left, communist and revolutionary parties should be able to affiliate. As long as they do not stand against us in elections, this can only strengthen us as a federal party.

• Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder. 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. Let them keep the average skilled worker’s wage – say £40,000 (plus legitimate expenses). They should hand the balance over to the party.

 


 

Vote against the NEC ‘compromise’ on anti-Semitism

The Jewish Labour Movement claims its rule change has been adopted by the Labour Party NEC. That’s not the whole truth – and the left has to be very vigilant

The Guardian (September 18) claimed that Corbyn would be “backing” a Jewish Labour Movement-motivated rule change to this year’s Labour Party conference. This was a real worry: The JLM is an affiliate to the World Labour Zionist Movement, a loyal supporter of the state of Israel and home to many rightists in our party who have been keen to deliver the Labour Party from its ‘unelectable’ leader.

The next day, the Jewish Chronicle happily reported that the Labour Party’s NEC had “unanimously” passed the JLM’s proposal. However, leftwing NEC member Darren Williams wrote on social media that  the NEC approved a “rule change on dealing with prejudiced views and behaviour that avoided the more draconian approach favoured by the Jewish Labour Movement”.

So, what’s what?

Well, that depends on who you ask and what you ask them. Clearly, the JLM’s fingerprints are all over the NEC compromise formulation. The Jewish Chronicle quotes “a spokesman of Corbyn” passing on Jeremy’s “thanks all those involved with drafting this motion, including the Jewish Labour Movement and Shami Chakrabarti.”

It is also true, however, that the original JLM motion was not accepted. One of the key aspects of the original motion was rejected: the JLM wanted a “hate incident” to be “defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation” (our emphasis).

This was a clumsy JLM attempt to hijack the recommendations of the MacPherson report, established after the killing of Stephen Lawrence. This found the police to be “institutionally racist” and went on to recommend that when the victim or someone else feels an attack or hate incident is racially motivated, the police are obligated to record it as such and frame their investigation within these parameters.

So, there’s no question that JLM has failed in its attempt to lodge in the party rules the notion that the Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic. The NEC formulation requires some concrete evidence on “any incident which in their [the NEC’s] view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice”. The JLM also failed in its attempt to enable the disciplining of members for comments or actions made in “private” – a truly Orwellian proposal.

If it had been successful, this motion would have handed Iain McNicol and the Compliance Unit a devastatingly effective witch-hunting app, to be used of course against the left: members could have been punished for what others perceived to be their motivation for specific comments or actions, not what was said or done.

Why a ‘No’ vote

Yes, the worst excesses of the JLM motion have been removed. But the fact remains that the NEC – and Corbyn – now seem to implicitly accept the premise that Labour does have some sort of chronic anti-Semitism malady to be addressed. This is palpably untrue.

The response of Corbyn and his close allies to the flurry of crudely mendacious ‘anti-Semitism’ charges against the left has been deeply disappointing. Clearly, the belief in these leading circles is that rightwing saboteurs can been pacified and ‘party unity’ consolidated by giving ground to them on this issue. This is dangerously naive. The outcome of the Chakrabarti enquiry showed the opposite to be true. The witch-hunters’ appetites grow in the eating.

This is why – despite the fact that we recognise the healthy motivations of the comrades – we would also oppose the Hastings & Rye amendment stipulating that all accusations of anti-Semitism be based on concrete factual evidence. Implicitly, it still concedes too much to the falsehood that Labour has a serious problem with prejudice in the first place. But we understand why many delegates will probably vote for it, if given the chance: we hear the CLP has refused to remit their rule change.

First up, we should remember that the party already has sufficient powers to discipline members actually guilty of anti-Semitic comments or actions. Their vexatious nature aside, the suspensions of Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Naz Shah and others clearly demonstrate this. The rulebook has lengthy sections on the disciplinary measures available to the NEC.

Further, the NEC compromise accepts the JLM’s suggestion that the following sentence in the rule book needs amending: “The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions.” The JLM wanted to expand this sentence to include “except in instances involving anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or racism.”

The NEC compromise now reads: “The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions, except in any instance inconsistent with the Party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic.”

This formulation could still see party members disciplined for holding what are perceived to be prejudicial views – even without them acting on or articulating them publicly. What would be the basis for conviction? A hunch? Telepathy? Are we perhaps talking about petitions you have signed or Facebook posts you have ‘liked’? This formulation is wide open to abuse – it all depends on who looks at the rules, who interprets them for what purpose.

The NEC compromise also references “codes of conduct”. Again, these already abound in the Labour Party: Last year, our leading committee published a ‘Social Media Code of Conduct’; there is a code of conduct for “membership recruitment and retention” and there is one solely for the “selection of local government candidates”. Even the Parliamentary Labour Party has agreed on a set of “pledges” to facilitate its good behaviour. (We eagerly await the first evidence of its success.)

Notwithstanding this, it seems we might now have another ‘code’ to look forward to – on “hostility and prejudice”. Rumours circulate that a bone thrown to the JLM is the undertaking that some of its original draconian formulations could be shoe-horned into this new code of conduct. Word also reaches us that the JLM might be pushing for the controversial ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’ produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to be included in the new conduct protocols. The short IHRA definition is designed to conflate and confuse anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and has been criticised by many anti-Zionist campaigners.

No anti-Semitism problem?

Of course, there are a minuscule number of individual members who hold anti-Semitic views – most of whom you would expect to find on the party right,  by the way. Labour is not some chemically pure ideological sect of a few hundred acolytes. We are a mass movement and therefore, to varying levels, may find in our ranks trace elements of irrational minority prejudices that exist in wider society. The party – or, more specifically, the Labour left – has no more of an institutional anti-Semitism ‘problem’ than we have a problem with paranoid notions that 9/11 was an inside job or that shape-shifting space lizards run the world.

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

Sections of the right of the party have attempted to rebrand as ‘anti-Semitism’ even the discussion of some sensitive but accurate facts of Zionism’s relationship with the early Nazi regime or the left’s critical stance on the Israeli state’s savage oppression of the Palestinian people.

The latter is a particularly smart move on behalf the witch-hunters. With a few dishonourable exceptions, the Labour left is highly critical of the Israeli state’s ongoing colonial/expansionist oppression of the Palestinians and the appalling discrimination, displacement and denial of basic democratic rights that go with it. However, it is a crude and transparently false conclusion to draw from this that the left wishes to see the poles of oppression simply reversed. There are different strategic approaches amongst comrades in solidarity with the Palestinian people (a single secular state, two viable state formations, etc). But a common theme is the need for democratic consent of these two peoples to live side by side, sharing equal, substantive democratic rights. In other words, the left in the party is overwhelmingly anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.

These two very distinct categories have been conflated for the most contemptible of reasons. In the struggle between the left and right for the soul of the party, ‘anti-Semitism’ has been “weaponised”, as Chris Williamson MP quite rightly put it. It has been a successful tool in the drawn-out campaign to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn. Historically, Corbyn has been an ardent supporter of Palestinian rights. We are not so sure where he stands now. It is probably fair to say that his stance has become more ‘flexible’.

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

We urge delegates to vote against the NEC compromise and to reference back the NPF international document. They come before conference on Tuesday.

‘Corbyn review’: Keep up the pressure

Labour’s NEC has opened the door for much-needed change – now the left needs to take advantage of that opening, says Carla Roberts

Meeting on September 19, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies on the Labour Party national executive committee made good use of their wafer-thin left majority, which is down to the resignation of Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and her temporary replacement by leftwing deputy leader Alex Rowley.

The NEC agreed to put to this year’s conference a ‘reform package’ that sees a compromise on the so-called McDonnell amendment (see below) and, crucially, an increase in the number of NEC delegates from Constituency Labour Parties from six to nine, to be elected by the whole membership within the next three months. The unions will get one additional seat and, despite the fact that this seat will go to the ‘moderate’-led Usdaw union (which will take up the seat in three months’ time) it is looking good for the left. Even if (and that’s a big if)1)Scottish leftwing members are taking a motion to the Scottish executive committee to make Scotland’s NEC representative elected by ‘one member, one vote’. “This motion is expected to pass,” the usually well-informed Skwawkbox writes. Labour Party members in Scotland vote for a rightwinger to replace Dugdale on the NEC, this leaves the left in a majority on the NEC, albeit a very slim one.

But the NEC is also proposing to conduct a review of party rules, to be led by Corbyn’s political secretary, Katy Clark. The “terms of reference” of the “Party Democracy Review”, which “will aim to produce a first report within 12 months”, include a review of the method on how to elect the party leader (“including the role of registered supporters and the issue of nominating thresholds”) and the “composition of the NEC”.2)https://skwawkbox.org/2017/09/19/exclusive-terms-of-reference-for-corbyn-review-of-labour-democracy In other words, much of the compromise agreed at the September 19 NEC meeting is temporary. The battle is not yet won.

This is, however, a watershed moment for the future of the party. The left must make sure that it uses this review to full advantage, pushing for the kind of changes needed to transform it into a real party of the working class. The review could easily become a pseudo-democratic exercise, where thousands of people send in their blue-sky thoughts and we end up with another compromise between the left and the right. This is, of course, the way the national policy forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making in the party) currently works. The NPF report produced in time for this year’s conference is truly atrocious – full of blurb about the wonderful “process” employed in compiling it, but devoid of any concrete policies.3)www.leftfutures.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/NPF2017.pdf

But, judging from Jeremy Corbyn’s conduct so far, we are not hopeful that he is prepared to fight – for example, to abolish the NPF and bring policy-making back to conference, which must become the truly sovereign body of the party. We are not convinced that he is prepared to abolish the compliance unit and invite in the thousands who have been barred, expelled or suspended for the ‘crime’ of having once supported another organisation such as Left Unity or being a member of Socialist Appeal. We are far from hopeful that he will change his mind and start to support the mandatory selection of all MPs. Corbyn’s method of operation is still characterised by the ill-conceived attempt to appease the right in order to achieve some kind of ‘party unity’. But the right, with the aid of the assembled bourgeois media, will not rest until they get rid of him (and the entire left). It is high time he came out fighting – and the left will have to push him along in this.

Why the compromise?

Currently any candidate for leader or deputy leader of the party requires the nominations of 15% of the Parliamentary Labour Party and European parliament combined. The ‘McDonnell amendment’ wanted to reduce this to 5%, but the NEC settled on 10%. In our view, it should actually be 0% – MPs and MEPs should not have the right to obstruct the will of the membership. (Incidentally, 21 CLPs have voted through an amendment that would change the current requirement for nominations dramatically: any candidate for the position of leader would require the support of 15% of either the MP/MEPs, or the affiliated sections or the CLPs. Presumably, this very good motion will now not be heard at the 2018 conference, but instead be superseded by the report from the ‘Corbyn review’.)

Maybe Corbyn and his allies on the NEC were forced to agree to the 10% compromise in order to get the increase of CLP reps onto the NEC through. But the compromise might also point to their fear that conference might not actually go the (left) way that Luke Akehurst and the mainstream media had been suggesting. According to The Guardian, Momentum has conducted its own ‘survey’, which apparently shows that, of the 1,155 delegates chosen by CLPs, 844 “back reforms proposed by Momentum, while 236 are opposed and the views of 75 are unknown”.4)The Guardian September 18

But Corbyn is probably right not to rely on the scientific basis of this ‘survey’: Delegates received a text message that read: “Hi XY, this is Morgan, and I’m a volunteer from Momentum. Congratulations on being elected as a delegate to the 2017 Labour conference in Brighton. Do you intend to vote for a rule change that will make it easier for leftwing candidates to get on the ballot in future leadership elections?”

Firstly, Momentum does not hold mobile phone numbers or email addresses for all delegates. It has contact details for lefties – so it probably multiplied however many returns it got by the number of actual delegates. We also know of quite a few leftwingers who did not reply. Some thought the unsolicited text message seemed a bit “fishy”, others have gone right off Momentum and some did not reply because it seemed such a stupid and obvious question to ask of a Momentum supporter.

While Momentum is playing a rather silly game of potentially inflating numbers, Luke Akehurst, on the other hand, might be playing a game of ‘reducing expectations’ in order to come back with a ‘surprise victory’ for the right, which is fighting to keep its hold over the party bureaucracy and middle layers. Yes, many CLPs have chosen pro-Corbyn supporters as representatives and have filled their whole quota of delegates with leftwingers. But there are reports of many more CLPs, where the right has succeeded once again in stressing the ‘financial burden’ of sending more than one delegate to conference and, hey, what’s wrong with sending our experienced comrade XY, who has represented us so admirably in previous years?

The main problem is that, even if there is a clear left majority of pro-Corbyn delegates, nobody is doing much with it.

 

It is actually remarkable how few progressive, leftwing motions have been submitted – and how tame they are. Yes, there is the 14-month delay, but the motions are no doubt a reflection of the fact that the left is still trying to catch up with the situation of suddenly having a leftwing leader. Clearly, we are still woefully unprepared and unorganised. Momentum played a very useful role in the general election, but its leader, Jon Lansman – and Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter – clearly have no coherent plan when it comes to transforming the Labour Party, as our voting guide to rule changes demonstrated.

 

References

References
1 Scottish leftwing members are taking a motion to the Scottish executive committee to make Scotland’s NEC representative elected by ‘one member, one vote’. “This motion is expected to pass,” the usually well-informed Skwawkbox writes.
2 https://skwawkbox.org/2017/09/19/exclusive-terms-of-reference-for-corbyn-review-of-labour-democracy
3 www.leftfutures.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/NPF2017.pdf
4 The Guardian September 18