Category Archives: Inside the Labour Party

Between a rock and a hard place

The candidates in the Labour leadership election reflect the self-inflicted defeat of the Labour left under Corbyn’s leadership, argues Carla Roberts

Six candidates have thrown their hat into the ring to become the next leader of the Labour Party, but we can safely presume that, in the end, it will be either Keir Starmer or Rebecca Long-Bailey. Clive Lewis and Emily Thornberry could well drop out, whereas Lisa Nandy may not even make it onto the ballot paper. Jess Phillips might have been the popular go-to person for the anti-Corbyn press looking for a nasty quote. But coming out, all guns blazing, in favour of ignoring the result of the Brexit referendum has ensured that most of the media have now turned against her. And she has no chance with the membership anyway. Barry Gardiner briefly “considered” throwing his hat into the ring, and we will have to see how he is positioning himself politically. While he was better on the anti-Semitism smear campaign than most MPs, he is also a member of Labour Friends of Israel and voted for the Iraq war.

Before we start, we should point out how poor all these candidates are. All of them are way to the right of what Jeremy Corbyn stood for in 2015. While Corbyn was a symbol of the victory of the left against all the odds, the current candidates, including Rebecca Long- Bailey, are the living embodiment of the defeat the left has now suffered.

The real sense of hope that hundreds of thousands of people felt after the 2015 election of Corbyn has all but evaporated – for now. By not standing up to the right, by appeasing them over and over again, Corbyn and the rest of the leadership helped to decimate and, crucially, depoliticise and demobilise the left in the party. Instructing Len McCluskey to use his Unite contingent at the 2018 Labour conference to vote against the democratic demand for mandatory reselection of all parliamentary candidates was, perhaps, the most vivid example of Corbyn’s political climbdown. But it was his decision not to tackle the ongoing anti-Semitism smear campaign which really damaged the left in the party. He stood silently by as one supporter after another was sacrificed – all in the vain hope that at some point, surely, enough concessions would have been made to stop the attacks. Needless to say, the opposite happened: for every step back by Corbyn and his allies, the right took two steps forward.

Eye on the prize

This was all justified by the need to ‘keep our eyes on the prize’ – ie, finally getting the keys to No10 Downing Street. We might have to sacrifice this or that political principle and we might have to pretend that anti-Semitism is a huge problem in the party – but at least we can convince enough rightwingers to stick with us. Then, once we’re in government, we can finally show what we’re really about.

That has been the recipe not just of Corbyn, John McDonnell and their inner circle – it is the long-standing ‘strategy’ of much of the organised Labour left: Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Socialist Action have been the most blatant in applying this method, which the Labour Representation Committee and much of the rest of the Labour left are also guilty of, albeit to a lesser degree.

We have now seen where this recipe leads – to disaster. From this reformist perspective, we had the perfect leader with the nearperfect social democratic programme – and we still did not make it into government! And no, it wasn’t just Brexit wot did it. The fact that the leadership never stood up to the right in and outside the party meant that the entire established media were able to portray Corbyn and the bulk of the party as a bunch of deranged anti-Semites, racists and crazies. And it stuck – of course it did.

Unfortunately, Chris Williamson was the only MP who stood up against the witch-hunt and campaigned for the democratisation of the party. And we know how that ended for him. Every other Labour MP kept their mouth firmly shut. That includes Richard Burgon, who is running for deputy leader and is probably the best of the whole bunch of candidates. Like Ian Lavery, who briefly considered running for the top job, Burgon at least did not actively participate in the witch-hunt against Corbyn and the left – which is more than can be said of the six candidates for party leader.

That is probably one of the main reasons why Lavery could not gather the required 21 nominations from his fellow MPs. We fear that Burgon – despite, or maybe because of, his endorsement by John McDonnell – will also fail to jump that hurdle.

There is a massive pressure and temptation now to move the party to the right in order to finally become ‘electable’ again. This would, however, mean that we had learnt nothing from the last five years. In truth, the party hardly moved left at all. Yes, hundreds of thousands of new members joined since 2015. But most of them never participated in their local branch or CLP meetings. And, when they did, they were understandably shocked by how bureaucratic, dull and apolitical meetings are. Almost no structural democratic changes have taken place under Corbyn – he did not even dare to touch the now pro-capitalist clause four, which was rewritten by Tony Blair. The so-called Corbyn Review was nothing but a damp squib.

But these are exactly the issues that should be at the heart of our struggle: the democratisation of the party; restoring power to the members and making conference truly sovereign; and we should even discuss getting rid of the position of leader altogether. Instead, the party should have a truly democratic, accountable and transparent leadership. Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, if we could see minutes of national executive committee meetings?

Empowering the members is part and parcel of fighting for a genuine socialist government and working class power – not pursuing a strategy of trying to introduce socialism from above, one step at a time. The biggest problem with this strategy is simple: it does not actually work. Real socialism is the self-liberation of the working class, from below. Otherwise it quickly turns into its opposite.

What a set of candidates

Keir Starmer, the preferred candidate of the ‘moderates’ and Blairites, is posing, somewhat entertainingly, as the Corbyn continuity candidate, in a rather obvious attempt to attract some of the softer lefties. He says he supported the miners in 1984-85 (not many miners remember that one) and even used to be a Trot once. In 1986- 87 he wrote for the short-lived Socialist Alternatives magazine, mainly on trade union matters. Despite its affinity to the Pabloite tactic of deep entryism into mass Labour and communist parties (in anticipation of World War III), the basic character of the journal was closer to the reformism and the identity politics of the Eurocommunists. But have no doubt: this man is today’s Tony Blair.

No doubt, most of the organised left will come out for Rebecca Long-Bailey – bar, perhaps the wretched Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – who, we hear, are even considering support for Keir Starmer (though remainer Clive Lewis is no doubt on the AWL list too). But it is palpable how very little enthusiasm there has been for RLB among the party membership, despite her having been groomed for the position by John McDonnell and Momentum owner Jon Lansman for the last two years. It is easy to see why there is so much hesitation and scepticism about her: she has made a huge effort to distance herself from the left and to be seen as anything but the Corbyn continuity candidate.

There was her underwhelming article in The Guardian on December 29, in which she promised to pursue a policy of “progressive patriotism”. Presumably that was supposed to show that she will not be a US ‘special relationship’ puppet. But in the process she had to resort, rather pathetically, to claiming that the internationalism of the Lancashire cotton workers during the US civil war – the second revolution – was exactly the opposite. A rather entertaining article on The Struggle blog puts her right:

the boycott of southern cotton was not ‘patriotism’, but an act of internationalist working class solidarity with the workers in the northern states and the slaves held in chains in the south. To dress this up in a Union Jack is to disgrace the sacrifice – all too literal – of the Lancashire mill workers.

Then there is her promise that she would be prepared to press the nuclear button, albeit reluctantly: “If you have a deterrent, you have to be prepared to use it,” she told the BBC. “Any leader and any prime minister has to be clear that the security and the protection of the people that they represent comes first, above all else, and they would do anything it takes to ensure the people of this country are protected.”

Or you could, you know, campaign for nuclear disarmament. It used to be very popular on the Labour left to oppose the nuclear obliteration of large sections of humanity. Jeremy Corbyn was admittedly ‘hazy’ on the question and refused to continue to campaign for the abolition of Trident once he became leader. But he never went as far as to say that he would actually use nuclear weapons.

We are also less than impressed with RBL’s running mate – and flatmate – Angela Rayner. They seem to want to recreate the ‘dream team’ of Neil Kinnock and his deputy, Roy Hattersley, which ostensibly was supposed to unite the left and the ‘centre’ of the party – and, of course, ended with Kinnock turning against the left, expelling the Militant faction, etc. The civil war of the last five years has shown clearly that there cannot be any ‘unity’ with the right.

Worst of all though is RLB’s political weakness, when it comes to the witch- hunt in the party. In June 2019, she met with the vile witch-hunter, Stephane Savary of the so called Jewish Labour Movement, and agreed with the JLM that Chris Williamson should be expelled from the party.

She also agreed that anti-Semitism complaints should be handled by an “independent body”. That sounds ever so ‘progressive’, but is actually an absolutely disastrous suggestion. Who should decide if a Labour Party member should be expelled, suspended or otherwise disciplined? The Jewish Labour Movement, perhaps? Or the Jewish Leadership Council, made up chiefly of Tory supporters? Of course not. Members should be judged by their peers. It is an ongoing injustice that employees of the party, chiefly recruited by witch-hunter general Iain McNicol, are dealing with complaints and preparing disciplinary reports – reports which are then briefly discussed by the disciplinary panel of the NEC, often in less than five minutes per case. The legal and governance unit – formerly the compliance unit – should be abolished and replaced by an accountable body democratically elected by Labour members.

After that meeting, she tweeted that “any comments made by anyone linked to the Canary or any other publication, which are anti-Semitic, or perceived to be – I condemn” – exactly the line that the JLM has been pushing for years: if they perceive a comment to be anti-Semitic, then that’s what it is! Any kind of rational definition would go out of the window. A rule change along those lines was quite rightly rejected by the NEC, and then by conference, in 2018.

Left pressure

And RLB is hardly an experienced militant. In 2015, for example, having just been elected an MP, she had to ask a Zionist audience what the BDS movement was.

This makes it all the more important that the Labour left finally gets its act together and starts to put some real pressure from the left on the leadership. The only pressure in the last five years has come from the right – and it has showed. Uncritical support for RLB is even more misplaced and dangerous than the messiah cult we witnessed around Corbyn.

This leadership battle presents the left with an excellent opportunity to do so. Rebecca Long-Bailey has already ‘tweaked’ her campaign quite a bit since her Guardian article, perhaps recognising that members have been less than impressed with it.

Earlier this week, she declared on ITV News that she “would give Corbyn 10 out 10, because I respect him and I supported him all the way through”. Corbyn, incidentally, has “declined” to say how he will be voting in the leadership contest.1)Daily Telegraph January 8 We suspect that has more to do with his ongoing efforts to try and appear neutral than any political problem he might have with RLB.

In her official election platform, published in The Tribune on January 6, she discusses how the party “has been too close to the establishment we are meant to be taking on, whether cosying up to Rupert Murdoch or joining forces with David Cameron in the Better Together campaign in 2014”.

She also discusses the democratic deficit in today’s society and that “the people across these islands are sick of the British state’s distant and undemocratic institutions”. While discussing the need for “a vision for a new democracy”, she writes: “We must go to war with the political establishment, pledging a constitutional revolution that sweeps away the House of Lords, takes big money out of politics and radically shifts power away from Westminster.” Labour’s 2019 election programme talked, much more tamely, about ending “the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and work to abolish the House of Lords in favour of Labour’s preferred option of an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions.”

That might still be what RLB means, but it does show she can shift. So let’s try and shift her! Before CLPs start nominating her to become leader of the Labour Party, members could, for example, ask RLB some of the following questions, each of which goes to the heart of today’s civil war in the Labour Party:

  • Will you campaign for Labour to support the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign?
  • Will you campaign for Labour to fight for the abolition of Trident and for unilateral nuclear disarmament?
  • Will you campaign for the mandatory reselection of all parliamentary candidates and the further empowerment of Labour members?
  • Will you issue an apology to Chris Williamson and ask him to rejoin the Labour Party?

References

References
1 Daily Telegraph January 8

Wales: Blairite right clings on

William Phillips looks at the forthcoming leadership election in Welsh Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omov

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

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

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

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

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

Positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Lansman v Jennie Formby: What’s going on?

Unexpected fault lines have opened up on the soft Labour left over who will be the next general secretary, reports Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

With less than a week to go before nominations close on March 13, there are two candidates standing for the position of Labour’s general secretary. Their politics appears so similar that the contest between them seems, at best, ludicrous and, at worst, irresponsible. Should a ‘moderate’ candidate choose to exploit the current division, and should both pro-Corbyn candidates continue to insist on standing, that moderate might indeed ‘slip in’ through the middle when it comes to the crucial vote on Labour’s national executive committee on March 20. We presume that will not happen and that either Momentum owner Jon Lansman or Unite’s Jennie Formby will withdraw. But then, we never presumed that there would be two pro-Corbyn candidates standing in the first place!

The issue might already be decided by the next meeting of the NEC officers group on March 14. It is tasked with putting together a short list for the full NEC and has a pro-Corbyn majority. Of the current eight members, at least five are pro-Corbyn and two are members of Unite (though Jennie Formby, the current NEC vice-chair, will probably have to excuse herself).

One thing is for sure. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader is continuing to have a disruptive effect, not just on the establishment, but on the Labour left too. In a sense, this is very much to be welcomed. The left seemed to have been dying a slow, painful death – it needed a ‘cultural revolution’. For a start, wouldn’t it be nice if we had actual transparency and democracy in our movement? Why on earth are there no proper reports, for example, from all NEC members? They should be obliged to report back to those they represent as to what was discussed and how they voted. Pete Willsman and Ann Black have been the only ones to routinely write such reports (for general circulation) – with their own omissions and partisan views, of course.

But in recent days NEC members Christine Shawcroft and Darren Williams have come out with short Facebook posts and brief hints, which indicate not just deep divisions between the representatives of the left-led unions and the nine elected by Constituency Labour Party members, but also the tensions between the nine, though they were elected on same the ‘centre-left slate’. We will come to that below.

Here is what we know.

For days, Jennie Formby seemed a virtual shoo-in. She has the support not just of her union, Unite. But pretty much every single group on the Labour left has come out for her, including quite a few Momentum branches. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has tweeted his support. Jeremy Corbyn is keeping schtum in public: he wants to appear above the fray and, of course, he values the support of both Momentum and Unite’s Len McCluskey.

So why then are there two left candidates? There are various theories and possible scenarios, some of which are, of course, interlinked. Clearly, we are in the middle of a very messy process.

Theory 1: Lansman has gone mad

This is perhaps the most common theory one comes across when discussing the issue on the left. According to this – and I must admit to having some sympathy for it – Jon Lansman’s ego has simply got the better of him. So successful has he been running Momentum as his own private fiefdom that he now thinks he has earned the right to aim for bigger things. After all, wasn’t it his tens of thousands of foot soldiers who nearly managed to get Jeremy Corbyn into No10?

Being directly responsible for over 200 staff; the party’s campaign and media strategies; all its organisational, constitutional and policy committees; the organisation of party conference; the preparation of party literature, etc – it sounds right up Jon Lansman’s street, doesn’t it? And who cares if that puts Corbyn in a very awkward position when it comes to Unite leader Len McCluskey? The time has come for Lansmanism to blossom!

We can certainly believe that Lansman’s ego is bigger than your average politician’s. But just like theories that try to pin the outbreak of World War II on Adolf Hitler’s psychological problems, that is clearly too easy an explanation.

Theory 2: Lansman is moving to the centre

We do not believe for a moment that he is standing in some semi-sacrificial way to “open up the contest and ensure we have a wide range of candidates”. We presume that Lansman thinks that he has an actual chance of winning a majority of votes on the NEC.

Of the 38 executive members, 21 could be described as pro-Corbyn, and 17 as rightwing. According to The Skwawkbox:

all the left NEC members have committed to support Jennie Formby, with the exception of a couple who have said they’ll only vote for a leftwing woman – and one who is behind Jon Lansman. Those committed to Formby include both party and union representatives – including party representatives elected as part of slates backed by Momentum, the organisation founded by Jon Lansman.

We know, of course, that outputs by ‘alternative media’ like The Skwawkbox should be taken with a pinch of salt. They are increasingly being used by political factions and sometimes even by journalists to leak unverified rumours to the wider public, so that it can then be picked up by the mainstream press. But we reckon that the website has done its counting correctly this time: 17 votes for Formby. The single leftwing NEC member who openly supports Lansman is Christine Shawcroft. But Lansman seems to think that he can win round those two left NEC members who have not yet openly backed Formby – a possibility, clearly.

But he must also count on the entire right wing on the NEC to back him in order to achieve a majority. He has clearly been working very hard to position himself in the political ‘centre’ of the Labour Party. I am sure Lansman is not entirely unhappy with the media narrative, according to which Jennie Formby is the representative of the hard left and the union bureaucracy, openly supporting – would you believe it? – the democratic rights of the Palestinian people. Clearly, she is too radical and ‘anti-Semitic’ to head the Labour machine!

In reality there is, of course, very little actual political difference between Jennie Formby and Jon Lansman. We are seeing a split on the soft left, rather than a split between the hard and soft left (which is probably still to come). Both candidates are uncritical supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and his policies, presumably prepared to back various political climbdowns should he become prime minister.

Which makes the only visible difference all the more crucial: the question of Israel and Palestine. With the Israeli army inching closer to getting involved in Syria (to distract perhaps from the legal problems of a certain Binyamin Netanyahu1)www.independent.co.uk/news/world/ middle-east/israel-prime-minister-benjamin- netanyahu-corruption-allegations-lawyers-explain- trouble-a7524416.html) the Labour Party’s position is becoming increasingly important. Can it really become an anti-war party – perhaps even in government? Will the pacifist Corbyn stick to his guns (excuse the pun) as prime minister and forthrightly condemn Israel aggression?

That would put the pro-imperialist right in the Parliamentary Labour Party under immense pressure from the Zionist lobby. This is, after all, why the whole ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal was created in the first place. Discredit Corbyn’s anti-war and pro-Palestine stance. Force him to ‘man up’ and come out in support of US interests. And that includes unconditional support for Israel to do whatever it has to do to ‘defend itself’. (We note Prince William is the first member of his family to make an official visit to Israel, as well as Lebanon and “the occupied Palestinian territories”.)

In this context, Jon Lansman’s participation in the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt in the Labour Party is very, very important. He has said of Ken Livingstone, “It’s time he left politics altogether”; thinks that “there should be no place for George Galloway in the Labour Party” (and called on his employers to sack him); and when Jackie Walker was suspended from Labour on trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism, he quickly removed her as vice-chair of Momentum. He wants to be seen as a safe pair of hands, when it comes to Israel.

The question is, can Lansman get away with positioning himself in the political centre?

Alansmanfter all, he is Mr Momentum, which has since its inception been portrayed as a dangerous hotbed for an assortment of hyperactive hippies and Trotskyist troublemakers. He has been on the ‘far left’ of the Labour Party for decades, we are told. However, over the last 14 months, Lansman certainly has been very busy moulding Momentum into a thoroughly respectable election machine.

His coup of January 2017, which abolished all democratic structures in the organisation and imposed his constitution on the membership, has certainly gone a long way to assure the establishment of his ‘credentials’. He also subordinated Momentum to the compliance unit by barring membership  to all those who have been expelled from the Labour Party for “supporting another organisation” (rule 2.1.4.B).

No doubt Momentum’s deployment of an army of foot soldiers during the general election campaign made a real difference to Labour’s votes. Momentum nationally has been very careful to support all Labour Party candidates, not just pro-Corbyn ones (even if locally its members often choose to campaign mainly for leftwing candidates).

Politically, the organisation is even more harmless. For example, despite the fact that Jon Lansman has campaigned for mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates for decades, he has now dropped the demand and campaigns merely for a reform of the trigger ballot. At present an MP needs to win a simple majority of nominations from local party branches and affiliated trade unions and socialist societies in order to become the candidate once more. Lansman wants to raise this threshold to 66%, but this would still disproportionally favour the sitting MP: rather than allowing for a full and democratic automatic reselection process before every election, a sitting MP would still have to be challenged.

So successful is Momentum’s transformation that now even Theresa May openly wants to emulate it. This week she has written to “young activists” to help build Momentum-style grassroots campaigners. According to The Sun, the letter states:

We are recruiting a new army of foot soldiers to take the fight to Labour. It is clear from the results of the general election that we are more likely to win seats in which our organisation is strong. And it is an unfortunate fact that Labour’s organisation was better in many seats than ours.

It is absolutely possible that the right in the Labour Party might swing behind Lansman. The Guardian writes:

Lansman’s entry into the race is thought to have the tacit backing of some other unions, which are irritated by what they regard as Unite’s increasing dominance of Labour decision-making. Key to the decision will be two other major unions, the GMB and Unison, who have so far declined to give Formby their backing.

It is not impossible that other rightwingers on the NEC – for example, those from the PLP or those representing councillors – might support him, too. Especially if that was the only way to stop Formby.

Politically, of course, Lansman’s method of chasing the political centre is very much old school and in line with the method advocated by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and its founder-leader, Vladimir Derer, since 1973 (he died in 2014). The organisation was founded on the premise that any reform in the Labour Party has to be achieved not by pressure from the membership (which, for example, Militant pursued), but by winning over – or at least neutralising – the ‘centre’, in the party and the unions. The fascinating BBC docudrama The campaign shows how the CLPD won a conference majority to vote for a version of mandatory reselection in the early 1980s: through a number of backroom deals with union leaders.

It still pursues this method though the so-called Centre Left Grassroots Alliance, which ‘recommends’ various candidates for Labour Party elections. It is based on rather mysterious, private and entirely undemocratic get-togethers of various Labour left organisations, to which only a few lucky ones are invited (this year, for example, Jewish Voice for Labour was among the invitees), while others never make the gathering. The Labour Representation Committee regularly complains when it is left out in the cold.

According to Wikipedia, the CLGA was founded in 1995 by the CLPD and Labour Reform, “a centrist democratic group”, which had supported Ann Black as member of the NEC. When “private talks with trade union representatives” failed, Liz Davies of Labour Left Briefing and Mark Seddon, editor of Tribune, were also brought in. But, convinced of the left’s unelectability, the CLGA continued to support centrist candidates and rejected any moves to present a leftwing platform or support openly left candidates.

This explains how Ann Black could remain on the ‘left ticket’ for so long, despite clearly being very much on the centre of the party. She supported the move to stop tens of thousands of pro-Corbyn members from voting in the second leadership election and, as chair of the NEC disciplinary panel, gave her backing to much of the witch-hunt against the left – for instance, by voting for the suspension of Brighton and Hove CLP. Many have questioned, quite rightly, why the CLGA continues to back her.

Theory 3: It is all about Ann Black

As we have reported, Jon Lansman and CLPD secretary Pete Willsman, who have worked together in the CLPD for decades, have fallen out over Black. Just how badly became very obvious at the CLPD’s March 3 annual general meeting. Clearly having thoroughly internalised the centre-left strategy, Pete Willsman continues to insist that Black should be included on the CLGA slate. When his own CLPD executive committee voted (by a majority of one) against her inclusion a few months back, he decided to ignore the decision and campaign for her.

On the morning of the AGM, a rumour was doing the rounds that Lansman would turn up in order to graciously announce his withdrawal from the general secretary race. If true, he clearly changed his mind. He did not even show up. But his supporters were a visible presence. After a long list of worthy but boring speakers (which pushed all normal motions submitted off the agenda), Lansman’s NEC ally, Christine Shawcroft, presented an emergency motion, which sought to remove Pete Willsman as CLPD secretary and force immediate new elections to the position (which she was apparently intending to contest).

The motion criticised as “unacceptable” the delay in putting together a slate for the NEC elections in the summer:

A draft slate was not opposed by CLPD, yet during February attempts were made to overturn it with biased and incomplete emails around the executive, and threats to take it to the AGM. All in the name of keeping someone on the slate [ie, Ann Black] who has consistently voted against us in the last two years, often in ways very damaging to the leader. Now the two-month delay means that those on the final slate are already on the back foot, struggling to make up time. This has happened because of a lack of basic democratic accountability in CLPD’s organisation.

The motion was ruled out of order (on the basis that it was “not an emergency”), but it took a vote that needed two recounts before that decision was accepted. And, of course, it served another purpose: to justify the fact that Jon Lansman single-handedly leaked a list of the nine NEC candidates supported by Momentum to the national press. Ann Black was not on it, of course.

In our view, Ann Black should certainly not be on any leftwing list. But then she should have never been on it in the first place! She had been supported by Lansman and Willsman for many years – and, no, she did not turn into a centrist overnight. She had always been one.

By kicking her off the left slate, Lansman seems to have been acting in line with the party leadership. After all, the NEC officers group (which has a clear a pro-Corbyn majority) risked media ridicule when they shut down a meeting to elect a new chair of the national policy forum, because Ann Black was sure to win it.

Pete Willsman, however, did not seem to get the message. We wonder how long the deeply divided CLPD can keep going.

Theory 4: Lansman ‘wants to break the union link’

This is where the contradictions start to mount up. It is one thing to stand against a leftwing union representative. If you present yourself as the serious, credible alternative candidate of the political centre, you might have a chance of getting the rightwing unions on the NEC behind you.

But Lansman has gone one further with his proposal to have the general secretary elected by the party membership as a whole. We very much oppose it. It sounds democratic, but really it is not. It would actually create two rival centres of power. We have seen under McNicol’s tenure how destructive the general secretary can be. Having direct elections to the post would not prevent this situation occurring again – it would though guarantee endemic conflict between Labour Party HQ, the NEC and the leaders’ office. No, the general secretary should remain directly accountable to the NEC. Once the numbers on the NEC had changed in favour of the pro-Corbyn left, McNicol’s time was up. And that is how it should be.

Lansman’s proposal is also very risky from his point of view, as it surely is bound to alienate all unions affiliated to the Labour Party. They see it as their historic right to fill a proportion of leadership positions, so why would they vote for him to become the next general secretary if he is proposing to change that? Especially as his NEC ally and fellow Momentum director, Christine Shawcroft, used an angry Facebook post to declare: “It is time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party.”

This came as a complete surprise to us. To our knowledge, she had never put forward such a line before. And it also came as a shock to Jeremy Corbyn, whose spokesperson described that statement as “a heat-of-the-moment remark”:

There is almost no-one in the entire Labour Party who supports any kind of breaking of the link with the trade unions. Even to say it’s a minority view would be exaggerating it: it’s a completely marginal view that has no support whatever. I don’t think it even represents her view.

Shawcroft has indeed deleted the comment. Some claim that she was not totally out of tune with Jon Lansman here, even if Momentum was quick to distance itself from her statement. In his candidacy statement Lansman talks about wanting to “listen to our trade union affiliates” and “work hard to strengthen Labour’s trade union link”. But he has also gone to the media to express “dissatisfaction that the role [of general secretary] should be chosen behind closed doors by Labour’s NEC, which in practice would mean a deal struck between major trade unions for their preferred candidate”. However, to interpret this as a desire on Lansman’s part to see the unions disaffiliate is a bad case of clutching at straws.

True, the union link seems to have been a point of discussion among his allies and there is certainly room for democratic reform when it comes to the unions’ role in the Labour Party. For a start, instead of union general secretaries casting their union’s bloc vote at the Labour conference, we call for the vote to be divided on a proportional basis according to the political balance in the delegation.

But calling for the link to be broken is entirely wrong-headed. If Labour is to become the party of the whole class, then clearly it must become the umbrella organisation for all trade unions, socialist groups and pro-working class partisans. All unions should affiliate and all union members should pay the political levy.

Theory 5: Jon Lansman is the good guy

This is almost as hard to swallow as scenario 4. But bear with us.

Shawcroft’s outburst on Facebook actually came about after the March 17 meeting of the NEC’s disciplinary panel, of which she is now chair. The disciplinary panel is made up of the entire NEC – or, more precisely, of those NEC members who can be bothered to show up. It is the committee that decides if disciplinary charges have any merit – and should therefore be sent to the National Constitutional Committee for further investigation.

The NCC consists of 11 members, chosen by party conference for a two-year term. Four are elected by CLP delegates, six by the unions and one by affiliated socialist societies. Last year, the CLGA candidates, Emina Ibrahim and Anna Dyer, won overwhelmingly in the CLP section. The other two CLP positions are up for election at this year’s conference, but for now the NCC clearly remains in the hands of the right. And it is questionable how ‘left’ the CLGA candidates are. Emina Ibrahim, for example, was supposed to be the alibi leftie on the three-person NCC panel at Tony Greenstein’s expulsion hearing – and despite the obvious democratic shortcomings, lack of natural justice and due process in the accusations against him, she voted in favour of him being expelled. For being rude.

As far as we can tell, Christine Shawcroft has used her new position as chair of the disciplinary panel to argue for the dismissal of all cases brought before it – and against their referral to the NCC. Exactly right. Once your case is in front of the NCC with its current composition – if you are a leftwinger – you can kiss your membership card goodbye. Next to their access to the national press, this is probably the most potent weapon the right in the party machine still has. We support the demand that all 18 cases currently in front of the NCC should be referred back to the NEC’s disciplinary panel.

But at the March 17 meeting it seems that despite her best efforts to dismiss all the cases in front of the committee (there were a few dozen, we understand) the majority voted for three cases to be referred to the NCC, despite the evidence being “far from compelling”, as NEC member Darren Williams complains (see below).

Interestingly, Shawcroft wrote on Facebook that a certain Jon Lansman supported her; whereas Jennie Formby did the opposite:

Christine Shawcroft screenshot

I must admit to a certain scepticism when I first read this. Shawcroft did, after all, support Jon Lansman in the middle of his undemocratic coup by becoming Momentum’s director and did not speak up when he continued to ride roughshod over the members by imposing his own constitution. She also previously voted to refer Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth to the NCC. She irresponsibly split from Labour Briefing journal to set up her own Original Labour Briefing – without explaining the politics behind it.

But then she was backed up by fellow NEC member Darren Williams on Facebook. We cannot stress enough how unusual this is for both of them:

Darren William screenshot

In the discussion thread underneath, Christine Shawcroft then wrote:

unions sticking it... Christine

After being questioned if this was a systematic voting pattern of the representatives of the major unions and if Jennie Formby has indeed been part of that pattern, comrade Williams clarified: “I think there has been undue caution sometimes about speaking up for members facing questionable charges, probably due to a fear of being seen to be contributing to Labour’s supposed ‘anti-Semitism problem’.”

Ever since she threw her hat in the ring, Jennie Formby has been at the forefront of the right wing’s radar. She has been accused of “acting with anti-Semitic intent” by Labour Against Anti-Semitism – an attack which Unite has quite rightly termed a “malicious smear”. A smear which has, of course, been picked up and repeated by the entire press. She clearly feels the need to bend the stick in the other direction to have a chance of being elected. On March 3, she tweeted: Jennie Formby

But if it is true that she systematically votes to refer disciplinary cases to the NCC, that is a different matter altogether. We are told that Formby, in this instance, did not vote at all, but basically left the room repeatedly, so that she would not have to cast a vote. Apparently, all trade union representatives at that meeting (except the Transport Salaried Staff Association) voted to refer the three cases to the NCC. And, apparently, Jon Lansman voted against that.

Many members expected that, with the NEC finally having a pro-Corbyn majority, the witch-hunt would come to a swift end. But it was never going to be that easy. The civil war continues. And the fault lines are continuing to shift.

Right now Labour Party members deserve to know if Unite representatives (including Jennie Formby) do systematically vote with the right when it comes to the witch-hunt against pro-Corbyn members. If that is indeed true, it would certainly shine an entirely new light on Jennie Formby and how deserving she is of the left’s support.

Of course, in the absence of openness on such important issues, we should be careful about who is spreading news and to what purpose. After all, Len McCluskey has been very outspoken in his opposition to the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt, so this reported behaviour by one of Unite reps is, to put it mildly, surprising.

 

Labour Representation Committee: Reduced to a think tank?

An existential crisis continues to haunt the dwindling forces of the Labour Representation Committee, reports Stan Keable

Around 120 Labour Representation Committee members gathered in London’s Conway Hall on February 10 for yet another angst-ridden ‘special’ general meeting (SGM), in which a bewildered leadership shared with its rank and file its own failure – like most of the left – to draw into membership or engage with the ‘radicalised’ mass intake of Corbyn supporters into the Labour Party.

The exception to this failure is, of course, Momentum. The LRC executive’s statement jealously admits that Momentum “has successfully organised many of their number” into 150 local groups, which have “formidable electoral achievements under their belt” and are “feared by the Tory enemy”. By contrast, the statement repeats the LRC’s own longstanding wish to “rebuild” its “network of local groups”. Before this meeting it had called on “experts on particular subjects” to develop an imagined “comprehensive and impressive bank of educational material” on the “new LRC website” – the “formation of local LRCs may hopefully follow as a result”.

This pious wish, however, bears no relation to the reality. As political secretary Mick Brooks accurately declared, “The LRC has stagnated” in this “most favourable situation for socialists”: the Labour leadership is “probably the most leftwing ever”, the Tories are in disarray and the 2008 economic crisis showed that “capitalism has failed”.

Founded in 2004 in the dark days of New Labour – when clause four ‘socialism’ had been destroyed and Blairism seemed permanently victorious – the LRC was based on the belief that Labour had to be rebuilt from scratch, just as the original LRC had created the party in 1900. Hence the organisation’s cumbersome, unwieldy structure, designed as a replica of the party: the rights of individual members were to be trumped by affiliated trade unions and socialist groups, and – ironically, keeping up with New Labour – bureaucratic ‘equality’ rules were to guarantee the election at all levels of women, LGBT, BAME and disability representatives, instead of assessing candidates on the basis of their politics. But news of the death of Labour was exaggerated, and as a result the LRC has always been plagued by uncertainty of purpose.

Now, with John and Jeremy heading the party – backed by Momentum’s mass membership and those 150 local groups – the project of refounding old Labour is superfluous. So what is the point of the LRC? Back in February 2016, at a previous SGM in the early days of Momentum, the NEC statement opted for “maintaining the existence of our own organisation – for the time being”, but foresaw the possibility that it may soon have “outlived its usefulness”. And John McDonnell mused that “maybe in the future” there will be “just one organisation” (Weekly Worker February 25 2016).

Democracy

However, Jon Lansman’s January 10 2017 bureaucratic coup put paid to that happy prospect, and at this SGM Momentum’s shortcomings became the raison d’être of the LRC. “We are not a fan club for the Corbynite movement,” claimed comrade Brooks. “Momentum does not have conferences, elections, policies. It has a democratic deficit.” And chairperson Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, stated: “The key role of the LRC is to ensure discussion and debate takes place.” As the NEC statement declared,

The LRC is pluralist internally. We can develop independent-minded supporters of the Corbynist movement, which neither Momentum nor the [Campaign for Labour Party Democracy] are designed to do …. We regard democratic discussion and debate within our ranks as the essential oxygen of our organisation.

Then why, we must ask, does it convene ‘special’ general meetings, in which amendments to the rambling NEC statement are not allowed? Take it or leave it. And why were Labour Party Marxists and a few other political groups quietly ‘disaffiliated’ by the leadership in 2016, if not to curtail discussion in order to avoid embarrassing criticisms of Corbyn and McDonnell? This is more or less confessed in the NEC statement, where it shamefacedly attempts to set out the limits of legitimate discussion: “Debate within the LRC is not concerned to score points or make sectarian contributions against others.” So no polemics. “As long as we see ourselves contributing in a positive light to a movement going forward rather than carping at its inadequacies we can’t go too far wrong.” So no real criticism.

Class politics was emphasised by NEC member Maria Exall of the Communication Workers Union:

Working class empowerment should not be simply put in a list alongside the empowerment of women, people of colour, LGBT people, etc – we prioritise working class women, working class coloureds, working class gays and lesbians. Working class representation is what we are about.

And she spoke about the problem of the trade union bureaucracies and the “ongoing project” of “how to democratise the trade union link”.

The LRC leadership seems, at last, to be overcoming its reluctance to take sides in political struggles within trade unions. The NEC statement asserts:

Unlike CLPD and Momentum, we actively support workers’ struggles and do not confine our attentions to the Labour Party. We are in the process of organising a Unite LRC caucus … the first of trade union caucuses for all major unions. … We need to organise within the unions … for trade union democracy and socialist policies.

All very positive – but why not adopt Labour Party Marxists’ aim to win all trade unions to affiliate to Labour?

LRC president John McDonnell turned up in the afternoon, fresh from Labour’s ‘alternative models of ownership’ conference, which, he said, was shaping policies “almost like those of the LRC 10 years ago”. Since the 2017 general election, the Labour leadership has been “consolidating”. Unintentionally exposing the LRC’s overblown claim that the election had been fought on a fully socialist manifesto, he stated that For the many, not the few was “just for that election”. So now “we need to radicalise those policies” and “develop an implementation manual”, together with “draft legislation ready for office”.

And, worryingly, he claimed: “The Parliamentary Labour Party are signed up to this exercise.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, John. The LRC NEC statement takes the opposite view – not that anyone bothered to tell him. Perhaps that would be seen as negative or “carping”. Or maybe the NEC statement itself is “carping”? Here is what it says:

The Parliamentary Labour Party and the party bureaucracy remain firmly in the hands of the right wing. They seemed determined to rule or ruin. Corbyn’s role as leader is untouchable for the time being on account of his 2017 electoral success, [but] his position, and that of his supporters, remains precarious.

Spot on, NEC. But comrade McDonnell is already on a different page. “When the LRC was set up on Tony Benn’s advice, we were within a Labour Party we could not recognise. We are on the edge of government now.” So the LRC’s role now should be as a “think-tank, to develop ideas into policies” – and he saw Mike Phipps’s book For the many: preparing Labour for power as making a start.

‘Centre-left’ slate

A revealing episode at the SGM was an emergency motion moved by Marc Wadsworth of Grassroots Black Left. This criticised the way in which the “centre-left slate” had been selected for the forthcoming elections for Constituency Labour Party seats on Labour’s NEC:

This SGM notes with grave concern that the ‘centre-left’ slate for Labour’s next NEC elections appears to have been chosen unilaterally by Momentum without consulting its members and before the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance had completed its discussions on the slate. We consider that this could split the left and divide supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s progressive agenda for government. Irrespective of the outcome and content of the slate, we believe this is not a democratic and transparent process in line with Jeremy’s ‘new politics’. We call on the incoming LRC NEC to formulate a response to challenge the democratic deficit in deciding the slate.

In my years as an LRC member, I confess I have never discovered exactly how candidates for the slate were selected – it always seemed to be done behind closed doors, and I do not remember ever being asked to vote on the matter. The LRC leadership was supposedly consulted, though it had sometimes complained about not being invited or about their views being ignored, especially with respect to their longstanding wish to remove Ann Black. The CLPD, under Pete Willsman’s leadership, always defended Ann Black and always got its way.

But the left is evolving new forms, so the cosy, behind-the-scenes process has to be made transparent, and the members of the participating groups have to have their say. This time, not only was Momentum involved, but also Jewish Voice for Labour (and perhaps other groups). The newly formed Grassroots Black Left, however, was excluded.

What happened, we are told, was that all parties except the CLPD wanted a slate without Ann Black, because of her role in the anti-Corbyn shenanigans of general secretary Iain McNicol’s apparatchiks. They had excluded masses of new Labour members from voting in leadership elections, suspended left-led CLPs and waved through the automatic suspension and even expulsion of leftwing members on trumped-up charges.

However, the CLPD would only accept a slate which included Ann Black. But when the 80-strong CLPD executive (in reality, volunteers who are voted in as a block at the AGM) took the unheard of step of actually voting to resolve a disputed issue, CLPD secretary Pete Willsman and his co-thinkers lost the vote narrowly. Then, when Willsman and co refused to accept the vote, Jon Lansman jumped in to impose a Momentum slate – without consulting the Momentum membership, of course.

LRC secretary Michael Calderbank, in asking for Marc Wadsworth’s motion to be remitted, said:

The slate-making process is broken. It is opaque, carried on behind closed doors. Not only were Momentum members not adequately consulted: neither were LRC members, nor the LRC itself.

Graham Bash, supporting the motion – which, after all, only commits the LRC to fight for a democratic slate-making process, confirmed that the present system is broken, but insisted, quite rightly, that “fielding an alternative left slate would be a disaster”. The motion was carried overwhelmingly.

LP conference voting guide: Life-long bans and significant silences

Unfortunately, Momentum’s 2017 Rule change guide for this year’s Labour Party conference simply ignores the controversial motions around the weaponised issue of anti-Semitism. In fact, it is vital that these three motions sponsored by the Jewish Labour Movement are voted down, says Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

This LPM voting guide deals with all rule changes submitted by Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) before conference in 2016. In accordance with one of the plethora of undemocratic clauses in the LP rule book, these procedural motions were then ‘parked’ for almost 14 months before they can be finally discussed by delegates at this year’s conference. (Note, motion 12 from Filton & Bradley, Stoke and Newport West proposes to do away with this crassly anti-democratic rule. Absolutely correct!)

Not every motion published in the Addendum to the 2016 delegate’s report will make it to conference floor. Some have already been implemented by the NEC, some might be ruled out of order by the Conference Arrangements Committee and/or the NEC meeting on September 19. The final, detailed agenda and all motions will only be published a few short days before conference and might well contain a package of clumsy compromise ‘reforms’.

For example, there is talk of the ‘McDonnell amendment’ (no:14 in our list below), being tweaked so that any future candidate for LP leader or deputy leader would need nominations from 10% of the “the combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP”. Currently, the threshold stands at 15%. The original motion below suggests reducing it to 5% per cent.

In our view, it should 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!

If Corbyn and his allies on the NEC opt for this 10% ‘compromise’, it may be prompted by uncertainty about the political balance at conference – despite Luke Akehurst and the mainstream media suggesting that the left will score important victories in Brighton.

So, the battle lines are clearly draw up, but the actual balance of forces remains blurry. Lukehurst could be reducing expectations on the right with his downbeat comments. This wing of our party is fighting hard to keep its hold over the party apparatus – but its supporters are painfully aware they constitute a minority amongst the grassroots membership. In addition, many CLPs have chosen pro-Corbyn supporters as representatives and have filled their whole quota of delegates with left-wingers. But it’s not a done deal, however. There are also reports of many more CLPs where the right has again cited the “financial burdens” of sending more than one delegate – ‘and, hey, why not send our experienced [read, “rightwing” – CR] comrade X, who represented us in previous years, knows the score at conference…”, etc, etc?

Indeed, if we consider the rule changes as an indicator of the balance of forces in the party, then a clear victory for the left is far from certain. It is remarkable how few progressive, left-wing amendments have been submitted – and how tame they are. Yes, this is partially explained by the 14 months delay, which means we have a snapshot of where our party was over a year ago, not how it looks now. But there’s no doubt that the motions are also a reflection of the fact the left is still playing catch-up with the huge challenges presented to us by the election of a left-wing leader and a mass influx of a left-leaning new membership – some two years after these historic opportunities landed in our laps.

Bluntly put, we are still woefully unprepared and unorganised.

Momentum played a very effective mobilising role in the general election. However, its leader Jon Lansman – and Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter – clearly have no coherent plan for a root and branch political transformation of the Labour Party. The organisation deserves credit for publishing some useful guides to and information on the 2017 conference. (With the partial qualification that its most useful sections have already been covered by NEC member Pete Wilsman’s excellent overview, published last year and which is still available on the website of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.) Momentum’s generally useful contribution has a very loud, symptomatic silence, however – it has nothing to say on the energetic witch-hunt against the left in the party, under the banner of purging of ‘anti-Semitism’ in our ranks. This finds reflection in three rule changes submitted to conference – and the fact that the National Policy Forum wants to end Labour’s opposition to the occupation of Palestine (see Tony Greenstein’s article in Weekly Worker September 7).

There must be no bowing to this foul provocation against the left of the party, or equivocation on the defence of comrades who are caught in the net of the witch hunters.

Motions to oppose

The Momentum 2017 Rule change guide lists six motions that delegates should support (copied from CLPD and LPM) – and only two that should be opposed. Both of those deal with the anti-Corbyn attempt of removing the category of ‘registered supporters’ (who paid £3 and £25 respectively to have a vote in the leadership elections) and ‘affiliated supporters’ (ie, union members and members of affiliated societies). Of course, LPM also opposes these two motions (there are actually three: the Momentum office seems to have forgotten about motion no 1 from Kingswood). You can bet your bottom dollar that neither of the movers of these motions are concerned about the ‘power of the fully paid up Labour Party member’ – this is all about reducing the power of the unions, Jeremy Corbyn and avoiding the possibility that he could be replaced by a fellow left-winger.

But there are far worse motions among the 23 submitted – and they have been composed in exactly the same anti-Corbyn spirit. Motions 3, 4 and 6, all are clearly motivated by the entirely fabricated “anti-Semitism scandal” in the party. Motion 4 from Finchley & Golders Green is the worst of the lot. It proposes a life-long membership ban on anybody who is deemed to have engaged “in conduct which is motivated by hostility or prejudice based on gender; sexual identity; ethnicity or faith; age or disability; or other personal characteristic”. Such a person “shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a Party member” [our emphasis]. And how can you possibly disprove that you were “motivated by hostility or prejudice”? This proposed rule change is incredibly open to abuse.

Ditto motion no 3, which defines a “hate incident” as “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 formulation basically does away with the need for any evidence. Somebody thinks you were motivated by something nasty – bingo, that’s your expulsion letter in the post.

Motion 6 has been submitted by, among others, the Jewish Labour Movement. It uses the same formulations as the two motions above – ie, it is up to the “victim or anyone else” to charge somebody successfully with Anti-Semitism or related crimes. Hard evidence is not needed, feelings will suffice. The person charged is guilty until they can prove their innocence. In addition though, the motions also singles out “anti-Semitism (and ‘cleverly’, Islamophobia and racism) as being above the right to express opinions. Their full proposal would read: “The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions, except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism” [we emphasise the JML’s proposed amendment]. Coupled with the proposal to remove any need for evidence, this is a truly anti-democratic motion and a bureaucrat’s wet dream.

Why is Momentum not saying anything on these truly atrocious motions? Unfortunately, Jon Lansman – who since his coup of January 2017 rules Momentum’s national office like an absolute monarch – has been a willing accomplice in the witch-hunt by the right in the party, in the mistaken belief that by not ‘attacking’ them, they might eventually rally behind Jeremy Corbyn.

Also, Lansman, rather ironically, is politically rather close to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty when it comes to their definition of Anti-Zionism: basically anybody who criticises the actions of the state of Israel. Lansman famously threw Jackie Walker to the wolves when he had her removed as vice-chair of Momentum and then drew up a constitution which bars from Momentum membership all those thrown out of the Labour Party – for example, for the ‘crime’ of having been or being a member of another political group (like the AWL or Left Unity).

And just like the CLPD, Momentum has, at least for the time being, given up its fight for mandatory selection of MPs. And that despite the fact that the CLPD (with its member Jon Lansman playing a leading role at the time) fought for this rule change for many decades – and eventually with success: From 1980 until the early 90s, a form of mandatory selection of MPs was enshrined in the rule book. Noticeably, no constitutional motion on this subject has been submitted, despite all the debates on this subject in the last few years (though there is a slight chance that some of the contemporary motions submitted might touch on the subject – we’ll know after the NEC meeting of September 19. Also, at least a couple of motions on mandatory selection have been submitted in time for the 2018 conference). This shows how far we still have to go: the left is a long way away from the power it wielded even in the 1980s.

Motions to support

Among the motions that should be supported by delegates are, as already discussed, the so-called ‘McDonnell amendment’ (No 14). We also support motion 9 from Blackley & Broughton Exeter, which wants to do away with the restriction that CLPs can submit either a contemporary motion or a procedural motion, but not both. Motion 11 also wants to give more powers to the CLPs: it proposes that motions submitted are not automatically ruled out of order because they touch on a subject that is mentioned in the long documents produced by the National Policy Forum (to which Tony Blair has outsourced policy-making in the Labour Party). We also recommend a vote for motions 7 and 23, which seek to increase the money from membership fees allocated to CLPs (at the moment, they scrape by with an allocation of a measly £1.50 per member – per year!). There are a couple of other motions that deserve support.

Click here to read our voting recommendation in detail. We will produce more voting guides when the agenda and all motions have been finalised. They will be covered by our daily issue of Red Pages that we will upload online hand out at conference. We are keen to hear from delegates and observers – send your impressions, thoughts, observations and short articles to office@labourpartymarxists.org.uk for possible inclusion in Red Pages.

 

Labour Party branches/CLPs in support of Jackie Walker and free speech

 Kilburn (Brent), which is part of Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

This Branch/CLP notes that Jackie Walker has been suspended from Labour Party membership following remarks she made at a Party training session at conference.

We also note;

The Chakrabati report advised against specific training sessions in anti-racism;

The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) was given the task of running the training session, despite it being known that its views are contested by many Jewish members of the LP;

That contrary to Data Protection – without any notice to participants – the training session was secretly filmed by a JLM member and released to the media.

That, in the view of this Branch/CLP none of the remarks made by Jackie Walker at the training session constituted anti-Semitism;

That Jackie Walker is a Black Jewish anti-racist campaigner.

That Jackie Walker’s suspension by the Party is contrary to the recommendations in the Chakrabati report and the requirements of natural justice.

We therefore call on the Party to reinstate Jackie Walker to full membership of the Party

[Resolution to be sent to Ian McNichol, general secretary of the Party and all members of the NEC]

 

Henley Labour Party

This branch believes that there should be no infringement on the rights of free speech and free criticism within the Labour Party. The thousands of suspensions of Labour members during the 2016 leadership election, based often on one-off comments on social media, unsubstantiated claims or association with left wing organisations, appears to have been politically motivated.

This process was an affront to democracy and this CLP condemns the entire process. Legitimate grievances should be dealt with according to the principles of fairness, with suspension as a last resort not a primary action. We demand the reinstatement of all those still suspended without a hearing.

Regarding expulsions, there should be no ban on memberships of campaigns or organisations as long as they are not campaigning against the election of a Labour government or Labour councils.
The only acceptable political limitation on membership of the Party, other than the exclusion of proscribed organisations, is that people who join or are members or supporters, commit to support Labour candidates in future elections. Earlier electoral activity is of no importance.

We call on the CLP to welcome in any supporter and member prepared to make such a commitment.

We call on the National Executive Committee to ensure that these principles are reflected in the membership application process, so that all party units will welcome in any supporter and member prepared to make such a commitment.

We demand the Party implement the proposals in the Chakrabarti report.

Model resolutions on the Labour purges

This branch/CLP/Conference:

  1. Condemns the lack of due process in the suspensions and expulsions of Labour Party members, particularly in the last twelve months. The failure to apply the principles of natural justice brings the Labour Party into disrepute.
  1. Calls for the immediate restoration of full membership rights to all those suspended or expelled.
  1. Calls for the abolition of the Labour Party Compliance Unit and for the establishment of democratic, transparent disciplinary procedures, which follow the principles of natural justice.

This motion is based on the Labour Representation Committee’s statement on the purges

This branch/CLP/conference opposes the widespread suspensions and expulsions of Labour members and the disqualification of members and supporters from voting in the Party’s leadership contest. As Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP has noted, this smacks of a “rigged purge”.

These suspensions and expulsions are disproportionately affecting known Corbyn supporters. So zealous are those working in Labour’s Compliance Unit that those affected include leading labour movement figures such as Ronnie Draper, General Secretary of BFAWU – a Labour affiliate. Jeremy Corbyn has rightly called for “the strongest principles of natural justice” to be implemented. These are being systematically ignored at present.

We demand that these basic principles be extended to Labour members and supporters:

  • To be told in clear and specific terms why they are suspended or expelled, or why their voting rights have been withdrawn.
  • Notification of the name of their accuser, unless there is a real risk to safety.
  • Setting a strict time limit on all provisional suspensions; e.g. thirty days.
  • Allowing appeals against suspensions and expulsions, making the procedure clear and publicly available.
  • Extending the right of appeal to registered supporters who have had their right to vote withdrawn.
  • Setting a strict time limit on the retrospective consideration of ‘offences’; e.g. when specifying particular terms of so-called abuse, Labour members’ past actions should only be reviewed for a maximum of two years.
  • No member of the Labour Party should be disciplined for supporting parties other than the Labour Party if they weren’t Labour Party members at the time (ie, the rule cannot be applied retrospectively). Winning over supporters of over parties is a crucial part of winning the whole of the working class to the Labour Party.
  • Suspensions and expulsions that do not adhere to these basic principle should be overturned and full membership rights restored without delay.

Suspensions and expulsions are being carried out in the name of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), but this is a fiction. The NEC is in no position to investigate or even review the cases of potentially hundreds or thousands of Labour members. It is not in continuous session. We believe the unelected General Secretary, Iain McNicol, and the unelected Compliance Unit are responsible for the present outrages. On taking office, priorities for the newly-elected NEC must be to:

  • Hold an inquiry into Iain McNicol’s role in relation to the suspensions and expulsions of Labour members and supporters
  • Propose rule changes to make the Labour Party’s General Secretary an elected post.

Disciplinary procedures within the Labour Party must be changed to allow due process and implementation of the principles of natural justice.  The broad principles of the report compiled by Shami Chakrabarti should be implemented:

  • A legally qualified panel should be available to advise the Labour Party on the justice of disciplinary procedures.
  • The National Constitutional Committee (NCC) should take over the handling of disciplinary procedures from the NEC. The NCC should be bound by strict rules.
  • The power of interim suspensions should be removed from officials acting on the instructions of Labour’s General Secretary.
  • No section of the Labour Party should be kept under special measures for more than six months without a review. Suspension must not be allowed to be repeatedly rolled over.”