June 8: ‘It feels like a victory’

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The seismic shock of the June 8 election result continues to resonate. Corbyn’s Labour confounded the pundits (including, it must be said, this publication which anticipated a bad defeat for Corbyn and immediate post-election clamour from the treacherous right wing for his head on a plate). Party activists around the country have been taking a well-earned rest, sinking a few pints and swapping election campaign ‘war stories’. Comrades tell us that a recurring sentiment being voiced by many runs along the lines of, ‘I know we lost; but it feels like a victory!

Indeed. LPM bulletin sends its congratulations to the comrades who worked so hard to produce this tremendous result.

Unfortunately – but unsurprisingly – these congratulations cannot be extended to large sections of the Labour Party apparatus. Reports emerging today confirm the experiences of LPM comrades from a number of constituencies (see the report from the Sheffield Hallam constituency, where former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was ousted). The online bulletin, Skwawkbox, alleges that:

Labour’s HQ, in complete contrast to the aggressive, energetic campaign of the party’s leader, mandated a purely defensive strategy for this election – and cost Labour the keys to 10 Downing Street.

The Blairites at headquarters – national and in many regions – presumably either not believing Labour could win seats from the Tories, or in some cases even hoping for a poor result, decided to circle the wagons around existing seats, particularly favouring those occupied by so-called ‘centrists’.

This meant that – at the instigation of senior HQ figures and right-wing NEC members – almost no resources were made available for the fight to win Tory-held marginals or even to defend Labour-held ones. [Marginals are] seats with a majority of below 3,000.

If this is accurate and we have no doubt that it is, then heads must role – in particular, Skwawkbox targets Blairite Kezia Dugdale in Scotland, who told voters to support the Tories to weaken the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon (an expulsion letter should be in the post soon, we suggest) and Ian McNicol, “for helping for failing to stop the saboteurs”. In our view, that would be just for starters …

Skwawkbox is a well-informed outlet that has grown from 5,000 viewings last October to 267,000 in March. It’s run by a Unite union activist from Liverpool, and the quality and frequency of the material he features strongly suggests he has some very high level contacts in the Corbyn office and Unite. So, perhaps this uncompromising post reflects a dramatic hardening of attitude towards the saboteurs by Corbyn, McDonnell and McCluskey? It’s long overdue.

This tremendous surge to Labour will give the left a breathing space. As will be the fact that there are about half a dozen new MPs now who are firmly in the Corbyn camp, including Sheffield Hallam’s Jared O’Mara, Emma Dent Coad in Kensington, Chris Williams in Derby North etc. But we can be certain that the truce won’t last. The majority of Labour MPs remain deeply hostile to Corbyn and – by extension – to the vast bulk of the mass membership of the party, most of who joined in a series of ‘Corbyn surges’. A June 9 statement from Momentum (Greenwich) notes the “veritable army of young … Momentum supporters campaigning to ensure the election of Labour MPs (some of whom could not disguise their hostility to us).” Encouragingly, it also sets the priority of “recruiting to active membership of the Labour Party Jeremy’s new electoral ‘army’” and “[urges] Momentum supporters to consider nominating for ward and constituency positions and as delegates to the National Party Conference.”

Quite right, comrades, but that process needs to climb higher! The new political complexion of the overwhelmingly majority of the party in the country must be reflected in its parliamentary line-up. Like many others, we underestimated the strength of Labour’s June 8 showing – but the tasks we have repeatedly identified as the key to transforming Labour into a genuinely socialist, democratic organisation remain on the agenda:

  1. Fight for rule changes. All elected Labour representatives must be subject to one-member, one-vote mandatory reselection. MPs must be brought under democratic control – from above, by the NEC; from below by the CLPs. 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.
  2. Scrap the despicable 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 murk, it violates natural justice, it routinely leaks to our enemies in the capitalist media.
  3. The stultifying inertia imposed on Momentum has proved to be an own goal. Jon Lansman has proved to be a competent autocrat. He blocked all Momentum attempts to oppose the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smears, he did nothing to get Momentum to fight the 2016 purge of leftwing supporters of Corbyn. It is now impossible to transform it into a democratic organisation, or one that can educate, activate and empower the rank-and-file membership. So, there is an urgent need for the left to organise with a view of establishing a worthwhile alternative.
  4. Securing new trade union affiliates ought to be a top priority. The FBU has reaffiliated. Matt Wrack at last came to his senses and took the lead in reversing the disaffiliation policy. But what about the RMT? And what about the NUT? Then there is PCS, where the question was not even discussed at this year’s conference.
  5. Every constituency, ward and other such basic unit must be won and rebuilt by the left. Our membership has grown from 200,000 in May 2015 to over 525,000 today. Surely during and after the election campaign we can get to a million. However, the left must convince the sea of new members, and returnees, to attend meetings … and break the stultifying grip of the right. Elect officers who support genuine socialism. Elect officers who are committed to transforming our wards and constituencies into vibrant centres of socialist organisation, education and action. As such, our basic units would be well placed to hold councillors and MPs to account.
  6. 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”. We need rule changes to once again permit left, communist and revolutionary parties to affiliate. As long as they do not stand against us in elections, this can only strengthen us as a federal party. Today affiliated organisations include the Fabians, Christians on the left, the Cooperative Party … the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Business. Allow the SWP, SPEW, CPGB, Left Unity, the Morning Star’s CPB, etc, to join our ranks.
  7. 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.
  8. We must establish our own press, radio and TV. Relying on the favours of the capitalist press, radio and TV is a game for fools. True, it worked splendidly for Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell. But, as Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband found to their cost, to live by the mainstream media is to die by the mainstream media.
  9. Programmatically, 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’.