A tale of three by-elections

Kevin Bean looks at the state of bourgeois politics and the controversy over so-called green policies

Last week’s by-elections show that sometimes in politics events do not always follow the widely predicted course.

On the basis of the opinion polls, the expectations were that the Tories would lose all three seats up for grabs on July 20, with Labour gaining Boris Johnson’s old seat in Uxbridge and Ruislip, as well as overturning a large Tory majority in Selby and Ainsty, while the Liberal Democrats would regain their previously-held Somerton and Frome constituency. In the end it did not turn out like that: the Tories held Uxbridge (albeit with a tiny majority), allowing Rishi Sunak to claim that the long-foretold Tory defeat at the coming general election was not “a done deal” and reassuring his supporters that it was still ‘all to play for’. The weekend press headlines and the lines coming from the political shows followed up on the surprising Uxbridge result and focused on why Labour had not made the expected breakthrough.

What quickly emerged as the widely-held explanation for the Tories holding on to Uxbridge was Ulez (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) – a scheme to reduce air pollution from older vehicles by imposing a charge, which is planned to be extended from central London to outlying suburbs. The Tories had made the charge the single issue in their Uxbridge campaign and essentially turned the by-election into a referendum on the policy. The Tories claimed to be standing up for the poorest sections of society, who own the oldest vehicles, along with those like taxi drivers, small businesses and others who need to drive for work in an area with poor public transport. On polling day, the anti-Ulez campaign and the focus on the London mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, paid dividends for the Tories and ensured that since the by-election Ulez and ‘green policies’ in general have been the centre of political interest.

For Sir Keir the focus on Uxbridge and Ulez seemed, at first sight, something of a setback, if not a PR disaster. While he was up in rural Yorkshire doing a photo-call with the successful candidate (a young, aspiring hack and Labour careerist, conveniently also named Keir) to celebrate overturning a huge Tory majority, all everyone back at Westminster wanted to talk about was Uxbridge. If the Tories and the media were more than keen to big up the success at Uxbridge, sections of the Labour bureaucracy and the Parliamentary Labour Party also tried to turn the situation to their advantage, shifting the blame for the reverse onto Sadiq Khan or the local conduct of the campaign. Starmer and his immediate circle also let it be known that that they were unhappy with Ulez and, in light of the Tory attacks, were considering scaling back even further on Labour’s green policy commitments.

So far, all very Westminster bubble gossip and kite-flying in the op-ed sections of the sympathetic media, which is quite easy to dismiss as mere froth. However, both the by-election results (remember, there were two other seats apart from Uxbridge!) and the reactions of the Tory and Labour leaderships to the outcome do tell us a lot about how the general election campaign might develop and the sort of result that it could throw up.

The general trend in all three by-elections was a swing against the Conservatives, which reflected the widespread anti-Tory mood that has been shown up in the opinion polls and local council elections in May this year. Following the conventional wisdom that governments lose elections rather than the opposition winning them, these results continue to point to a Labour government with probably a working majority.

With the Liberal Democrats posing a challenge in both the West Country and the formerly safe Tory seats in the so-called ‘Blue Wall’, and Labour regaining its ‘traditional’ seats in the north and the Midlands – along with possible gains in Scotland, combined with victories in marginal seats throughout Britain – the chances of the Tories staying in power appear slim. However, this anti-Tory feeling does not correspond to any great enthusiasm for Sir Keir and his Labour Party. By-election turnout remains low and the evidence suggests that the mathematical ‘swing’ was a largely notional one, with previous Tory voters staying at home rather than being sufficiently enthused by Starmer to go to the polls and actually vote Labour. On this showing the next election will be an unpopularity contest between parties and programmes for which the electorate shows no real passion or deep support.

Facing both ways

Is Sir Keir concerned by this lack of electoral momentum? Will the failure to gain Uxbridge dictate a change of course? Not at all! It is all factored into his strategy and will actually confirm an important part of his approach towards the election, which has been to dampen down expectations and warn of the dangers of complacency. Far from Starmer’s spinmeisters trying to hype up the opinion poll leads in recent months, they have been extremely cautious in their news management and, in this regard, Uxbridge suits them just fine. It keeps the troops in order and helps to silence even the mildest of criticism, on the grounds that electoral victory is not guaranteed and we all need to rally behind the leader.

Some critics from the official left – yes, a few still exist and can still be heard muttering off-stage, if you listen hard enough – say that Starmer’s lack of radical policies on energy and transport renationalisation or his mean-spirited support for Tory benefit caps will cost Labour a few leftwing votes. That may be so – Starmer’s aides, like his ‘fixer’, Morgan McSweeney, or polling and focus group guru Deborah Mattinson, would doubtless agree, but these are not the voters Starmer’s Labour Party are after nowadays. In a world of focus groups and triangulation, team Sir Keir calculates exactly what will appeal to the ‘target voters’ in the ‘centre ground’ and he duly sticks to the script at all times.

Anyway, channelling their inner Peter Mandelson of the 1990s, his supporters argue, where else do these voters critical of the benefit policy or the other underwhelming positions have to go? Starmer is determined to win the election – but on his terms. That means adopting the most openly pro-capitalist programme in Labour’s history and convincing his two audiences – the centre-ground electorate in Britain and the capitalist class in London and Washington – that he really is a safe pair of hands, who can be relied upon to steady the ship and not be diverted into ‘dangerously radical’ experiments.

Even by the historically low standards of Labour leaders, it is a pretty timid and uninspiring prospectus. Although Labour has been a bourgeois workers’ party from its very beginning and its leaders have faithfully followed the dictates of capitalism at home and imperialism abroad, for the quite mundane purposes of electoral politics the party leadership had to inspire and mobilise its supporters and voters with some kind of radical vision – think of ‘the New Jerusalem’ of Clement Attlee in 1945 or the ‘white heat of technology’ summoned up by Harold Wilson in 1964. Playing the game of bourgeois politics required more than mere competence: Labour leaders had to at least pretend to offer some form of challenge or alternative to the status quo, however token this proved to be in reality.

Not so Sir Keir! His electoral strategy is one of responding to perceived shifts in ‘public opinion’ or the clamour of the media. Instead of trying to shape politics and alter how people see the world, even within the limited options offered by the framework of capitalism, Starmer simply fits in and presents himself as a diligent and conscientious custodian of bourgeois society and the constitutional order. His whole career in the law and the service of the state at the highest level makes him perfect for the role, and it is one that he will play to perfection, when he does finally enter No10. So this will shape his electoral strategy and allow him to take minor upsets like Uxbridge in his stride; indeed, he will even turn them to his advantage to consolidate his position – as we saw at Labour’s National Policy Forum last weekend, where he saw off the rather puny criticisms of left trade union leaders. For Starmer the course is set fair for the next election and so he is determinedly continuing on his way, ignoring what remains of the disorganised and bankrupt official left in the PLP and their faint echoes in the Constituency Labour Parties.

Pause for thought

However, before we wave off Sir Keir on the road to Downing Street, we should also consider the Tories’ reaction to the by-elections and how this might shape politics in the 18 months or so before an election must be called. Rishi Sunak has tried to keep up the flagging morale of his party by suggesting that the retention of the Uxbridge seat was a sign that the tide might turn in the Tories’ favour, while some Conservative MPs argue that the success of the anti-Ulez campaign might be repeated more generally at a general election.

This approach has been broadened by some on the Tory right into a wider attack on green policies and zero targets – claiming that ‘greenery’ is mere virtue signalling, which voters might approve, but are unwilling to pay for through Ulez charges and higher taxation. This all neatly fits into a well-established culture war, based on the claim that metropolitan elites and middle-class greens are waging a war on the motorist and hard-working families. Other elements in this strategy to win back both ‘traditional’ Tory voters and the supposedly socially conservative former Red Wall voters who came over to them in 2019 are a focus on stopping illegal migration, waging a ‘war on woke’ and standing up for traditional values, whatever they are.

Sunak himself has played with some of these themes and they will probably appear in some form in the Conservative election manifesto. But will they be enough to win back disillusioned voters in a period of falling real wages, rising prices and increasing interest rates for homeowners? Uxbridge showed that in a by-election it is possible to mobilise a protest vote around a single, polarising and locally important issue. But will voters feel the same, when it comes to choosing a government in a general election? Will issues like Ulez and cutting back on green policies cut through to an electorate who have more immediate cost-of-living issues on their minds?

While at this stage it seems unlikely that such an amalgam of Tory prejudices and scare stories could offer an effective and plausible manifesto and erode the very deep anti-Tory mood that has been building up steadily since 2021, the Uxbridge result should give the party leaders and all those analysing British politics and the public mood some pause for thought. While the by-election results confirmed what the polls have been saying quite consistently for a few years now, they also show the lack of real enthusiasm for either the Tories or Labour, and certainly no firm preference for Sir Keir as an alternative prime minister.

Understanding and discussing the possibilities for the short term are important: the working class movement should obviously take a sharp interest in the high politics of bourgeois society and adopt its own distinct and independent position towards the parties and the policies of the capitalist class. However, Marxists need to go beyond these immediate issues and point the way to the real politics of transforming society. Above all in the current hiatus for the left, that means not only considering how electoral politics might develop, but also seriously thinking about and actively working to build the type of revolutionary party and programme we need to fight for.

Doing deals with Sir Keir

Is building a Labour Party mark two a viable strategy? Kevin Bean looks at the Unite policy conference and beyond

The various responses to the proposal at Unite’s policy conference held in Liverpool to disaffiliate from the Labour Party were almost a perfect illustration of the thoroughly confused and incoherent politics of what now passes for much of the left in Britain.

The motion, proposed by supporters of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, called for the union to sever its links with Labour and give its support instead to parties and candidates committed to the interests of the working class. SPEW’s disaffiliation call is linked to its project to build a new workers’ party through the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Temporarily put on ice during the brief Corbyn years, it has been brought back to ‘life’ under SPEW’s general sectary, Hannah Sell. However, not only do the election results continue to be abysmal (two percent here, one percent there) – that for sub-reformist politics – Tusc has even managed to lose the only jewel in its tawdry crown. Mick Lynch decided he had had enough and RMT walked.

Although SPEW’s call for disaffiliation was ‘overwhelmingly defeated’ at Unite’s conference, its arguments about the nature of the Labour Party and its call for a “new workers’ party” represent the current common sense of the odds and ends, the flotsam, the jetsam – especially amongst former Labour members and the remnants of the Corbyn movement. This common sense has produced myriad initiatives, campaigns and putative networks, which in their many and various ways all agree that Labour under Starmer has finally crossed over the line to become an explicitly bourgeois and anti-working class party. For many of these projects winning the trade unions away from Labour and thus gaining an instant mass base is the key element in their strategy to build an alternative working class party.

Sharon Graham

How realistic is this scenario in the immediate future? Let us start with the debate in Unite and the response of the union’s leadership. Remember how Sharon Graham had campaigned to become general secretary by claiming that she was going to turn away from the politicking in the Westminster bubble that allegedly characterised Len McCluskey’s leadership and instead use the power of the union to focus on shop-floor concerns? She certainly won some left support for that ‘non-political’ stance and for her supposed concentration on the economic interests of the membership. Likewise, Unite’s 2021 decision to reduce its affiliation fee to Labour as a sign of its disapproval of Starmer’s leadership was welcomed as a sign that under Graham the union was moving to the left and becoming more militant.

Since then, she has continued with this left rhetoric and claims that under her leadership the union has secured a whole series of gains for its members during the current strike wave. At best, these deals have merely allowed the better organised sections of the union to keep pace with inflation, while for many these ‘victories’ have in reality been illusory and have actually seen below-inflation ‘increases’. Given this record and her easily acquired reputation for militancy, Graham’s reaction to the calls for disaffiliation is all the more revealing about the real nature of trade union leaders, no matter how left they claim to be.

Sister Graham not only opposed the demand for disaffiliation, but apparently reversed her previous non-political position and instead made demands on the Labour leadership. She put “Keir Starmer on notice” and said that Unite’s support was not a blank cheque and could not be taken for granted.[1] Labour needs to deliver for working people and “talk about what they can do for Britain”. Drawing on a favourite refrain of eulogising the Attlee government, Graham argued that Labour needs to “be as bold” as in 1945, and “give people something to vote for”. Her key demands were that “key industries like energy and steel should be taken into public hands”, adding that Unite would throw union officials and resources into a campaign in marginal seats for these policies, alongside greater involvement by Unite members in the Labour Party at all levels.[2] All a very long way from her previous ‘syndicalist’ position of ignoring Labour and concentrating on the “concerns of her members”.


This supposed change of heart is easily explained. As the general election approaches and the possibility of a Starmer government becomes more likely, the organised working class is turning its attention towards politics and the policies of Labour. Starmer’s triangulation strategy aimed at the ‘centre ground’, his conscious dampening down of expectations of even modest reforms, along with his explicit commitment to the wider interests of British capitalism and the American hegemon, give no grounds for optimism about the future for the working class.

His will be the most rightwing and pro-capitalist Labour government ever, exceeding in its loyalty to the existing economic and constitutional order even that of his mentor, Tony Blair.[3] While the real partisans of genuine working class politics can have no illusions in what a Starmer government will mean, trade union leaders see things rather differently.

Graham’s approach is transactional: that is, she sees her function as securing the ‘best deal’ for her members and furthering the interests of the labour bureaucracy, not least Unite’s layer of full-time officials. Trade union leaders, if they act as trade union leaders, not under communist discipline, are merchants in the labour-power of their members, striking deals with capitalists about the price of that commodity. Even the most militant leaderships, while they confine themselves to bargaining within the framework of the economic status quo, are not campaigning against the nature of capitalist exploitation, but seeking to mitigate its effects and gain some (temporary) improvements and concessions. However, even from the earliest period of general unionism in the 19th century, the organised working class went beyond purely industrial forms of struggle and attempted to secure gains through political action and legislation. The formation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 was itself a product of this dynamic and a recognition of the limitations of ‘pure trade unionism’.

Thus, both the needs of the working class under capitalism and the self-interests of the labour bureaucracy will drive trade unions to adopt basic political positions and so intervene politically to secure them. However, this approach still remains transactional, although in a political rather than in an industrial sense. As Graham explained during the Unite conference,

This is the moment of maximum leverage for the union, where we can hold Labour to account … Now cannot be the time to walk away. We would be weakening our own arm. It would be the worst time to leave the Labour Party when they are in touching distance of power. If we leave we wouldn’t influence that power.[4]

So, while calls for ‘bolder policies’ from Labour do represent something of a new orientation towards high politics, this strategy is still one of applying pressure to gain some limited concessions rather than challenging the capitalist political and economic order. Although the climate and balance of forces has changed considerably since the 1970s, Graham’s rhetoric is that of the union boss cutting a deal with politicians over the heads of the membership, not a militant fighter seeking to mobilise the working class.

Trade unions

Marxists should not, of course, be surprised by any of this. Neither should they misinterpret Starmer’s distancing of Labour from the trade unions: like Blair, his triangulation and electoral strategy requires it, as does Sir Keir’s desire to constantly prove his unquestioning loyalty to capitalism. Graham’s futile posturing and threats to apply “maximum leverage” are grist to Starmer’s mill and, as with the child benefit cap and the bedroom tax policy, give him yet another opportunity to demonstrate just how far his Labour Party has come from the ‘horrors’ of the Corbyn period.

If the conference vote and Graham’s defence of the link with Labour shows the umbilical cord between the trade union leadership and Labour politicians – and the essential Labourist politics of even the left of the union tops – it also points up another important feature of the workers’ movement in Britain. As it stands, Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party, although Sir Keir’s well-documented dalliance with rich business donors and liaisons with lobbyists certainly strengthen the pro-capitalist elements at the top of the party and pose the question of the de-labourisation of Labour. The coming election will be more of an unpopularity contest based on anti-Tory feeling than anything like a positive endorsement of Labour: expectations are low amongst both the organised working class and the electorate as a whole, with many being disillusioned even before Starmer enters No10.

Given the Tory policies that the next Labour government will attempt to maintain, calls for an alternative to Labour and initiatives to build a new workers’ party will grow in intensity from the off. Many of these initiatives will focus on using the existing Labour Party as an organisational and political model: that is, a broad workers’ party, based on the trade unions, which will essentially be a Labour Party mark two – albeit one to the left of the current party.

However, Graham’s intervention shows that even the left trade union leaders see no viable option for their politics and their interests outside of Labour, although it cannot be ruled out that strong currents of opposition could emerge, both within the unions and beyond, that could put pressure on these leaders and result in disaffiliation and the creation of some new formation in the future. But, unless this new organisation was committed to a Marxist programme, it would remain in essence Labourist, and so firmly rooted in capitalism and the existing constitutional order.

Broad parties simply based on opposition to the worst excesses of capitalism and basing themselves on the existing political and trade union consciousness will only reproduce Labourism in form and content, no matter how militant the rhetoric. Marxists (along with the ruling class) have long recognised that the Labour Party and Labourism remain a major barrier to developing a revolutionary socialist consciousness. The experience of Dave Nellist’s Tusc and the countless other initiatives that have been undertaken since the 1990s show the futility of attempting to construct a Labour Party mark two when the Labour Party mark one still exists.

This is not an argument for accepting the dominance of Labourism within the workers’ movement and simply adapting to it, or of working slowly to transform Labour from within. Rather it is an argument for not abandoning the Labour Party and the unions to the pro-capitalists, but instead fighting, if we can, to drive them and their politics out of the labour movement and transforming Labour into a united front of a special kind – without bans and proscriptions, and open to all socialist tendencies and working class organisations.

Socialist Appeal

But, with or without success in the Labour Party – -a very remote possibility at this particular point in time – what is key is a mass Communist Party, not a confessional sect such as Alan Woods’ Socialist Appeal, repackaging itself in the attempt to recruit student radicals. One day they were dull-as-ditchwater clause-four socialists: the next day they reappear as so-called communists. ‘So-called’ because they refuse to unite with, debate or even talk to other communists – certainly not real communists. That is cynical marketing, not principled Marxism. Obviously, the working class requires something far more serious, far more worthwhile.

[1]. www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/jul/10/starmer-put-on-notice-by-unite-leader-after-vote-to-retain-ties-with-labour.

[2]. www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/jul/15/labour-must-give-people-something-to-vote-for-says-unite-head.

[3]. www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/jul/18/blair-and-starmer-bask-in-each-others-reflected-glory.

[4]. www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/jul/10/starmer-put-on-notice-by-unite-leader-after-vote-to-retain-ties-with-labour.

Sir Keir’s abstention disgrace

Labour’s official left either meekly followed orders or stayed away – there were less than a dozen rebels. David Porter reports

Last week’s second reading of the Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill tells us a great deal about the dire state of politics in Britain – whether in the form of the first eleven of capitalism, the Tories, or the second eleven, Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.

The bill is designed to stop public bodies like local councils and universities boycotting Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In other words it is an attempt to kill off the campaign for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions, which so infuriates the Israeli government and all those who support the Zionist settler-colonial project. Naturally enough the charge is that BDS is anti-Semitic, anti-Zionism being routinely equated with anti-Semitism nowadays. This was all quite evident during the parliamentary debate, when Michael Gove, the minister responsible for the proposed legislation, repeatedly smeared opponents of the Israeli state, including the left. He even claimed that anti-Semitic “events” increase after the activities of the BDS movement, “including”, apparently, “supermarkets removing kosher products from their shelves following specific protests.”

Doubtless true, if those kosher products were made in the occupied West Bank. But nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism. In the same way supermarkets might well have removed South African products from their shelves after anti-apartheid protests. Does that mean, however, that the anti-apartheid movement was anti-white? No, no, no, the suggestion is as stupid as it is outrageous.

Although the bill’s provisions are all of a piece with recent Tory attempts to limit democratic rights and narrow the room for political protest, it is done, of course, in the name of combating racism and promoting community cohesion. Compared with Winston Churchill, Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher, a sort of progress. The Tories are all for combating racism and for community cohesion now – well, apart from blaming migrants for the NHS crisis, the housing shortage, the lack of school places and wanting to send them to Rwanda or lock them up on giant prison barges.

But there is an even bigger hypocrisy: it is Israel.

Here is what UN rapporteurs have repeatedly called an apartheid state. Zionism being a colonialist ideology and therefore a form of racism in its own right, because the original inhabitants of the land have to be oppressed, driven out and replaced. Even within Israel proper the Arab population is subject to second class status and faces systemic, racist, discrimination. Israel, is after all, a Jewish state for Jewish people – not for all its citizens. But what does Gove care about that? He and the Tory government are out to legitimise a greater Israel and delegitimise any opposition to what is a Zionist one-state solution.

There was a possible parliamentary bonus too: wrong-footing Labour. By voting for the proposed legislation, Labour agrees that BDS really is anti-Semitic; by voting against, the party shows that it remains as ‘anti-Semitic’ as it was alleged to be under Jeremy Corbyn. In the end the Labour leadership got off that hook rather easily. Lisa Nandy claimed the bill “drove a coach and horses” through the necessity of distinguishing between Israel proper and the occupied territories and therefore ran counter to the so-called two-state solution. Labour tabled a killer amendment and, when that predictably failed, abstained on the second-reading.

But, both in the days preceding the debate and during the debate itself, the official leadership line was to repeat their objections to BDS and to generally support the government’s position: identifying opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism. Given that Starmer had promised to ‘cleanse’ Labour of the non-existent ‘widespread anti-Semitism’, and the Labour right more generally had utilised arguments similar to those of Gove against the Labour left, how could it be otherwise?

Amidst these parliamentary games, however, the main reason for the Labour leadership’s position became clear. The debate showed that the big lie that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is more than just an effective weapon with which to beat the left: Starmer’s explicit pro-Zionism, combined with the usual cant about the entirely bogus two-state solution, is both a practical and symbolic demonstration of Labour’s renewed commitment both to the foreign policy of British capitalism and to the global hegemon, the United States.

Support for Palestinian rights was an important issue during the Corbyn period: passing critical conference motions against the occupation and delegates waving the Palestinian flag were an all too visible sign that Labour was unfit for government as far as the establishment was concerned. So, falling into line behind Israel is the absolute sine qua non to show that the ‘dangerous leftism’ of the Corbyn period is now a thing of the past and that normal service in British politics has been well and truly resumed.

Second eleven

At exactly the same time as last week’s parliamentary debate, Israeli forces were carrying out an air and ground onslaught against the Palestinian population of Jenin, with the aim of crushing any resistance to the occupation. This resulted in at least 12 Palestinian deaths, hundreds of injuries, and widespread damage. Far from condemning these attacks and expressing political solidarity with the Palestinian people, rightwing Labour MPs, as expected, lined up with the Tory apologists for the Israeli state in making false accusations against the BDS campaign and its supporters.

Also, as expected, the official parliamentary Labour left proved incoherent and ineffective. In the last few weeks, after a long period of largely keeping heads down, a few voices, such as John McDonnell, have become a little louder in complaining about the intolerance and the internal lack of accountability under the Starmer leadership. Some have speculated that the previous silence had been a cunning plan to lay low in the hope that, in the event that Labour has only a small majority after the election (say 20 or 30 MPs), this will give left MPs a much greater influence over the direction of government policy.

Leaving aside the ifs and buts, and the likelihood of a general election being at least a year off, this brilliant plan is clearly an example of wishful thinking. After all, Sir Keir and his apparatchiks are ready, waiting and wanting to suspend and disbar any left MPs for no matter how trivial an offence. Hence, while there are some 30 MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group today, after the next general election there will be far, far, fewer of them. Meanwhile, though, the cunning plan provides a much needed excuse for being good boys and girls and doing nothing too naughty.

The official left’s response to the anti-BDS bill, its role in the parliamentary debate and division, show just how ineffective it has become. A few left MPs spoke – not least Jeremy Corbyn, who, though still a Labour member, sits as an independent. He denounced this “truly appalling piece of legislation” and made the telling point that “the bill would have made it impossible to campaign against apartheid in South Africa, and would also ban any effort by public bodies to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen”[1] (echoing the legal advice from Richard Hermer KC, given to, but ignored by, Starmer,).

However, the SCG as a whole played no organised role, and, when it came to the vote, the bulk of those going through the ‘no’ lobby were SNPers, dissident Tories and other odds and sods: most of the SCG either abstained, in line with the official whip instructions, or absented themselves.[2] Only 10 of the 70 noes came from Labour Party MPs. Where were Diane Abbott, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Zarah Sultana, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Richard Burgon and Bell Ribeiro-Addy?

Some justifications for the poor showing of the official left have been made following the vote, such as: pressing business elsewhere; and the argument that this was only a second reading, with the main division coming on the third reading. Pathetic apologetics. Given the political and symbolic importance of this bill, especially in the week of the Israeli attack on Jenin, you would have thought that even a moderately engaged left MP would have been stirred into enough life to turn up to vote. So much for the principled fighters for Palestinian rights and so much for an effective left opposition to the pro-imperialist politics of Keir Starmer! If genuine supporters of the Palestinian people and real partisans of militant politics are looking for a lead, they will obviously not find it in the SCG.

[1]. www.middleeasteye.net/news/uk-israel-jenin-assault-criticised-opposition-grows-anti-bds-bill.

[2]. hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2023-07-03/division/2B8BF1D4-5FC0-4D70-919F-65CEED69D671/details?outputType=Names.

Putting the record straight

Carla Roberts reviews Oh, Jeremy Corbyn – the big lie   [Alexei Sayle (narrator), Chis Reeves (director), Norman Thomas (writer),  Platform Films]

I would definitely urge readers to go and see this film, whenever it is shown locally – but please be aware that our enemies have been handed a couple of easy weapons – through a lack of political editing perhaps and various shortcomings.

The “big lie” is a reference, of course, to the campaign to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn. I recognise much of the footage, because the leftwing filmmaker, Chris Reeves of Platform Films, which produced it, has attended many of the meetings, stunts and activities put on by Labour Party Marxists, Labour Against the Witchhunt and other pro-Corbyn groups over the years. We even paid him to record a couple of events that are now part of the film and a lot of my friends and comrades can be seen on screen, either in the background or in the interview section. It is heartening to see reminders of the huge, enthusiastic crowds of Corbyn movement supporters.

Refreshingly, however, the film is also critical of Corbyn – taking him to task for appeasing the witch-hunters who accused him and his supporters of ‘anti-Semitism’. “The Labour leadership’s answer to the attacks seems to be to say ‘sorry’,” laments narrator Alexei Sayle. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of Jewish Voice for Labour says: “We kept thinking, Jeremy and John McDonnell will see that they will have to stand up to this now. Surely, they can see that these criticisms are not made in good faith.” Graham Bash, Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker make similar comments.

Interestingly, we also hear from Andrew Murray, who left the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain in 2016 to join the Labour Party and was seconded from Unite the Union to Labour HQ for the 2017 general election. He subsequently worked as an advisor to Corbyn from 2018 to 2020. “I am critical of how we handled the anti-Semitism thing”, he says, “because in my view we didn’t.” Apparently Jeremy was “very, very upset by the allegations, very personally wounded and it sort of paralysed a political response.” It is a real shame that neither Murray nor Corbyn spoke out when it still could have made a difference.

The big lie is not the kind of exposé that contains bombshells or knockout blows. It is unashamedly of the left and for the left. The film simply tries to tell the story of what happened – and why. Mostly that works well. But, on a few occasions, the film gets things wrong politically. My criticisms however, are relatively minor and, crucially, they are very different to the nonsense heaped onto the film by the mainstream press and so-called leftwingers like Paul Mason, Novara Media and singer Billy Bragg (standing in for Owen Jones in the Guardian, who has been surprisingly reticent on this whole issue). Of course, none of these darlings of the establishment stood up to the witch-hunt in the Labour Party and often they actually supported it. So their presentday stance comes as no surprise.


The main charge is, naturally, that the film is “allegedly ‘anti-Semitic’”, as The Times put it. Their journalists do not seem to have watched the damned thing, so instead Rupert Murdoch’s august publication turns to that useful idiot Paul Mason (for decades a Trotskyist, first in the SWP, then Workers Power, then Permanent Revolution).

In his review posted on LabourList (June 19), Mason claims that

the film presents a full-blown conspiracy theory about Corbyn’s opponents, conflating Zionists, Jews and Israel as part of a force that ‘orchestrated’ his overthrow. That, to me, appears to match at least two examples of anti-Semitism in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, and should raise legal and ethical questions for any venue considering screening it.

Not only does Mason present the hugely controversial IHRA fake ‘definition’ as some kind of holy script: he also thinks non-compliance with it raises “legal questions” – perhaps he believes it has official legal status? Sadly for Mason, this is not the case. It is not legally binding: it is also not a definition, as legal experts have pointed out many times – it is extremely vague.

But then Mason’s claim that the film “conflates Zionists, Jews and Israel” is utter nonsense anyway – and Mason has to admit as much. His single piece of ‘evidence’ consists of his description of a scene in which Moshé Machover states, quite correctly, that “nobody can fail to see that this was a concerted, orchestrated campaign” against Corbyn, followed by the narrator, Alexei Sayle, asking: “But if it was an orchestrated campaign, who was in the orchestra?” Mason himself lists the Zionist groups involved: “the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel, and the Israel Advocacy Movement”.[1]

In other words, even by Mason’s own logic, the film – as it is – could not be accused of anti-Semitism. But that is a minor admission that, of course, none of the venues which have banned the film will lose much sleep over. From the union bureaucrats of the Tolpuddle Festival, via the cowards in various town halls and council chambers to Sharon Graham of Unite – they all have been falling over themselves to stop the film being shown. To little avail, of course: every cancellation has led to at least two more screenings at other venues. Good.

Of course, the film goes on to add some other members of the said “orchestra”, which Mason fails to mention: the mainstream media, former deputy Labour leader Tom Watson and almost the entire Parliamentary Labour Party. Mention could also have been made of alleged leftwingers like Mason himself, as well as chief appeaser and Momentum founder Jon Lansman. He was so eager to please the witch-hunters that he went over to them (in a genuinely cringey interview for The Guardian, for example, in which he and Owen Jones try to outdo each other with their witch-finding skills, he actually claims that the phrase, “I hate Israel”, is “clearly anti-Semitic”[2]).

Of course there was a conspiracy against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. The Lobby, Al Jazeera’s documentary, and the report by Martin Forde KC on Labour, contain a mountain of evidence. There was a concerted campaign of sabotage, which most left activists on the ground experienced directly – from day one of Corbyn’s leadership.

The most effective tactic came to be the “big lie” – the claim that anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel are anti-Semitic. Thousands were vilified, smeared and kicked out the Labour Party and other organisations. So successful has that been, it continues to this day.

Until Mason’s review, it was the title that the mainstream media concentrated on (after all, the film can only be seen at special screenings and none of the mainstream media hacks seem to have gone to the trouble to attend).

“There are big lies everywhere and one of the big lies today is of the Labour Party being infested by anti-Semitism”, as Moshé Machover explains in the film. “I doubt there is a single Palestine solidarity activist who has not been accused of anti-Semitism. The Zionists have certainly successfully redefined anti-Semitism, says Tony Greenstein: “It does not mean hatred or hostility to Jews as Jews, but for the Zionists … is opposition to a Jewish, racial, supremacist state.”

On this key issue, the film is very strong.


There are, however, a few criticisms that have to be made.

Firstly, at no point does anybody point out that in fact there were a few (very, very few) cases of anti-Semitism – it would have been a miracle if there had not been. The Labour Party is part of society and reflects the anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia that exists in society (though probably on a much smaller scale). Most allegations were utter nonsense, based on trumped-up charges. But on a very few occasions, the recommendation of Labour Against the Witchhunt was that the accused should indeed retract and apologise for a particular thoughtless phrase or problematic tweet that indeed conflated ‘Jews’ and ‘Zionists’.

This underlined our demand for education and discussion on all issues to do with this subject – not an approach of ‘zero tolerance’, as so stupidly pursued by John McDonnell MP and Jon Lansman. Zero tolerance – ie, the banning of discussion – is  the opposite of the kind of open, democratic culture a healthy working class organisation needs. On the particular subject of anti-Semitism it is doubly wrong, because it was the chief weapon of the right against the left.

More importantly – and Mason picks up on this too – the film makes some rather outlandish and frankly bizarre claims about Keir Starmer, which reflect a serious misunderstanding of how the Labour Party and indeed modern capitalism work. The claim is that Starmer is some kind of operative in the intelligence services. Jackie Walker exclaims “Starmer worked for the CIA, didn’t he?” Actually, no, he did not. Rebecca Massey from Brighton gets it right: “He had worked quite closely with the CIA”, which is rather different. Starmer was, after all, appointed Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008 … and duly received a knighthood for services rendered. Andrew Murray puts it like this: “I think Starmer will simply be seen as someone who did the establishment’s bidding, which is really what he’s been doing all his life. He is above all a servant of the state.” Exactly.

Now we get to the most shaky part of the film’s narrative. Starmer is presented as using his undoubted opposition to Brexit first and foremost because it would wreck Corbyn’s election chances. Andrew Murray, showing that he still adheres to the CPB’s nationalist road to socialism, sees Starmer’s creeping advocacy of a second referendum as the means to scuttle the Corbyn project: “It became clear that [a second Brexit referendum] is the thing that can undermine Corbynism.”

Rebecca Massey piles it on: “[Starmer’s] best trick was to make Labour a ‘remain’ party. Let’s stick two fingers up to the majority of the British people who voted for Brexit.” The film then spends a considerable amount of time interviewing Labour Party members, who explain how they did not understand Labour’s policy on Brexit. And, of course, that is exactly how Keir Starmer planned it.

This is overegging things to put it mildly. Surely the comrades at Platform Films will remember that the vast majority of Labour Party members opposed Brexit. In the 2016 referendum around 70% of Labour voters ticked ‘remain’[3]. Corbyn, however, and many members of the traditional Labour left are of the view that a smaller, a nationally fragmented, capitalism is somehow preferable.

Despite his sentimental internationalism when it comes to the Palestinians or other solidarity movements, Corbyn at no point tried to win over the population to a positive vision of workers’ unity across Europe and beyond. Labour’s repudiate Brexit policy was weak, confused and self-defeating. Clearly, Corbyn did not believe in it and it showed. But to claim that this was somehow Starmer’s sneaky doing – on behest of other, shadowy forces – is idiotic.

Starmer did what he did because he believed in it. He believed what liberal capitalism believed. Big business, top civil servants and most of the political class believed that Brexit was bad.

That is the truth and the truth needs no lies, either big or small.

[1]. labourlist.org/2023/06/the-big-lie-jeremy-corbyn-glastonbury-screening-film-watch-conspiracy-mason.

[2]. www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlZ7Zcoi8wU.

[3]. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48039984.

A year of strikes

We must go beyond Labourism. Kevin Bean assesses the upsurge in trade union action and its limitations

June 21 marked one year since the first RMT strike, which ushered in the highest level of industrial action for more than three decades. With 3.7 million working days lost through strikes from June 2022 to April 2023, according to official statistics, this is the highest number for any 11-month period since July 1989 to May 1990, when 4.8 million days were lost.[1]

With disputes and strikes involving workers in sectors ranging from the post office and the civil service through to the health service, schools, local government, universities and transport, it seemed to many commentators – whether in the left or the bourgeois media – that ‘the militant working class was back’. Tory ministers reprised the Thatcherite playbook and declared that they would not give in to union leaders such as Mick Lynch ‘holding the country to ransom’, as they supposedly did in the 1970s. They even tried to use the Ukraine war, with Lynch and co being Putin agents. But nor did that work.

The year of strikes has drawn widely differing groups of workers into action, some for the first time, such as the Royal College of Nursing. Although the disputes have different proximate causes and demands, the common element is the defence of wage levels and working conditions.

We should also not discount the way that employers have attempted to use the historical weakness of the organised working class to further undermine conditions and benefits, such as pensions and permanent contracts. The long-running pensions dispute in the universities and the attempts by the railway employers to worsen the conditions of drivers and other workers are examples of disputes which are just as much about a wider defence of jobs and conditions as attempts to ensure that wages keep pace with inflation.

Back to 1970s?

In terms of the size of the unions and the density of membership, the differences between the 1970s and today are so obvious as to hardly need stating. According to the latest government statistics, there are 6.5 million trade unionists in Britain – just over 22% of employees. This compares to the high point of union membership of 13.2 million – with a much smaller workforce – in 1979. The majority now are in the public sector (3.84 million) and tend to be older and more highly qualified or skilled than the ‘average’ worker.[2]

A combination of economic and social change since the 1970s, such as the decline in manufacturing and the rise of the service and public sectors, alongside a conscious (and successful) strategy of weakening the potential power of organised workers through anti-trade union legislation, has decisively changed both the terrain on which British trade unions operate and their organisational form. The power of the union bureaucracy has been greatly strengthened at the expense of the rank and file, especially the workplace representatives and shop stewards. These were important elements of rank-and-file power in the strikes of the post-war boom in the late 1940s-60s, which saw action to advance living standards, as well as during the more defensive strikes against attacks on wages and conditions in the 1970s.

The legal restrictions put in place since the 1980s and the reduced industrial power of the movement have not only reinforced the power of the trade union bureaucracy, but strengthened tendencies towards compromise and class collaboration which have long been the hallmark of British trade union leaders. Hence the string of below inflation settlements negotiated by trade union leaders ranging from the FBU’s Matt Wrack to the RCN’s Pat Cullen.

The labour bureaucracy – a combination of trade union officialdom, Labour career politicians and apparatchiks – has, of course, its own niche and privileged position in capitalist society. Even when speaking the language of class war, its sectional interests cause this stratum to act as the labour lieutenants of capital in policing the working class.

This can be seen with initiatives such as Enough Is Enough, where trade union leaders such as Mick Lynch, Dave Ward and Eddie Dempsey worked hand-in-hand with aspiring Labour careerists and local hacks in order to contain and divert anger into pointless rallies and demonstrations. Naturally, the politics were kept to the usual banal platitudes of ‘a real pay rise’, ‘decent housing for all’, ‘tax the rich’, etc, and no accountable, democratic, structures were built. So, while Enough is Enough provided plenty of opportunities for inflating already inflated egos, the whole thing, inevitably, fizzled out … along with other hopes of yesterday.

Momentum, the Socialist Campaign Group, Labour Representation Committee and Labour Left Alliance have likewise all withered on the vine in spite of, because of, the strike wave. Their politics have simply proven not fit for purpose.


If the trade union bureaucrats have been behaving true to form, what has been the impact of the year of strikes on the membership and wider working class? For both those taking part and the labour movement more generally, the strikes have both been a morale booster and raised class-consciousness, especially in disputes where the pay and conditions of the workers can be contrasted with the profits of the capitalists and the income of the senior managers.

Anyone who has taken part in a strike will tell you about the solidarity and sense of collective strength that is engendered by taking part in pickets, strike meetings and protests. Workers in dispute identify their enemies and friends and start to draw wider lessons about the nature of capitalist society. Reports in the left and even the bourgeois media provide plenty of examples of how industrial disputes can shift workers’ understanding of their place in the world.

This, however, does not proceed in a straight line and the hopes and expectations of some that the strike wave would produce a shift to the left and a rapid development of a revolutionary socialist consciousness have not borne fruit. Indeed, as shown in some trade union elections, the right has been strengthened. In Unison, for example, the Time for Real Change left group lost its NEC majority and the Socialist Party in England and Wales was reduced from four seats to just one (Hugo Pierre was elected from the Black Section).

The disputes themselves have been long drawn-out affairs, but the strikes have more been a day here and a day there. Also demands and struggles have been kept sectional, even when workers in a particular sector, such as the health service, are taking action over similar issues. The levels of coordination between unions at a national level have been minimal, although local groups of workers have attempted to build common action and demands in areas such as education, local government and the civil service. Most importantly, few of the disputes have truly resulted in victories, other than in some areas of transport and food production, where all-out strikes hit the employers’ profits and forced them to concede pay settlements in line with inflation. In other sectors, many of the settlements agreed by the union leaderships, even if trumpeted as victories, actually represent real wage cuts because they are quite a bit below the rate of inflation.

In response to these developments there is nothing wrong with calls from those on the left to build on the year of strikes and make attempts to overcome sectionalism by generalising the various struggles. But it is also important to undertake a sober assessment of where the movement might be heading and understand the limitations of strike action. After all, if a year of strikes has produced little in the way of tangible results, it is perfectly logical for trade union members, not just leaders, to look to the politics of moderation and the election of a Labour government headed by Sir Keir Starmer.

But some will never learn.


Take Socialist Worker; its whole raison d’être for decades has been the alchemy of spontaneity and turning the base metal of protests and strikes into socialist gold. At last, with big strikes happening, the picture was painted of Britain being on the cusp of a revolutionary situation rather than an altogether routine general election. Such economism entails either steering clear of high politics or, when there is high politics, there is tailism of the liberal bourgeoisie. But what is really important, in the meantime, is recruiting trade union militants to the confessional sect. Party Notes boasts of the SWP recruiting “well over 1,000 people since 2002” (June 19 2023). But, of course, few of them pay dues or attend meetings. Indeed it is a revolving door.

In a similar way Socialist Appeal – the British section of the International Marxist Tendency – also draws the wrong conclusions by overstating the impact of industrial disputes on class-consciousness. After the dreary years of auto-Labourism and pushing clause four socialism, albeit with a brief dalliance with Chavismo, the Scottish Socialist Party and other left nationalisms, they have suddenly discovered that they really are communists and that the crisis of capitalism internationally demands a new revolutionary leadership – now! The idea of entering into discussions with other groups with a view to forming an embryonic Communist Party, however, remains noticeably absent. Instead there is yet another attempt to build the confessional sect … this time by appealing  to revolutionary minded students (amongst whom communism is increasingly popular). The aim is to get a thousand members!

Socialist Appeal wants to, needs to, keep its recruits excited. Very excited. So what we have is the upturn in strikes painted, yet again, as a prelude to an acute social crisis and the outbreak of social revolution. The danger is, of course, that the false perspectives of today lead to burnout and demoralisation tomorrow.

All the while, their old comrades in the Socialist Party in England and Wales, now under Peter Taaffe’s chosen heir and successor, Hannah Sell, doggedly push the totally stupid Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition project – trying to create a Labour Party mark 2. Clearly the elementary lessons of the real Labour Party founded in 1900, the Labour Party mark 1, have not been learnt. At best Labourism leads not to socialism, but governing capitalism in the interests of the working class … and, when that all goes wrong, to a Tory government.

Comrade Sell and, following the Socialist Alternative split, her much reduced band of followers, cannot quite understand why trade union officialdom insists on sticking with the Labour Party and the real prospect of a Labour government headed by Sir Keir Starmer, rather than throwing in their lot with Tusc. True, members of Labour’s front bench keep a studied distance from strikers and picket lines. They must appear responsible before the City, the capitalist media and Britain’s US master. But, and this is crucial, a Labour government can actually deliver concessions to trade union officialdom and will almost certainly be less overtly hostile to trade unions than the Tories. Better, then, reasons the average trade union general secretary, to persuade, to pressurise, to plead with a Labour minister, than engage with the toytown Labourism of the Tusc project.

Clueless, Tusc carries on carrying on and in ever smaller circles. The SWP has gone, RMT has gone, even Chris Williamson has gone. Tusc’s politics are, of course, thoroughly economistic; high politics are almost totally absent. Despite that, Tusc candidates get farcical votes … one or two percent. That would not matter particularly … at least to begin with, if the politics were principled – but they are not.

Then we have the fragments and sects of one who hanker after the big time by uniting in this or that broad front. There are plenty of them on offer: Left Unity, George Galloway’s Workers Party, Socialist Labour Network, Peace and Justice and whatever Ken Loach comes up with next. All useless. All absurd.

Probably, however, after the next general election and a Sir Keir Starmer government, things will change. The larger sections of the organised left will be looking towards an alternative to ‘vote Labour …but’.

The choice is clear: building yet another broad front, or something really serious: building a mass Communist Party.

[1]. www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/workplacedisputesandworkingconditions.

[2]. assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1158789/Trade_Union_Membership_UK_1995-2022_Statistical_Bulletin.pdf.

Putting capital and careers first

Starmer’s purge of left candidates shows he is serious about governing ‘responsibly’, says Kevin Bean

Although much of the focus lately has been on the psycho-drama playing out amongst the Tories, on the other side of bourgeois politics Labour leaders have been giving some clear pointers about the shape of the next Labour government, should they win the next election.

If the opinion polls are to be believed, this seems increasingly likely and certainly most commentators and many Tories appear to think that within 18 months Sir Keir and his team will be seated around the cabinet table in Downing Street. It seems that, in this one aspect of bourgeois politics at least, the conventional wisdom that governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them still appears to hold. Although Labour’s lead over the Tories could well narrow as the election campaign hots up, and there are a number of uncertainties which could impact on the actual result, such as new constituency boundaries, most recent polls point to a Labour majority, with some even suggesting a “landslide”.[1]

Another barometer will be the forthcoming by-elections caused by the resignations of Boris Johnson and Nigel Adams – probably followed by another in the autumn, when Nadine Dorries times her departure to cause maximum political embarrassment to Rishi Sunak. Although the unusual circumstances of the by-elections will probably encourage protest votes and so maximise an anti-government vote, which may benefit the Liberal Democrats, the Labour leadership will undoubtedly play up their successes and stress that the electoral momentum now lays with them.

It is important to remember that it is this electoral perspective which dominates the politics and the strategy of Sir Keir Starmer – shaping both his recent policy shifts and the continuing attacks on what remains of the Labour left. As a fully paid-up member of the British bourgeois political class, with a long record of loyal service in the law, Starmer has shown he will always act in the interests of the state, and of capitalism more generally. Reinforcing this image and reminding his main audience – the capitalist class in Washington and London, and their allies in the media – of his proven record as a reliable, safe pair of hands has been absolutely central to Sir Keir’s leadership from day one.

The Labour leadership has also carried out a charm offensive, targeted at the City and ‘the markets’, to dispel any lingering fears that a Labour government would be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ and would undermine the public finances by either raising taxes on the wealthy or borrowing extravagantly to fund its manifesto commitments. The Starmer project has generally been positively received by the key sections of the capitalist class, although, as ever, they want the Labour leader to go further in order to make the party even more ‘electable’ in their eyes.[2] So close has this relationship become that shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves rowed back last week on a major plank of Labour’s economic policy – the £28 billion ‘green prosperity plan’ – because of hints that it was unacceptable to ‘the markets’.[3]


If Sir Keir’s main audience – the capitalist class – are more than happy to see him as prime minister (especially after the bizarre chaos and farcical musical chairs at the heart of the Tory government since 2017), his other audience – the electorate – seems less than impressed by what is on offer. The coming election is unlikely to set anyone on fire, so we can expect both lacklustre political campaigning and widespread apathy on the part of voters. Given this, one possible outcome could still be a Labour victory, but, rather than the predicted landslide, it could instead be a much more modest majority which, some commentators have suggested, would make a Starmer government potentially susceptible to pressure from left MPs.[4]

The model for this scenario is the role of the Labour parliamentary left during the late 1960s and 1970s and its ability to restrict some of the more anti-working class policies proposed by the Labour governments in this period. Whilst there are obvious and striking differences between that period and today – not least the considerable influence exercised by the ‘official’ CPGB over the Tribune group in parliament, the trade union left and rank and file activists in the CLPs – Starmer is not leaving anything to chance. He is getting his retaliation in first by ruthlessly purging the left during the candidate selection process.[5] Changes in constituency boundaries and thus the possibilities of ‘deselecting’ existing left MPs are also being used to weed out anyone deemed unreliable by the leadership, as the recent examples in Birkenhead, Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon show. Reports also suggest that a similar stitch-up will be attempted to get acceptable candidates in place for the by‑elections caused by Johnson and co’s resignations.

After the Corbyn years, it seems to be a case of ‘never again’. The selection of candidates has been handed over to Matt Faulding and Matt Pound – with able assistance provided by NEC member Luke Akehurst. Faulding was once deputy director of the Blairite think tank Progress, while Pound used to run Labour First under Akehurst. These three are the Machiavellis of the Labour Party. Behind the scenes they are deciding the composition of the PLP in the next parliament.

Akehurst is a driven man. A fervent Zionist, he is a director of British Israeli Communication and We Believe in Israel. Combining stints with being a Hackney councillor, working for the Labour Party and the BBC and running Weber Shadwick, a global PR company, it is clear that he enjoys extraordinarily good connections … presumably including with Mossad, the CIA and MI5. But what really marks him out is his deep, enduring almost visceral animosity towards the left. The IHRA so-called definition of anti-Semitism has been a weapon wielded with the greatest passion. As a current NEC member – he topped the poll in 2022 – Akehurst, of course, chairs many of the panels which bar the objects of his hatred.

Naturally, Labour First is pro-Nato, pro-Israel, pro-nuclear weapons, pro-constitution and pro-Ukraine – so Paul Mason would find himself at home. Labour First is not just rightwing, it is militantly rightwing and considers the left an obstacle to achieving what it calls ‘Clause one socialism’; ie, a Labour government fit to serve capitalism and which puts good career politicians like themselves first. Labour as a broad based party has no place for the irresponsible, unpatriotic, left.

Right unite

Directly after the election of Sir Keir as party leader, Labour First combined with Progress to found Labour to Win, and under that umbrella they dominate the NEC politically and, naturally, promote their pals as parliamentary, assembly, mayoral, etc, candidates.

More than that, Labour to Win is attempting to “fundamentally reshape” the culture and politics of the Labour Party. Take that to be something like completing the Blairite counterrevolution, delabourising Labour, repairing the split in liberalism.

Sadly, Sir Keir, Labour to Win, Akehurst, Faulding, Pound and the Labour right are having it easy – because of the supine nature of the official Labour left. During the Corbyn period there was a willingness to sacrifice leftwingers to appease the pro-capitalist right in the PLP. This resulted in waves of suspensions and expulsions. Perhaps more importantly, it provided the ideological ground for Starmer’s current purge by conceding what should have not been conceded: the big lie that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

The record of the official left in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs in collaborating with the witch-hunt and generally keeping their heads down does not inspire us with confidence that they would do very much to resist Starmer’s pro-capitalist agenda, even if the parliamentary arithmetic were to give, say, 30 determined MPs a greatly enhanced leverage.

Starmer can probably rest easy on that score, although it seems he is taking no chances when it comes to parliamentary or other selection contests. In the new north-east region mayoral constituency, Labour’s long list excludes current Labour mayor for North Tyneside, Jamie Driscoll – a pretty mild municipal socialist who supports the IHRA and whose only crimes are to be tagged ‘the last Corbynista in office’ and to appear at an arts event in a Newcastle theatre with that ‘non-person’ Ken Loach.

It is possible that the SCG really is keeping its powder dry and waiting for the day when it can call the shots in parliament. Perhaps its MPs are secretly a very disciplined and highly organised group who are only awaiting the right moment to strike and sound the clarion call for socialist politics. We all may yet be surprised, but, if their record and narrow Labourist politics tells us anything, I would not hold my breath!

[1]. www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/jun/07/labour-landslide-election-victory-poll-keir-starmer-rishi-sunak-conservatives-constituency-boundaries.

[2]. www.ft.com/content/fbc55e2c-6757-4270-af87-88fd39425cb9; www.economist.com/leaders/2023/04/27/is-keir-starmer-ready-for-office.

[3]. www.cityam.com/economic-stability-must-come-first-labours-reeves-backtracks-on-28bn-green-prosperity-plan.

[4]. www.thetimes.co.uk/article/starmers-quiet-purge-of-his-would-be-mps-cwnm8xspf.

[5]. unherd.com/2023/06/starmer-will-regret-purging-the-left.

Witch-hunt grows

While some on the disorientated left will support ‘anyone but Labour’, writes Carla Roberts, Momentum and what remains of the official Labour left beg Sir Keir for unity

Labour did well in the local elections – but not well enough to avoid the potential of a hung parliament at the next general election. For John McDonnell this presents a golden opportunity to once again bang on about the need for Labour to become – you guessed it – “a broad church”, where “there is respect for a whole range of views across the political spectrum within the Labour Party”.[1] He rather amusingly describes how “young left radical MPs have appeal across the board. If we don’t use that resource, we lose the opportunity of mobilising some of the key votes”.

Who are those mysterious ‘young left radical MPs’ that he wants to see on the front benches? Well, there is Nadia Whittome (fellow traveller of the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty), the tame Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the middle-of-the-road Olivia Blake and – last not least – Zarah Sultana. The latter is the only one of this bunch who could be described as potentially radical – but Realpolitik in parliament has certainly made her a very quiet warrior. All of these ‘radical’ MPs are members of the so-called Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs – which has still not managed to put out a statement in support of its own Diane Abbott, now suspended from the party. Clearly, none of them fancy ending up next to Diane Abbott or Jeremy Corbyn. Better to keep heads down then.

From a careerist point of view, this is entirely understandable: the swift disciplinary action taken against Abbott for her admittedly extraordinarily stupid letter to The Observer shows that Sir Keir continues to be on the warpath against the left. Politically of course, the despicable opportunism of the SCG is exactly what has put the left in the position it is today – entirely defeated. Instead of at least trying to take on the right, the official Labour left has tried to appease it, begging for forgiveness for the entirely fake ‘mass anti-Semitism problem’ of the party. It is now so weak that Starmer can pick the remaining ‘left’ MPs off one by one, without little or no opposition.


Last week’s coronation stressed this fact once again – not only did the Labour Party’s official social media outlets sycophantically declare that “Labour celebrates the coronation of His Majesty The King”, while crying “God save His Majesty The King”; we were also reminded that the anti-monarchy group, Republic, is part of Labour’s new blacklist of 12 organisations that Constituency Labour Parties have been banned from affiliating to “without approval from the NEC”, since “To do so would breach party rules.”

The email goes on to list the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Stop the War Coalition, London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Jewish Voice for Labour, Somalis for Labour, Sikhs for Labour, All African Women’s Group, Health Campaigns Together, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group, the Peace and Justice Project – and Republic (more on the latter below).[2]

This list clearly contains a few innocent bystanders who are being hit by ‘friendly fire’, so to speak. It is chiefly Jewish Voice for Labour and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign that had to be dealt with, because they continue to be a thorn in Starmer’s side by challenging the big lie that ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’. As both contain large number of Jewish members, Starmer probably felt that he could not simply add them to the growing list of organisations that have been proscribed outright, which means that members, sympathisers or anyone liking one of their Facebook posts are automatically expelled: he could and would have been accused of anti-Semitism (something that JVL has pointed out many times). This blacklist is a more ‘elegant’ weapon.

Though the other groups on the list are mostly quite harmless they do have a symbolic value. Stop the War Coalition, for example, stands for social-pacifism in the midst of a Nato proxy war in Ukraine that is supported just as much by His Majesty’s loyal opposition as his government … and it is only a step, a logical one, from suspending branches affiliated to StWC to expelling MPs speaking on StWC platforms, signing petitions or acting as sponsors. Having CLPs sign up to Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project would, of course, be a minor embarrassment for Starmer, but if Corbyn stands as an independent it sets the stage for witch-hunting anyone who dares to leaflet, canvas, post or even speak in his support.

Labour CND and Abortion Rights, are, of course, run by the shadowy Socialist Action sect, which also effectively steers the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. It might strike some as curious that, just like Momentum, they have both been left off any blacklist … so far.


The Guardian quotes a “Momentum source”, who says that the organisation “is making a ‘strategic’ retreat to local government, focusing less on the parliamentary party and more on a ‘growing appetite for change and ambition in local communities’.” According to the article, Momentum also wants to “focus on renewing a broader alliance of the left and soft left within Labour”. If Whittome and Blake are the “left”, we shudder to imagine which MPs they might consider on the “soft left”.

Momentum is, of course, picking up on the fact that most leftwingers have now left the Labour Party, with some celebrating ‘anyone but Labour’ candidates winning seats in the local elections (or even standing against Labour). The political confusion on the left following the defeat of the Corbyn movement is so immense that it matters not that most of these candidates stood on a localist programme which can only aspire to the heights of ‘motherhood and apple pie’.

Mandy Clare – former leading lady of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy before jumping ship to join Chris Williamson in the Socialist Labour Party – has won a council seat as part of the ‘Winsford Salt of the Earth’ group – which has campaigned on the slogan, “People before politics”. It has taken control of the local town council, wiping out Labour.[3] Let us see what ‘non-political’ things our ‘Salt of the Earth’ friends do with their clear majority.

Jo Bird, the well-known former JVL member and a supporter of Labour Against the Witchhunt, has won a seat in the Wirral council on the Green ticket (she now wears only green clothes instead of red ones!). She is one of many former Labour members who have joined the Green Party, especially in the wake of Corbyn’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is, sadly, an indication of the lack of appreciation on the ‘left’ of the Green Party’s role as a pro-capitalist, pro-business organisation.

We might also take issue with Alan Gibbons, who, together with Sam Gorst (another former supporter of LAW) and Lucy Williams (who has not been known for her leftwing politics), won council seats as Liverpool Community Independents. As a former CLP secretary of Liverpool Walton, Gibbons was known for keeping his mouth firmly shut during the witch-hunt of the Corbyn years and refused to speak out (or even table motions) in support of the Wavertree Four, who were expelled on fake anti-Semitism charges. When he was the leading member of Momentum’s national constitutional committee on the Forward Momentum ticket, he refused to stand in solidarity with those expelled over the anti-Semitism smears and only criticised the suspensions of those who were victims of the ‘second’ wave of the witch-hunt, after Corbyn’s defeat. And, when he himself was finally expelled, he had to, of course, leave Momentum because of the witch-hunting rule he himself had continued to enforce! He now says he left Momentum because it was becoming ‘ineffective’! The man is clearly no hero of the left.

Of course, socialists and communists engage in local politics. But without a UK-wide, mass Marxist party of the working class that can effectively tackle bigger issues and engage coherently with national and international politics, such local ‘leftwing’ councillors are likely to end up focussing on issues that do not go much beyond the ‘litter-picking and dog-poo’ category. Even the much-celebrated ‘Preston project’, while useful in some respects, suffers by necessity from severe limitations.


The inclusion of Republic in Labour’s blacklist deserves a closer look. It is rather puzzling, seeing as it is hardly a radical organisation or one which has caused Sir Keir any problems whatsoever. Perhaps he is trying to overcompensate for his former republican views by stressing his monarchist credentials – which is rather tricky when there are video clips out there of him calling for the abolition of the monarchy.[4]

In the wake of the coronation, Republic happily reports a massive growth in membership and donations. No doubt fuelled by the heavy-handed approach of the police, which arrested almost a dozen Republic organisers (as well as at least one royalist bystander), the group’s membership has almost doubled from 5,000 to about 9,000 in a few days, with donations of over £100,000 coming in.[5]

The fact that Republic has a chief executive, Graham Smith, and no democratic structure shows what kind of organisation it is – more like a charity. Its website has a cross in the patriotic colours of the Union Jack. Tame campaigners like citizen Smith might have learnt a sharp political lesson over the police arrests of them and other anti-monarchist protesters, but the group’s programme is very limited indeed, focussing its critique on the cost of the monarchy and replacing the king with a president, as in the US and France – ie, an elected monarch – while leaving pretty much the rest of the state and the capitalist mode of production untouched. If The Guardian were to launch a party, it would look like Republic.

Nevertheless, its recently published short statement on ‘Why we protest’ is interesting.[6] It starts, sickeningly enough, with the platitude that “This great country of ours is full of creativity, potential and possibility” and that democracy is important “in creating a prosperous and fair society”. Capitalism would just work a lot better without the preposterously expensive and irrational monarchy, you see.

However, the next sentence is interesting: “The campaign for a republic is about democratic reform, democratic principles and ridding the country of an institution that serves itself and those in power – the few, not the many” (my emphasis). Now where have we heard that one before? It is, of course, based on Percy Shelley’s poem, ‘The mask of anarchy’, but has gained immense popularity by its use by a certain Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s 2017 and 2019 election manifestos. Perhaps this explains the inclusion of Republic in Labour’s ‘naughty list’.

[1]. The Guardian May 15.

[2]. The Guardian May 4.

[3]. www.northwichguardian.co.uk/news/23503873.winsford-salt-earth-takes-control-town-council.

[4]. www.express.co.uk/news/royal/1389273/keir-starmer-news-labour-party-royal-family-latest-abolish-the-monarchy-uk-vn.

[5]. The Guardian May 14.

[6]. www.republic.org.uk/why_we_protest.

Refound Labour as a permanent united front of the working class