Tag Archives: Angela Smith

Berger, Umunna & Co: Good riddance to bad rubbish

The formation of the Independent Group vindicates what the left has long been saying. So called ‘moderate’ Labour MPs belong in another party

As everyone knows, on February 18, seven parliamentarians – Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey and Mike Gapes – announced that they were forming the ‘Independent Group’ of MPs, and the next day they were followed by Joan Ryan. Then, on February 20, they were joined by three Conservative MPs: Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen.

But let me deal first with the Labour defectors. Typical was Ryan’s statement: “I cannot remain a member of the Labour Party, while its leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed, have their motives questioned and their integrity called into doubt.” The others made similar claims, with Berger stating that since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader Labour had become “institutionally anti-Semitic”. In reality, what we have, of course, is not a situation where Jews are “abused with impunity”, but one where rightwing Labour MPs – some of whom happen to be Jewish – are being criticised for their disloyalty.

For example, as far as I know, there is no evidence that any of the Wavertree Labour members supporting a motion of no confidence against Berger had made any anti-Semitic comments. She was targeted not because she is Jewish, but because of her refusal to commit to the party! Just before the original seven quit, a statement was being circulated on social media calling on all Labour MPs to pledge to work for a Labour government “under whatever leadership members elect”. Reasonable, you might think. But Gavin Shuker complained that, by being approached in this way, he was being told to “completely obey and not question Great Leader Jeremy Corbyn”.

However, while such responses are self-evidently pathetic, the media for the most part is behaving as though they are totally in order. For instance, on February 20, Radio Five Live featured a phone-in, where listeners were asked why they thought that prejudice against Jews was not being countered as rigorously as racism against black people – the assumption being, of course, that this was the attitude of the Labour leadership.

Yet no examples of actual anti-Semitism were given. A representative of the Jewish Labour Movement was asked to relate his own personal experience and he immediately came up with a comment directed against him at a recent Labour Party meeting: someone had responded to what he had said by stating that he was a “well-known Zionist”!

And what about deputy leader Tom Watson? He has declared that Berger was the “first casualty” of anti-Semitism and he “no longer recognises” his own party. Acting as though the eight were genuinely committed to ‘Labour values’, he complained that “There are those who are already celebrating the departure of colleagues with whom they disagree”. Talk of “betrayal”, he said, does nothing to help explain why “good colleagues” might want to leave Labour. He called on Corbyn to bring Labour back into the “mainstream tradition”.

In other words, the party’s number two is only just stopping short of saying that the eight were right to leave, because, following Corbyn’s election, ‘Labour is no longer the party I joined’. Watson is clearly unfit to serve as deputy leader. But the real agenda is obvious. It is to prevent by any means possible the election of a Corbyn-led government in the interests of the establishment and British capital.

Just look at the statement promoted by the Independent Group at its launch press conference. It does not take much reading between the lines to see what they are up to. They want to “pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology”: we need to “reach across outdated divides”. The “ideology” they are particularly opposed to, of course, is Corbyn’s. After all, “Britain works best as a diverse, mixed social-market economy, in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress.” By contrast, Labour is now “hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives”. There is no “ideology” behind this blatant pro-capitalism, is there?

As for foreign policy, “We believe in maintaining strong alliances with our closest European and international allies on trade, regulation, defence, security and counter-terrorism.” Yet Labour “now pursues policies that would weaken our national security” and “accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country”. In other words, Labour must remain firmly in the imperialist camp.

Centrist party

It was hardly an impressive launch, with each of the seven giving their own separate, often incoherent assessments of the way ahead. For the most part – unlike the Gang of Four, which split to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981 – they are nonentities.

But that does not mean they can just be written off. For example, that is exactly the implication in the Morning Star front-page headline – “The insignificant seven” (February 19). But Joan Ryan is only the first of a number of other Labour rightwing MPs likely to join them. Those said to be on the verge of quitting include Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman, David Lammy and Ian Austin. As for Jess Phillips MP, who has also come under attack for failing to commit fully to the party, she “has had to put nine locks on her door out of fear for her safety” (The Daily Telegraph February 19). Well, what can you say about behaviour that forces you to put nine locks on your door?

And when the Parliamentary Labour Party – meeting in the evening following the Independent Group’s initial press conference – heard John Cryer, the PLP chair, “pay tribute” to the defectors, it reacted mostly with applause. But this response has hardly been countered by the leadership, with Corbyn himself saying he was “disappointed” the original seven had left and publicly thanking them for their past service to the party. As for John McDonnell, although he correctly stated that the defectors should now do the “honourable thing” by resigning as MPs and standing for re-election, he also bent over backwards before their accusations (particularly over ‘anti-Semitism’), promising a “mammoth listening exercise”.

We should not be misled by the relatively low profile of the original defectors. It is not only other Labour MPs who are considering joining them. In addition to Soubry, Wollaston and Allen, an unnamed minister and three other MPs are also said to be considering doing so. Of course, it is not Corbyn’s leadership of Labour that motivates the Tories, but their own government’s stance on Brexit. If Theresa May presses ahead with a ‘no deal’, that will surely trigger a reaction of some kind – no doubt this has already been taken into account by the Independent Group following their prior discussions with such Tories.

The IG statement declares that, in addition to all its other shortcomings, Labour under Corbyn’s leadership has “failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives’ approach”. This is a key motive in the thinking of those who want to form a new centrist party – stay in the European Union, possibly after a second referendum. It also no doubt figures prominently in the thinking of the likes of Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who is said to be considering stepping down to make way for a new centre party under a different leader after the local elections in May.

We should not underestimate the damage such a party could cause. It is not its electoral impact that should worry us though. Unless we are talking about a national government – far from impossible – a new centrist party will not sweep the board at the next general election. Indeed it would be lucky to retain the MPs it already has. No, it is the chilling effect that a rightwing split might have within the Labour Party. The cowardly statements coming from Corbyn and McDonnell do nothing to embolden the leftwing rank and file in the constituencies. But if anyone wants Jeremy Corbyn in No10 and John McDonnell in No11 committed to actually enacting the programme outlined in For the many, not the few, then the Parliamentary Labour Party has to be thoroughly renewed.

The careerists, the pro-Nato, pro-capitalist right must be deselected and replaced by candidates who are not only committed to defend Corbyn against the right, but who have a proven record as class fighters and are committed to genuine socialism.

Unless that happens, there are a numbers of dangers. Firstly, Corbyn could be nudged, bullied and forced ever further to the right – we have already seen his collapse over Trident renewal, his now Platonic republicanism, his criminal silence over the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt. Secondly, the left in the constituencies could be lent on by the leader’s office not to hold trigger ballots in order to avoid adding to the number of defectors. Thirdly, in the event of Corbyn rediscovering his left-reformist past, the present rightwing majority of Labour MPs will not give Corbyn the parliamentary vote of confidence the constitution requires in order to form a government. The monarch will be advised by the privy council to look at another figure in the House of Commons who can get a vote of confidence.

So the formation of the Independent Group needs to be turned from a warning that Labour will suffer further splits, if the left presses ahead with trigger ballots, into proof that the majority of sitting Labour MPs are traitors to the working class and ought to go – and go quickly.

Peter Manson
(this article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)

New trigger ballots will see many MPs given their marching orders

Perhaps some of the most obnoxious Blairites in the PLP will actually jump before they get pushed, hopes Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

One is reminded of the boy who cried wolf when evaluating the latest reports about a group of Labour MPs planning to split from the party – perhaps to join with the Liberal Democrats or form a new Blairite, centrist party. We have heard it all before, of course. This is, after all, not the first time such ‘rumours’ have made their way into the national press as a way of putting pressure on Jeremy Corbyn since his election as leader in 2015.

However, there are a few reasons why we should not simply dismiss the possibility that, this time round, there might actually be something to it. And no, not because the reasons to split from Labour have become so overwhelming – in addition to ‘anti-Semitism’ and Brexit, some MPs apparently “despair” of the fact that Corbyn refuses to get behind a CIA-led coup in Venezuela – because these interventions tend to end so well, don’t they?

We only know the names of three of the six MPs behind this latest rumour (though Vince Cable has let it be known that six “is very much at the lower end of the figures” that he is aware of), but those three are very interesting: Luciana Berger, Angela Smith and Chris Leslie have been plotting against Corbyn from day one.

It is perhaps no coincidence that two of them have just had local no- confidence votes cast against them: Leslie’s Constituency Labour Party in Nottingham came out against him in September 2018, while Smith lost the vote in her Sheffield constituency of Penistone and Stocksbridge in November. Luciana Berger’s CLP, Liverpool Wavertree, might just had to cancel a scheduled no confidence vote, but there is no question that she is unpopular among members. The local CLP executive, which since 2017 has been clearly dominated by Corbyn supporters, has publicly ‘censored’ her on numerous occasions – for example, for not backing Corbyn over the Salisbury poison incident, and, more recently, over her public campaign for a second Brexit referendum. No doubt she will have also been instrumental in moving the motion in the Parliamentary Labour Party, accusing Corbyn once again of not acting on ‘anti-Semitism’ (more below).

Trigger ballots

A vote of no confidence does not start a deselection process, of course. Such votes have no official standing in Labour Party rules. Yes, they are a slap in the face for the MP and make for bad press, but, until recently at least, a sitting MP could just shrug off such votes.

That all changed at last year’s Labour conference, however. In the face of a very successful campaign led by International Labour for the mandatory reselection of all MPs (under the name of ‘open selection’), Corbyn and his allies agreed instead to reform the existing trigger ballot – a way, perhaps, of softening the blow and not spook rightwing MPs too much. But it was a huge political own goal, in our view. It is, after all, the right in the PLP that has been driving the slow coup against Corbyn. The membership, given half a chance, would have long replaced the most ardent rightwing MPs.

But until last year it was virtually impossible to get rid of a sitting MP. A majority of all local union and Labour branches affiliated to a CLP had to challenge the MP by voting ‘no’ in the so-called trigger ballot. Each branch and affiliate was counted equally, irrespective of the number of members. A CLP usually has far more union affiliates than Labour branches and, unfortunately, those union reps tend to vote with the right (just like they do on the national executive committee).

But last September conference voted to replace the current trigger ballot with two separate ones: one for local affiliated bodies like unions; and one for local party branches. The threshold in both has been reduced from 50% to 33% and it is enough for one of the two sections to vote ‘no’ to start a full selection process – ie, a democratic contest between the different candidates. It is a small step forward from the status quo (though totally insufficient, when one considers that in the 1980s the party allowed the full, democratic and mandatory reselection of all candidates).

There is very little question who would win the support of local members if there was a democratic contest between a campaigning Corbyn supporter and a Blairite like Angela Smith or a back-stabbing career whinger like Luciana Berger. And they know it.

While there is not often good news coming from the Labour NEC, we understand that the January 22 meeting of its organising committee commissioned general secretary Jennie Formby to “prepare a plan to ensure that CLPs have the opportunity to call a selection process if they so wish, even if Theresa May calls a new ‘snap’, short-campaign general election”. NEC member Darren Williams has confirmed that this is correct.

As an aside, it is questionable whether May really is preparing for a snap election on June 6 (or whenever). Yes, somewhat surprisingly, the Tories are ahead in the polls, but surely she has to consider not just how wrong the polls were last time (and one would have thought that the government’s inability to actually deliver Brexit will add to that uncertainty), but also the political make-up of new MPs. Many, if not most, local Conservative Associations are dominated by a very active pro-Brexit wing, guaranteeing that the next crop of Tory MPs will probably be even more opposed to any ‘deals’ that Theresa May can pull out of her hat.

No matter: the Labour NEC decision is of huge importance politically. When Theresa May called the last snap election in 2017, the NEC was still dominated by the right and the party bureaucracy still led by general secretary Iain McNicol. Together they agreed that every sitting MP would automatically become the candidate once more, without even allowing local members or union branches the possibility of a trigger ballot. And, in many CLPs without an incumbent MP, unsuccessful candidates from the 2015 general election were simply reimposed. That was a crucial trick to keep the PLP stuffed with Blairites, who would use their privileged position to sabotage and plot against Jeremy Corbyn.

We know that many CLPs have long been eagerly waiting for the NEC’s timetable to pop into their inboxes. Without the executive’s go- ahead, no trigger ballot can take place. That is why Berger, Smith, Leslie (and many others) will now be in serious discussions about how to salvage their political career – if it is indeed salvageable. All three are outspoken ‘remainers’ and supporters of a second referendum. They might consider standing for the Liberal Democrats, but, as that party is currently languishing at around 8% in the polls, it is hardly a safe bet.

Standing as an independent is perhaps even more risky – unless you are really popular locally, which Angela Smith and Chris Leslie are certainly not. Berger has a certain message that the media like – ie, Jeremy Corbyn is a dangerous anti- Semite. She might just get enough push from the establishment and the media to get elected. The virulently anti-Corbyn MP, John Mann, also seems to be seriously entertaining that option. He is one of the few Labour MPs who have responded positively to Theresa May’s pretty outrageous offer to ‘convince’ Labour MPs to vote for her deal in exchange for financial bribes: he has indicated that he would go for it, if she “shows us the money”. The man seems pretty aware of the fact that his Labour career is coming to an end. About time too.

If enough of those rightwingers get together and jump ship before they get pushed, there might even be a possibility of them forming some kind of new ‘centrist’ party. It is conceivable that such a party could come to an electoral deal with the Liberal Democrats in a few select constituencies, which could perhaps see the return of a few former Labour MPs.

The problem here, however, is not just the short-lived history of the Social Democratic Party, which still serves as a serious warning. There are also divisions over Brexit: the Labour right also has its fair share of Brexiteers – 14 of them defied Corbyn’s three-line whip and voted against Yvette Cooper’s amendment that would have required May to delay Brexit if she could not get a parliamentary majority for her deal. Those two wings could not coexist for long in the same small party, at least in this political period.

We would guess that quite a few current MPs will soon simply throw in the political towel and look for pastures new – perhaps some cushy job in a think tank or on a company board. Naturally, we would have preferred it if Jeremy Corbyn and the NEC had had the guts to expel these traitors.

Full no-confidence motion against Angela Smith, Penistone & Stockbridge

Adopted on November 16 with 27 votes to 20.

This CLP notes that
1. Angela Smith has represented this CLP since it was created in 2010. Before that she was MP for Sheffield Hillsborough from 2005 to 2010. (1)
2. In 2015 Angela Smith voted against greater restrictions on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract shale gas in National Parks, the Broads, areas of outstanding natural beauty, World Heritage sites, and near points where water is abstracted for domestic and food production purposes. (2)
3. Angela said earlier this month at a water industry conference in Manchester that Labour’s plans for the return to public ownership of the privatised water industry were “undeveloped, uncosted and should not be a priority among so many post-Brexit challenges”. She denounced the proposals, promoted by John McDonnell, as ideological and founded in “the politics of the past”. (3)
4. Angela Smith has written in the press articles that undermine the leadership and the wider Party. (4)
5. Angela Smith tweets and retweets criticism of Jeremy Corbyn. (5)
6. Angela Smith was invited to the Annual Dinner in February. However, she advised the organisers that she would not be attending the Annual Dinner, but she would in fact be attending another event that was being held at the same venue, Wortley Hall.

This CLP believes that:
• Angela Smith has by her conduct, her actions, and in articles she has written demonstrated that she no longer represents the views of the CLP.
• She has been a persistent and visceral critic of Jeremy Corbyn and through her divisive attacks on him she has damaged the Labour Party locally and nationally.
• Her articles and comments on Fracking and Privatised Water Companies that are contrary to the Labour Party Manifesto commitments demonstrate that she has lost touch with the Party and the constituents she was elected to represent.
• She has snubbed this CLP very publicly at an event to raise funds for her election campaign.
• The relationship of trust and respect that is an essential and fundamental requirement between an MP and their Constituency Party has broken down, perhaps irrevocably, and as a result this CLP has no confidence in Angela Smith to represents its members as our MP.

This CLP resolves to:
1. Propose a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Angela smith at the CLP General Meeting on 16 November 2018.
2. Write to the Chief Whip and ask that she has the whip removed