Tag Archives: Blairite

Let’s get trigger-happy!

The (temporary) reinstatement of Chris Williamson has riled the witch-hunters, writes Carla Roberts. Now we must ensure that the decision to introduce the reformed trigger ballot process is used to drive them out

On June 26 pro-Corbyn MP Chris Williamson was reinstated as a Labour member, following a suspension that lasted exactly four months. [UPDATE: Two days later, he was suspended again. Check out the website of Labour Against the Witchhunt on how you can protest against this]. A three-person panel from the party’s national executive committee issued him with a formal warning about his behaviour – not least his totally accurate statement that the party had been “too apologetic” over claims of anti-Semitism. But the NEC’s anti-Semitism panel declined to take things further by referring comrade Williamson to the national constitutional committee, as it had been expected to do.

Ruth Smeeth (left) with her fellow anti-Corbyn saboteurs Luciana Berger and Jess Phillips
Ruth Smeeth (left) with her fellow anti-Corbyn saboteurs Luciana Berger and Jess Phillips

Ironically, as if to demonstrate the accuracy of Williamson’s claim that the party had “given too much ground” over utterly false anti- Semitism allegations, Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who is chair of the rightwing Jewish Labour Movement’s parliamentary group, said that he had “demonstrated a pattern of behaviour over a period of many months, seemingly seeking to intentionally undermine, marginalise and harass the British Jewish community and Jewish Labour Party members, which has continually brought the Labour Party into disrepute”.

She added:

“The fact the NEC disputes panel has today ignored the recommendations of Labour Party staff, to let him off with a slap on the wrist, is simply appalling. It’s no surprise that the Labour Party is being investigated by the EHRC for institutionalised anti-Jewish hatred. I’m truly disgusted that he’s being readmitted to the Labour Party.”

The fact that Equality and Human Rights Commission has been asked to investigate Labour for “institutionalised” anti-Semitism, and that Smeeth can make such disgraceful accusations against Williamson, clearly illustrates that the party has in fact given far too much ground to people who come out with such outrageous lies.

So does this represent a sea-change in the attitude of Jeremy Corbyn and those around him? Not necessarily. But it certainly strikes a blow against the right – at a time when general secretary Jennie Formby has just indicated that the long awaited reform of the trigger ballot process, allowing Constituency Labour Parties the possibility of deselecting their sitting MP, is now to be implemented. In another irony, comrade Williamson was before his suspension prominent in the campaign to help democratise the party by holding MPs to account.

Trigger ballots

On June 23 Formby wrote to all sitting Labour MPs “to ask you to inform the Labour Party if you wish to remain a candidate at the next general election”. MPs have until July 8 to reply. If they answer ‘no’, then a full selection process between different candidates begins (with the usual restrictions: for example, all-women short lists). If the sitting MP replies ‘yes’, however, the local CLP can organise a trigger ballot – which, after its reform agreed at last year’s conference, now gives members for the first time in almost 30 years a realistic chance of getting rid of an unsatisfactory sitting MP.

Rightwingers have already criticised the letter as the beginning of their “purge” from the party. Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, was the first to huffily declare on Twitter that he will not stand again, while Ian Austin MP tweeted: “Decision time for Labour MPs. In their hearts the vast majority know Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to lead our country, so are they really going to knock on doors and ask people to make him prime minister?” May those two careerists be followed out of the door by many, many more. We would prefer it all the vile Blairites and warmongers were booted out of the party by an active local membership, but we really do not mind if they jump ship beforehand.

Trigger ballots are needed to deal with these people

Interestingly enough, some of the most zealous Corbyn critics are keeping suspiciously quiet for the moment – among them Tom Watson, Margaret Hodge, Jess Phillips and Stella Creasy. We presume they are engaged in some form of deliberation – and splitting from the party will no doubt be one of the options they are discussing. But the embarrassing fate of Chuka Umunna and his merry band of losers will certainly have come as a strong discouragement, at least for now. Even if Watson took a very large number of MPs out behind him the chances are he would end up the same way. Given the first past the post electoral system, they would have very little chance of getting re-elected – unless they did a deal with the Liberal Democrats or Tories. And their career is very dear to these people.

So it seems that – at least in the short term – Watson and co are trying to keep their heads down in order to avoid deselection. Last week, Watson’s Future Britain group organised a meeting in parliament, entitled ‘Incumbency and campaigning’, which was designed to “give colleagues the chance to share their local strategies for preparing for trigger ballots”. We are guessing that matters like ‘How to stop seeing your position as an MP merely as a career move’ or ‘How to stop constantly knifing Jeremy Corbyn in the back’ were not high on the agenda.

But these are the kind of issues that loom large in local CLPs and we doubt that many members will be fooled by any of the dumb survival ‘strategies’ Tom Watson et al come up with (perhaps most obvious among them the recent discovery of ‘women’s issues’ by the aforementioned Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips). At least we know what Future Britain is supposed to be good for, now that we have seen its first concrete policy: ‘Save your seat’.

There will probably be attempts by the right to delay and cancel meetings, so that branches cannot actually launch trigger ballots. Watson has already used that tactic to prevent his own West Bromwich East CLP from discussing the proposal to change from general-committe to all-members meetings. Apparently, there was “no urgent business”, as the CLP chair, Simon Hackett, informed members when cancelling the meeting – did we mention he happens to work for Watson? This cancellation also, outrageously, robbed members of their right to select delegates to conference (so now those rightwingers elected last year will get to go again – simple!).

It is of utmost importance that Labour Party members up and down the country start getting seriously organised for trigger ballots now, if they have not done so already. This pressure from below is also needed to ensure that the reform will be fully implemented and that the leadership does not pull back at the last moment.

This remains a real danger. CLPs have yet to receive a full timetable and written guidelines from Labour HQ. There is still the possibility that, perhaps, the devil will be in the detail.

The fact that it took almost a year to implement the rule change – and six months for Formby to produce guidelines after she was commissioned to do so “urgently” by the NEC back in January – is an indication of how controversial this reform is, even for Jeremy Corbyn and his allies. The leadership has until recently tried to avoid implementing the rule change (despite the fact that it originated from the leadership). And it has to be said that it does somewhat jar with Corbyn’s four-year-campaign of trying to appease the rightwing saboteurs in the party, rather than take them on openly.

We can only hope that he and his allies have finally understood that there can be no peace, no ‘unity’ with the right. Thousands of members have been sacrificed in this campaign, as the right has suspended, expelled and smeared as ‘anti-Semites’ many of the most ardent Corbyn supporters. It would indeed be high time for the leadership to make a bold move against the right.

In this context it is interesting that it was the NEC officers meeting on June 24 which “agreed the procedural guidelines for reselection of sitting members of parliament” – and not a full meeting of the NEC. The majority of NEC officers can be described as pro-Corbyn, with only three of the eight officers being on the right (deputy leader Tom Watson, NEC chair Wendy Nichols from Unison and Cath Speight of the GMB union, who is the chair of the national policy forum). In meetings of all 39 members of the NEC, however, Corbyn does not have an outright majority and on some issues his supposed ‘allies’ like Jon Lansman are known to have let him down (for example, over Corbyn’s unsuccessful attempt to include a ‘waiver’ when the NEC adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism).

It is not inconceivable that the next meeting of the full NEC in July might decide to overturn some of the decisions taken by the NEC officers. Or they might decide to delay the publication of a timetable … until it is too late, perhaps? In the snap election of 2017, CLPs were told that the sitting MP would simply remain in place, as there was “no time” for a selection process. In our view, that was a huge political mistake, as the Parliamentary Labour Party has been at the heart of the coup against Corbyn. But we are not yet certain that, despite comrade Williamson’s reinstatement, he and his allies have actually learned that lesson.


We should also remember that the reform of the trigger ballot was only moved in order to stop the far more democratic system of mandatory reselection (aka open selection) from being adopted at last year’s conference. This issue has been at the heart of the fight between the left and the right of the party for many decades.

palestine flags
CLP delegates at Labour Party conference 2018 were overwhelmingly in favour of ‘open selection’ (ie, the mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates)

Trigger ballots were first introduced by Neil Kinnock in the early 1990s as a means of abolishing the much more democratic system of mandatory reselection (under which sitting MPs had to be specifically approved and any challenger rejected – a system which existed in the party in different forms for about 10 years previously), while simultaneously giving the system a veneer of ‘democracy’.

But, in reality, this method was always rigged: it made it almost impossible to get rid of a sitting MP, as locally affiliated unions and ‘socialist societies’ held a huge amount of power. Until last year, a democratic selection process between different candidates could only take place if a minimum of 50% of all the local Labour branches and the local affiliates voted to challenge the sitting MP. As every branch and every affiliate had a single vote each (irrespective of their membership figures), this often gave a local union bureaucrat the same power as, say, a branch with 500 members. Most of the time, these affiliates used their power to retain the sitting MP – an arrangement which often reflecting the rather cosy relationship between them. Labour members frequently did not even know if a trigger ballot had taken place in their branch – they were not really interested, as it was quite rightly not seen as any kind of useful tool in the struggle between the left and the right in the party.

But all that changed at last year’s Labour conference in Liverpool. It was the threat of the reintroduction of the eminently democratic principle of an open contest between different prospective parliamentary candidates that forced the hand of the party leadership: over 95% of all conference delegates expressed their support for the proposed rule change known as ‘open selection’. As the party’s largest union affiliate, the Unite union, had also just reconfirmed its commitment to a system of mandatory reselection, it looked like the rule change would sail through conference. The unions count for 50% of total voting at conference, despite the fact that there are far fewer union delegates present than for CLPs – without the support of at least a proportion of them, it is very difficult for any motion to be passed.

Len McCluskey and Jeremy Corbyn

Alas, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies got cold feet. Fearing that the right wing in the party would once again escalate its ongoing slow coup against him if mandatory reselection was adopted, he bottled it. Instead of supporting the campaign – started by members supportive of his leadership – the Corbyn team suggested a reform of the trigger ballot instead. The first that delegates got to see of the proposed reform was at conference itself. No meaningful debate or any amendments were possible, as the proposal was part of the reform package produced in the wake of the ‘Democracy Review’ conducted by Katy Clark, which was presented to delegates on the basis of ‘take it or leave it’.

While delegates from local CLPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of opening up the conference agenda to allow a debate on this part of the proposed reform package, Corbyn asked Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, to vote against. And, since all other unions (apart from the three delegates of Matt Wrack’s Fire Brigades Union) followed suit, the reforms were adopted without any chance to amend them. Len McCluskey got a lot of stick for claiming afterwards that, had the rule change on open selection been tabled, he would have asked his delegates to vote in favour of it – but in reality he was largely responsible for stopping it from being tabled.

Civil war

Conference delegates in Liverpool and members at home were understandably fuming about what they quite rightly saw as a huge betrayal. As opposed to Jeremy Corbyn and his allies, they seemed very much aware of the fact that, without dramatic changes to the composition of the PLP in favour of the pro-Corbyn left, the civil war in the party would remain badly tilted against them and could not be won.

Another direct attempt to depose Corbyn is improbable – simply because there is no doubt he would win again. But, even in the unlikely event of him getting the keys to No10, this would not stop the ongoing civil war against him by the right in and outside the Labour Party. The current crop of rightwing-dominated MPs will continue to sabotage and undermine him at every possible opportunity – he will remain a prisoner constrained by a hostile PLP. He would be lucky if he could convince these rightwingers to vote even for some of the demands in his ‘moderate’ For the many, not the few manifesto.

More importantly though, what if the US and/or the ‘international community’ called on their British ally to go to war against the ‘terrorists’ in Iran or Lebanon? Or back a military coup in Venezuela? Or condemn the desperate protests of Palestinians in Gaza? If Corbyn refused to do any of those things, he could easily be outvoted by his PLP … which would quite conceivably lead to a no- confidence vote … which could spell the swift end of prime minister Corbyn.

In reality, however, we know that the ruling class would do everything in its power to prevent a Corbyn-led government from actually happening. They know that, despite his constant moves to conciliate and accommodate the Labour right, he just cannot be trusted because of his past record. And, of course, there also remains the danger of the formation of a national government ‘to sort out Brexit’ – perhaps after a snap election. No doubt, Jeremy Corbyn would not be called up for this dream team to be forged, but there are plenty of current Labour MPs who would gladly join such an endeavour.

The PLP remains the key problem for Corbyn, in other words. He cannot achieve anything much if he remains controlled by these rightwingers. The reformed trigger ballot does not make it as feasible to remove rightwing MPs as mandatory reselection would – but it makes getting rid of the biggest traitors a real possibility.

No doubt, most of the new crop of candidates selected in this process will be on what can charitably be described as the soft left of the party, with many no doubt being pushed by Momentum’s witch-finder general, Jon Lansman. In other words, these deselections can only be the first step in the campaign to radically transform Labour.

How it works

If the system is implemented, as agreed at the 2018 conference (which is not yet certain), we can look forward to the long overdue clearing out of many of the careerists, Blairites and warmongers that have been hogging Labour’s parliamentary benches for decades.

Every party member should familiarise themselves with the rules. We think it would be a good idea to hold trigger ballots everywhere, including in seats where members are happy with their MP and actually do not aim to replace them – that would show that MPs who actually represent the wishes of the local membership have nothing to fear from a democratic selection process. It would also be a step into the direction of reintroducing the much more democratic and transparent mandatory reselection of all sitting MPs.

  •  The 2018 Labour conference voted to introduce two separate trigger ballots: one for all the branches of a CLP; another for all local affiliates (trade unions, socialist societies, cooperative organisations).
  • All sitting MPs have until July 8 to reply to Jennie Formby’s question as to whether they “wish to remain a candidate at the next general election”.
  • If the sitting MP replies ‘no’, then a democratic selection process begins. If the MP replies ‘yes’, the CLP will organise two trigger ballots:
  1. Local party members will meet in their branches and will be asked to vote for or against retaining the sitting MP as the only candidate. A simple majority will decides whether the branch is counted towards a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote.
  2. Local affiliates (unions and other organisations) – most of whom will probably not hold a democratic vote on the question – will also have one vote each in the CLP.
  • If a minimum of 33% of a CLP’s branches or 33 % of the CLP’s affiliates vote ‘no’ to retaining the sitting MP, a full selection process will start – ie, a democratic contest between different candidates, including the sitting MP. Only full Labour members will have a vote in this stage of the process.

For example, if a CLP has 10 branches and 10 affiliates, either four LP branches or four affiliated organisations have to vote ‘no’ when asked if they want to retain the sitting MP in order to trigger a full selection process.

Socialist Party wants to affiliate to Labour

SPEW has written to the Labour Party asking to affiliate. Peter Manson looks at the background (reproduced from the Weekly Worker)

Those who do not read The Socialist may not be aware that the Socialist Party in England and Wales has applied to affiliate to Labour – a couple of weeks ago the SPEW weekly published correspondence on the matter between Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, and its own leader, Peter Taaffe (September 19).

This is of particular interest, since for more than two decades SPEW insisted that Labour was now just another capitalist party – like the Tories or Liberal Democrats. But in its April 6 letter to Jennie Formby, in which SPEW expressed a wish “to meet with you to discuss the possibility of our becoming an affiliate of the Labour Party”, comrade Taaffe describes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as “the first step to potentially transforming Labour into a mass workers’ party”, standing on an “anti-austerity programme”. So now “all genuinely anti-austerity forces should be encouraged to affiliate”.

While we should, of course, welcome SPEW’s application for affiliation, it is surely pertinent to ask why SPEW stresses the need for an “anti-austerity programme” above all else. It does this even though it correctly states in the same edition of The Socialist: “When the Labour Party was founded, it was a federation of different trade union and socialist organisations, coming together to fight for working class political representation”: ie, nothing so limited as merely opposing spending cuts. I will explore this in greater detail below.

Eventually, on July 27 – ie, almost four months after receiving comrade Taaffe’s original letter – Jennie Formby replied, beginning her letter, “Dear Mr Taaffe”. She pointed out that Labour rules prevent the affiliation of political organisations with “their own programme, principles and policies” – unless they have a “national agreement with the party”. Also groups which stand candidates against Labour are automatically barred: “As the Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who stood candidates against the Labour Party in the May 2018 elections, it is ineligible for affiliation.”

In his next letter (August 23) Peter Taaffe answered the first point by saying that SPEW wanted a meeting precisely to discuss the possibility of such a “national agreement”. And, in response to the second point, he said SPEW would much prefer to be part of an anti-austerity Labour Party “rather than having to standagainst pro-austerity Labour candidates” (my emphasis). After all, while Tusc had not contested the 2017 general election, in this year’s local elections in England it stood no fewer than 111 candidates against Labour.

Following this, Jennie Formby replied rather more quickly. On August 29 – this time starting her letter “Dear Peter” – she ruled out any meeting: “Whilst the Socialist Party continues to stand candidates against the Labour Party … it will not be possible to enter into any agreement.” Therefore “there can be no discussions”.

As I have stated, it is good news that on the face of it SPEW has at last started to take Labour seriously. But obviously it needs to stop standing against Labour candidates, including those who it says are “implementing savage cuts”. As the Labour general secretary points out, while SPEW says it wants to affiliate in order to support Jeremy Corbyn and help defeat the right, “The leader of a political party is judged by their electoral success. Standing candidates against the Labour Party is damaging not only to local Labour Parties, but also to Jeremy.”

Nevertheless, Jennie Formby’s second letter appears to leave the door open to affiliation by left groups. Such a change would be highly significant, possibly marking a return to the basis upon which Labour was founded in 1900.


Let us now examine why SPEW states that what is needed is not a party of all working class formations, including both trade unions and leftwing groups, but one of all “anti-austerity forces”. This can be traced back to the changing face of Tusc itself.

Founded in 2010, Tusc was the successor to the short-lived Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, and both organisations were open in their aim – made explicit in the CNWP’s name – of establishing a new mass party to replace Labour. However, according to the ‘updated’ statement of aims on its website, Tusc was set up “with the primary goal of enabling trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians” (October 2016).

But that is being economical with the truth. SPEW was, of course, the prime mover within both the CNWP and Tusc and, in the words of central committee member Clive Heemskerk, writing in The Socialist on February 3 2010:

The Socialist Partybelieves that the Labour Party has now been totally transformed into New Labour, which bases itself completely on the brutallogic of capitalism. Previously, as a ‘capitalist workers’ party’ (aparty with pro-capitalist leaders, but with democratic structures thatallowed the working class to fight for its interests), the Labour Party always had the potential to act at leastas a check on the capitalists. The consequences of radicalising the Labour Party’s working class base was always afactor the ruling class had to take into account. Now the situation is completely different. Without the re-establishment of at least the basis of independent working class political representation, the capitalists will feel less constrained in imposing their austerity policies.

While SPEW was clear that this could not come about immediately, the ultimate aim was stated by comrade Heemskerk to be: “A new mass political vehicle for workers, a new workers’ party”. He explained:

For the Socialist Party the importance of Tusc lies above all in itspotential as a catalyst in the trade unions, both in the structures and below, for the idea of working class political representation. It can also play a role in drawing together anti-cuts campaigns, environmental campaigners, anti-racist groups, etc (my emphasis).

So campaigning against cuts, etc was most definitely seen as secondary. First and foremost was the need to lay the basis for a new workers’ party – the nature of which was made clear in the above quote: “working class political representation” primarily for the unions – in other words, a ‘Labour Party mark two’, as we in the CPGB have always called it.

How things have changed since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. In her article, posted on the SPEW website following the May local elections, deputy general secretary Hannah Sell writes:

… the support for Corbyn has created the potential for a mass democratic party of the working class, which is desperately needed. If it is not to be squandered, it is vital that there are no more retreats, but instead the start of a determined campaign to transform Labour into a party capable of opposing austerity with socialist policies, in deeds as well as words.

Since SPEW now apparently agrees that the Labour Party itself ought to be transformed, it is unsurprising that it has dropped the call for “a new workers’ party” to replace it – Tusc was supposed to provide the basis for that, remember (always wishful thinking, of course).

So now we find that the purpose of Tusc is suddenly “to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians” – as if the original aim of “a new workers’ party” had never existed. And, I suppose, that is why comrade Taaffe feels obliged to emphasise the need for all Labour candidates to stand on an “anti-austerity programme” and for the party to welcome “all genuinely anti-austerity forces”. Only if that happened could Tusc shut up shop!

In its statement following the May 2018 election results, Tusc claimed:

This was the most selective local election stand that Tusc has taken in its eight-year history, following the general recalibration of its electoral policy after Jeremy Corbyn’s welcome victory as Labour leader in September 2015.

There was not a single Tusc candidate on May 3 standing in a direct head-to-head contest with a Labour candidate who had been a consistent public supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-austerity policies. Tusc only stood against rightwing, Blairite Labour councillors and candidates. The Labour candidates in the seats contested by Tusc included 32 councillors who had publicly backed the leadership coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn in summer 2016, signing a national open letter of support for the rightwing challenger, Owen Smith.


In a situation where Labour is still so clearly two-parties-in-one … – with many local ‘Labour’ candidates standing more ferociously against Jeremy Corbyn than they do the Tories – the task is still there to make sure that politicians of any party label who support capitalism and its inevitable austerity agenda are not left unchallenged.

So that was the position in relation to the (‘pro-austerity’) Labour right – expose them by standing against them. But what did Tusc (and SPEW itself) recommend in wards where there were pro-Corbyn candidates? The truth is, there was no call for a Labour vote anywhere – how was that supposed to aid the Corbyn wing?

What about the unions?

So has SPEW really changed its approach to Labour? For example, why do its comrades in unions like the PCS and RMT still oppose their affiliation to the party? SPEW has argued that, until the Labour right is defeated, it is just a ‘waste of money’ for the unions to spend thousands on affiliation fees. Yet, in its August 23 letter to Jennie Formby, comrade Taaffe wrote:

We see a very urgent need to organise and mobilise all those who support Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies into a mass campaign to democratise the Labour Party, allowing the hundreds of thousands who have been inspired by Jeremy’s leadership to hold to account, and to deselect, the Blairite saboteurs.

Surely, if that is the aim, the affiliation of left-led unions like the PCS and RMT could only but help the process.

Perhaps I am being cynical, but the possibility does suggest itself that the principal purpose of Tusc was always something other than its stated aims (either original or amended). Maybe SPEW wanted to work within a broader formation primarily in order to win recruits for itself? It is almost as though SPEW would actually prefer a right-led Labour Party.

However, irrespective of what SPEW is really up to, at least we should be grateful that the affiliation of left groups has been broached once more; and that the Labour general secretary – no doubt after consultation with the leadership team around Corbyn – has left the door open to that possibility.

The Labour Party rules must be changed, so that all the current bans and proscriptions are scrapped. The aim must be to transform Labour into a united front for the entire working class.