Tag Archives: Brexit

Brexit: Reject the 
fudge composite motion



TUESDAY fullRed Pages, Tuesday September 25

Articles in today’s issue:

Request to affiliate
Ex-Militant wants to rejoin

Constitutional amendments:
Voting recommendations

Brexit: Reject the 
fudge composite motion


Instead, the labour movement should fight for 
working class independence and unity in Europe

No to a People’s Vote!
Paradoxical as it might sound, Marxists have always argued that referendums are inherently undemocratic

Download the PDF version of Red Pages here and our supplement on voting recommendations here


Request to affiliate

Ex-Militant wants to rejoin

The former Militant Tendency, now known as the Socialist Party in England and Wales, has applied to affiliate to Labour, and the SP  has published correspondence on the matter between Labour’s general secretary, Jenny Formby, and its own leader, Peter Taaffe.

This is of particular interest, since for more than two decades the SP insisted that Labour was now just another capitalist party – like the Tories or Liberal Democrats. But in its letter of April 6 the SP 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 ”.

As an aside, why does the SP stress the need for an “anti-austerityprogramme” above all else? It does this even though it correctly states: “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 mundane as opposition to spending cuts.

Eventually, on July 27, 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.

In his next letter (August 23) Peter Taaffe answered the first point by saying that the SP wanted a meeting precisely to discuss the possibility of such a “national agreement”. And, in response to the second point, he said the SP would much prefer to be part of an anti-austerity Labour Party “rather than having to stand against pro-austerity Labour candidates”.

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”.

The first point to make is that it is good news that the SP has at last started to take Labour seriously. But obviously it needs to stop standing against anyLabour candidates, including those who it says are “implementing savage cuts”.

The second point is that the second letter from our general secretary appears to leave the door open to the possibility of affiliation by left groups. Such a change would be highly significant, possibly marking the return to the principles upon which Labour was founded in 1900.

Our party should change its rules in order to end all bans and proscriptions, all of which were introduced by rightwing leaders. It should indeed return to its founding principles – it needs to become a united front for the entire working class.


Brexit: Reject the 
fudge composite motion



Instead, the labour movement should fight for 
working class independence and unity in Europe

The row between Theresa May and the European Union over Brexit has been dominating the news during the Labour conference. That has led to an internal crisis in the deeply divided Tory Party, with May’s position as leader under imminent threat.

In response to all this, the Corbyn leadership and sections of the Labour right have been able to find some common ground: the Tories are in disarray, which means that our priority must be to call for an immediate general election, so that a Labour government can negotiate a sensible deal with the EU “in the interests of the country”.

The advantage of this from the point of view of both sides is that the question of a second referendum can for the moment be pushed to one side, although Corbyn has said that a ‘People’s Vote’ cannot be ruled out and he will abide by any decision taken by conference. In other words, a continuation of Labour’s ‘studied ambiguity’.

The demand for a general election settles nothing, of course – which is why sections of the right have opposed it as a fudge. On the other hand, we all hate the Tories and want a Labour government as soon as possible, don’t we? That’s why the leadership is confident its position will win the day.

Loudest amongst the voices calling for another referendum are those of the right, including those who see the campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’ as yet another chance to undermine Corbyn’s leadership. The media coverage in advance of the conference and the publicity given to the demands to reject Brexit demonstrates the existence of a coalition being built in the latest attempt at a slow coup. For example, Sunday’s March for a People’s Vote in Liverpool brought together sections of the Labour right, such as Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson and Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger, along with a rag-tag band of Liberal Democrats, rural Tory rebels and confused Green activists in an attempt to sway the conference vote. Similar moves are underway in the unions, as leaders like Tim Roache of the GMB lined up to call for a second referendum.

Unite’s Len McCluskey has said that any new referendum should not include the ‘remain’ option – it should focus solely on the terms of Brexit. But what if the terms are rejected? However, for the majority of union bureaucrats, Brexit – particularly of the ‘hard’ variety – is viewed as likely to have adverse economic repercussions in Britain, such as higher unemployment and greater pressure on wages and working conditions. It is purely from this narrow perspective that they would like to see the decision reversed. In parallel with this, the likes of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and its Clarion journal, with their ‘Love Corbyn, hate Brexit’ slogan, are openly calling for Brexit to be abandoned through a ‘People’s Vote’..

However, the TUC basically voted two weeks ago for the Corbyn position, stating only that another referendum should not be “ruled out”. That is why today’s Brexit debate will be on a composite that includes both the leadership’s ‘general election’ call and the possibility of a second referendum. It will include the fudged statement: “If we cannot get a general election, Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”

The composite is all that survives from over 140 contemporary motions submitted on Brexit. This followed a marathon meeting attended by around 250 delegates representing those who had put forward the various motions, which ended in the early hours of Monday morning. Once again, this episode exposes the democratic deficit within our party. Why can’t we have the true debates out in the open, with different motions representing different viewpoints being properly debated?

There is, of course, a minority of both Labour members and union leaders – most notably the RMT – who take a pro-Brexit view, and it seems that only the CWU has adopted something approaching a principled position. General secretary Dave Ward has insisted that we should not be “elevating the debate about a second referendum, or a ‘people’s vote’, or on the details of our relationship with the EU, above all other issues.”

He has pointed out that during the referendum campaign we “had a choice between two Tory alternatives: the status quo or a Conservative-led Brexit”. To put it mildly, “it is a mistake to continue to allow the terms of the debate to be dictated to us in this way”.

This is correct. Both the EU and the UK are run in the interests of capital, not the workers, and what Labour should be proposing is a position of working class independence. Our call should be for a workers’ Europe – neither a capitalist-driven Brexit nor the current capitalist-driven EU. Delegates should vote against both of those by opposing the Brexit composite.

 


No to a People’s Vote!

Paradoxical as it might sound, Marxists have always argued that referendums are inherently undemocratic

The drive to commit Labour to a second referendum on Theresa May’s final Brexit terms is undeniably highly coordinated and well-financed.

It is true that to many a ‘People’s Vote’ seems like an attractive prospect. After all, during the referendum campaign we were told a pack of blatant liesby the Brexiteers: who could ever forget the infamous red bus claiming that leaving the European Union will create an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS? Further, a Tory ‘no deal’ Brexit would only lead to more attacks on the working class.

Therefore, why object to a second referendum? Paradoxical as it might sound, Marxists have always argued that referendums are inherently undemocratic, as they act to fool enough of the people enough of the time: eg, the 1998 Good Friday referendum, the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – and the 2016 Brexit referendum, of course. They all offered bogus choices. This does not mean that that we oppose allreferendums allof the time, as ultimately this is always a tacticalquestion. For example, Marxists supported the recent abortion vote in Ireland, as it represented a genuine gain for the working class.

Nevertheless, the general principle of hostility to referendums stands. They are not a higher form of democracy than the process of electing well-tested working class representatives following extensive public debate. Referendums tend to divide the working class, weaken its party spirit and produce the strangest of bedfellows – as when the Socialist Workers Party and Ukip lined up together in support of Brexit.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels knew all about the undemocratic nature of referendums, given the bitter experience of Louis Bonaparte and his self-elevation to emperor in 1852, when each autocratic power-grab was legitimised by a referendum. In turn, opposing referendums became the common sense of the Second International, which dubbed them a “cruel trick”. In 1911 Ramsay MacDonald, future leader of our party, spoke in similar terms: referendums are “a clumsy and ineffective weapon, which the reaction can always use more effectively than democracy, because it, being the power to say ‘no’, is far more useful to the few than the many” (the final phrase is, of course, particularly pertinent when it comes to the current Labour Party!).

The main argument against referendums is that there are very few situations where there is a simple binary choice in politics. Even assuming there is a straightforward ‘right thing to do’, its exact details are rarely obvious and there will be a wide range of contending ideas. But referendums reduce complexities to a mere option between black and white.

Also, Marxists want to strengthen the system of party politics. It is vital for the broad mass of the population to think about, organise around and vote for competing party outlooks – in the process bringing class divisions to the fore. Referendums do the opposite, blurringthe fundamental conflict in society between class and class, and the corresponding conflict between party and party, between Labour or Tory.

All this explains why Marxists fight to extendrepresentative democracy and the process of debate, through motions, detailed votes and binding legislation – which is why we call upon conference to reject all calls for a ‘People’s Vote’ and the pseudo-democracy of referendums. We have the same essential approach to all those proposed rule changes seeking to expand the use of ‘one member, one vote’: members ought to be able to elect accountable representatives., whose duty it is to explore and analyse all the complications surrounding decisions to be made.

The Party Democracy Review contained recommendations for more “digital democracy” and “secure online voting systems”, with a new sub-clause added on Sunday, which promised: “the NEC shall invite CLPs to take part in pilots of staggered meetings; electronic attendance, online voting and other methods of maximising participation”.

However, for Marxists there are some serious problems with Omov. Just as we are opposed to referendums, as a general rule we are also against plebiscites in the party. There is a good reason why the move to Omov for the election of party leader began with the likes of Neil Kinnock and culminated in Ed Miliband’s Collins review – it was a rightwing ploy to dilute the working class nature of our party and atomise members by bringing the ‘common sense’ politics of the BBC or even The Suninto Labour.

The same goes for so-called digital democracy, which too has the effect of atomising members – making it easier for them to be manipulated by unscrupulous bureaucrats. Bear in mind the farce that was Jon Lansman’s Momentum coup – cynically presented as ‘democracy from below’. Omov, in Lansman’s hands, was a profoundly undemocratic plot against the interests of the membership – one that stymied Momentum’s potential to be an effective, dynamic left trend in the party

Online voting also marginalises the role of the unions. Yes, the representatives of rightwing unions have played an entirely negative role on the NEC. But in general the affiliation of unions is an enormous strength. While their bureaucratic leaders should not be allowed to prevent the democratic selection of parliamentary candidates, unions have clearly played an important role in preserving the character of the Labour Party as a workers’party, even under Tony Blair.

But our main point remains this: our most powerful organising tool is representative democracy. We need to elect representatives who are totally accountable to and recallable by the party, and empower them to take informed decisions on our behalf.


Constitutional amendments:
Our recommendations

We really wish we could use this article to recommend a vote for the rule change moved by International Labour in favour of open selection. Unfortunately, due to the betrayal and manoeuvring by Unite leader Len McCluskey and Momentum owner Jon Lansman on Sunday, delegates will not be able to vote for the mandatory reselection of all Labour’s parliamentary candidates.

We believe that this was not just incredibly undemocratic, as the vast majority of CLP conference delegates clearly expressed their desire to have an open and fair discussion on the different options (most of them were no doubt in favour of mandatory reselection). It was also incredibly inept from a tactical point of view. If Labour wins the next general election, members of the rightwing PLP  have demonstrated that they will not subordinate themselves to Jeremy Corbyn. They will make his life hell at every opportunity. They are very likely to launch another no-confidence vote against him – he will, in effect, be unable to govern. The only way to avoid that, of course, is through such measures as mandatory reselection to get rid of the plotters and saboteurs.

While most NEC rule changes coming out of the gutted Party Democracy Review were voted through with a majority of well over 90%, the two disputed – sections 6 (leadership elections) and 8 (selection of parliamentary candidates) – received much lower votes: 63.94% and 65.94% respectively. Taking into account the massive size of the trade union bloc vote – which makes up 50% of the total – this means that the vast majority of CLP delegates rejected the NEC’s proposals on these two issues. This clearly represents a massive democratic deficit. And, owing to the undemocratic three-year-rule, this now also means that both issues cannot be revisited until 2021.

18 of the 33 submitted CLP constitutional amendments have been taken off today’s agenda because of the NEC’s rule changes – without any proper debate on most of them. To make matters worse, some of the NEC’s changes do not actually deal with the substance of the original CLP proposals and in our view the conference arrangements committee (CAC) was wrong to declare that they were ‘consequentials’ and would thereby automatically fall. For example:

–   Sefton Central CLP proposed that the members of the powerful National Constitutional Committee should be elected directly by all Labour Party members. The NCC is incredibly important in the ongoing civil war. This is where the NEC sends all disciplinary cases it does not want to deal with itself. Ideally, it should be abolished. But, seeing as this was not an option, we agreed with this rule change, which would have taken away the right of the affiliates to choose who should judge over party members. The NEC’s amendment, which increased the size of the committee from 11 to 25, does not specify at all how the members should be elected. This will guarantee that the right will continue to dominate disciplinary matters in the party.

–   The current period following an expulsion or auto-exclusion of a member is currently set at a fixed “minimum of five years”. The amendment by Bracknell CLP would have given the NEC the right to choose a shorter period. There would still have been unfair and unjust expulsions, but it would have been slightly better than the status quo. Again, the NEC’s rule changes do not deal with this point at all – but delegates will still not be able to discuss the proposed change, as it has been deemed ‘superseded’.

After removing these excluded ‘consequentials’, we believe that the following rule changes remain on the agenda to be discussed today.


Mid Worcestershire et al demand an important change to    the rule book’s “conditions of membership”. They propose to delete this half-sentence: “joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the Party, or”

Vote For

Our reason: This rule had not been used for decades – until the election of a certain Jeremy Corbyn to leader of the Labour Party, that is. Since 2015 though, it has been liberally applied to “auto-exclude” dozens of supporters and alleged supporters of Socialist Appeal, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Labour Party Marxists – many of whom had been active Labour members for many, many years. It was, for example, used to expel professor Moshé Machover after an article of his was published by Labour Party Marxists, which was handed out at last year’s Labour Party conference (he has since been reinstated after an international outcry). It has also been used to auto-exclude people who have merely shared articles online published by the three organisations.

Members of Progress or Labour First – clearly very highly organised factions in the Labour Party – remain untouched. To be applied consistent, the party would also have to expel supporters of the Stop the War Coalition or the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But, of course, it has exclusively been used against the organised left in the party. It is a McCarthyite, anti-democratic rule that must go.


Broxtowe CLP proposes (in the same section) that only a party member who “joins and/or supports a political organisationthat is in conflict with the aims and principles of the Labour Party” should be ineligible for party membership (amendment in italics).

Vote Against

Our reason: This proposal begs the question as to how on earth you prove that the aims of an organisation are not“in conflict” with those of the Labour Party. This formulation has been used, for example, to expel supporters of Socialist Appeal, because they self-define as Marxist. The CND clearly wants to abolish all nuclear weapons; while Jeremy Corbyn is prepared to rearm Trident – incompatible, surely?


Copeland CLP proposes stricter rules on delegate selection.

Vote Against

Our reason: The rule book already states that, “at least every second delegate from a CLP shall be a woman”. While we encourage the participation of women at all levels of the party, this rule effectively punishes the CLP if it cannot find enough female volunteers. It seems to us that this is a pseudo-democratic, unnecessary addition that makes the rule book even more unwieldy than it already is.


 Islington North & South Derbyshire are proposing the introduction of proper standing orders for party conference.

Vote For

Our reason: This is sorely lacking at present. While each morning delegates and visitors wade through the huge pile of papers, composited motions and votes cast the previous day, the CAC plays hard and fast with conference standing orders (many of which are not written down anywhere). It has a huge amount of power. It can decide, for example, if there should be a show of hands or a card vote.

The unions and other affiliates have around 300 delegates at conference, while the CLPs have about 1,200. But in a card vote the affiliates count for 50% of the total vote; ditto the CLPs (whose vote then further divided according to how many members it has). Roughly, a union delegate’s vote counts for four times as much as that of a CLP delegate – and that can make all the difference in a dispute.


Blackley & Broughton et al insist that rule changes should be heard in the same year they are submitted.

Vote For

Our reason: The practice currently employed is actually not part of the rule book. It delays debate of constitutional amendments to the following year. An utterly unnecessary block on the democratic will of Labour Party members. Apparently, this was also discussed as part of the Democracy Review, but rejected by Katy Clark.


Wirral West wants a second (female) deputy leader.

Abstain

Our reason:We have sympathy for this rule change, which is clearly designed to curb the power of Tom Watson. But we are in favour of doing away with the position of deputy leader altogether. Incidentally, we are also in favour of abolishing the position of leader, as there are serious issues of how members can effectively hold to account somebody in such a strong position.


Hornsey & Wood Green propose the same, in more words.

Vote Against 

Our reason: as above.


Kingswood proposes to abolish the category of registered supporters.

Vote For

Our reason: We are against the Americanisation of politics; only members should have a vote. Supporters actually made no difference to the outcome of the leadership elections.


Canterbury et al want the general secretary of the party elected directly by members.

Vote Against

Our reason: We also have a lot of sympathy for this rule change, which has no doubt been inspired by the disastrous reign of Iain McNicol. He had to be bribed out of his job after undermining Jeremy Corbyn for two long years, during which he was responsible for facilitating the witch-hunt against thousands of Corbyn supporters, creating the hostile and fearful atmosphere we can still feel today.

Currently, the GS is elected at conference “at the recommendation of the NEC” and usually stays in the job until s/he dies or retires. We therefore welcome the fact that this rule change seeks to give the NEC the clear power to sack the GS, because that is clearly missing from the current rules. However, this also creates a certain democratic deficit: all party members can vote for the GS, but s/he could then be sacked by the NEC.

In our view, it would make more sense for the GS to be truly accountable to the NEC by being elected by this body too: it is, after all, the NEC that the GS is supposed to serve.

We also disagree with limiting the term to three years. If the person is doing a great job, why get rid of him or her? On the other hand, if s/he is terrible, s/he can be sacked straightaway anyway. There is no point to this limit.


New Forest East as above, but instead of a maximum term of three years, it proposes five years.

Vote Against

Our reason: See above.


Swansea West proposes to elect the leader and deputy leader of Welsh Labour via an OMOV election.

Vote Against

Our reason: Again, we have a lot of sympathy with the motives behind this proposed rule change: a truly undemocratic, weighted electoral college, adopted only recently by the Welsh executive committee, has led to the election of Carolyn Harris MP, who is deeply unpopular among individual members (but was favoured by the unions and elected representatives). But if there has to be a position of ‘leader’ – a position we think should be abolished – we would prefer this person to be elected by the (democratically chosen) Welsh/Scottish executive directly. After all, s/he is supposed to be accountable to and recallable by that body.


Dartford wants to double the number of NEC reps elected by councillors, mayors and police commissioners.

Vote Against

Our reason: Instead of doubling the figure from two to four, these NEC positions should be abolished altogether.


Richmond Park proposes that CLPs should be able to decide themselves if they want to stand in a general election.

Vote For

Our reason: We presume that this rule change comes from the right and has been moved by people wanting to withdraw a Labour candidate in favour of Tory billionaire Zac Goldsmith, who was standing as an ‘independent’ in a by-election in 2016.

Nevertheless, it is entirely correct that local members should have the right to decide not just who they want as their candidate – but also if they even want to stand somebody. In the past, local Labour Parties stood down in order to support a candidate from the Communist Party, for example.


Cheltenham wants CLPs without a Labour MP to decide on a candidate within six months of the last election.  

Vote Against

Our reason: Is it really useful to have somebody in this position for over four and a half years? This rule change would not allow for the person to be replaced (unless they withdrew).


City of Durham wants to replace Local Campaign Forums with Local Government Committees, in which 75% of its members would be CLP delegates.

Vote For

Our reason: The current LCFs clearly need radical reforming: They are dominated by councillors and party officials and are little more than toothless debating chambers. They used to write the Labour group’s manifesto, but this has long been outsourced to the councillors themselves. We would prefer a much more thoroughgoing reform of this body.

LP conference 2018: Democracy, reselection and Omov 

Carla Roberts looks at some of the rule changes before this year’s Labour conference

First, a note of caution: this will not be the final list of constitutional amendments before delegates at this year’s conference in Liverpool (September 23-26). Some of them will be composited with similar amendments and there are indeed a few where that makes entire sense – as opposed to contemporary political motions, which are usually composited into bland, motherhood and apple pie statements.

We also know that some amendments coming from Constituency Labour Parties will be superseded by the recommendations and proposed rule changes coming out of the Party Democracy Review (PDR) run by Jeremy Corbyn’s right-hand woman, Katy Clark. Unfortunately, it looks like the first delegates will get to see of them will be at conference itself – the national executive committee will take another look on September 18. Those recommendations will be discussed on the Sunday, the first day of conference, with the rest of the rule changes to be debated and voted upon on the Tuesday.

In accordance with one of the plethora of undemocratic clauses in the Labour rule book, proposed constitutional amendments from CLPs are parked for almost 14 months before they can finally be discussed by delegates. Among them is motion 10, which proposes to do away with this crassly anti-democratic delaying rule.

CLPs are only allowed to submit either one contemporary motion or one constitutional amendment per year, which means that any reform attempts from below take an incredibly long time to filter through. And, once conference has voted on an issue, it cannot be revisited for another three years – even if it only deals with the same question tangentially. The result is a ridiculously long, overcomplicated travesty of a constitution. Yes, the PDR will push through a number of changes (including, apparently, the abolition of the three-year rule). But clearly, the whole thing should be ripped up and replaced by a new, streamlined constitution that is fit for purpose.

We will look at the recommendations from the PDR as and when they are finally published, but, judging from the leaks, it is fair to say that it will probably not contain many of the radical proposals that would be needed to transform the Labour Party into a real party of the working class. This would require Jeremy Corbyn and his allies making a conscious decision to put two fingers up to the right inside and outside the party.

No, the most radical proposals come from below, from CLPs. For example, in order for Labour to become the umbrella organisation for all trade unions, socialist groups and pro-working class partisans, all undemocratic bans and proscriptions must be abolished. Constitutional amendment number 6 from Mid Worcestershire, Rugby, Truro & Falmouth, Bexhill & Battle makes a useful start in that direction. It wants to remove the first part of the infamous rule 2.1.4.B (‘membership conditions’), which bars from membership anybody who “joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party”.

 Although we fear it is unlikely to win a majority, it is an important debate to have. Jon Lansman has already made it clear that Momentum would oppose such a change, as “this could benefit groups who are opposed to the party”. What, like Progress and Labour First? Of course not.

Lansman knows very well that this rule has been applied in an entirely one-sided way against leftwingers only – among them supporters of Socialist Appeal, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Labour Party Marxists. Groups such as Progress and Labour First remain untouched and can continue to operate freely and in a highly organised fashion. And what about members of Stop the War Coalition or Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament? Surely they are also examples of a “political organisation”? This rule should go. Labour would be positively transformed by allowing members of left groups – who are often very dedicated – to operate freely in the party.

Instead, Lansman seems to have inspired rule change number 7 from Broxtowe, which adds a few words to the first sentence: “joins and/or supports a political organisation that is in conflict with the aims and principles of the Labour Party”. This formulation has been used, for example, to expel supporters of Socialist Appeal because, rather than recognise “the importance of the enterprise of the market”, the organisation wants to “consign the market economy to the dustbin of history”. The amendment carries that distinct danger and should therefore be opposed.

Mandatory reselection

The Parliamentary Labour Party urgently has to be brought under democratic control. The majority of Labour MPs have been shamelessly plotting against Jeremy Corbyn and sabotaging him at every turn. They are far to the right of the Labour membership and, once elected, usually enjoy a ‘job for life’.

It is unfortunate that Jeremy Corbyn – after all, he is the central target of the right – has refused to take up the challenge and include mandatory reselection in the Party Democracy Review. Nevertheless, there are eight rule changes, submitted by 13 CLPs, dealing with the subject of how and when the party selects its parliamentary candidates. If we ignore the rule changes that tinker with some of the less important issues around this question and combine similar rule changes, we can see that there are two clear alternatives.

  • Option 1: Rule changes 24 (Portsmouth North, Rochester and Strood) and 26 (Labour International) want to do away with today’s trigger ballot – which makes it more or less impossible to replace a sitting MP – and instead introduce mandatory reselection, where all those interested in becoming a candidate (including the sitting MP) participate in a democratic selection process.
  • Option 2: Rule changes 27 and 28, on the other hand, also do away with the words ‘trigger ballot’, but not the undemocratic concept. If a sitting MP receives more than 66% of “nominations” from party branches and affiliated organisations, the MP would automatically be reselected.

Such a system would still be hugely in favour of the sitting MP and could easily be rigged by affiliated unions and societies. Much better to have an open and democratic contest between all candidates, to be decided by Labour members – as envisaged by rule changes 24 and 26.

Option 2 smells heavily of Momentum’s original plan. Instead of doing away with the undemocratic trigger ballot altogether, Jon Lansman merely drew up a lame proposal to raise the threshold from Tony Blair’s 50% back to Neil Kinnock’s 66% – ie, two thirds of local branches and affiliates would have to vote in favour of the sitting MP, otherwise a full selection process would begin. Lansman even had this proposal sanctioned by the membership in one of Momentum’s tortuous and clearly biased online “consultations”.

But he seems to have undergone a mysterious change of heart and we can only speculate about the reasons behind it. He has certainly not explained them to Momentum members – or bothered to mention that there even has been a change. Lansman has still not told members which of the rule changes he wants them to vote for, but option 2 is clearly not it.

This week, he sent another email to the membership, informing them that Momentum now favours a system that gives

a fair chance to all candidates and does away with this negative, divisive stage of campaigning – so it’s an open contest from the start, and there are no ‘jobs for life’. That way, local members and the sitting MP can compete for the Labour Party’s backing at the general election, and run positive campaigns about issues local voters really care about.

Momentum has even set up a petition on the issue. Would it be petty if we thought this was a neat way of harvesting more data, while simultaneously jumping on an increasingly successful bandwagon?

Evidently, the increasingly vitriolic nature of the civil war in the Labour Party has given the campaign for mandatory reselection a new lease of life. With the support of Unite, the Fire Brigades Union, presumably the vast majority of CLP delegates and even the timid backing of Jeremy Corbyn himself, it has a good chance of winning at conference (even though John McDonnell managed to disappoint once more by declaring his support for the existing system).

Omov not the answer

It is understandable that a good deal of proposed rule changes want to extend the use of ‘one member, one vote’ to elect NEC representatives (rule changes 1, 2, 3 and 4) and even the party general secretary (18 and 19). After all, this is the method that allowed Corbyn to become leader.

This trend is also reflected in the recommendations that are expected to be in the PDR. The Huffington Post published a leaked summary, which apparently includes recommendations for “more digital democracy”, including “secure online voting systems for CLPs developed for policy and other matters”.

However, in our view there are some serious problems with Omov. As a general principle we should be against plebiscites in the party – for electoral contests or otherwise. There is a good reason why the move to Omov for the election of the party leader began with the likes of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, and culminated in Ed Miliband’s Collins review – it was a rightwing ploy to dilute the working class nature of our party. It atomises comrades and makes serious political engagement very difficult. For example, how do you question a candidate when all you have is a short statement and s/he does not reply to emails? In terms of making policy, how can you effectively move an amendment when you do not have the possibility of talking to people and explaining some of the nuances?

Take the contemporary motion on Brexit pushed by  People’s Vote. On paper, many lefties and Corbyn supporters find this entirely acceptable – allowing the people a say on the final Brexit deal sounds democratic, doesn’t it? Until you explain to them that this is clearly part of the coup against Corbyn, to embarrass him even further by undermining his pretty successful strategy of letting the Tories tear each other to pieces, while keeping all options open. Having to come out for a People’s Vote is likely to cost him in terms of votes.

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

Online voting also marginalises the role of the unions in the party. Yes, the representatives of rightwing unions have played an entirely negative role on the NEC and when it comes to trigger ballots. But in general, the affiliation of unions is an enormous strength of the Labour Party. While they should not be allowed to stop the democratic selection of parliamentary candidates, unions have clearly played an important role in preserving the character of the Labour Party as a workers’ party, even under Tony Blair. In fact, we should fight for a serious commitment to a vigorous national campaign to affiliate all unions.

 

Tories: Ready to fall – and then?

Because of acute divisions over Europe the Tories are extremely vulnerable. However, says David Sherrief, the last thing we need is a ‘normal’ Labour government to replace them

Theresa May’s government is deeply divided and looks set to blunderingly take Brexit negotiations to a disastrous ‘cliff edge’. Despite her Florence speech, little progress is being made in Brussels. No breakthrough over the divorce bill. No breakthrough over the Irish border. Then there is Boris Johnson and his 4,000-word Sunday Telegraph manifesto calling for a low-tax, low-regulation Britain finding a “glorious” future outside both the single market and the customs union.1)The Sunday Telegraph September 15 2017 A cat in the “nest of singing birds”.

True, the government comfortably got the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill through its second reading in the Commons. The final vote was 326-290. However, the war is far from over. Tory MPs – not least Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry – have tabled amendments aimed at shooting holes into May’s Brexit plans: eg, they want to include the EU’s charter of fundamental rights. There will also be challenges to the use of so-called Henry VIII powers and demands for a vote on final terms. This brings the distinct possibility of government defeats. Of course, that would not trigger a general election. For the moment at least, May is secure. Thanks to the £1 billion deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, she would win a vote of confidence. Nonetheless, the government is vulnerable and we should expect compromises, gruelling late-night sittings, MPs being brought in from sick beds and desperately fought by-elections.

Surely, though, the government’s main problem is that a hard Brexit runs counter to the interests of the dominant sections of big capital in Britain. For example, the recent Downing Street approach to large private companies and selected FT-100 firms, in the attempt to obtain endorsement for the government’s post-Brexit plans for a “global Britain”, was greeted with derision. Technology, aerospace, pharmaceutical, energy, manufacturing, banking and financial services firms have all warned that the drifting Brexit negotiations could lead them to transfer some operations from Britain. Toyota is already openly questioning the future of its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire.

Many capitalists fear that they will face tariffs and other damaging barriers after March 2019 … if there is no deal. Nor do they have any liking for the government’s leaked proposals to limit immigration post-Brexit. The markets confirm what the personifications of capital say. Since the June 2016 referendum the pound sterling has fallen by around 20%, compared with other major currencies. Moody’s has meanwhile downgraded Britain’s credit rating from a top AAA to Aa1, and now Aa2. Despite the requirement to pay what is in effect a 20% premium, outward investment has doubled in the last quarter. Figures such as these reveal the thinking of collective capital. The bet is that Britain is heading for difficult times. In other words, Brexit is bad for profit-making.

Of course, at Phillip Hammond’s prompting, there has been an acceptance that Britain will, if it can, negotiate a two-year transition period. This has been cautiously welcomed by many of the CEOs and boardrooms of blue-chip companies. But the lack of detail causes uncertainty, frustration, even anguish.

A recent survey of 1,000 UK businesses reported that more than two-thirds of them needed to “know the details of any transition arrangement after Brexit by June 2018 – just nine months from now – in order to plan properly”. If investment and recruitment decisions that have been put “on hold” are to be “unblocked”, 40% of the businesses say the government must set out what the transition will involve, when it comes to vital areas, such as the movement of goods, capital and people, as well as legal arrangements.2)Financial Times September 12 2017

Far from May and her cabinet providing Britain with ‘strong and stable’ leadership, big capital worries that party interests are being put first. Hence, addressing widespread concerns amongst voters about ‘unrestricted’ immigration is being prioritised over guaranteeing access to the single market. Private meetings and frantic lobbying have had little effect on David Davies and his department for exiting the EU. The government says it has its mandate and appears intent on brushing aside the interests of big capital. All in all, therefore, “big business is in a difficult position”, reckons John Colley of the Warwick Business School.3)https://uk. nance.yahoo.com/news/businesss- government-lobbying-brexit-isnt-working- heres-143415309.html

Of course, the capitalist class, though it is the ruling class, is particularly ill-adapted to exercising direct control over day-to-day government operations. The main business of members of the capitalist class is business. The exploitation of labour and dog-eats-dog competition is hellishly time-consuming. On average CEOs work “10-11 hours per day” plus weekends.4)Time October 16 2015

So the capitalist class has to find itself a political party which “can take, and stick to, an overall and farsighted view of the interests and needs of the system as a whole”.5)H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 1, New York NY 1977, p324 Since the 1920s that party has been the Conservatives, but no longer, it seems. Today the Tories are clearly acting against the long-term needs and interests of the system: ie, the capitalist class as a whole. Maybe this reflects the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of modern capitalism – foreign investment in Britain stood at around £950 billion in 20156) House of Commons Library Debate pack Number CDP 2017/0159, September 8 2017 – and therefore a hands-off approach to national political parties, their national rivalries and their national machinations.

True, a few big businesses, such as JCB, Westfield and Bloomberg Europe, have donated considerable sums to the Tories.7)The Guardian April 1 2015 But most of the money going to Tory HQ nowadays comes from very wealthy – often very quirky – individuals (many of them after access to government, dinners with ministers, knighthoods, membership of the House of Lords, etc).

Over the years the number of companies making donations has shrunk.8)B Jones (ed) Political issues in Britain today Manchester 1999, p313 Yet, with the bulk of Tory finances coming from the rich and the super-rich, with hundreds of Tory parliamentarians holding directorships, with Tory MPs coming from business and going back to business, with the visceral hostility to trade unions, it is clear that the standard Marxist description of the Conservative Party as the party of big business, albeit it with various qualifications, remains correct. Nevertheless, the tension that exists between the interests of big capital and the direction being taken by May’s party and government is unmistakable.

The origins of this divergence lies squarely in electoral calculation. Having outmanoeuvred her rivals and successfully taken over from the hapless David Cameron – following his June 2016 referendum humiliation – Theresa May thought that she could inflict a massive general election defeat on the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party … if she seized hold of the political programme of the UK Independence Party. Of course, her gamble did not pay off. May’s presidential campaign proved to be a disaster, while Jeremy Corbyn’s For the many, not the few campaign was, by contrast, a brilliant success.

Now, irreversibly committed to a hard Brexit, the Tories resemble the Loony Tunes cartoon character, Wile E Coyote. Fixated on chasing the Road Runner, his nemesis, Wile E Coyote, suddenly finds himself in mid-air over a precipitous canyon. His legs still move and so does he. For a brief moment it appears nothing is wrong, that the momentum can be maintained. But, inevitably, Wile E Coyote realises that he is suspended in mid-air … then comes the long plunge to the ground.

Since the 48.11%-51.89% referendum result, Britain has not suffered the economic disaster George Osborne, Mark Carney, Peter Mandelson and co predicted. No yanking recession. No flight of capital. This has allowed little UK Europhobes right and left – from the Daily Mail to the Morning Star – to claim vindication. But a Brexit referendum result hardly amounts to Brexit. True, statisticians report that the British economy has been growing slower than the euro zone. It is, though, a case of anaemic growth compared with anaemic growth. Projected long-term, that heralds Britain’s continued relative decline.

Nonetheless, a negotiated hard Brexit deal – let alone a hard Brexit non-deal – could quite conceivably result in absolute decline. Such a prospect deeply worries big capital. Unless control over the Conservative Party can be reasserted, the choices it faces are all unpalatable: tariffs on goods going to the EU, reduced supplies of cheap labour, running down investment in Britain, decamping abroad, sponsorship of a national government, etc.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer has succeeded in getting the shadow cabinet to come out in favour of negotiating a “new single market relationship” with the EU. For the sake of appearances, he pays lip service to the 2016 referendum result. There is no wish to alienate the minority of Labour voters who backed ‘leave’. Nonetheless, the message on Europe is clear: it is Labour which is articulating the “interests and needs” of big capital.

Indeed, just before the Brighton conference opened, Jeremy Corbyn declared that Labour “is the natural party of business”.9)Morning Star September 23-24 2017 He has, in fact, said similar things before. Eg, 18 months ago Corbyn told the British Chambers of Commerce that “we are natural allies”. Such statements ought to be taken seriously. Basically what Corbyn is promising is that the “next Labour government” will be a normal Labour government. A government fully in the spirit of Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, etc. That ought to be good news for the Labour right – it shows that Corbyn can be tamed.

Whether or not big business believes Corbyn is another matter. After all, there is his long established record of opposing imperialist wars, supporting strikes and advocating wide-ranging nationalisation. And, of course, as the capitalist class well knows, behind Corbyn there lies a mass membership which is expressing itself, is eager for ideas and is already tentatively pursuing its own agenda: a mass membership which, if disappointed, if thwarted, if it asserts itself, could well abandon Corbyn and embrace the “dangers of Marxism” (Chris Leslie).

We do not consider big business “natural allies”. No, on the contrary, we strive to express and represent the “interests and needs” of the global working class. Hence, when it comes to Europe, instead of getting embroiled in the argument about what is and what is not in the ‘national interest’ – eg, staying in the single market versus leaving the single market – what Labour ought to adopt is a clear, ambitious and farsighted working class perspective.

Marxists have no illusions in the European Union. It is a bosses’ club, it is by treaty committed to neoliberalism and it is by law anti-working class (note, the European Court of Justice and its Viking, Laval and Rüffert judgements). But nor should we have any illusions in a so-called Lexit, as advocated by Labour MPs Dennis Skinner and Kelvin Hopkins.

On the contrary the EU should be seen as a site of struggle. Our task is to unite the working class in the EU in order to end the rule of capital and establish socialism on a continental scale. That would be the biggest contribution we can make to the global struggle for human liberation.

References

1 The Sunday Telegraph September 15 2017
2 Financial Times September 12 2017
3 https://uk. nance.yahoo.com/news/businesss- government-lobbying-brexit-isnt-working- heres-143415309.html
4 Time October 16 2015
5 H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 1, New York NY 1977, p324
6 House of Commons Library Debate pack Number CDP 2017/0159, September 8 2017
7 The Guardian April 1 2015
8 B Jones (ed) Political issues in Britain today Manchester 1999, p313
9 Morning Star September 23-24 2017

EU: There will be no reciprocation

David Sherrief says that the Tories seem determined to put the interests of party above those of capital. However, instead of presenting itself as a defender of British business, Labour needs a socialist vision when it comes to Europe

Theresa May’s government is deeply divided and looks set to take Brexit negotiations to a disastrous ‘cliff edge’. Despite article 50 and the tick-tocking of the Brexit countdown, there is little progress being made in Brussels. No agreement over the divorce bill. No agreement over Northern Ireland. Then there is Boris Johnson and his Sunday Telegraph article calling for a low-tax, low-regulation Britain finding a “glorious” future outside both the single market and the customs union. A cat in the nest of singing birds.

True, the government comfortably got the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill through its second reading in the Commons. The final vote was 326-290. However, the war is far from over. Tory MPs – not least Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry – have tabled amendments aimed at shooting holes into May’s Brexit plans: eg, they want to include the EU’s charter of fundamental rights. There will also be challenges to the use of so-called Henry VIII powers and demands for a vote on the final terms. This brings the distinct possibility of a government defeat. Of course, that would not trigger a general election. For the moment at least, May is secure. She would win a vote of confidence. Nonetheless, the government is vulnerable and we should expect compromises, gruelling late-night sittings, MPs being brought in from sick beds and desperately fought by-elections.

But, surely, the government’s main problem is that a hard Brexit runs counter to the interests of the dominant sectors of big capital in Britain. For example, the recent Downing Street approach to large private companies and selected FT-100 firms, in the attempt to obtain endorsement for the government’s post-Brexit plans for a “global Britain”, was greeted with derision. Technology, aerospace, pharmaceutical, energy, manufacturing, banking and financial services firms have all warned that the drifting Brexit negotiations in Brussels could lead them to transfer some operations from Britain. Toyota is already openly questioning the future of its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire.

Many capitalists fear that they will face tariffs and other damaging barriers after March 2019 … if there is no deal. Nor do they have any liking for the government’s leaked proposals to limit immigration post-Brexit. The markets confirm what the personifications of capital say. Since the June 2016 referendum the pound sterling has fallen by around 20%, compared with other major currencies. Reports that outward investment has doubled in the last quarter shows the thinking of collective capital. Despite having to pay what is in effect a 20% premium, the bet is that Britain is heading for difficult times. In other words, Brexit is bad for making a profit.

Of course, at Phillip Hammond’s prompting, there has been an acceptance that Britain will need a negotiated transition period. This has been cautiously welcomed by many of the CEOs and boardrooms of blue-chip companies. But the lack of detail causes uncertainty, frustration, even anguish.

A recent survey of 1,000 UK businesses reported that more than two-thirds of them needed to “know the details of any transition arrangement after Brexit by June 2018 – just nine months from now – in order to plan properly”. If investment and recruitment decisions that have been put “on hold” are to be “unblocked”, 40% of the businesses say the government must set out what the transition will involve, when it comes to vital areas, such as the movement of goods, capital and people, as well as legal arrangements.1)Financial Times September 12 2017

Far from May and her cabinet providing Britain with ‘strong and stable’ leadership, big capital worries that party interests are being put first. Hence addressing widespread concerns amongst voters about ‘unrestricted’ immigration is being prioritised over guaranteeing access to the single market. Private meetings and frantic lobbying have had little effect on David Davies and his department for exiting the EU. The government says it has its mandate and appears intent on brushing aside the interests of big capital. All in all, therefore “big business is in a difficult position”, says John Colley of the Warwick Business School.2)https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/businesss-government-lobbying-brexit-isnt-working-heres-143415309.html

Maybe the loss of direct and indirect influence over the Conservative Party, the inability to exercise control, reflects the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of modern capitalism. For instance, foreign investment in Britain stood at around £950 billion in 2015.3)House of Commons Library Debate pack Number CDP 2017/0159, September 8 2017 A few big businesses, such as JCB, Westfield and Bloomberg Europe, have donated considerable sums to the Tories.4)The Guardian April 1 2015 But most of the money going to Tory HQ nowadays comes from very wealthy – often very quirky – individuals (many of them after access to government, dinners with ministers, knighthoods, membership of the House of Lords, etc).5)www.cityam.com/264987/party-donors-biggest-names-bank-rolling-conservative Over the years the number of companies making donations has declined.6)B Jones (ed) Political issues in Britain today Manchester 1999, p313 Yet, with the bulk of Tory finances coming from the rich and the super-rich, with hundreds of Tory parliamentarians holding directorships, with Tory MPs coming from business and going back to business, with the visceral hostility to trade unions, it is clear that the standard Marxist description of the Conservative Party as the party of big business remains correct, albeit it with qualifications.

Nevertheless, the tension that exists between the interests of big capital and the direction being taken by May’s party and government is unmistakable.

The origins of this divergence lies squarely in electoral calculation. Having outmanoeuvred her rivals and taken over from the hapless David Cameron – following his June 2016 referendum humiliation – Theresa May clearly thought that she could inflict a massive general election defeat on the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party … if she seized hold of the political programme of the UK Independence Party. Of course, her gamble did not pay off. May’s presidential campaign proved to be a disaster, while Jeremy Corbyn’s For the many, not the few campaign was, by contrast, a brilliant success.

Now, irreversibly committed to a hard Brexit, the Tories resemble the Loony Tunes cartoon character, Wile E Coyote. Fixated on chasing the Road Runner, his nemesis, Wile E Coyote, suddenly finds himself in mid-air over a precipitous canyon. His legs still move and so does he. For a brief moment it appears nothing is wrong, that the momentum can be maintained. But, inevitably, Wile E Coyote realises that he is suspended in mid-air … then comes the long plunge to the ground.

Since the 48.11%-51.89% referendum result, Britain has not suffered the economic disaster George Osborne, Mark Carney, Peter Mandelson and co predicted. No yanking recession. No flight of capital. This has allowed little UK Europhobes right and left – from the Daily Mail to the Morning Star – to claim vindication. But a Brexit referendum result hardly amounts to Brexit. True, statisticians report that the British economy has been growing slower than the euro zone. It is, though, a case of anaemic growth compared with anaemic growth. Projected long-term, that heralds Britain’s continued relative decline.

Nonetheless, a negotiated hard Brexit deal – let alone a hard Brexit non-deal – could quite possibly result in absolute decline. Such a prospect deeply worries big capital. Unless control over the Conservative Party can be reasserted, the choices it faces are all unpalatable: tariffs on goods going to the EU, reduced supplies of cheap labour, running down investment in Britain, decamping abroad, sponsorship of a national government, etc.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer has succeeded in getting the shadow cabinet to come out in favour of staying in the single market. Hence the striking paradox. On Europe Labour is articulating the interests of big capital. Not that big capital will reciprocate and back the Labour Party. It is, after all, led by Jeremy Corbyn: pro-trade union, pacifistic and a friend of all manner of unacceptable leftists.

For the sake of appearances, Kier Starmer pays lip service to the 2016 referendum result. There is no wish to alienate the minority of Labour voters who backed ‘leave’. More through luck than judgement, ambiguity served the party well during the general election campaign. The contradiction between Corbyn’s historical hostility towards the EU – now represented in the Commons by the Dennis Skinner-Kelvin Hopkins rump – and the mass of Labour’s pro-‘remain’ members and voters resulted in a fudge.

However, instead of getting embroiled in the argument about what is and what is not in the ‘national interest’ – eg, staying in the single market versus leaving the single market – Labour needs a class perspective. Marxists have no illusions in the European Union. It is a bosses’ club, it is by treaty committed to neoliberalism and it is by law anti-working class (note the European Court of Justice and its Viking, Laval and Rüffert judgements). But nor should we have any illusions in a so-called Lexit perspective.

On the contrary the EU should be seen as a site of struggle. Our task is to unite the working class in the EU in order to end the rule of capital and establish socialism on a continental scale. That would be the biggest contribution we can make to the global struggle for human liberation l

References

1 Financial Times September 12 2017
2 https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/businesss-government-lobbying-brexit-isnt-working-heres-143415309.html
3 House of Commons Library Debate pack Number CDP 2017/0159, September 8 2017
4 The Guardian April 1 2015
5 www.cityam.com/264987/party-donors-biggest-names-bank-rolling-conservative
6 B Jones (ed) Political issues in Britain today Manchester 1999, p313