Tag Archives: Chris Williamson

Rigged selection process: More power to members!

The furore over the parliamentary selection process and the restructuring of Jeremy Corbyn’s office show that Labour HQ is still focussing on the top, says Carla Roberts

Enfield North, Ealing North, Nottingham East, Bassetlaw, Rother Valley, Coventry South, Luton, Liverpool West Derby, Poplar and Limehouse, Durham City – these are just some of the Constituency Labour Parties where local members have spoken out against what they quite rightly perceive as a stitch-up over the selection of their parliamentary candidates.

Even in some CLPs where candidates had already been chosen by local selection panels, the whole process was scrapped in September. Then, at the beginning of October, the national executive committee decided to take it over and installed a so-called “fast-track process”.

For priority seats with retiring or defecting Labour MPs, the NEC drew up lists of potential parliamentary candidates. These long lists of about half a dozen candidates were then handed over to “mixed panels” to whittle down the candidates for a shortlist. Mixed panels are comprised of at least one NEC member, representatives from the regional board and a couple of hand-picked local party officers. Then, and only then, have party members been given the chance to get involved and choose between those few remaining candidates.

It doesn’t look much better in those seats not currently held by ex-Labour MPs or retiring Labour MPs: There, the long lists are being  prepared by  regional executive committees, “working in partnership with CLPs”.

This is particularly worrying, as the decision to take the selection out of the hands of local members was made not by the full NEC, but its officers group, which is – at least on paper – dominated by the ‘left’ (unlike the NEC as a whole). Of the nine members, six can be described as supporters of Jeremy Corbyn: NEC chair Andi Fox (from the TSSA union), treasurer Diana Holland (Unite union), Jim Kennedy (chair of the NEC organisation committee, Unite union), Claudia Webbe (chair of the NEC disputes panel and Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), Ann Henderson (chair of the NEC equalities committee), as well as Corbyn himself. The three rightwingers are Ian Murray MP (who believes that “Corbyn will cost Labour the election”), Tom Watson and Cath Speight (chair of the NEC joint policy committee and a rep of the rightwing GMB).

Outrageously, the NEC does not produce minutes or reports of its decisions or discussions, making it difficult to work out who argued for what or to hold our representatives to account.

It appears though that, while some of the NEC officers demanded that local party members should have no input at all into the selection of candidates and that the NEC should simply impose them, we had, on the other side, the unusual picture of Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson both arguing for the same thing: namely that the whole process should be run by local Labour Party members only. Clearly, this would have been the correct and democratic way to go.

So who voted against it? Claudia Webbe and Ann Henderson were elected onto the NEC as part of the ‘centre-left slate’ supported by Momentum and the CLPD. We presume – though we can be far from certain – that they probably supported Corbyn’s position. Which means that he must have been opposed by the two representatives from Unite.

The compromise, like most compromises, stinks to high heaven. We hear that in NEC backroom deals, Momentum, Unite and the GMB have been busy dividing up parliamentary seats to make sure they get ‘their’ people in. Momentum’s owner, Jon Lansman, for example, wants his chief minion, Laura Parker, elected in Enfield North; while Momentum company director and Lansman loyalist Sam Tarry has just been selected for the safe seat of Ilford South. Neither of them has actively supported their boss’s witch-hunting of the left – but they certainly have not spoken out against it either. Both strike us as the kind of careerists who could quickly turn against the left.

To make matters worse, the long lists that have been presented by the NEC to the mixed panels often exclude the candidates favoured by local members – no doubt, in order to take out the competition. Just like during the worst days of Blairism, we see yet again candidates being parachuted into constituencies, over the heads of local members. And, in areas where the long lists were relatively balanced, we hear of underhand shenanigans and stitch-ups by regional and local officers to make sure that the most outspoken leftwingers are excluded from the shortlists going forward to CLPs.

And even where socialists got through to the short list, we hear of at least three cases where they were then removed hours before the CLP hustings at which members were going to elect their candidate. One is Colin Monehen, who gave the rousing pro-Palestine speech at Labour Party conference 2018 and who was deleted off the shortlist for Epping Forest after complaints by the Jewish Chronicle, who falsely accused him of having “defended a notorious anti-Semitic image”. The ‘evidence’ in that rag shows Colin having a discussion with somebody about the image – but he certainly did not “defend” it. Still, in today’s shrill McCarthyist atmosphere, being charged by the JC seems to be enough for party HQ to buckle. In another CLP, a candidate was bounced off the shortlist one hour before the hustings – among the reasons she was given was her support for Chris Williamson (she had uploaded a picture of both of them on social media).

Even the tame Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) has just put out a statement and a draft emergency motion, calling on the NEC “as a minimum, to allow each CLP to add an extra person to the shortlist in order that a positive and democratic response is made to the justified criticisms, and to ensure that our party is united at all levels and thus can be totally focused on winning the general election.”

There are big problems with the CLPD. Leaving aside the notion that the current Labour Party, torn apart by a civil war, could be “united at all levels”, we would also like to remind readers that the organisation gave up on the fight for mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates as soon as Jeremy Corbyn made clear that he would not fight for this basic democratic demand himself. Instead, at Labour conference in 2018, he instructed his close ally, Len McCluskey, to use the block vote of Unite to defeat ‘open selection’.

A historic opportunity to dramatically reshape the Parliamentary Labour Party was squandered by Corbyn’s futile attempts to appease the Labour right. He mistakenly believed that this might be ‘the thing’ that would end their campaign of sabotage against him. Naturally, it only made them stronger – and robbed party members of the chance to get rid of the whole generation of Blairite careerists and pro-capitalists who are squatting on the Labour benches.

The ‘compromise’ pushed by Corbyn and his allies – the reform of the trigger ballot – has been a shambles: Not only did the NEC delay its implementation, meaning that in many areas they still have not even started. The timetable issued by the NEC is also needlessly slow and meandering: it takes nine weeks until a full selection process can even start. Should a snap election be called soon, most CLPs will not be able to finish the trigger process and, as a result, the sitting MP will automatically become Labour’s candidate once again.

Leader’s office

The “restructuring” of Jeremy Corbyn’s office has given the press some more material for salacious stories with which to attack him and the rest of the party leadership. But it also shines a rather interesting light on how members’ dues are being spent and where Labour HQ’s priorities lie.

First up, we should say that we do not quite believe that this restructuring is somehow proof of a soft coup against Corbyn orchestrated by shadow chancellor John McDonnell (in order to force Labour to adopt a stronger ‘remain’ position on the European Union). Apparently, Corbyn requested that McDonnell should head the office restructuring programme to make the party ‘fit’ for the general election – but was reportedly blindsided when McDonnell removed Karie Murphy from the office. Corbyn, we read in Steve Walker’s exacerbated blog The Skwawkbox, was so upset that at a shadow cabinet meeting, he “kept an empty seat next to him” in honour of Murphy.

Really? This story does not make a lot of sense to us. Jeremy Corbyn surely has some say over the removal of his chief of staff. Also, it is not like Karie Murphy has been sent to Siberia: she will actually oversee the party’s general election campaign – a pretty important job. We also read that she retains her title – and her massive salary of over £90,000 a year.

Do we really need to pay Labour Party full-timers that much money? Could this not be better spent? It is near impossible to find out how many people work for the party or the leader’s office or what they earn. We gather that there must be around 50 people working there alone: The Guardian recently wrote that “parliamentary records show that 46 people have been issued with parliamentary passes to work in Corbyn’s office”, while 37 of the staff have been “invited” for interviews as part of the restructuring programme.

In any case, this is, in our view, a surprisingly large number of full-time staff. As a comparison, while leading the October revolution, the secretariat of the Bolshevik Party consisted of eight people – including Lenin’s wife, Krupskaya, and his brother.

The resignation letter of Andrew Fisher, Corbyn’s chief of policy and long-standing member of the Labour Representation Committee, certainly shines an interesting light on the life in the leader’s office: It seems overstaffed, while also being underorganised – perhaps a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. He criticises the fact that the left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing, with different groups of advisors leaking different stories to different parts of the media; meanwhile different heads of this or that sub-team are pulling speeches and not telling others about it. “They are a snapshot of the lack of professionalism, competence and human decency which I am no longer willing to put up with daily.”

Then there are the hundreds employed in the media and communication departments at party HQ and, crucially, the regional offices, which are stuffed with people first hired by former rightwing general secretary Iain McNicol. As we now know, many of them were issued with contracts that make it almost impossible to fire them, so Labour HQ has employed many additional staff to ‘balance’ things out. But the right still seems well in charge in most areas. It did not come as much of a surprise, for example, when 124 Labour staff members of the GMB recently voted ‘yes’ to the union’s suggestion to “demand apologies from the party to former colleagues who took part in the BBC Panorama programme” that accused Labour of being riddled with anti-Semites and doing nothing about it. It seems about time that some of these contracts are brought to a swift end.

Witch-hunters

Last, but not least, there is the massive expansion of the ‘governance and legal unit’ (formerly known as the compliance unit), which is the party’s witch-finder department. Dozens of new ‘case workers’ have been employed to investigate the mostly false and malicious charges against party members made by rightwingers like Margaret Hodge MP, Tom Watson or the vicious ‘Campaign against Anti-Semitism’. The party spends huge resources on investigating and harassing its own members in this way.

We are aware that we are in the middle of yet another round of suspensions in the party, probably in the hope that, by throwing Labour Party members under the bus now, they cannot be targeted by the right, come a general election. Most of the charges are, as can be expected, ludicrous and we note that in a number of cases, articles from Labour Party Marxists supporters have been listed as incriminating ‘evidence’. For example, a report of the 2018 Labour conference, in which we criticised Emily Thornberry’s stomach-churning, witch-hunting speech that she despicably interspersed with cries of “No pasaran!” We quite rightly called her a “pro-Zionist”.

None of the charges are quite so ludicrous though as the ongoing campaign to kick Chris Williamson out of the party. Rather than accepting the NEC’s anti-Semitism panel’s decision to reinstate him to full membership, the party must have spent thousands of pounds of members’ dues fighting him in the courts – and, of course, scrolling through his Facebook and Twitter posts to find ‘evidence’ against him that would allow for a third suspension.

With the influx of hundreds of thousands of new members since Corbyn’s election, the Labour Party certainly has amassed a small fortune. But it seems to be spending the money entirely on the wrong things. Surely, the bulk of it should find its way back to the organisations on the ground. But CLPs still rarely get more than the “minimum cash allocation of £1.50 per paid-up member” – per year! In many areas, CLPs had to fight the 2017 general election without a single penny from Labour HQ, including in seats that were then won by Labour. We presume things will not be much different next time around.

Imagine what local branches and CLPs could do with the amount of energy and enthusiasm first released by Corbyn’s election. At the moment, this is usually spent on rather dire rounds of leafleting and canvassing those who are already Labour supporters … which causes the enthusiasm of many members to quickly dry up, unsurprisingly. Any initiatives that go slightly beyond this scope are usually shut down by some local or regional officer.

With a more energetic outlook and some decent financial support, local members could organise all sorts of local events, festivals, film showings – and perhaps even launch local working class newspapers, radio stations, even TV channels. This kind of critical engagement with the world around us is needed if we are serious about building a real working class party. The German Social Democrats in the early 20th century should serve as an example to aspire to. There were scores of local Social Democratic papers.

In other words, we need less ‘professionalism’ in the party, fewer regional officers, fewer full-time witch-hunters – and much more empowerment of those below – if we seriously want to transform the party into a vehicle for socialism.

Joining with the witch-hunters

Stitching up Chris Williamson marks a turning point for Corbyn and McDonnell, writes Carla Roberts

It is not often the case that a court judgment is reported in entirely diametrically opposed ways. So did the suspended Labour MP, Chris Williamson, lose or win his case against the Labour Party? The entire bourgeois media claims the former, whereas lefty news outlets like The Canary or the Skwawkbox say it is the latter. Both sides have based their reporting more on wishful thinking than reality.

Williamson sought two rulings from the judge. Firstly, that the June 26 decision of the NEC’s three-person anti-Semitism panel, which reinstated him to full membership after his February 27 suspension, should stand. Keith Vaz MP, Gerald Howarth MP and Momentum’s Huda Elmi had voted to issue Williamson “with a formal warning for the heinous crime of, among other similarly ludicrous charges, stating that Labour had been “too apologetic” in response to the right’s allegations of anti-Semitism.

They did not refer him to the national constitutional committee, which is what the right was hoping for and what the unnamed “internal investigator” on his case had recommended.1)The full judgment is available here: https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/court-overturns-labour-re-suspension-left-wing-mp  The NCC richly deserves its nickname as ‘national kangaroo court’ – despite its recent enlargement from 11 to 25 members, it is still dominated by the right and a referral usually results in expulsion.

Readers of the Weekly Worker know that all hell broke loose in the hours following the decision to reinstate the comrade: Tom Watson, as ever acting as witch-finder general, orchestrated in record time a public letter signed by 90 MPs and peers, which demanded that Jeremy Corbyn should remove the whip from Williamson. This was followed by a letter of 70 ‘concerned’ Labour Party staffers and much-publicised rants by the usual suspects like Margaret Hodge MP, who claimed that the decision proved that “the party is turning a blind eye to Jew-hate”.

This is when Keith Vaz remembered that he had been undergoing a mysterious “medical procedure” when making this decision, which meant he was actually “not fit” to do so. He asked Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby to set aside the panel’s decision. And, lo and behold, on that same evening of June 28, Formby informed all members of the NEC that the next meeting of the NEC disputes panel on July 9 would have to make a decision on this. The disputes panel (which in fact includes every NEC member who can be bothered to show up) proclaimed that, yes, the anti-Semitism panel’s decision could not stand. On July 19, the same body referred Williamson’s case to the NCC.

But Justice Edward Pepperall, delivering his judgment at Birmingham Civil Justice Centre on October 10, agreed with Chris Williamson: he ruled that “the party acted unfairly” – when resuspending Williamson on July 9 “there was no proper reason for reopening the case against Mr Williamson and referring the original allegations to the NCC”. Judge Pepperall declared the resuspension “unlawful” and that “the Labour Party is no longer able lawfully to pursue the original disciplinary case against Mr Williamson”.

So far, so good. But then it gets rather Kafkaesque. Most of us had been unaware that on September 3, comrade Williamson had been slapped with yet another suspension – one week before his hearing against this resuspension started (which we shall call his second suspension). So his lawyers worked overtime to include in their case a challenge to this new, third suspension. However, as the party had followed its own constitutional procedures correctly when it comes to suspension number three, the judge could find “nothing inherently unfair in investigating these fresh allegations”. This is why Chris Williamson remains suspended from the party.

This is the trouble, of course, with going to a bourgeois court to sort out issues which are, in effect, matters of political disagreement and discourse. The judge stressed:

“This case is not about whether Mr Williamson is, or is not, anti-Semitic or even whether he has, or has not, breached the rules of the Labour Party. The issue is whether the party has acted lawfully in its investigation and prosecution.”

Scathing criticism

It seems pretty clear that Labour’s lawyers were well aware that they would have lost the original court case and that this was the reason for the Kafkaesque ‘double suspension’. And indeed, the judge makes a number of scathing criticisms of the process:

  • He states that it was “not difficult to infer that the true reason for the decision [of July 9] in this case was that [NEC] members were influenced by the ferocity of the outcry following the June decision [to reinstate Williamson].” He references Tom Watson’s campaign and quotes various ‘enraged’ politicians.
  • The judge also clearly does not believe Keith Vaz’s story, who “by June 27 appears to have had second thoughts about the matter” by raising “issues about his health”. “It would be surprising if, as an experienced parliamentarian, Mr Vaz (a) had taken part in an important meeting if he felt himself unfit to do so; and (b) then failed to clearly make that point in his subsequent email.” Further, the judge thinks it “surprising” that neither George Howarth nor Huda Elmi “raised the issue of his fitness either at the time or subsequently”.
  • The judge was also critical of the fact that, while Williamson had to sign a confidentiality agreement, the party was briefing against him all the way through: “The proceedings of the disputes panel are supposed to be confidential. Nevertheless, the decision of this panel was immediately leaked to the press, together with the views expressed by the individual panel members. Indeed, Mr Williamson says that he learnt of the decision not from the party, but from media reports.”

Much of Pepperall’s judgment rests, however, on technical issues around the role of the “NEC organisation committee”, which is apparently the only body that could have overturned the decision of the NEC anti-Semitism panel, and not, as actually happened, the NEC disputes panel (though we would like to challenge anybody to tell us who exactly sits on this organisation committee). According to the rules, it is “a sub-committee of the NEC, appointed by the NEC and comprising of NEC members”. But the rules also say that the “NEC disputes panel [made up of all NEC members] is a panel of the NEC organisation committee.”

No wonder then that in terms of Williamson’s third suspension, the party was extra careful not to leak anything to the press. We can, however, glean the new charges from the judgment. They are, to put it mildly, laughable:

  • “Sending an email to a member of the public who had complained to you about your criticism of Margaret Hodge MP that referred her to a video” which was critical of Hodge.
  • “Publicly legitimising or endorsing the misconduct of members or former members” who have been found “grossly detrimental or prejudicial to the Labour Party” – ie, standing up for and speaking on platforms with Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Stan Keable, Tony Greenstein, etc.
  • “Publicly characterising the disciplinary process of the party” as “politically motivated and/or not genuine”.

But that is exactly what it is. Apparently, Williamson’s lawyer agreed that these were entirely new charges. We disagree. To us they look pretty similar to some of the charges in the first suspension (which the party is not allowed to present any more). These included, according to Pepperall’s judgment:

  • “Allegations of campaigning in favour of members who have been formally disciplined by the party for anti-Semitism.”
  • “Sharing platforms and giving public praise to people with a history of allegations of anti-Semitism against them.”

Of course, we know that very few people have actually been expelled for anti-Semitism. According to Jennie Formby’s report in February 2019, it was a mere 12 members, while in July she reported another eight. But comrades Walker, Wadsworth and Greenstein are not among them. They were all done for the catch-all charge of “bringing the party into disrepute”. So, by pointing out that these comrades have been wrongly smeared as “anti-Semites” – thanks, in part, to leaks from the party – Williamson has himself become guilty. If anything, this entire saga demonstrates how correct Williamson was to characterise the disciplinary process as “politically motivated”.

One of the reasons for this rushed third suspension is, of course, to stop Williamson from standing again for his seat of Derby North, should a general election be called soon (suspended members are barred). We have no doubt that the NEC will not make the same mistake twice and that his third suspension will result in the required expulsion. Judging from the harsh words that Williamson has for the “Labour bureaucracy” in his video explaining the verdict, he too seems to have little hope of his reinstatement any time soon.

Going right

The real tragedy in all of this is, of course, the role of the Labour leadership and their allies. We learn from the judgement that, apparently, Jennie Formby was at first reluctant to issue the third suspension, but was persuaded to do so by the people working in ‘Governance and Legal’ (formerly the compliance unit). She should have stood firm.

The same goes for the leader’s office. Indeed, set on achieving the ‘next Labour government’, what we are seeing is the politics of ambiguity becoming the politics of treachery. A shift more than symbolised by the nauseating chitchat between John McDonnell and Tony Blair’s spin-doctor, Alastair Campbell (the video is here).

We watched open-mouthed as McDonnell declared: “Tony Blair is not a war criminal. I’m hoping he will go down in history for the wonderful thing he did in Northern Ireland and not for what he did in Iraq.” Oh, that would be lovely. Shame that it won’t happen and that instead we will be reminded over and over again how poor old Blair sadly fell for the old ‘weapons of mass destruction’ lie and how that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

We are also relieved to hear that McDonnell is still a “republican”, although a pretty funny one: “I respect the constitutional settlement and it has to be protected.” That includes for him protecting “the monarchy” and “the rule of law”.

And yet apparently McDonnell still sees himself as a “9” on a left-right scale from 1 to 10, while his good mate, Alastair, is a solid “6”. When Campbell asked him if he agreed with his own expulsion from Labour (for publicly boasting that he had voted for the Liberal Democrats), McDonnell quickly replied: “No. Your expulsion was done under a stupid rule brought in by New Labour. You should submit your reapplication, just submit it.” We have no doubt that it would be approved. Should Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone or Stan Keable try … we can guess that outcome too.

As an aside, the clause in the rule that Campbell was expelled for is well … “stupid”:

A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member” (chapter 2, clause 1, point 4B).

The rule is clearly aimed at the left. Specifically the CPGB, which in the 1920s had much of its membership holding both Labour and Communist Party cards. Many CLPs supported CPGBers as official Labour candidates. Later, as the anti-CPGB witch-hunt proceeded, many CLPs supported unofficial Labour-communist candidates. So the rule should go. But so too should Alastair Campbell. Because he called for a vote for an openly capitalist party.

Bowing and scraping before the odious Campbell, the shadow chancellor also announced that he himself and Corbyn would resign if Labour loses the next general election. Because, you see, that is “the tradition”. Nonsense, of course. David Lloyd George did not resign in 1922. Nor did Winston Churchill in 1945. Nor did Harold Wilson resign in 1970. And we hear that Corbyn himself is less than keen to do so. After all, he did not resign when Labour lost the 2017 general election and it would have been ludicrous if he had.

Despite all our criticism of Corbyn’s lack of a backbone, his collapse over issues like Trident and his silence in the face of the witch-hunt, his leadership campaign did see hundreds of thousands flocking into Labour’s ranks and in the process trigger a bitter civil war. Offering Corbyn’s resignation is like waving a white flag. McDonnell is clearly interested in appeasing the right rather than in transforming the Labour Party in a socialist direction.

He thinks the next leader has to have only one qualification: “It should be a woman”. He has previously been singing the praises of the very moderate and very tame Rebecca Long-Bailey. But how about if the next leader was a socialist, preferably one with a backbone?

Free Speech in Brighton!

Brighton Labour Left Alliance has pulled off an amazing feat by setting up a range of events on the theme of ‘Freedom of Speech’ during Labour Party conference. On Saturday, almost 100 activists packed into an upstairs room in the Rialto Theatre. Greg Hadfield, the key organiser of these events, spoke of the threats made against a number of venues booked by the left, leading to their cancellation. It says a great deal for his determination and courage, and that of his Brighton comrades, that we were able to listen to militant speeches from Ann Mitchell (chair of Brighton Palestine Solidarity Campaign), Tina Werkmann (Labour against the Witchhunt), Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson. The efforts of the witch-hunters had the opposite effect intended.

Chris Williamson spoke of his determination to continue to speak out honestly and to fight oppression, and of his determination that he would not be cowed, even if he was reinstated. Tina Werkmann warned of the rule change by the NEC which fast tracks expulsions. The right-wing are determined to destroy the left. But they have a fight on their hands.

Events will continue all week, click here for more info.

Witch-hunt’s biggest victim

Chris Williamson has dared question the claim that Labour has become institutionally anti-Semitic under Jeremy Corbyn, writes Carla Roberts. Now he is likely to be expelled for this crime.

For future generations of socialists studying how the right has managed to brand lifelong anti-racists as racists, July 9 2019 might serve as a symbolic date.

Outside the Labour Party’s HQ in London’s Victoria Street, 100 protestors gathered in solidarity with the Labour Party’s bravest MP. They delivered a petition, signed by almost 4,000 people, demanding Chris Williamson’s reinstatement. Speakers who were there on behalf of Labour Against the Witchhunt, Jewish Voice for Labour, the Labour Representation Committee, the RMT union and various Momentum branches outlined what really is behind the charges against Williamson: “This is an attack on Jeremy Corbyn himself, because he remains an unreliable ally from the ruling class’s point of view,” said Stan Keable of Labour Against the Witchhunt – a position that was echoed by many other speakers on the day.

Inside the ugly Southside tower, however, fewer than 40 people (most of whom had sneaked in through the back door) made a decision that allowed the McCarthyite witch-hunt in the party to reach Kafkaesque proportions. In what we believe was an unprecedented move, a majority of Labour’s national executive committee voted to ‘revisit’ the verdict of an NEC anti-Semitism panel to reinstate comrade Williamson to full party membership. This only became possible because general secretary Jennie Formby had chosen to accept the ridiculous claim by Keith Vaz (one of the three panel members making the decision) that he was on some kind of mysterious medication that had rendered all his decisions on that day unsafe. Instead, she should have sent him to an independent doctor to verify his claims.

But her decision underlines yet again who is calling the shots in the raging civil war in the party – and that the leadership around Corbyn is still trying to appease the right rather than openly take them on. True, Corbyn might not want to see Williamson expelled. But by not speaking out and allowing the witch-hunt to grow and grow over the last three years, Jeremy Corbyn is as culpable for this decision as Tom Watson, who coordinated the vicious media backlash against Williamson’s brief reinstatement.

So instead of clearing comrade Williamson – which is, of course, the only rational conclusion the so-called evidence against him allows – the July 9 NEC meeting decided to have his case re-examined by a different NEC anti-Semitism panel.

lobby Chris Williamson NECIncredibly, this will be the third panel dealing with Chris’s case. As we reported last week, the first one was to be made up of Momentum owner Jon Lansman, Claudia Webbe and ex-MP George Howarth. We can just about imagine the furore if such an ostensibly leftwing panel had voted to send Williamson – who is hugely popular amongst the membership – to the national constitutional committee (NCC). This is where the NEC outsources all the disciplinary cases that it cannot/does not want to deal with. Despite this body’s recent expansion from 11 to 25 members, it is still dominated by the right; the three person panels are ‘traditionally’ made up of one leftwinger and two rightwingers. No wonder that a referral to the NCC usually results in expulsion – which is how it got its well-deserved epithet of ‘national kangaroo court’. Both Webbe and Lansman chickened out, leaving it to a second panel to rule on the case. As we know, Huda Elmi and Keith Vaz both voted for Williamson’s reinstatement, which was followed by a very PR-effective outcry by the right, mobilised by chief saboteur Tom Watson (whom Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the RMT union, quite rightly called “a scoundrel” that “the members should get rid off” at the lobby outside).

What if this third panel finds Williamson innocent? Will somebody have to fake a heart attack to get the verdict revisited once again? How many panels does it need to get the correct answer? We already know, of course, that the next panel is bound to get it ‘right’ – ie, wrong – and send Williamson’s case to the NCC.

Vicious circle

There is a very small chance this will not result in Williamson’s expulsion, but this has less to do with justice and more to do with timing: should there be a snap election before his case is dealt with by the NCC, he will be unable to stand again in Derby North, the constituency he represents, as he will still be suspended. Somebody else will be installed as the official candidate and might or might not become the next MP for Derby North.

It is far more likely, however, that the party leadership will want to get this over with soon. The very public resignation this week of three parasites from Labour’s benches in the House of Lords (who bizarrely claim that the party is “shielding anti-Semites”) and the outrageously one-sided edition of BBC’s Panorama programme on the issue will add even more pressure on those around Jeremy Corbyn to be seen to ‘act’. Unfortunately, we know what that means: there will be more investigations, more suspensions, more expulsions. The witch-hunt grows – ditto the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. It is a vicious circle.

There is exactly zero chance of comrade Williamson getting a fair trial at the NCC – and even less chance of being exonerated. We expect that he will (eventually) be expelled. So let us be clear what his ‘crimes’ are: like Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and many other Corbyn supporters who have been smeared, vilified and wrongfully accused of anti-Semitism, he will be expelled for stating that the tiny number of cases of actual anti-Semitism in the party have been weaponised, amplified and woven into a hugely distorted, politically motivated narrative. He will be expelled for the crime of questioning the commonplace that the party has become institutionally anti-Semitic because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. He will be expelled, in other words, for daring to state the truth.

As Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of Jewish Voice for Labour put it at the NEC lobby, “Now even questioning if somebody really is an anti-Semite is proof that you are an anti-Semite yourself.” Or, in the words of Moshé Machover, who also addressed the event: “The proof that Chris Williamson was right to question the party’s response to such false allegations is, of course, his own treatment by the party.”

There are obvious similarities to the case of Ken Livingstone. The former mayor of London might have been slightly clumsy in his off-the-cuff remarks about Hitler – who, he said, “supported Zionism until he went mad”. Of course, he got the date wrong when he said Hitler came to power in 1932 (it was a year later). It was also wrong to personalise the shift in policy. But the point he was making about the collaboration of the early Nazi regime and Zionism is basically correct, as comrade Machover outlines in his excellent article, ‘Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’.

Livingstone’s original punishment for saying what is now deemed unsayable was a one-year suspension. The NEC was probably hoping that things would die down and that he could be allowed to sneak back quietly into the party. But, of course, by giving in to the witch-hunters and suspending him in the first place, the NEC and the leadership helped to fuel the flames and allow the witch-hunt to grow out of all proportion. So, instead of readmitting him, they planned to add another 12 months to his suspension. At this stage though, the rightwingers in and outside the party had grown so emboldened that anything less than Livingstone’s expulsion was not acceptable. Livingstone resigned to save Corbyn from further blushes.

We do not expect comrade Williamson to do the same. Contrary to Livingstone and many other Labour lefts, he is quite prepared to publicly criticise Corbyn. We note with interest the open letter circulated just before the July 9 NEC meeting, which has been signed by Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, John Pilger, professor Avi Shlaim, Alexei Sayle, Lowkey, Brian Eno, Professor Ilan Pappe and some other well-known people. This has no doubt been prepared with Williamson’s input:

Jeremy’s victory in 2015 was almost immediately followed by an onslaught against his supporters – starting with black and Jewish socialists – maliciously misrepresented as anti-Semites by disparate forces hostile to the prospect of a Corbyn-led government. Chris was sometimes their only parliamentary ally and advocate. The party’s complicity in this campaign of systematic harassment of black and Jewish members with long histories of fighting racism rendered all activists and MPs fair game, including Jeremy and members of his shadow cabinet.

This paragraph points to the ridiculous nature of the witch-hunt. Chiefly directed against Corbyn and his supporters, it could only become so successful because of “the party’s complicity” – ie, that of Jeremy Corbyn himself and those around him.

What’s an anti-Semite?

We note that Gordon Brown and Keith Starmer are now demanding that “anti-Semites” should be “automatically expelled from the party”. That begs the question: what exactly is an anti-Semite? Thousands of party members have been suspended and investigated – and not because they show actual “hostility to or prejudice against Jews” (which is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines anti-Semitism).

Most complaints are based on (sometimes sloppy) comments made in the heat of an online debate, when somebody, for example, writes ‘Zionists’ when they should say ‘the Israeli government’. Or somebody sharing a meme or a video that, on much closer inspection, turns out to be the work of an actual anti-Semite – does that make the sharer anti-Semitic? How about having your words taken out of context, twisted and rearranged?

Or take the evolution of the term ‘Zionism’. This is a label chosen by the Zionists themselves to describe their political ideology. Yet we have seen dozens of examples of Labour members being investigated simply for their use of the word – often merely in a descriptive fashion. They are presented with a charge sheet that reads:

The Chakrabarti report states: “The word ‘Zionist’ has been used personally, abusively or as a euphemism for ‘Jew’ … Use the term ‘Zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse.” Do you think that your comments are against the spirit of this?”

Ditto Jon Lansman, who wants to ban the diminutive form, ‘Zio’, because for him it is an insult.

Those accused might point out the Chakrabarti report has, in fact, not been implemented – otherwise, for example, automatic suspensions like that of comrade Williamson, would have to cease too.

These types of accusations make up the vast majority of the complaints against Labour members. Hastily written, sometimes based on misconceptions and misinformation and, yes, sometimes based on low-level prejudice. But these instances – which, as can be expected, are increasing proportionally with the growth of the witch-hunt – would best be countered not by silly demands for ‘zero tolerance’, but by education through open debate (and, no, we are not talking about the ‘rehabilitation programmes’ offered by the Zionists of the Jewish Labour Movement or the witch-hunters in Hope not Hate, who have joined in the calls to expel Chris Williamson).

After all, the idea of socialism is based on the presumption that people can change, for the better. But then, most of the people pushing this witch-hunt and a ‘zero tolerance’ approach are, of course, not socialists – and should not be members of the Labour Party.

And, encouragingly, some half a dozen rightwing MPs have now publicly declared that they will not stand again. These include Blairites like Kate Hoey, Stephen Twiggs, Jim Fitzpatrick and Kevin Barron. Good riddance. Let us hope there will be many more rightwingers who follow their example.

Most of those now stepping down are, of course, jumping ship before they are pushed, thanks to the newly reformed system of trigger ballots. We are still awaiting detailed guidelines and a timetable from Labour HQ (without which trigger ballots cannot be launched), but we note with great interest a circular that was apparently sent by Jennie Formby to panicked MPs at the beginning of July. It clarifies how votes will be counted. As readers know, if a minimum of 33% of a Constituency Labour Party’s branches or 33 % of the CLP’s affiliates vote ‘no’ to retaining the sitting MP, a full selection process starts – ie, a democratic contest between different candidates, including the MP. But the circular clarifies this by stating: “the third of branches is calculated based only on the branches that do cast a vote”. Which would be excellent, if indeed this is how the rule will be implemented.

Getting rid of some of the biggest saboteurs in the Parliamentary Labour Party is crucial in the fight to transform the party into a weapon of and for the working class. It remains to be seen, however, whether this will be a case of ‘too little, too late.

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.

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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.

Reform

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.

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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.

Report: Defend the Left!

William Sarsfield reports on a successful meeting in solidarity with Chris Williamson and Jackie Walker

Just over 100 comrades attended the March 25 ‘Defend the left!’ meeting in central London, hosted by Labour Against the Witchhunt. Platform speakers Ken Livingstone, Graham Bash and Jackie Walker opened a discussion on the state of the Labour Party, the ongoing purge of left comrades and how we can fight back and defeat the ‘anti-Semitism’ provocation against us.

Tina Werkmann – who chaired the event – read messages from Chris Williamson and Ken Loach. She also observed that the left has never been in a better position … but the right is fighting back with every trick in the book. The most effective weapon of the right has proved to be the baseless accusations of anti-Semitism. That has cowed large sections of the ‘official’ left into silence. Those who dare speak out are the exception. But that is exactly what must happen if we are going to win the prize. To be silent in the midst of a witch hunt is to be complicit.

Ken Livingstone kicked things off with a checklist of the various calumnies he has faced over the years. “Anti-Semite” (obviously), but additionally a tax-dodger, a violent thug, corrupt, alcoholic, a Soviet spy, Gaddafi asset and …. a fan of gay group sex in various sleazy clubs, where he was once sodomised by six men.

On the day that he became leader of the Greater London Council in 1981, he was branded by Thatcher as a man with well-made plans to impose on the UK “a communist tyranny” akin to eastern Europe. Nonsense, of course, but it did not stop the mainstream media from suddenly becoming very interested in the ideological implications of cutting tube and bus fares in the capital – “the Daily Mail brought its war correspondent back from the Middle East” to cover the revolution in County Hall and demanded that he file six stories per day. “I’ve never seen a reporter under so much bloody pressure,” Ken quipped.

His key point was that there was nothing new about these provocations against leftwingers. In this country, it means lies and smears about anti-Semitism; in other parts of the world it can mean assassinations. He reminded us of the role of the right in the Parliamentary Labour Party – specifically in the shape of that oaf, John Mann, who ambushed Livingstone with absurd charges of “Nazi apologist”, conveniently with a BBC news team in tow. Ken hit the nail on the head when he recounted his own experience with the Labour Party’s disciplinary unit – “a Labour machine controlled by all the old ghastly Blairites … and doing everything possible to get rid of” Corbyn. Thatis what has fuelled “all this stuff about anti-Semitism”, he correctly pointed out.

Listening to all this, I could not help thinking what a shame it was that Ken Livingstone had decided to ‘help out’ Jeremy Corbyn by resigning from Labour in May 2018, instead of continuing to fight the ridiculous accusations made against him, which saw him suspended from the party for two years.

Insurgency

Next up was Graham Bash – stalwart of the Labour Representation Committee and Jewish Voice for Labour, but speaking in a personal capacity. With Chris Williamson’s suspension from the Labour Party, we have reached a “pivotal moment”, the comrade declared. This is another coup attempt and the attack on us “will not stop” until the right  has reasserted the “primacy of the parliamentary party over the membership”.

Since the day that Corbyn was elected Labour leader, the key task has remained the same, the comrade emphasised. “The only possible way to fight” the “powerful opposition forces” was to create an “anti-establishment insurgency from below”, channelled through a “democratic, grassroots movement”, with the declared aim of transforming the party. That is the “nub of the problem we face”, he said: “the tension between the PLP and membership – exacerbated by the political degeneration and incorporation of the leaders of Momentum – has now reached a critical moment”.

Our dual task is to be “both supportive and independent of our leaders”, he told the meeting.

Clearly, Graham was articulating the frustration of many left comrades in the party and he highlighted some key tasks that Labour Party Marxists has consistently agitated for since Corbyn won the Labour leadership. Yes, that will require an organisational expression of the left that can coordinate, initiate and make a decisive impact in the inner-party battle. Momentum is the private property of Jon Lansman and – as comrade Bash correctly stated – its leaders have now crossed the line and, in my opinion, should be effectively regarded as allies of the right in the party.1)In the general discussion following the speakers’ presentations, a comrade read comments from Lansman to the effect that “Jackie Walker is an anti-Semite and leads the anti-Semites of this country”. Above all else, however, the Labour left needs to draw a clear line of political demarcation/independence from the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership.

Corbyn’s strategy of concession and accommodation of the right wing in the party is hopeless and is in real danger of demoralising and demobilising the mass membership base. Meanwhile, it seems pretty clear that John McDonnell has effectively caved in to the PLP right – he has “fallen apart”, as one speaker from the floor put it later. Some comrades I spoke to after the meeting suggested that the absenceof an organised rank and file had left Corbyn and McDonnell vulnerable and susceptible to pressures to compromise and backtrack. No doubt, the strains on both these figures have been immense and must have cost them a great deal personally. We are where we are, however. The political autonomy of the Labour left that comrade Bash calls for must find one important expression in sharp criticism of Jeremy Corbyn and – yes – open condemnation of some of the political positions John McDonnell has taken (a stance that comrade Bash explicitly rejected in the debate).

In a highly personal, very moving speech, Jackie Walker usefully highlighted an illusion that the vast majority of Labour lefts have historically entertained. That is, the Labour Party – as “a broad church” – was defined by “a deal with the other side” (ie, the Labour right). “Now that we had won the leadership via democratic means”, after having “supported loyally” that wing of the party in elections and campaigning, we thought they would now “do the same for us”. But “we were wrong,” she bluntly concluded. Quite right. The pro-capitalist, war-mongering reactionaries of the right of the Labour Party should not be regarded as ‘comrades’ that we may have gentle disagreements with. Labour needs to be refounded on the basis of genuine working class politics and in the form of a permanent united front of all socialist and communist groups, leftwing think tanks and progressive campaigns.

As we fight for this, we should explicitly state that there would be no place in the ranks of a Labour Party transformed in this way for the likes of today’s PLP majority. We should not regard them as a legitimate trend within any workers’ movement worthy of the name.

As if to underline this point, comrade Walker herself – having also been suspended for two years – was finally to face her hearing over further absurd ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations the next day. She was, of course, expelled on March 27 – not actually for ‘anti-Semitism’, of course, but for making “prejudicial” comments that were “grossly detrimental” to the party (such as stating, “I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with”).

It was clear that the majority of comrades were not simply exasperated with the softly-softly approach that has characterised Corbyn’s attitude to his opponents in the PLP, but now appear to be willing to support a political initiative to organise the left in the party as an independent political actor in the battle for the heart and soul of Labour. This is long overdue and something that we should all energetically support.

[1]. In the general discussion following the speakers’ presentations, a comrade read comments from Lansman to the effect that “Jackie Walker is an anti-Semite and leads the anti-Semites of this country”.

 

References

1 In the general discussion following the speakers’ presentations, a comrade read comments from Lansman to the effect that “Jackie Walker is an anti-Semite and leads the anti-Semites of this country”.

Hundreds of hard-core anti-Semites?

Suspending Chris Williamson MP is an outrage, writes Carla Roberts

You might have thought that the retreats and concessions to the right from the Labour leadership could not get any worse, but what happened on February 27 surely takes the biscuit.

Chris Williamson MP was suspended by general secretary Jennie Formby over “remarks about the party’s handling of anti-Semitism”, as the BBC put it. So what exactly did he say? Speaking at a meeting of Sheffield Momentum, he had ventured the opinion that “we have backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic”. Labour has been “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”, when, in reality, “we’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any political party”.

If anything, Williamson himself was “too apologetic”. Labour has not been hit by any “scourge of anti-Semitism”: what we have seen is a concerted witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters and the left, in which ‘anti-Semitism’ has been weaponised and equated with anti-Zionism. Several high-profile figures have been accused of anti-Semitism, but in none of their cases has the accusation been upheld. It is true that some clearly anti-Jewish comments from people claiming to be Labour members have featured on social media, but only 12 have been expelled (including a Jewish comrade who simply refused to cooperate with the kangaroo court). Even if we assume that all 12 were actually guilty, why should we describe this as a “scourge”?

If you divide the total Labour membership figure – 540,000 in September 2018 – by 12, you will find that Labour’s so-called anti-Semitism problem is small to the point of being irrelevant. No wonder that actual Labour activists on the ground will tell you that they have never witnessed anti-Semitism or any such thing at Labour meetings or from individual members in conversation.

Yet, despite this, Williamson issued an apology for his comments at Sheffield, saying he had not meant to downplay the “pernicious and cancerous” nature of anti-Semitism. From now on he would be more “considered” in his language, as he wanted to be “an ally” in the fight against it. However, if something is said to be “cancerous”, that means it is liable to spread uncontrollably and may even result in the death of those affected. It is laughable to suggest that Labour has been struck by such a disease.

It is clear that the Labour right has been awaiting its opportunity to attack Chris Williamson, who has been virtually the only Labour MP to condemn the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt for what it is. Just the day before all this happened, he had been condemned for booking a room in parliament for the screening of The Witchhunt, the film defending Jackie Walker – a black Jewish activist who has been suspended from Labour for almost three years for totally spurious allegations of anti-Semitism.

He was forced to cancel the booking under pressure from, among others, Jennie Formby. This is regrettable, to say the least. Jeremy Corbyn might recently have defended Chris as “a very good, very effective Labour MP. He’s a very strong anti-racist campaigner. He is not anti-Semitic.”1)The Times February 27 But in general, he has remained criminally silent over the witch-hunt – even though he is, of course, its prime target.

It seems that Williamson was at first told he would not be suspended, but placed under “formal notice of investigation” over some undisclosed “pattern of behaviour”. But within hours that was reversed – following expressions of outrage by the usual suspects, including deputy leader Tom Watson, who said Williamson’s apology was “not good enough”!

Zero tolerance

Meanwhile, Momentum owner Jon Lansman had earlier proudly boasted in a tweet about one of his achievements since his election to the national executive committee in 2018:

Just last Friday we referred 19 out of 35 case reviews to the national constitutional committee, almost all with strong recommendation for expulsion. Of Labour’s 500,000 members perhaps a few hundred are hard-core anti-Semites. If we improve our processes, we can make sure they are kicked out of the party (our emphasis).

Remember, this came just a couple of weeks after we learned from the information provided by Formby that the vast majority of allegations made against members had been false (if not deliberately trumped up). Most of those accused by the right have been cleared by the Labour Party’s disciplinary process3 – which can hardly be described as biased towards the left or even particularly fair.

But, rather than defending all those wrongly accused, Lansman – together with John McDonnell, it seems – is campaigning for more investigations, more punishments and a policy of ‘zero tolerance’. The tens of thousands of vexatious complaints, hundreds of suspensions and investigations and 12 actual expulsions provide evidence of a poisonous anti-democratic culture.

We note that Lansman celebrates the life-long ban of Tommy Robinson from Facebook and Twitter (as if he really needs these to spread his message):

We know Tommy Robinson’s fans will scream that he’s been censored, but our message is clear – hate speech isn’t free speech and inciting people to racist violence should never be tolerated. Not on our streets, and not on our social media. 2)Momentum email February 26

It does not take much to imagine Lansman calling for a ban from social media of those on the left spurting what for him constitutes ‘anti-Semitic’ “hate speech”.

Both McDonnell and Lansman are clearly following the lead of the right on the issue. We note that Tom Watson is not just spearheading a new group of ‘social democratic’ Labour MPs, but has “vowed to take personal charge of anti-Semitism and bullying complaints made by MPs” and will be “monitoring and logging abuse and threats made by members” – effectively creating a parallel disciplinary process. Maybe this one will be less to the liking of McDonnell and Lansman?

John McDonnell said in a recent interview that he wants to “get the message out that if people behave in a way that is construed as anti-Semitic by common standards, they will be dealt with. Full stop. They are not welcome.”

But that is the crux of the matter: what exactly is “anti-Semitic by common standards”? What is anti-Semitic “hate speech” and what is justified criticism of the actions of the state of Israel? This is, as McDonnell and Lansman know all too well, a hotly disputed issue. And one that is constantly evolving under the current scurrilous campaign pursued by the right.

Just take the evolution of the term ‘Zionism’. This is a label chosen by the Zionists themselves to describe their political ideology. Yet we have seen dozens of examples of Labour Party members being investigated simply for their use of the word – often merely in a descriptive fashion. Lansman wants to ban the diminutive form, ‘Zio’, because for him it is an insult.

Even at the recent conference of Labour Against the Witchhunt, the well-informed attendees could not agree on a definition of anti-Semitism: some preferred the definition in the Oxford Dictionary (“Hostility or prejudice to Jews”), while others lobbied for the definition in the Merriam Webster Dictionary, (“Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group”), while others thought Brian Klug’s definition the best (“hostility to Jews as Jews”). Jewish Voice for Labour and Free Speech on Israel have produced a ‘Declaration on what is – and what is not – anti-Semitic misconduct’.

Of course, McDonnell and Lansman do not mean any of those perfectly decent and workable definitions. If they did, they would have to stand up and finally put an end to the campaign by the right in the party. Thousands of party members have been suspended and investigated – and not because they show actual “hostility or prejudice” towards Jews. Most complaints are based on (sometimes sloppy) comments made in the heat of an online debate, when somebody, for example, writes ‘Zionists’ when they should say ‘the Israeli government’ – or ‘Jews’ when they should say ‘Zionists’. Or somebody sharing a meme that, on much closer inspection, turns out to be the work of an anti-Semite – does that make the sharer anti-Semitic? How about having your words taken out of context, twisted and rearranged?

These types of accusations make up the vast majority of the complaints against Labour Party members. Hastily written, sometimes based on misconceptions and misinformation and, yes, sometimes based on low-level prejudice. But these instances – which, as can be expected, are increasing proportionally with the growth of the witch-hunt – would best be countered by education through open and transparent debate (and, no, we are not talking about the ‘rehabilitation programmes’ offered by the Zionists of the Jewish Labour Movement or the witch-hunters in Hope not Hate, who have joined in the calls to sack Chris Williamson3)Huffington Post, February 26).

False ‘definition’

How about the reason for Derek Hatton’s suspension from the party, two days after the former Militant member and deputy leader of the Liverpool council was allowed to rejoin? In 2012, during Israel’s ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’, in which Israeli airstrikes killed hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza strip, he tweeted, clearly outraged: “Jewish people with any sense of humanity need to start speaking out publicly against the ruthless murdering being carried out by Israel!”

We wonder if he is one of the “hard-core anti-Semites” that McDonnell and Lansman want to kick out of the party? Hatton’s comment could have been a bit clumsy, but surely what he meant was that, while everyone should speak out against Israel’s atrocities, such criticism is particularly effective when it is made by those the state of Israel claims to represent. Either way, his tweet clearly does not merit suspension – it seems we are back in the bad old days where members are suspended first before any investigation takes place. Clearly, the party leadership is still trying to appease the right – even though every time they take one step back, the right takes two steps forward.

That is, of course, exactly the point of the so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which was finally adopted by the Labour Party’s NEC last year with all 11 examples (seven of which deal with Israel, not Jews) after much lobbying by Lansman and McDonnell. Some NEC members were all too aware that the examples that come with the ‘definition’ are designed to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Among them, of course, Jeremy Corbyn who – unsuccessfully – tried to add a disclaimer clarifying that criticising Israel was not anti-Semitic.

To make matters worse, the IHRA is anything but a definition. As well as being driven by a pro-Zionist agenda, it is poorly phrased and inaccurate. Labour Against the Witchhunt and other organisations have produced useful analyses of the document, which is – contrary to what we are constantly told – not widely accepted internationally (only 15 countries have – cynically – adopted it). It is designed to legitimise the horrendous actions of the state of Israel against the Palestinians, to silence critics who are pointing to the increasing official racism of the regime and, crucially, to prepare for further military action.

To our knowledge, the IHRA definition has not yet been used to discipline anybody in the Labour Party (it is also not legally binding and could not be used before a court) – but judging by the way Lansman, McDonnell and Formby are going, we would not be surprised if that starts to happen soon.

We call on all democrats, socialists and Marxists in the Labour Party to campaign to reverse the NEC’s decision on the IHRA  and to show solidarity with Chris Williamson MP (there are useful model motions on LAW’s website for both).

References

1 The Times February 27
2 Momentum email February 26
3 Huffington Post, February 26