Iain McNicol gone, JLM calling the police, rumours about Ken Livingstone being reinstated … But it’s not all plain sailing for the left, warns Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists, as Jon Lansman declares he wants to run for general secretary
What a week it has been for lefties in the Labour Party.
First, there was the fallout from the establishment’s rather desperate attempt to make a spy out of Jeremy Corbyn. Not only were the claims quickly disputed by the Czech and German spy agencies – soon followed by the more serious newspapers, which had to admit that, despite their displeasure at Corbyn’s politics, it was pretty normal for politicians of all parties to meet with people employed by other states. No accusations of any substance materialised – it was nothing but hot air.
The young and ever so eager vice-chair of the Conservative Party, Ben Bradley MP, was forced to eat humble pie of rather enormous proportions after claiming that Corbyn had “sold British secrets to communist spies”. Confronted with some rather serious legal threats by Corbyn’s lawyers, he swiftly deleted his tweet and was forced to admit that he “made a seriously defamatory statement”, which “was wholly untrue and false”, and for which “I am offering my unreserved and unconditional apology to Jeremy Corbyn for the distress I have caused him”.
Worst of all – from the establishment’s point of view – is the fact that these accusations have done very little to hurt Corbyn or the Labour Party. According to a YouGov poll for The Times, only 8% of voters said that this ‘scandal’ made them “think worse” of Corbyn – and most of those are Tory voters. To 64% it made no difference; and 6% “now think better of him”. The same poll showed that Labour “extended its lead to two points”, putting it on 42%, with the Tories on 40%. Similar polls show pretty much the same picture, with Labour continuing to be ahead.1)The Times February 24
We also saw a new twist in the scandal that keeps on running: days after Jeremy Newmark stepped down as chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, the organisation stated that it had referred “certain internal financial matters” to the police. We wonder if they might just have anything to do with Newmark? But, of course, the real problem with the JLM is not financial irregularities. It is politics. The JLM is the British branch of the Zionist and racist Israeli Labor Party. As shown by the Al Jazeera programme The lobby it has played a disgraceful role, in conjunction with the Israel embassy, in the witch-hunting of socialists and pro-Corbyn activists in the Labour Party. Surely, it should not be allowed to remain a Labour affiliate.
And, of course, a certain Iain McNicol – he who once suspended a member for stating on social media, “I fucking love the Foo Fighters” – regarded Newmark’s conduct as a “private matter” and refused to open an investigation. Maybe this was the final straw for Jeremy Corbyn. Either way, we know that McNicol did not resign just to spend more time with his family or “pursue new challenges” in the labour movement. Proving perhaps that he is not quite as soft a hippie as many presumed, we understand that Corbyn paid McNicol a visit, during which he ‘convinced’ him to go, but allowed him to resign to save face. Not that McNicol has got much of a reputation left. There are rumours that he might be made a life peer in return for his overdue departure – he would certainly fit right in with that bunch of overpaid and underqualified blighters, whose main task is to ensure that elected representatives do not undermine the interests of the ruling class.
We very much agree with the statement quickly put out by Labour Against the Witchhunt, a campaign that certainly helped to heap the pressure on the now departed general secretary:
McNicol was directly in charge of the unelected and discredited compliance unit, which has purged thousands of pro-Corbyn members from the party.
We see his resignation very much as an important symbol and an integral part of our fight to radically transform the Labour Party, which is undergoing a long overdue democracy review, to which we have also contributed.
The automatic and instant expulsions and suspensions overseen by McNicol – especially those based on alleged anti-Semitism and those based on members’ alleged “support for other organisations” using rule 2.1.4.B – have brought the party into disrepute. They have prevented and discouraged new members from getting involved in party life, while valuable resources have been wasted in persecuting some of the most energetic and effective campaigners for social change.
Two days later, we read in The Observer the excellent news that Ken Livingstone’s suspension would not be renewed and that he would become a member “with full rights” when his two year suspension runs out on April 27. 2)The Observer February 25
It looked like Christine Shawcroft, as new chair of the NEC disciplinary panel, had acted swiftly. Livingstone’s suspension, like those of Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and hundreds of others, is a total injustice. Moshé Machover (among others) has proven that Livingstone was – despite some small factual inaccuracies – in essence entirely correct to claim that the Nazis and the Zionists collaborated in the 1930s. It is historically verifiable fact 3)For which comrade Machover was swiftly expelled himself before being readmitted three weeks later.
Shit hits the fan
However, since then the proverbial shit has hit the fan, proving that the civil war in the Labour Party is very much alive and well. The usual assortment of rightwingers have let it be known they would be “outraged” if Livingstone was let back in. And unfortunately Corbyn seems to have rolled over. Within hours, the national executive committee let it be known that Livingstone’s suspension would not ‘run out’ after all, but that the NEC would launch “a new enquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism” against Livingstone. Not so new, actually. The enquiry was announced 10 months ago, but never saw the light of day.
Another recent victim of the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign is, of course, regular Weekly Worker contributor Tony Greenstein, who was expelled from the party on February 18 – for being rude on social media. Members of the compliance unit could not prove the original charge of anti-Semitism, so they settled on “bringing the party into disrepute” – a very stretchy and flexible charge.
As an aside, it has been quite worrying to see not only Momentum vice-chair Emina Ibrahim vote in favour of comrade Greenstein’s expulsion at his Brighton hearing – but also how many Corbyn supporters seem to find it impossible to defend comrade Greenstein, because they claim to have been so appalled by some of the things he has written. 4)Disappointingly, that also includes Free Speech on Israel: http://freespeechonisrael.org. uk/tony-greenstein-abusive-yes-acerbic-yes-not- antisemitic/#sthash.ngIOgkET.dpbs
However, one person’s rudeness is another person’s robust argument. We should also stress that in reality comrade Greenstein has not been expelled for being rude: he has been expelled because he is an ardent and very vocal supporter of the rights of the Palestinians, and a socialist to boot. Had he been less rude, chances are they would have got him under some other charge.
It briefly looked as if comrade Greenstein – with McNicol finally out of the way – might have been the last victim of the compliance unit. But the Livingstone episode proves that this is far from certain. In fact, the civil war, which has been simmering under the surface for some time, is far from over. The left has made some important advances in recent months, starting with the change in the balance of forces on the NEC. The right will not take any changes lying down and will undoubtedly become more and more vocal if and when a range of small, but overdue, improvements are introduced (many no doubt as part of the Corbyn review at this year’s annual conference).
We have seen uproar, for example, over the admittedly rather strange appointment of Andrew Murray as part-time advisor to help with the “party’s Brexit strategy”. He was, after all, a longstanding and leading member of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, which prides itself on pursuing a “national path to socialism”. In the run-up to the 2016 referendum, the CPB joined the deluded Left Leave or Lexit campaign to come out of the European Union 5)www.communist-party.org.uk/britain/eu/2258- leave-eu-new-group-formed-to-fight-for-an-exit- left.html – when Murray was still a member of the CPB. His appointment was always going to rile the right in the party, many of whom have gathered behind a pro-EU banner.
But Murray is Len McCluskey’s trusted chief-of-staff, a reliable source of strategic thinking for Corbyn and a close friend of Labour’s communication chief, Seamus Milne (they were both involved in supporting Straight Left, a publication that appeared to be Labourite, but was, in fact, the front for a Stalinite faction of the old CPGB). Murray, who has never hidden his sympathy for Joseph Stalin, is, of course, also the man who as chair of the Stop the War Coalition led it into some rather dodgy political waters. He went along with the barring of Hands Off the People of Iran as an affiliate. Hopi, as a matter of principle, insists that it is necessary to fight not only against the war threats of western imperialism, but also the theocracy in Iran. Murray has a soft spot for dodgy third world regimes which he considers to be ‘anti-imperialist’. Bizarrely, under his watch, STWC promoted pro-Tehran speakers at its conferences. They even boasted of the number of sex change operations notched up in Iran – homosexuals are given the choice of being executed or undergoing surgery.
Next general secretary
Murray is, however, very unlikely to become – as has been rumoured – the next general secretary of the Labour Party. For its part, the Skwawkbox website is certain that the new general secretary “will be a woman”. The possible female candidates whose names have been leaked are Unite’s Anneliese Midgley, Labour’s governance and membership director Emilie Oldknow and the GMB union’s Lisa Johnson. The most likely female candidate, however, is Jennie Formby.
Formby is a vocal critic of Israel and a supporter of the rights of the Palestinians. On the NEC, she objected to the selection of Jan Royall to lead the investigation into anti-Semitism allegations against Labour students at Oxford University, because she was able to prove that Royall had been a member of Labour Friends of Israel, and had visited Israel in 2007. Formby was also a “prime mover behind a vote passed by the executive last November to bar the security firm G4S from tendering to handle security at Labour’s annual conference because the firm does business with Israel”, writes The Independent.
We have to admit that we do not know how Formby has voted on various political issues or disciplinary matters that have come before the NEC. She has not exactly been the most vocal leftwinger on that committee and we are far from certain that she would demand an end to the purge of organised socialists under rule 2.1.4.B, 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” and has exclusively been used against leftwingers.
But, for the time being at least, Unite supports Corbyn’s agenda. And, considering the disgraceful way in which the rightwing party bureaucracy has acted against him by purging hundreds, if not thousands, of his supporters on trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism, Formby’s appointment would send a very powerful political signal. We can certainly hope that the beginning of her tenure would mark the end of the witch-hunt.
Lansman throws his hat in the ring
Momentum owner Jon Lansman has also indicated he might throw his hat into the ring. According to the Huffington Post, he is “being urged to run”, following “claims by the right that Formby was being ‘railroaded’ through as the favoured candidate of key allies of Jeremy Corbyn”. This smacks of fake news. Run some media stories about a Palestine supporter (read, anti-Semite) and trade unionist (read, leftwinger) being a virtual shoo-in for the post, and the centre and the right will do anything to stop her. Maybe even vote for one of Corbyn’s closest allies!
However, Steve Watson, editor of Skwawkbox, is openly supporting Formby. Funnily enough, he is doing so by using exactly the argument that Lansman employs when he is trying to convince everybody to vote for one of his slates: if Lansman does not withdraw, he would be “opening the door for any rightwing candidate who decides to apply” to slip in through the middle. In this case, however, it seems pretty certain that the successful candidate will be a leftwinger broadly in line with Corbyn’s politics. The Guardian stated on February 28 that “a late-night conference call failed to persuade the grassroots group [read Lansman] to rally around the Unite candidate” and a day later, Lansman finally declared he would run. 6)The Guardian February 28 2018
The article also states that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell support Formby and not Lansman. That is certainly interesting. We have always presumed that Lansman acts in close cooperation with and on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn – and no doubt most of the time that is the case. However, opening up a rift with Unite is a risky strategy for Lansman. After all, Corbyn owes his position in no small measure to the direct support of Len McCluskey and his massive union machine. And Corbyn cannot afford to lose the support of the leftwing unions on the NEC.
But there is also the not insignificant matter of Momentum’s massive database. Jon Lansman literally owns the contact details of hundreds of thousands Corbyn supporters. He can urge them to support Jeremy Corbyn and the NEC – or not. And Momentum has clearly been an important tool in getting leftwingers onto the NEC, for example, and in helping mobilise supporters during elections. Corbyn will be very aware of the power that Lansman holds – and maybe he has begun to regret letting him acquire it.
The Guardian’s “senior Momentum source” claims that “Jon has proven his popularity with the membership with his recent NEC election result” and is “expected to be a popular grassroots candidate” for general secretary. But in reality Lansman likes to run things from above. He is Momentum’s Bonaparte, not its democratically elected and fully accountable servant.
* When Lansman feared he would lose control of Momentum, he simply abolished all democratic and decision-making structures in the January 10 2017 coup. He wrote a new constitution that members had no possibility of amending. They could only vote ‘no’ or ‘yes’ in an online ballot.
* He has made no attempt to politically educate or organise members – he regards them as spear carriers, to be called out during elections or at conferences.
* Politically, Lansman is an arch-opportunist. He has given up the decades-old fight for mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates. Instead, he is pushing the lame proposal to raise the threshold for a trigger ballot for the reselection of MPs from 50% to 66% (at present an MP needs to win a simple majority of nominations from local party branches and affiliated trade unions and socialist societies in order to become the candidate once more). This would still disproportionally favour the sitting MP: rather than allowing for a full and democratic automatic selection process before every election, a sitting MP would still have to be challenged.
* He is also playing a disgraceful role in the witch-hunt. When Jackie Walker was suspended from Labour on trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism, he quickly removed her as vice-chair of Momentum. After Ken Livingstone’s suspension, he wrote on Twitter: “A period of silence from Ken Livingstone is overdue, especially on anti-Semitism, racism and Zionism. It’s time he left politics altogether.”
* He agreed that Momentum too would bar from membership all those expelled from the Labour Party for their alleged “support for other organisations” under rule 2.1.4.B. A rule that has been used exclusively by the right in order to throw out socialists. In a letter to Labour Against the Witchhunt’s Tony Greenstein, Lansman has come out in support of keeping the rule in Labour’s constitution.
* In the same letter, he also states his desire to keep the disgraced and much-hated compliance unit in place – and for it to remain an appointed body, rather than have all disciplinary matters dealt with by elected representatives, who would be subject to scrutiny by Labour Party members.
Applications for the position of general secretary are open until March 13. On March 14, the NEC officers will be putting a shortlist before a full meeting of the NEC, which will make its decision on March 20. According to the rules, party conference elects the general secretary “on the recommendation of the NEC”. But, because there is a currently a “vacancy”, the NEC has “the full power to fill the vacancy subject to the approval of party conference”.
Both scenarios lead to the same result, of course – conference has, to our knowledge, never rejected the candidate chosen by the NEC. However, many members are now demanding that the general secretary should be elected by the full membership, in an online ballot, in a method similar to the leadership election. According to The Guardian, those who favour this now include Momentum:
Sources at Momentum … said there was dissatisfaction that the role should be chosen behind closed doors by Labour’s national executive committee (NEC), which in practice would mean a deal struck between major trade unions for their preferred candidate.
Apparently, those “senior sources” said that they “may urge the leadership to change course on the appointments protocol to allow for an election of the general secretary” and that Lansman would be the perfect candidate, because “Jeremy’s style of politics is not that of backroom deals, but of open and transparent discussion, which is exactly what Jon would represent as a candidate”.
Oh sure, Jon Lansman just hates backroom deals! We wonder if he is really serious about challenging the power of the unions in the Labour Party – rather a big undertaking. Or perhaps he is suggesting a rule change on this matter because that might increase his chances.
A petition to elect the general secretary on www.change.org, which was only started a couple of days ago, already has well over a thousand signatures and is being circulated widely online. Rather ironically, it is actively supported by the initiator of an earlier petition (signed by 8,643 people), which called for McNicol to be sacked. But if the general secretary were indeed elected directly by the members, there would be no way s/he could be “sacked” by the leadership.
No, such a method is fraught with problems. Online Omov (one member, one vote) elections only appear democratic on the outside. For example, Labour members will soon be voting for nine Constituency Labour Party representatives on the new NEC. In fact, they only have one choice: to vote in favour of the nine Momentum candidates – or risk letting in a rightwinger We say the NEC should be elected by and accountable to annual conference.
Political posts responsible to the NEC should be elected by the NEC – by those in a position to know the candidate, their abilities, their political record. With such a method of election comes accountability … and recallability. Understandably, many members resent the fact that witch-hunter general McNicol was allowed to remain in post for so long. His departure is a reflection of the changing balance of power. Once the NEC had a clear pro-Corbyn majority, McNicol’s days were numbered. His departure has precious little to do with particular events in Sandwell CLP or the position of Ann Black, as Skwawkbox reveals in one ‘exclusive’ after another. It is down to basic arithmetic.
|↑1||The Times February 24|
|↑2||The Observer February 25|
|↑3||For which comrade Machover was swiftly expelled himself before being readmitted three weeks later.|
|↑4||Disappointingly, that also includes Free Speech on Israel: http://freespeechonisrael.org. uk/tony-greenstein-abusive-yes-acerbic-yes-not- antisemitic/#sthash.ngIOgkET.dpbs|
|↑5||www.communist-party.org.uk/britain/eu/2258- leave-eu-new-group-formed-to-fight-for-an-exit- left.html|
|↑6||The Guardian February 28 2018|