Tag Archives: John McDonnell

LRC and LLA: Recoiling from the challenge

Carla Roberts is puzzled by the decision of the Labour Representation Committee

The Labour Representation Committee has decided to withdraw from the Labour Left Alliance. As we understand it, this decision was reached at a meeting of its executive, but was far from unanimous. Graham Bash, for example, tells us he argued “strongly” against it.

In his article in last week’s Weekly Worker, he stated that “rebuilding the Labour left is a matter of extreme urgency”. Quite right. According to the LRC’s statement, however, launching the LLA in July 2019 – three and a half years after Jeremy Corbyn’s election – was “premature” and “a short cut”. We disagree. If anything, this launch has come very, very late – hopefully not too late.

Thanks to John McDonnell (who will remain president of the LRC despite his effective cooperation with the witch-hunters), there is now real pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to step down as Labour leader, should the party lose in the December 12 general election. Any candidate who wants to replace him will still require 10% of the votes of all MPs or MEPs. This remains a very difficult hurdle to clear for any leftwinger (not that there are that many). Sadly, in the hope of appeasing the right, Corbyn and his allies have refused to back measures that would help change the composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party – they instructed Len McCluskey to use his Unite block vote at the 2018 Labour conference to vote against the mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates (aka ‘open selection’).

There was, of course, the earlier Grassroots Momentum initiative, which was set up just after the Jon Lansman coup of January 10 2017. But it was underorganised and, crucially, allowed the witch-hunting Alliance for Workers’ Liberty to participate – no wonder it came to nothing. After all, AWL members had helped Lansman to boot Jackie Walker off the leadership of Momentum (just before they in turn were booted off). Important lessons have been learned from this disaster: the LLA founding statement crucially contains the principled positions that it “opposes attempts to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism” and that it supports “the democratic and national rights of the Palestinians” – both demands that the AWL social-imperialists would not support.

The rightwing campaign against Corbyn and his supporters has been raging for over three years, but there is still no viable organisation that can exercise any real pressure from the left, as the politically corrupt selection process of parliamentary candidates is clearly demonstrating. Since last week, we have heard about three more leftwingers who were removed from their local shortlist – just before the hustings meeting that was voting on the parliamentary candidate. In South West Norfolk, the selected Labour candidate, Matthew Collings, was suspended one day after his election. The ‘evidence’ presented is, as can be expected, laughable: it includes support for Chris Williamson and Labour Against the Witchhunt. However, decisions reached because of the party’s “need to exercise due diligence” cannot be challenged – an affront to democracy, clearly.

So, while this is very strange timing from the LRC (which released its statement one day after the general election was called), its decision does not come as a great surprise to those involved in the LLA. We understand that the LRC’s representatives on the LLA organising group (OG) have been somewhat reluctant to get involved in actually building the initiative, despite being one of the two principal organisations (along with LAW) that set up the LLA back in July.

LRC’s statement contains a good number of inaccuracies, while giving the impression that it was somehow in a minority within the LLA and therefore could not achieve all the many good things it wanted to. And it mainly blames Labour Against the Witchhunt. Readers should keep in mind, however, that LAW only has three representatives on the LLA OG (which had over 30 members). The LRC, on the other hand, had its three national reps, plus three more from local LRC groups that had affiliated. The three delegates from Red Labour are also close to the LRC. Clearly, they could have easily outvoted LAW’s representatives on any issue, had they so wished.

It seems to us that, in reality, the LLA has developed more quickly, more successfully and with a stronger forward ‘momentum’ than the comrades had envisaged or could keep up with. The LRC is a rather slow and inert organisation, with very few active members (just over 100 made it to the last AGM). It argues that the LLA should not move beyond the stage of a network and should, under no circumstances, elect any officers. The flaws of such an untransparent structure of ‘volunteers’ taking initiatives (or not) have, however, become increasingly obvious in recent weeks, as the pressure to elect officers has grown.

The LRC’s inertia has, of course, a political basis. The organisation used to act as entirely uncritical cheerleaders of the official Labour left. With the left now running the party leadership, the LRC has come under increasing pressure to criticise the many political retreats and the ever-expanding witch-hunt in the party. But it is clearly struggling with that role: it is used to defending Corbyn, McDonnell and co, rather than criticising them. The LRC looks to us like an organisation at an important political crossroads and it could dwindle into oblivion pretty quickly. That is not something we would celebrate.

What are their arguments?

  • The comrades write that for them it has been “crucial to win trade union support”. But when a couple of LLA members proposed a strategy that would, for a start, organise our supporters in the unions, they opposed it. No other effort to win unions to the LLA has been made by the LRC, we understand.
  • They write that the LRC argued for “the insertion into the LLA statement of the clause ‘supports and encourages struggles against austerity and all forms of oppression’. While this met no opposition, it has not been reflected in the political proposals of those LAW comrades involved in the LLA project, whose sole emphasis seems to be on internal party matters. We feel that this shuts down the wider potential and ambition originally envisaged.”

    Well, it is not called ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’ for nothing, and it should therefore not come as a surprise that LAW would propose initiatives around trigger ballots, the selection process and the Chris Williamson case. The LRC, on the other hand, with its focus on “wider issues”, did not make any proposals at all – apart from inserting the above phrase.

  • The comrades criticise the fact that there has not been “space in the LLA to raise issues that should be the bedrock of Labour left organising – for example, whether solidarity with workers taking industrial action, international campaigns, opposition to climate change or defence of public services”.

    Now this is where things are getting a bit bizarre. We understand that LRC reps did not make a single proposal on any of those issues on the OG. Which seems to us would be the perfect “space” to make them. Or they could have used the three LLA Facebook groups in existence. In reality, LRC comrades have consistently argued against the LLA taking any positions on anything. They opposed LAW’s suggestion to discuss LLA’s political aims and campaigning priorities at the forthcoming conference, because the groups affiliated to the LLA “already have their own campaigns”.

  • They also charge “leading LAW comrades” of promoting “the formation of local LLA groups, rather than the – on paper – agreed approach of persuading existing, established and active local left organisations – whether Momentum, Labour Left or whatever – to affiliate.”

    We really struggle to see how that is a bad thing. Where the left in the Labour Party is not yet organised and therefore unable to efficiently and effectively organise in the party, clearly the point of a national Labour left is to support exactly the formation of such new groups?

  • Rather weirdly, they then claim that LAW representatives demanded that, in order to affiliate, unions would have to have a “minimum of members” who were “individual, signed-up LLA supporters”.

    Labour Against the Witchhunt has published its draft constitution for the LLA and this is what was proposed on this issue: “All national trade unions can appoint up to three representatives once they have paid the affiliation fee of £500/annum.” At no point has there been any other proposal, based on numbers of affiliated LLA supporters in a particular union. This claim by the LRC is just nonsense – based presumably on a serious misunderstanding.

  • Last but not least, we are told that the “emphasis” of LAW comrades is “that small left groups should be encouraged to affiliate to LLA, while questioning the affiliation of broader, genuine Labour left groups like Red Labour and Grassroots Black Left.”

    Here the comrades are being rather economical with the truth. We understand that LAW comrades raised the question as to why Marxist groups active in the Labour Party – for example Socialist Appeal, Labour Party Marxists or Red Flag – should be barred from the LLA (as demanded by the LRC), while groups like Red Labour, which barely exists even as an online endeavour, should unquestioningly be allocated three representatives on the OG. This was raised, discussed and then put aside within two days. Clearly, this is an issue that can be resolved at the LLA conference in February.

We repeat: it is a shame that the LRC has decided to jump ship, especially at this crucial time in the civil war and the witch-hunt. Many LRC members have expressed disagreement with this decision online and it is good to see that the departure has – so far – not harmed the LLA. It might actually help it to move forward at a quicker pace and allow it to set its sights far higher. In which case the LRC will hopefully come back on board soon.

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?

Abolish all private schools? Not as radical a demand as it sounds

In the last few days much has been written in the mainstream media about a proposal before conference to “abolish independent schools”. It has also been widely reported that John McDonnell is fully behind it. However, things are not quite so simple.

The main motion on the subject – proposed initially by three CLPs: Battersea, Bolton and Southport – is headed “Labour Against Private Schools”, which is also the name of a campaigning group.

The motion points to the gross inequality and privilege that emanates from institutions such as Eton and Harrow – for example, while only around 7% of children attend private schools, something like 50% of judges, government ministers and university vice-chancellors – not to mention “news columnists” – were educated outside the state sector. The motion adds that “The ongoing existence of private schools is incompatible with Labour’s pledge to promote social justice” and calls on the party’s general election manifesto to include “a commitment to integrate all private schools into the state sector”.

However, when it comes to the concrete measures needed to bring about such ‘integration’, these are limited to the “withdrawal of charitable status and all other public subsidies and tax privileges”. In fact, according to the motion, Labour should “ensure universities admit the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population”. In other words, private schools would not be abolished.

Neither does John McDonnell call for abolition. In his comment in favour of the motion, he points out how “our society is grotesquely unequal”, some of which derives from “inequalities in education”. He correctly states that in public schools “large amounts of money are spent on a privileged few”, but he does not go beyond what is stated in the motion.

In fact there is also another motion, proposed by Isle of Wight, which calls on Labour to “place all private schools into local authority ownership and control”, but this is part of a much broader set of policies dealing with education as a whole – including, for instance, the abolition of “academies, academy trusts and free schools” – so it does not go into detail on what exactly would happen to private schools once they were under “local authority ownership and control”. Would they still charge fees, for example?

Despite this lack of clarity, it is clear that these motions should be supported. But what should Marxists say about the abolition of all schools outside the state sector? What about, say, those run by cooperatives? Those that are based on a working class, socialist vision of society – as opposed to the pro-capitalist, nationalistic ideology that underlies official state education?

In our view such schools would be a step forward and should be fully supported. There is nothing inherently progressive in the state as such – under capitalism it serves the interests of the elite first and foremost.

LRC conference: Witch-hunt defied and condemned

David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists reports on another conference dominated by top table speakers and characterised by choked debates

On February 9 comrades gathered in London for he annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee – 127 attended, according to the organisers.

Unfortunately, however, the time allocated to actual debate was totally inadequate – there were far too many platform speakers, who were all given much more time than ordinary LRC members. This only served to reinforce the notion shared by many on the LRC left – what today is the purpose of this organisation and where is it going?

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, referred in his opening remarks from the chair to the “huge political crisis” we are facing over Brexit and said that the election of Jeremy Corbyn had meant that there is now a greater need for the left to organise. He then welcomed the main speaker – shadow chancellor John McDonnell, one of the LRC’s founders in 2004.

McDonnell referred to the original objectives of the LRC “when we set it up” – in other words, “how to achieve socialism in this country”. During the leadership of Tony Blair many were asking whether Labour was “still a vehicle” – its membership was at most 150,000 and the trade unions were “almost an embarrassment”. There was a “real feeling” about whether the Labour Party could be “retrieved”, according to McDonnell. But he then went on to say that it was always a question of how to “reconstruct” Labour – “leaving was never on the agenda” and it had to be “refounded from within”.

This was, of course, rather disingenuous. The name of the new organisation says it all – the original Labour Representation Committee was set up in 1900 with the specific aim of forming a new working class party, and establishing a Labour Party mark two was considered to be at the very least a strong possibility while Blair was firmly at the helm.

However, the “foundations” for retrieving the Labour Party had, according to McDonnell, been “laid by the LRC” since its creation 15 years ago. The discussions that took place then within the LRC will hopefully soon be “represented by [reflected in?] a Labour government” and “people here should be proud of that achievement”, he said.

McDonnell went on to talk about what the presumably “refounded” Labour Party would do if it was elected. It would “democratise our economy” and reinstate trade union and employment rights by “scrapping the anti-union laws introduced by the last Tory government”. (By contrast the main document presented by the LRC executive – a statement headed ‘Preparing our movement for the struggles ahead’ – declared that Labour should be “committed to scrapping the anti-union laws – not just the most recent ones, but Thatcher’s too”. Similarly a successful FBU motion demanded the repeal of “all anti-union laws introduced by Thatcher and Major, as well as Cameron”.)

McDonnell went on to talk about the unions’ role in the running of capitalism – in the newly “renationalised sectors” they would be represented on the board. Meanwhile, Labour would “introduce a fair taxation system to fund the public service we need” and “make sure we have a fair and decent society” – not to mention an “ethical foreign policy”: never again would British troops be involved in overseas occupations, heclaimed. But for him these proposals for a fairer capitalism could be summarised by the “possibility of a Labour government implementing a socialist programme”.

And, the more McDonnell, like others before him, abandons any notion of working class state power, the more he resorts to vague terms – his favourite being ‘solidarity’. For instance, we need to “base our movement on class solidarity”, he said, building upon those “relations of solidarity right across Europe” – apparently that was what Labour’s policy on Brexit was all about.

web-Rebecca-Gordon-BInterestingly, questions from the floor came from a number of comrades who had been targeted, or connected to those targeted, by the Labour bureaucracy in the ongoing ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt (in relation to which McDonnell claimed the leadership had “implemented reforms”). The vice-chair of South Thanet Constituency Labour Party complained bitterly about the national executive “blocking our candidate”, Rebecca Gordon- Nesbitt. He urged the leadership to “do something urgently” – otherwise the “whole project will collapse”.

Also posing a question was Deborah Hobson, this time about Marc Wadsworth, who was expelled for daring to publicly criticise Ruth Smeeth MP (although he did not know she is Jewish, she accused him of anti-Semitism!). Comrade Hobson asked whether the Chakrabarti recommendations about due process for Labour’s disciplinary procedure would be implemented any time soon.

After some pointed heckling from the front rows, comrade Wrack agreed to call Jackie Walker to speak – she confirmed that her own disciplinary hearing over allegations of anti- Semitism would finally take place on March 26 (she has been suspended for well over two years). In the meantime, she said, people have been “calling me out as an anti-Semite” (which she vigorously denies, of course, being Jewish herself), and publicly insisting she should be expelled. Such people have been “saying outrageous things without censure”.

In response to these points, McDonnell stated vaguely that he wanted to “express my support” to the comrades of South Thanet and promised, in relation to the disciplinary process, to check with the NEC to “see how far they’ve got” in implementing Chakrabarti. As for comrade Walker, he would raise the question of abuse “with the general secretary and with Jeremy”, but he had great confidence in the “new system” that Jennie Formby was “putting in”. That was as far as his “solidarity” with these comrades went.

In fact it was the Tories he was referring to when he declared: “No matter what they throw at us, if we stand together in solidarity we can fight back.” He concluded that we will soon have “a socialist in No10” (and hopefully No11, he added). It just shows “how far we’ve come” – and “this organisation has made a major contribution”.

This exaggeration of the LRC’s role seemed to go down well with a number of comrades and unfortunately McDonnell’s statements received a warm response from some quarters.


Eventually we got down to the motions and amendments that had been tabled. Introducing the LRC executive’s ‘Preparing our movement for the struggles ahead’ was political secretary Mick Brooks, who stated that if Corbyn was elected the “capitalist establishment” would do all it could to “neuter” him. But there was no mention, either by him or in the statement, of actual measures that might be undertaken: for instance, the possibility of Corbyn being sidelined altogether and someone else being summoned by the queen to head a national government.

While the statement contained a basically correct assessment of the witch-hunt and the weaponisation of anti-Semitism, the same cannot be said for Labour’s For the many, not the few election manifesto. While this was “far from being a socialist programme”, read the statement, it nevertheless “represented a huge step forward” and “addressed many of the issues facing us”. On Brexit, while the LRC “supports the free movement of people” and is “opposed to immigration controls”, it also “stands four-square behind our leadership’s proven strategy in fighting against ‘no deal’ and for a general election”.

In his speech comrade Brooks called For the many an “eye-opener to millions”. He also noted that unnamed people, instead of “going on the offensive” against the witch-hunt, were apologising for unfounded allegations of anti-Semitism. While Jennie Formby was a “great improvement” over former general secretary Iain McNicol, we still “have to be critical” of the Labour establishment.

Because the McDonnell session had overrun by almost half an hour, the movers of amendments were now restricted to three minutes. First up was Tony Greenstein, introducing the attempt by Labour Against the Witchhunt to insert a little more precision and backbone into the section of the statement dealing with the rightwing assault against anti-Zionists and leftwingers within Labour. Comrade Greenstein – himself expelled basically for ‘being rude’ online, thus “bringing the party into disrepute” (he had originally been accused of anti-Semitism, of course) – stressed that it was a big mistake not to “stand up against the weaponisation of anti-Semitism”. He thought that the LRC executive statement on this was “totally inadequate”, even though he agreed with Labour Briefing editor Graham Bash’s passionate speech about the “fake allegations used to divide the left”.

But the amendment was opposed by the LRC leadership. Jon Rogers, a prominent Unison activist said he was “uncomfortable” about LAW’s reference to “low-level anti- Semitism” within Labour, interpreting this as somehow playing down our opposition to anti-Semitism when it actually occurs. Where LAW advocates education and the role of joint struggle, perhaps comrade Rogers is an advocate of ‘zero tolerance’ and therefore rules that allow the expulsion of members for what amounts to trivial reasons.

However, the LRC executive did support a separate LAW motion which totally opposed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism. Moving the motion, Tina Werkmann pointed out that the IHRA definition was “an attempt to redefine anti-Semitism”, so that it now means “criticism of Israel”. Now that it has been adopted by Labour’s NEC, it is “a question of time” before it is used to discipline comrades making legitimate criticism of the Israeli state, she said. For his part, another LAW comrade, Stan Keable,warnedthatitmightevenfind reflection in legislation – that is why we must “reject” the IHRA “in its entirety”.

This was largely in tune with the views of those present, including most of the executive, and the motion was overwhelmingly carried, although the LAW amendment was defeated on a show of hands.


The afternoon session began with comrade Wrack vacating the chair in favour of Deborah Hobson. Before that, the FBU general secretary reminded conference that his union had been the only one to support the principle of open selection for parliamentary candidates at the 2018 Labour conference (as a result of union block votes that principle – overwhelmingly favoured by CLP delegates – was defeated). He thought that the mobilisation of “a huge mass movement” would be required in support of a Corbyn government – but, while this was “an opportunity of a lifetime”, we “must be better organised”.

The conference then went on to ‘discuss’ several other motions – I use the word ‘discuss’ advisedly, because the number of speakers was severely curtailed to one in favour and one against – after which the mover was granted a few seconds to reply!

This was more than a pity, because there was a lot to debate. For example, there was a controversial motion on transgender rights – a topic that arouses passion both from those who believe that any individual must be able to declare their own gender and those who state that it should not be a matter of self-identification. The pro-trans motion was carried – with, of course, very little light shed on the differences.

Then there was the motion from Labour Party Marxists. This called for a “socialist clause four” – in other words, the replacement of the 1995 Blairite statement of aims not by the original 1918 version, but one that proposed actual, genuine socialism.

Moving the motion, John Bridge stated that while it had been right to defend the old clause four against the Blairites, now that Corbyn is Labour leader it is wrong to defend the Fabianism of Sidney Webb. We can be far bolder. The old clause four did not envisage abolishing wage labour, nor did it envisage a classless society. The old clause four was, in fact, nationalist and managerial. Rather than idealising “capitalism without capitalists”, Labour needs a “radical, anti-capitalistclause four”.

However, some comrades wanted the pre-Blair version reinstated, while, for his part, Pete Firmin, a leading member of the LRC, seemed to imply that the whole debate was a waste of time – rather we need a commitment on actual policies, he contended.

In the 10 seconds comrade Bridge was granted to reply to this Bernsteinism (the movement is everything, the aim is nothing), he pointed out that, rather obviously, we need both a full range of policies and a clear statement of objectives and final aims. Though it won a third of the votes, the motion was defeated.

The reason why discussion on all these motions was so severely restricted was that, apart from the time accorded to platform speakers, the executive wanted the conference to fully consider its own proposal for the unity of the left within the party. It was noticeable that the executive’s ‘Appeal to the Labour left’ (rather like John McDonnell) did not set out the specific aim of defeating and finally ridding the party of the pro- capitalist right. Rather it was a case of creating a “movement supportive of, but independent of, the leadership”. The left needs to be “a vibrant, organised and strategic partner to that leadership”.

In this session Rebecca Gordon- Nesbitt herself spoke from the floor. She talked of how fake accusations of anti-Semitism, are being used to “get rid of a democratically selected candidate”. She was in favour of a specifically “socialist Parliamentary Labour Party”.

It was clear that Momentum now enjoys very little support amongst LRC partisans – its total lack of democracy has ensured that most militants have written it off as a vehicle for Labour’s socialist left, while Jon Lansman’s actual support for false accusations of anti-Semitism has left him discredited and widely despised. Replying to the debate, Ben Sellers, of Red Labour, stated that it was not a question of “setting up a rival group”, but rather of creating an organisation that, unlike Momentum, could actually unite the Labour left effectively.

However, for what purpose such unity was required (apart from giving support to the leadership) was not outlined. As I have pointed out, nowhere does the LRC declare that the pro-capitalist right has no place within the party, nor does it wish to specify exactly what it means by socialism and the type of organisation needed to fight for it.

So what is the purpose of the LRC? Despite McDonnell’s denials, it was originally formed at the very least to consider the possibility of creating a replacement Labour Party. But, now that this has been completely abandoned, surely those who say they are Marxists need to organise themselves as Marxists. Or, like McDonnell, have they now been won over completely to placing hopes in a nicer, fairer capitalism?


Anti-Semitism: Still weapon of choice

The PLP as presently constituted will never be appeased, writes Carla Roberts

The Parliamentary Labour Party is doing everything it can to undermine Jeremy Corbyn – and ‘anti-Semitism’ is still their weapon of choice, as was shown vividly at this week’s meeting of the PLP. This was dominated by the news that of the hundreds of Labour Party members suspended and investigated over anti- Semitism, 20 had been “allowed to remain in or return to the party” – in the last four months!

That includes, for example, a member in Sheffield whose only ‘crime’ consisted in sharing a montage of the Jobcentre sign with the words Arbeit macht frei imposed on it. You see, because the Nazis used the slogan over some of their concentration camps it follows ipso facto that the comrade must be anti- Semitic. This is so absurd, it beggars belief. Clearly, the comrade was accusing the government of acting like Nazis in their treatment of the unemployed and disabled. It is a disgrace that she had to wait months to be cleared.

Not only that: her name (and those of others cleared) was then leaked to the outraged Daily Telegraph, adding more distress to the comrade and her reputation – and giving the right more ammunition. As disciplinary cases are supposed to be treated confidentially, it seems that somebody on the NEC had leaked the info. Unfortunately, there are toomanysuspectstostartguessing-the list includes, unfortunately, Momentum owner Jon Lansman and his close allies, who have thrown themselves into the campaign to equate anti- Zionism with anti-Semitism. Perhaps his low point – which cost him the last bit of respect he had commanded on the Labour left – came when he implied his former comrade, Pete Willsman, was anti-Semitic, removing him from Momentum’s recommended list of NEC candidates (he was re-elected anyway).

Whoever leaked this info, it was a welcome weapon for the PLP, which is, of course, still totally dominated by the right. A motion was “unanimously supported” (Or, as the Skawkbox writes, it was not actually voted upon, but left unopposed, as, ridiculously, frontbenchers are apparently not allowed to speak in PLP meetings) that criticises the party leadership and particularly general secretary Jennie Formby and asks them “to adequately tackle cases of anti-Semitism, as failure to do so seriously risks anti-Semitism in the party appearing normalised and the party seeming to be institutionally anti-Semitic” (The Guardian February 5).

This is utter nonsense, of course: the party has become so over-sensitised to the issue that knee-jerk investigations are being launched left, right and centre against anybody criticising Israel or the Zionist lobby (often, evidence for these investigations has been collected by software that automatically scans Facebook posts to find particular words like ‘Rothschild’ or ‘Zionist’). By trying to appease his critics – rather than stand up to them – Jeremy Corbyn has allowed things to get this far. Every time he lets the right take a step forward, he is being pushed two steps back.

Formby has been given seven days – until February 11 – to tell the PLP “how many complaints of anti- Semitism levelled against members remained unresolved”. Actually, we would love to see that figure too: judging by the number of vexatious complaints we have seen, it will be absurdly high – probably in the thousands.

Formby’s written answer to the PLP is as bland and conciliatory as could be expected. She promises, for instance, that she is “committed to implementing a world-class education programme on anti- Semitism”, and that “it’s essential that this is done with the support ofJewish organisations, to ensure our education programme commands their confidence and support.” We somehow doubt that anti-Zionist Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Labour or the Jewish Socialists Group are among those she is thinking of.

More interesting, however, was her speech to the PLP (which has naturally been leaked to the media too): she quite rightly stated that she will not be able to comply with the request for reasons of confidentiality and, after all, she only answers to the NEC anyway, not the PLP. That must have gone down like a lead balloon. She then went on to say that it is “impossible to eradicate anti- Semitism and it would be dishonest to claim to be able to do so” (Daily Telegraph, February 5).

That is a rare admission of the political reality. As long as prejudice and racism exist in society, they will find reflection in a tiny minority of Labour’s mass membership. That kind of prejudice is best fought with education through open and transparent debate (not by ‘rehabilitation’ lessons organised by the Zionists in the Jewish Labour Movement or the Board of Deputies).

Needless to say, the right is not really concerned about anti- Semitism, Islamophobia or any other kind of racism or prejudice in society. They have joined forces with the Zionist lobby simply because it suits their agenda: getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn at all costs. They have discovered that charges of anti- Semitism stick best – because Corbyn has allowed them to stick. And so the most ardent rightwingers have reinvented themselves as courageous fighters against anti-Semitism (a bit like the three eccentric Britain First supporters outside Labour Against the Witchhunt’s conference, who accused attendees of being ‘Nazis’). The Labour leadership bears a huge responsibility for this topsy-turvy, Orwellian situation.

This includes John McDonnell, who was asked during a radio interview this week why the “team around Jeremy Corbyn” was not standing up to the “smear campaign that paints Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite and which needs to be confronted head on”. His answer was as disappointing as we have come to expect of him in recent years: there’s “no smear campaign I’ve seen the evidence of”, he said. “We’ve got to root it out: having one anti-Semite in the Labour Party is not good enough.”

John, you just do not get it. The day the right stops going on about the ‘anti-Semites’ in the party is the day when you and Corbyn have finally been defeated. Time to stand up to them.

And then they came for the LRC…

John McDonnell has a political history, writes Carla Roberts. But, unfortunately, not much in the way of a backbone

The Sunday Telegraph has a scoop: It has “emerged”, the paper writes, that shadow chancellorJohn McDonnell is the president of theLabour Representation Committee.1)Sunday Telegraph June 3 2018 And The Jewish Chronicle is so impressed that it copied the article almost word for word.

Having made such a major discovery, the Torygraph thinks that McDonnell’s position is simply untenable. It quotes usual suspect John Mann MP, who calls on McDonnell to resign from the LRC (we will get to Mann later).

Why? Because, on the one hand, McDonnell said he would follow Jeremy Corbyn in rooting out anti-Semitism from the Labour Party. After all, has he not just promised former Labour councillor and campaigns officer of the rightwing Jewish Labour Movement, Adam Langleben (who inexplicably lost his seat in Barnet after ranting and raving for months against the terrible level of anti-Semitism in the party), that he would “call out hard-left news websites if they promote conspiratorial and anti-Semitic stories”? (As an aside, Jewish Voice for Labour, on the other hand, has been trying unsuccessfully for almost a year now to secure a meeting with either McDonnell or Corbyn.)

But McDonnell cannot fool the eagled-eyed investigative journalists of the Telegraph so easily, who diligently managed to dig out McDonnell’s association with the LRC (which only goes back to the refounding of the organisation in, oh, 2004 – a mere 14 years). The problem, as far as the Telegraph is concerned, is that the LRC dares to come out in defence of Labour Party members who have been unjustly suspended and expelled over the last two years: to the LRC’s credit, there are numerous articles and statements on its website defending Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and Stan Keable.

In the words of the Telegraph, the LRC is “campaigning for Labour figures accused of anti-Semitism”. It quotes an unnamed Labour MP: “Jeremy Corbyn says one thing on anti-Semitism, but his cheerleaders say quite another. This isn’t a good look for Jeremy or John McDonnell, as it makes what they’re saying on anti-Semitism look quite insincere.”

Needless to say, our fearless investigators fail to mention the fact that none of those “accused of anti-Semitism” and defended by the LRC have actually been subject to discipline for that offence. Had Ken Livingstone not resigned, he would undoubtedly have been expelled under the charge of “bringing the party into disrepute”. The same catch-all phrase has been used to get rid of Marc Wadsworth and Tony Greenstein. Stan Keable, secretary of Labour Against the Witchhunt, has been expelled from the party for his association with Labour Party Marxists – and sacked from his job for – you guessed it – “bringing the council into disrepute”. Jackie Walker, when her case is finally heard, will in all likelihood also be charged under the same clause.

Of course, it is true that all those comrades have been accused of anti-Semitism – by the right in the party, the pro-Israel lobby and the mainstream media. Falsely accused, that is. But never charged with it. Because the charge would never hold up – not even in front of Labour’s highly politicised kangaroo court, the national constitutional committee, which is still dominated by the right and chaired by Maggie Cosin, “a leading force in Labour First”,  according to investigative journalist Asa Winstanley of the award-winning Electronic Intifada.

None of the comrades have said anything even remotely anti-Semitic. Marc Wadsworth criticised Ruth Smeeth MP, who happens to be Jewish. Stan Keable and Ken Livingstone pointed out the historically verifiable fact that the early Nazi government and the Zionist Federation of Germany signed the infamous Ha’avara transfer agreement in 1933. Even Tony Greenstein, who has used the word ‘Zio’ – which Jeremy Corbyn and Jon Lansman now want to ban as representing an expression of the rather mythical “new anti-Semitism” – was booted out not for anti-Semitism, but basically for being rude.

As if it were out to highlight the deeply irrational nature of the ongoing witch-hunt, the Telegraph in its article quotes at length John Mann MP. He pretends to be simply outraged by this particular paragraph in the LRC’s statement on Ken Livingstone:

When we consider political pygmies like John Mann and Wes Streeting accusing Ken of anti-Semitism, it is worth asking oneself, ‘What have these people ever done in their lives to advance the cause of Labour’? Livingstone has done quite a lot.

Mann complains not about the correct observation that rightwingers like himself seem chiefly interested in damaging the Corbyn-led Labour Party rather than building it. Instead, he now considers “filing a formal complaint” against the LRC over its “appalling racist language”. You see he is apparently also the “chairman of the parliamentary group on the Great Lakes of Africa”. In this very important role, he has managed to meet real pygmies and knows what they go through. Anybody using “this racist insult should hang their heads in shame, and be expelled from the Labour Party. I am sure John McDonnell will want to resign immediately”.

I must confess, I did laugh out loud when I first read this. This is such a monumentally stupid charge, it almost beggars belief the Telegraph would print such nonsense. However, the LRC steering committee has now changed the phrase “political pygmies” to “self-publicists”.  It has done this without any explanation, as far as I know – a missed opportunity in our view to criticise the outrageous hypocrisy of John Mann, who, as everybody knows, could not give a hoot about really fighting racism.

Clearly, this is part and parcel of painting Jeremy Corbyn and his allies as a bunch of cranks and anti-Semites that can never be trusted to reliably run capitalism. In this case, they are trying the old trick of guilt by association.

Grow a backbone

In other words, this latest attack by the Telegraph was a splendid opportunity for John McDonnell to come out and defend his party against the lazy and politically motivated charge of anti-Semitism. A chance to proudly stand up for his comrades in the LRC. A chance to speak out against the ever-increasing witch-hunt in the party and wider society. And perhaps even a chance to grow a backbone.

But, of course, we knew he would do no such thing. His response has been as disappointing as is now expected of him and the rest of the  Labour leadership (actually, it could be worse: he might still resign his long-held post in the LRC, but we doubt he will). His spokesman half-heartedly tried to dismiss the story, stating that McDonnell was “just an honorary president of the LRC, and played no role in the content or decision-making process of the organisation”.

Well, he actually helped set up the LRC. And he used to be chair, that is until Jeremy Corbyn made him shadow chancellor in 2015, when he was replaced by Matt Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union.

But unfortunately, rather than stand with their LRC comrades in openly opposing the witch-hunt against the Labour left, McDonnell and the Labour leadership continue to give credence to the lie that the party has a huge problem with anti-Semitism. Yes, there are a few crackpot anti-Semites in the party. Just as there are sexists, racists and there may also be a few paedophiles. Statistically speaking, it would be virtually impossible for a party of almost 600,000 not to have members whose views are unacceptable. Such a huge membership simply cannot but reflect some of the prejudices that exist in today’s society.

That is why Jeremy Corbyn’s promise of enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy towards anti-Semitism is so wrong-headed.   Firstly, taken to its logical conclusion it means a system of intimidation and thought control. Secondly, it is just politically wrong. The way to fight backward ideas is not to throw out anybody who makes a stupid, racist, sexist or nationalistic comment. But by education, by open debate and thorough discussion. The opposite of what is happening in the party today, in other words. Many comrades are now scared of discussing anything contentious, out of fear of coming onto the radar of the witch-finders and having their reputation and livelihood ruined in the process.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn has to take a fair share of the blame for this McCarthyite atmosphere. After all, it is only the continued policy of trying to appease the right and the pro-Israel lobby emanating from the Labour leader’s office that has given the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ narrative the traction it now has. Once the media found that Corbyn was willing to give ground, it kept piling on the pressure with one ridiculous accusation after the other.

For over two years, the Labour leadership has been sitting on the report into anti-Semitism produced by Shami Chakrabarti. Despite the despicable role the lawyer has played in forcing Ken Livingstone out of the Labour Party, her recommendations, at least when it comes to due process and natural justice, would have led to the exoneration of pretty much all those recently expelled. The cases of Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker come to mind.

But Corbyn seems to have been advised that it is best to get rid of those ‘problematic’ cases first, before he green-lights the long overdue reform of Labour’s disciplinary process. This is both cowardly and foolish. The right will not give up, but will continue to throw everything they have at him.

For the right and the pro-Israel lobby, the treatment meted out to Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein, Stan Keable and all the other victims of the witch-hunt is not primarily about those individuals. They will fight tooth and nail to stop the transformation of the Labour Party into a democratic, anti-imperialist, working class party that will resist the drive for yet another devastating war in the Middle East.

For us on the left, these victimised comrades need to be publicly and vigorously defended with every available weapon at our disposal. We will defend them alongside comrades from the LRC, Labour Against the Witchhunt, Jewish Voice for Labour and all other groups that fight against unjust suspensions and expulsions from the Labour Party.

But which side are John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn on?


1 Sunday Telegraph June 3 2018

Labour Representation Committee: Reduced to a think tank?

An existential crisis continues to haunt the dwindling forces of the Labour Representation Committee, reports Stan Keable

Around 120 Labour Representation Committee members gathered in London’s Conway Hall on February 10 for yet another angst-ridden ‘special’ general meeting (SGM), in which a bewildered leadership shared with its rank and file its own failure – like most of the left – to draw into membership or engage with the ‘radicalised’ mass intake of Corbyn supporters into the Labour Party.

The exception to this failure is, of course, Momentum. The LRC executive’s statement jealously admits that Momentum “has successfully organised many of their number” into 150 local groups, which have “formidable electoral achievements under their belt” and are “feared by the Tory enemy”. By contrast, the statement repeats the LRC’s own longstanding wish to “rebuild” its “network of local groups”. Before this meeting it had called on “experts on particular subjects” to develop an imagined “comprehensive and impressive bank of educational material” on the “new LRC website” – the “formation of local LRCs may hopefully follow as a result”.

This pious wish, however, bears no relation to the reality. As political secretary Mick Brooks accurately declared, “The LRC has stagnated” in this “most favourable situation for socialists”: the Labour leadership is “probably the most leftwing ever”, the Tories are in disarray and the 2008 economic crisis showed that “capitalism has failed”.

Founded in 2004 in the dark days of New Labour – when clause four ‘socialism’ had been destroyed and Blairism seemed permanently victorious – the LRC was based on the belief that Labour had to be rebuilt from scratch, just as the original LRC had created the party in 1900. Hence the organisation’s cumbersome, unwieldy structure, designed as a replica of the party: the rights of individual members were to be trumped by affiliated trade unions and socialist groups, and – ironically, keeping up with New Labour – bureaucratic ‘equality’ rules were to guarantee the election at all levels of women, LGBT, BAME and disability representatives, instead of assessing candidates on the basis of their politics. But news of the death of Labour was exaggerated, and as a result the LRC has always been plagued by uncertainty of purpose.

Now, with John and Jeremy heading the party – backed by Momentum’s mass membership and those 150 local groups – the project of refounding old Labour is superfluous. So what is the point of the LRC? Back in February 2016, at a previous SGM in the early days of Momentum, the NEC statement opted for “maintaining the existence of our own organisation – for the time being”, but foresaw the possibility that it may soon have “outlived its usefulness”. And John McDonnell mused that “maybe in the future” there will be “just one organisation” (Weekly Worker February 25 2016).


However, Jon Lansman’s January 10 2017 bureaucratic coup put paid to that happy prospect, and at this SGM Momentum’s shortcomings became the raison d’être of the LRC. “We are not a fan club for the Corbynite movement,” claimed comrade Brooks. “Momentum does not have conferences, elections, policies. It has a democratic deficit.” And chairperson Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, stated: “The key role of the LRC is to ensure discussion and debate takes place.” As the NEC statement declared,

The LRC is pluralist internally. We can develop independent-minded supporters of the Corbynist movement, which neither Momentum nor the [Campaign for Labour Party Democracy] are designed to do …. We regard democratic discussion and debate within our ranks as the essential oxygen of our organisation.

Then why, we must ask, does it convene ‘special’ general meetings, in which amendments to the rambling NEC statement are not allowed? Take it or leave it. And why were Labour Party Marxists and a few other political groups quietly ‘disaffiliated’ by the leadership in 2016, if not to curtail discussion in order to avoid embarrassing criticisms of Corbyn and McDonnell? This is more or less confessed in the NEC statement, where it shamefacedly attempts to set out the limits of legitimate discussion: “Debate within the LRC is not concerned to score points or make sectarian contributions against others.” So no polemics. “As long as we see ourselves contributing in a positive light to a movement going forward rather than carping at its inadequacies we can’t go too far wrong.” So no real criticism.

Class politics was emphasised by NEC member Maria Exall of the Communication Workers Union:

Working class empowerment should not be simply put in a list alongside the empowerment of women, people of colour, LGBT people, etc – we prioritise working class women, working class coloureds, working class gays and lesbians. Working class representation is what we are about.

And she spoke about the problem of the trade union bureaucracies and the “ongoing project” of “how to democratise the trade union link”.

The LRC leadership seems, at last, to be overcoming its reluctance to take sides in political struggles within trade unions. The NEC statement asserts:

Unlike CLPD and Momentum, we actively support workers’ struggles and do not confine our attentions to the Labour Party. We are in the process of organising a Unite LRC caucus … the first of trade union caucuses for all major unions. … We need to organise within the unions … for trade union democracy and socialist policies.

All very positive – but why not adopt Labour Party Marxists’ aim to win all trade unions to affiliate to Labour?

LRC president John McDonnell turned up in the afternoon, fresh from Labour’s ‘alternative models of ownership’ conference, which, he said, was shaping policies “almost like those of the LRC 10 years ago”. Since the 2017 general election, the Labour leadership has been “consolidating”. Unintentionally exposing the LRC’s overblown claim that the election had been fought on a fully socialist manifesto, he stated that For the many, not the few was “just for that election”. So now “we need to radicalise those policies” and “develop an implementation manual”, together with “draft legislation ready for office”.

And, worryingly, he claimed: “The Parliamentary Labour Party are signed up to this exercise.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, John. The LRC NEC statement takes the opposite view – not that anyone bothered to tell him. Perhaps that would be seen as negative or “carping”. Or maybe the NEC statement itself is “carping”? Here is what it says:

The Parliamentary Labour Party and the party bureaucracy remain firmly in the hands of the right wing. They seemed determined to rule or ruin. Corbyn’s role as leader is untouchable for the time being on account of his 2017 electoral success, [but] his position, and that of his supporters, remains precarious.

Spot on, NEC. But comrade McDonnell is already on a different page. “When the LRC was set up on Tony Benn’s advice, we were within a Labour Party we could not recognise. We are on the edge of government now.” So the LRC’s role now should be as a “think-tank, to develop ideas into policies” – and he saw Mike Phipps’s book For the many: preparing Labour for power as making a start.

‘Centre-left’ slate

A revealing episode at the SGM was an emergency motion moved by Marc Wadsworth of Grassroots Black Left. This criticised the way in which the “centre-left slate” had been selected for the forthcoming elections for Constituency Labour Party seats on Labour’s NEC:

This SGM notes with grave concern that the ‘centre-left’ slate for Labour’s next NEC elections appears to have been chosen unilaterally by Momentum without consulting its members and before the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance had completed its discussions on the slate. We consider that this could split the left and divide supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s progressive agenda for government. Irrespective of the outcome and content of the slate, we believe this is not a democratic and transparent process in line with Jeremy’s ‘new politics’. We call on the incoming LRC NEC to formulate a response to challenge the democratic deficit in deciding the slate.

In my years as an LRC member, I confess I have never discovered exactly how candidates for the slate were selected – it always seemed to be done behind closed doors, and I do not remember ever being asked to vote on the matter. The LRC leadership was supposedly consulted, though it had sometimes complained about not being invited or about their views being ignored, especially with respect to their longstanding wish to remove Ann Black. The CLPD, under Pete Willsman’s leadership, always defended Ann Black and always got its way.

But the left is evolving new forms, so the cosy, behind-the-scenes process has to be made transparent, and the members of the participating groups have to have their say. This time, not only was Momentum involved, but also Jewish Voice for Labour (and perhaps other groups). The newly formed Grassroots Black Left, however, was excluded.

What happened, we are told, was that all parties except the CLPD wanted a slate without Ann Black, because of her role in the anti-Corbyn shenanigans of general secretary Iain McNicol’s apparatchiks. They had excluded masses of new Labour members from voting in leadership elections, suspended left-led CLPs and waved through the automatic suspension and even expulsion of leftwing members on trumped-up charges.

However, the CLPD would only accept a slate which included Ann Black. But when the 80-strong CLPD executive (in reality, volunteers who are voted in as a block at the AGM) took the unheard of step of actually voting to resolve a disputed issue, CLPD secretary Pete Willsman and his co-thinkers lost the vote narrowly. Then, when Willsman and co refused to accept the vote, Jon Lansman jumped in to impose a Momentum slate – without consulting the Momentum membership, of course.

LRC secretary Michael Calderbank, in asking for Marc Wadsworth’s motion to be remitted, said:

The slate-making process is broken. It is opaque, carried on behind closed doors. Not only were Momentum members not adequately consulted: neither were LRC members, nor the LRC itself.

Graham Bash, supporting the motion – which, after all, only commits the LRC to fight for a democratic slate-making process, confirmed that the present system is broken, but insisted, quite rightly, that “fielding an alternative left slate would be a disaster”. The motion was carried overwhelmingly.