Tag Archives: LRC

One small step forward…

The Labour Left Alliance held its first national networking meeting in Brighton. Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists reports

Almost 100 people crammed into the first networking meeting of the Labour Left Alliance on September 25, which took place after the close of Labour Party conference in Brighton. Despite the fact that conference finished early, with Jeremy Corbyn’s speech having been moved one day forward because of the recalling of parliament, there clearly was a huge desire to find the way forward for this nascent organisation.

The meeting started with a useful discussion on this year’s conference, which can probably best be summed up as a ‘mixed bag’ from the left’s point of view: on the one hand, Jeremy Corbyn delivered a rousing speech, designed to please the much-neglected left in the party. We also saw conference voting for the free movement of people (though Dianne Abbot seems to have immediately backtracked on this and it remains to be seen if this policy makes it into the election programme), plus the disaffiliation of the rightwing Labour Students in the run up to conference, and we witnessed the first organised intervention of the LLA, calling for a protest against Tom Watson, who then cancelled his conference speech (more on that below).

On the other hand, there were also a number of setbacks and problems for the left:

LAW fringe conference 2019In the run-up to conference, a vicious campaign against the anti-witch-hunt left had led to the cancellation of various venues booked by Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Labour Representation Committee. However, in record time, comrades from the newly established Brighton Labour Left Alliance worked absolute miracles and booked the Rialto Theatre to allow some of the cancelled meetings to take place. They even worked out a programme of ‘Free Speech events’ that went beyond what was planned in the first place. Over three days, they managed to put on a range of exciting events, featuring Chris Williamson MP, Jackie Walker, Kerry Anne Mendoza and others. The venue of LAW’s main fringe event had to be kept secret, but, with almost 200 people attending, it was standing room only. The left showed that it will not be cowed or intimidated.

Conference itself saw a tightening of the disciplinary procedures, which gives the national executive committee the right to fast-track the expulsion of members accused of having been “inconsistent with the party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic”. No doubt, the NEC hopes that this will finally put an end the ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ in the Labour Party, but many people at our meeting feared that this is likely to lead to exactly the opposite: “We expect there to be many more vexatious complaints being made by the right against Corbyn supporters”, as LAW’s Tina Werkmann put it. Also, as the NEC last year adopted the highly disputed definition of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, we can expect to see a rise in allegations made against those who are critical of Israel, rather than guilty of any actual anti-Semitism.

Comrade Werkmann explained that only four members of the entire NEC had voted against the proposals: Darren Williams, Rachel Garnham, Yassamine Dar and Ann Henderson – all CLP delegates, who had been elected as part of the ‘left slate’ backed by the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance.

However, the four other CLGA members representing CLP members on the NEC voted in favour of fast-track expulsions: Momentum owner Jon Lansman (no surprise there) and his hangers-on, Navendu Mishra (now selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate in the safe seat of Stockport), Huda Elmi and Claudia Webbe. The latter’s vote is perhaps the most worrying, as she is the current chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy – whose secretary, Pete Willsman, of course, remains suspended from the party (and the NEC) on utterly bogus charges!

No doubt, Willsman’s case (and those of Chris Williamson MP, Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, etc) is exactly the reason why Lansman voted for these changes: there is no love lost between the Momentum owner, Willsman and many of the other veteran Corbyn supporters who have been witch-hunted and smeared, and Lansman is keen to get rid of Williamson and Willsman – he has openly said so, after all.

Conference also voted to dramatically reduce the input of Labour Party members into the Local Campaign Forums. LCFs bring together local party branches and are responsible for selecting Labour’s council candidates, while also giving members at least a chance to question their councillors (though they have not been accountable to members for a long time). They are now to be called ‘Local Government Forums’ and the composition will change quite dramatically. There will be three “sections”, made up of members of the local Labour group of councillors, CLPs and locally affiliated trade unions. While those sections might differ dramatically in size, they will have equal voting rights.

This rule change was snuck through conference as part of a number of proposals by the NEC that were supposed to ‘tidy up’ any outstanding issues from last year’s so-called ‘Party Democracy Review’. In reality, very few rules in the party have been democratised as part of this exercise – but many have been made worse. This no doubt reflects the pressure from the right and the unions on Labour HQ.

Many LCFs have been taken over by the left in the last two years, mirroring the slow but persistent growth and organisation of the left within Labour. In many areas, councillors have come under increasing pressure from the local members to reflect the changing nature of the party. Labour councillors have not only implemented the draconian cuts imposed by the Tory government, but have done so willingly and without even the hint of a fight-back. Many Labour-run councils have enthusiastically embraced outsourcing – ie, bringing cut-throat private companies in to take over services that the council used to provide. As these companies are based on the need to make a profit, they end up providing fewer and worse services, while charging more money for it. That is the basic logic of capitalism.

Worryingly, both these rule changes were submitted by the NEC and were only presented to delegates (as part of a 225-page report by the conference arrangements committee) a few hours before they were meant to be voting on them. There is clearly a huge democratic deficit when it comes to conference, and especially many first-time delegates at our LLA meeting reported feeling utterly confused and overwhelmed by this experience. We discussed setting up a working group that could help to better prepare delegates for next year’s conference and to help LLA members get to grips with the party’s rule book. We also discussed the need for the LLA to prepare some decent rule changes from the left that CLPs could adopt for next year’s conference.

What to do about the unions?

The meeting also discussed the huge and very visible divide at conference between the union block and the CLP delegates. The tightening of the disciplinary rules, for example, was – very encouragingly – rejected by a majority of CLP delegates. But an overwhelming majority of the unions voted in favour. Ditto when it came to the efforts to re-establish the old clause four, abolished by Tony Blair: a majority of delegates from CLPs voted yes – but the rule change was defeated by the affiliates.

There were in fact a number of occasions when, for example, a clear majority of people in the hall raised their hand in favour of a motion, but then the chair ruled that the vote had in fact been lost. This was down to the fact that the party’s affiliates’ vote counts for 50% of the entire vote at conference – even though there are far fewer delegates from the affiliated unions and socialist societies present. This led to huge dissatisfaction among particularly first-time CLP delegates, who felt that they were being disenfranchised.

Unsurprisingly, a number of speakers at our LLA networking meeting therefore raised how important it is to democratise the unions and their input into party conference as well as the Labour Party more generally. Some comrades in the room volunteered to produce a draft campaigning strategy on what is a huge issue.

After this discussion, Lee Rock (a representative of Sheffield Labour Left on the LLA organising committee) gave a very useful report about the current state of the Labour Left Alliance. Over 1,400 individuals have now signed up to the appeal (“when we launched the appeal, we were hoping to have 1,000 by conference”) and over 20 LLA local groups have affiliated, with another dozen or so being currently set up. In addition, LLA is supported by four national organisations: LAW, LRC, Red Labour and the Campaign for Chris Williamson. The LLA organising group has grown to over 30 members, which, according to comrade Rock, “can make it very difficult to come to decisions”. In his presentation, he raised the need for the organisation to have elected officers with clearly defined roles.

This was a theme that was reflected in the next session: how the LLA should move forward. Three discussion papers had been drafted and circulated to all LLA signatories in the run-up to our meeting and were dealt with at some length:

Kevin Bean of Merseyside Labour Left Alliance spoke on the proposal coming from LAW, Sheffield Labour Left and Merseyside LLA itself, which argues that the LLA should swiftly move to a “more accountable structure”, with a constitution and elected officers. “The tyranny of structurelessness is very dangerous,” he warned. “There are always some people in charge – but without proper structures, elections and accountability, we cannot hold them to account.”

Cathy Augustine outlined the proposal of the Labour Representation Committee that the LLA “should remain a network for the time being and without any elected officers”. She thought that “the current system of volunteers taking on various aspects of the work functions well”.

Tony Greenstein, a member of the newly established Brighton Labour Left Alliance, admitted that his proposal was more of a “stream of consciousness” born out of the desire to move forward quickly. He suggested that the LLA should swiftly establish a membership structure and start employing a part-time worker to move the organisation forward.

In the somewhat unfocused discussion, most people seem to support the need for better and more democratic structures. Glyn Secker of the affiliated Dulwich Labour Left (and secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour) argued that we should adopt a “clear and short constitution as soon as possible”. JVL had got off the ground within a few short months, but we had to act quickly to “counter the attacks by the right”. LAW’s chair, Jackie Walker, suggested that we need structures, but could, for example, do without a permanent chair and vice-chair: “Why don’t we simply pull a name from a hat?” That suggestion would only work, of course, if the person is up to speed with all the arguments, motions and amendments that have been submitted.

Tom Watson walkout

The most bizarre intervention was made by Andrew Berry of the LRC. In his three minutes, he solely argued against a comrade who had earlier congratulated the LLA on its hastily produced leaflet, ‘Shun Tom Watson’.

Shun Tom Watson 3This leaflet explained that a number of delegations were planning to walk out during Watson’s speech, while others were planning to sing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. (As an aside, Unite delegates were apparently intending to ‘sit on their hands’ – a rather lame tactic, which, as one sarky commentator at conference put it, “sounds like it could be a Monty Python sketch”.) A WhatsApp group with over 60 people from various delegations and left groups swiftly sprang up during conference and worked closely together to plan for the action. Almost 1,000 copies of a quickly produced LLA leaflet were handed out to delegates and visitors by LLA supporters – and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. Funnily enough, the only negative reaction came from members of (how to say this nicely?) longer established groups on the Labour left, who angrily told us, “unless we can win this, we should not organise such stupid stunts”. Self-defeating attitude or what?

In any case, when the CAC reorganised the conference agenda after the recall of parliament, it moved Tom Watson from Tuesday to Wednesday and offered him the opportunity to close conference. But we have been told by a journalist that at the Tuesday morning press conference Labour’s press officer, James Schneider, let slip that Watson was literally begging the CAC to take him off the agenda altogether, because he did not fancy much being left alone in the conference hall with a bunch of hostile lefties.

The Metro, which has a reach of 3.65 million readers, reported it this way: “Tom Watson has pulled the plug on his proposed speech at the Labour Party conference after reports that activists were planning to stage a huge walk-out.” Next to the article, they published the whole LLA leaflet. Watson later announced in the Jewish Chronicle: “I was going to attack Corbyn’s failure to address anti-Semitism in my Labour conference speech.”

TUESDAY 2019 PDFFrom our interaction with delegates and observers (LPM comrades handed out the LLA leaflet and our daily Red Pages bulletin with a similar front page), we believe that such a speech would have gone down at conference like the proverbial fart in a space suit. We have no doubt that many of those who were a bit wary about walking out might have changed their mind if they had witnessed such an attack from the platform. So it seems a no-brainer that we should celebrate such an early success for the LLA, even if the Metro might have simplified the issue a bit.

However, Andrew Berry thought we were “fooling ourselves if we think this has anything at all to do with the LLA or its leaflet” (which he opposed). With this negative attitude we will never build anything worthwhile.

Of course, this was only a networking meeting without any decision-making authority, but it was an important start to discuss the way forward for the LLA. We also heard proposals:

  • To hold a proper, decision-making LLA launch conference in early 2020 (this is now being planned).
  • To set up a working group that helps to prepare for next year’s conference, produces guidelines for (new) delegates and draws up a number of useful rule changes for CLPs. There was also a suggestion that the left has to make sure it books a ‘safe space’, where it can hold events without having the meetings cancelled or disrupted by pro-Zionists and rightwingers.
  • To approach all prospective Labour Party candidates with the simple question, ‘Will you support Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister?’ and then publish their answers to help comrades decide which candidates they should be campaigning for. Not a bad idea, in our view.

A pro-active approach is certainly better than the empty calls for ‘unity’ we have heard from the ‘moderates’ or the self-defeating view that, unless we “win”, we should not even try to fight

Sign up! Appeal to build a democratic Labour Left Alliance!

Important new development – please get involved!

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn put his name forward to stand as leader of the Labour Party there has been a massive campaign to undermine and remove him by the Tories, elements of the establishment and the right in our own party, with backing from the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media. Of the numerous unfounded smears thrown at Corbyn – being too scruffy, not bowing deep enough, being a Czech spy etc – those around antisemitism have been one of the most consistent avenues of attack.

They have not had everything their own way – Moshé Machover was readmitted to the party after a major campaign and their attempts to move against Lisa Forbes, now the MP for Peterborough, before and after her election have not succeeded. Momentum nationally is no longer on the side of the left in these battles and this has become increasingly clear – as has its own lack of democracy.

There is an urgent need to take steps to unite the genuine, democratic Labour left. We are committed to making this process open, democratic and transparent. We want to involve as many principled local, regional and national Labour left organisations and union bodies as we can.

We are not saying anyone should resign from or disaffiliate from Momentum to participate. But one of our concerns is that if we don’t act now people who joined to support Corbyn will leave in disillusion. The need to move at pace must be balanced with the need to build in a democratic and sustainable way. Two national organisations (the Labour Representation Committee and Labour Against the Witchhunt) and a number of local groups have already signed up to this initiative and we are having positive discussions with many more.

We encourage all comrades not already members of local Labour Left groups to get involved in one or help set one up. We will gladly help you to find a speaker, advertise your meeting or assist in any other way we can.

Labour belongs to us – let’s unite and fight for our party!

Click here to read and sign up to the appeal!

All-members-meetings or General Committees?

Labour First, the LRC and the CLPD all vigorously oppose all-members meetings, while Momentum is in favour. But it really is a question of tactics, argues Carla Roberts 

A rule change snuck through at last year’s Labour conference has led to some rather heated debates. It allows Constituency Labour Parties to switch easily from a delegate-based general committee (GC) to an all-members meeting format (AMM) – and vice versa. A number of CLPs have recently used the rule to abandon their GC and establish meetings where every single member can show up and vote. Many more CLPs are in line to follow soon, as it is immensely popular, seen by many as a measure to support the Corbyn leadership.

Critics warn, however, that the AMM structure “undermines the rules of trade unions, abandons the spirit of collectivism and breaks the principle of representative democracy that Labour has held dear for a century”. This could have been written by the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) or the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), which both oppose the rule. But it is actually part of an article by Matt Pound, organiser of Labour’s most rightwing faction, Labour First. Something that unites the extreme right of the Labour Party with traditional Labour left organisations certainly deserves a closer examination.

At the 2018 conference, few people paid much attention to this rule change. That was mainly down to the fact that delegates and visitors had little time to study in full detail the proposals contained within the Democracy Review: the party’s national executive committee, meeting a week before conference, had gutted the document of most of the constitutional changes originally proposed by Katy Clark (ie, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies). The first that delegates saw of the proposed rule change was on the morning of the first full day of conference: it was one of the 57 such proposals presented over 35 pages in the report of the conference arrangements committee (CAC). A travesty of the kind of democracy we need in the workers’ movement.

The focus at conference was very much on the proposals to reduce the nominations needed to stand in any leadership election and, crucially, the question of how parliamentary candidates are selected. While the vast majority of delegates were clearly in favour of the reintroduction of a system of mandatory reselection of all candidates (aka open selection), the NEC pushed for a far less democratic reform of the trigger ballot instead.

Now even this reform seems too radical for the NEC to actually implement. In January, Jennie Formby was commissioned to produce guidelines and a timetable, without which no such ballots can take place. But then Chuka Umunna and co split from the party and the leadership got cold feet. Despite the fact that the departure of Umunna et al can hardly be described as unfortunate, the mere possibility of further splits, perhaps led by Tom Watson, is regarded as a threat by Corbyn. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he still seems to believe that he can win over the right.

In our view, the sooner those saboteurs in the Parliamentary Labour Party are gone, the better. As long as they dominate the PLP, Corbyn has very little chance of doing anything. More importantly, we need to get rid of the right if we actually want to be able to make some of the radical and democratic changes that are so desperately needed to transform the party into a powerful weapon of the working class.

However, it seems that this is not the only one of its own rule changes that the NEC has had second thoughts about.

For decades, CLPs were organised exclusively on the basis of the general committee, which is still how about half of them operate today (we are guessing here, as there are no official figures on this): local Labour branches elect delegates according to their membership figures, while trade unions and socialist societies can send one delegate for each of the branches that is affiliated locally. Trade unions have made full use of this rule, affiliating several of their branches, even if they do not actually meet or do anything – it seems that sometimes such branches have been set up explicitly for this sole purpose.

For example, since Corbyn’s election, the GMB has made huge efforts to affiliate at least one of its branches to every single Labour branch in the country, while the Jewish Labour Movement is trying to affiliate to every CLP. The purpose is clear: to oppose the left at every opportunity and support those MPs and local politicians who support the affiliate’s particular political agenda. The GC structure gives affiliates a good deal of power.

This started to change under Tony Blair in the late 1990s. Proposals to introduce all-members meetings were presented as a way to “empower the members”, when in reality they were part of the efforts to curtail the power of the unions throughout the party. Understandably, the unions strongly opposed the proposals – in this they were supported by Tony Benn and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD).

In 2012, Ed Miliband introduced reforms that allowed a CLP to switch between CG and AMM at its annual general meeting, where the change to the local constitution was subject to a two-thirds majority vote. This was mainly down to the fact that under Tony Blair the Labour Party not only lost tens of thousands of members; but many of those who had retained their membership did not bother showing up at meetings any more. Most CLP meetings were poorly attended, boring and utterly uninviting (yes, they were even worse than today’s).

The survey carried out by Katy Clark at the beginning of the Democracy Review in 2018 showed that, out of the 208 CLPs who participated, 141 already had an all-members structure, while 67 were based on a general committee. She reported that, “In general, in most cities” CLPs tend to have a GC structure, while “in some areas where there are AMM structures” no local branches exist.1)http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Democracy-Review_.pdf, p33


According to the rule change passed at the 2018 conference then, any party unit (ie, either a branch or an affiliated organisation) can move a motion proposing to change the method of organisation – ie, to switch either to AMM or GC (the Labour Party rulebook actually allows for alternative methods beyond that, but that is very uncommon). A special CLP meeting then has to be called, in which all local members and delegates of affiliated organisations can participate. The decision to switch now requires only a simple majority of all those present. 2)Labour Party rule book 2019, clause IV, point 1.C (p40)

The vast majority of union delegates at conference 2018 – as always, under strict orders from their leaderships – voted in favour of this rule change, as part of the NEC’s tame reform package. However, it seems that it then started to slowly dawn on the unions that this was, in fact, potentially a rule change that could reform them out of any meaningful existence, when it comes to CLPs.

And it is true: in all-members meetings, the role and power of a delegate from a local union is dramatically reduced, compared to their role in a delegate-based GC. In fact, a union delegate has the same rights and voting power as any local party member, when previously a single union delegate could hold as much power as a whole Labour branch.

In November 2018, two months after conference, Unions Together (previously the Trade Union and Labour Partly Liaison Organisation – TULO), which represents the 12 affiliated unions, came out against the rule change in a short statement:

Trade unions support delegate-based structures for CLPs, because they allow TU branches that have affiliated to a CLP to be formally represented and take part in the CLP’s decision-making processes. All-member meetings do not allow affiliated TUs to be represented in CLP decision-making, and this weakens the relationship between the party and the unions at the local level.

We also believe that the unions are playing a part in delaying the implementation of the reformed trigger ballot, as this would further reduce their power in the party. For the first time, the trigger ballot has been split into two – one for all organisations affiliated to the CLP and one for all branches. That means Labour members can choose to challenge the sitting MP (if one third of all local branches vote in favour of doing so) and cannot be blocked by delegates from local affiliates. However, affiliated organisations are unlikely to initiate a trigger ballot. Their role in this process has tended to be mainly a negative one – ie, often it has been local union bureaucrats who have voted against challenging a sitting MP.

This does rather beg the question as to how, firstly, those two rule changes made it into Katy Clark’s Democracy Review and then, secondly, got past the NEC, which gutted it of many other suggestions. After all, 13 of the 39 members of the NEC are representatives from the affiliated unions, with a couple of other members (like treasurer Diana Holland) having been ‘seconded’ by them. They represent a hugely important bloc and usually vote together (just as they do at conference). Did they simply take their eye off the ball?

And who had been pushing for these changes in the first place? Katy Clark was working closely with Jeremy Corbyn – did they really set out to take on the unions? Yes, the union bloc has often acted as a barrier to progressive change in the party. But the biggest affiliate is still Unite and Len McCluskey remains a loyal supporter of Corbyn. Corbyn and Clark surely would not have pushed for these two changes without McCluskey’s say-so.

Perhaps this move indicates a split within the unions between those who support Corbyn and those who are currently led by rightwingers, such as the GMB, Unison and Community. That would be very welcome indeed. But we are guessing here. As is unfortunately often the case in the labour movement, these arguments are not fought out in the open, in front of the membership, but treated like a dirty secret and kept away from the working class.

We do know, however, that a certain Jon Lansman has certainly set out to curb the power of the unions in the party – no doubt in order to increase his own. The less power the unions have, the larger Momentum looms. This became most obvious when his then ally, Christine Shawcroft (whom he made director of Momentum on January 10 2017: ie, the day of his coup within the organisation), publicly supported his short-lived campaign to run against Unite’s Jennie Formby for the position of general secretary:

I was supporting Jon Lansman for general secretary before today’s NEC subcommittee meetings, but after today I am even more determined. Only someone from his tradition will support the rights of rank-and-file members in the CLPs. It is time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party.

The reason she gave for that last comment was because they “always stick it to the rank-and-file members, time after time after time.”

Shawcroft clearly thought she was doing Lansman a favour by repeating what he had no doubt been going on about behind the scenes. Our Jon, however, was not best pleased and – despite dumping her like a hot potato straightaway (like he has done with so many former political friends and allies) – he was forced to withdraw his candidacy.

Momentum is, as far as we can see, the only Labour organisation that is supporting the move towards AMMs. True, among the pro-Corbyn membership this is considered ‘common sense’ – after all, the members should be in charge, right? Many local members who are pushing for AMMs are undoubtedly on the left and are doing so out of a real desire to support Corbyn’s leadership and break the ongoing hold of the right over many CLPs. In many areas, the same old bureaucracy has been running things for years and seems to have an unbreakable hold over the branches.

Local branch meetings, which select the CLP delegates, are often so boring and bureaucratic, without any debates or real life to them, that many of those inspired by Corbyn turn up once – and cannot bring themselves to go again. It is very difficult to turn around a rightwing branch that has been run by the same local clique for decades; it takes patient work and a huge amount of effort to organise the local left.

Pros and cons

The AMM structure does seem the easier way to turn things around. After all, CLP meetings are larger, you only have to attend a meeting once a month and they are more likely to feature a political discussion of some sort. It is much easier to persuade disconnected, atomised Corbyn supporters to come to a monthly AMM. This is, of course, exactly the reason why Labour First opposes the move (although Matt Pound tries to pretend that it has to do with its concern for the “gender balance” of CLP delegates, which would not be guaranteed in AMMs). In other words, in some areas it can be a good idea to push for AMMs – especially in smaller CLPs.

But there are very good reasons to be critical of them too:

  •  AMMs can further atomise the membership. The average size of a CLP is 850 members, but the actual local membership figures vary massively. In a small CLP, an AMM structure can allow you to meet and organise with other lefties when there might not be many or any in your branch (if there even is a branch). But in CLPs with many hundreds of members, AMMs can easily become too big to allow for any real democratic debate or decision-making. If the chair is on the right, they may not be willing to call in somebody from the left to speak, for example, making discussions very one-sided. The AGM is likely to turn into a huge jamboree, where members are supposed to vote for candidates that many might not have even heard of. This structure has the potential to make the CLP executive incredibly powerful and almost untouchable for the rest of the year. Not surprisingly, in some areas it is the local right that argues in favour of AMMs. Any AMM that involves more than, say, 70 members is clearly too big.
  • AMMs undermine representative democracy. Jon Lansman is a big fan of ‘digital democracy’ and online decision-making using ‘One member, one vote’. That should tell you why real democrats must oppose it. These methods might look democratic on paper, but dig a little deeper and you will find that they are designed to keep members atomised and the leadership all-powerful. CLP delegates, like conference delegates, are – at least in theory – accountable to the people who elected them. They are supposed to represent and argue for a particular political point of view. Good delegates report back on how they voted and are then faced with criticism or support, which allows for good political debate and the education of the whole membership.
  • AMM structures can demobilise the membership. They may make it more difficult for members to get involved in the day-to-day decision-making within the party. If you go to an AMM, you do not need to get involved in the local branch structures, you do not need to stand for delegate elections, you do not need to defend your voting records or your point of view. But we need our comrades to learn how to run things, to take charge, to organise and to be accountable and hold others to account. This is a crucial part of training our side up to run society in the not-so-distant future.
  • AMM structures weaken the trade union link. This is where the LRC focuses its criticism: It “seriously dilutes the input of union delegates into CLPs, a dangerous step … With some on the left even questioning the union-party link at any level, it is incumbent on socialists to argue for retaining that link, while taking up the cudgels for democratisation of that union input.”

While LRC comrades are wrong to elevate support for GC structures into a principle, they are quite right to raise the need to campaign for the “democratisation of the union input”, as they put it. In fact, the whole union movement – just like the Labour Party itself – is in need of a radical, democratic transformation. Many delegates from affiliated unions and socialist societies are playing such a negative role – for example, by supporting the local rightwing MP or stopping the CLP from supporting progressive campaigns – that many Corbyn supporters are understandably tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

This issue really underlines how weak the left is in its campaign to democratise the unions. This is visibly demonstrated by the fact that both the CLPD and LRC have managed merely to come out against AMMs: they are not in a position to campaign against it.

Two alternative left slates for NCC elections

The Centre-left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) seems to have finally imploded over which candidates to select for the newly expanded National Constitutional Committee. The winking out of existence of this shady organisation is long overdue. 

[this article has been updated on the evening of October 11]

Since its foundation in 1995, the CLGA has operated as an underground club, to which only a few lucky reps of carefully screened groups are invited. This thoroughly undemocratic and unaccountable lash-up takes it upon itself to ‘recommend’ various candidates for Labour Party internal elections – consistently guided by its assumption of the unelectability of the party’s left. (An especially perverse template to work to in the aftermath of Corbyn’s victory and the membership surges he inspired.)

For many years, the CLGA stuck to its mantra of giving support to centrist candidates and rejected any moves to either present a leftwing platform or support openly left individual candidates. It is this hopeless perspective that explains how Ann Black could remain on a ‘left ticket’ for so long, despite clearly being very much in the centre/right of the party. (More background here).

The two main current constituent parts of the CLGA – Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) – have now fallen out quite spectacularly over which six candidates to support for the NCC. This is a crucial body in the Labour Party. It deals with all disciplinary matters that the National Executive Committee (NEC) feels it cannot resolve and – given that it is dominated by the right – a referral to the NCC usually results in an expulsion from the party.

The talks “deadlocked” on Wednesday October 10, apparently because Momentum (aka, Jon Lansman) refused to support Stephen Marks, a member of Jewish Voice for Labour (which has been newly included in the CLGA negotiations). Lansman argued that “‘the Jewish community’ will not tolerate a JVL representative”, as the Skwakbox reports.

So, on the morning of Thursday October 11, the CLPD put out its own slate of candidates, which includes Cecile Wright, who is also championed by Momentum. And, of course, Stephen Marks. The slate is also supported by JVL and the “Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament”. Who? Have readers seen much evidence of the work on the LCND beavering away in the ranks? No, us neither.  The whole CLGA project has the definite whiff of ‘Potemkin Village’ about it (Jon Lansman for example is representing two organisations, Momentum and his own blog, Left Futures, which is so crucial to the labour movement that its latest entry is dated from February 5.) After a lengthy discussion, the Labour Representation Committee also decided to support the slate, despite the fact that the only candidate they put forward, LRC treasurer Alison McGarry, was rejected by both the CLPD and Momentum.

Momentum published its slate later on the same day. And indeed, it does not feature Marks [tough there are three candidates who also feature on the CLPD/JVL slate: Khaled Moyeed, Cecile Wright and Annabelle Harle]. Lansman let it be known that the organisation “had been prepared to back Stephen Marks”, but did not include him because of “concerns about the geographical balance of the CLPD slate“: “Half of CLPD’s slate live in London or the South East. So do 3 out of 4 of the existing CLP reps. I regret that CLPD launched their campaign today without agreement. Momentum will launch its more representative slate later today whilst continuing to seek to negotiate with CLPD”, Lansman tweeted during the day.

Utter bollocks, of course. He opposes Marks for political reasons – not geographical ones. Lansman has been on the wrong side of the Labour witchhunt from the start. He is a soft Zionist who has argued for the Labour Party to adopt the full ‘working definition on anti-Semitism’ put out by the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – including the full list of highly disputed “examples” that effectively bans whole swathes of criticism of the state of Israel.  The diminutive “Zio” should be banned as ‘insulting’, according to him. And don’t forget, Lansman – alongside Margaret Hodge (that charmer who branded Jeremy Corbyn a “fucking racist and anti-Semite”) attended a conference organised by the Jewish Labour Movement. Readers will not need reminding that this outfit supports and aligns itself with the Israeli Labor Party: that is, the foul organisation that orchestrated the nakba (the forced expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians in 1948) and which presided over the colonialist conquest of the Golan Heights and the West Bank in 1967.

The simple fact of the existence of Jewish Voice for Labour proves that Lansman is wrong to claim that there is a uniform “Jewish community”. There are pro-Zionist Jews and there are anti-Zionist Jews, for a start. Politically, in today’s toxic climate, you can’t get two more implacably diverse viewpoints. We know which of the two viewpoints Lansman supports. His transparent obfuscation over “concerns with the geographical balance” reminds us of his crass attempts to bullshit his way out of his ill-judged attempt to become Labour’s next general secretary. Remember that he claimed then that his only motivation in standing was to increase the gender balance – oddly enough, by standing against a woman, Jennie Formby!

Chequered history

In truth, we are surprised that Momentum and CLPD still attempted to be in the same room together. After all, they also came to blows over which candidates to support in the elections to the National Executive Committee (NEC) in March this year.

Lansman, owner of the Momentum database, refused to continue backing Ann Black. Quite right, in our view – and long overdue. She supported the move to stop tens of thousands of pro-Corbyn members from voting in the second leadership election and, as chair of the NEC disciplinary panel, gave her backing to much of the witchhunt against the left – for instance, by voting for the suspension of Brighton and Hove CLP. Many have questioned, quite rightly, why the CLGA continued to back her.

But CLPD’s secretary, Pete Willsman, insisted giving her support – he had worked well together with her on the NEC, despite some political differences. He even overruled his own executive committee’s decision to drop her from the CLGA slate.

So Lansman simply leaked his nine candidates to the press (sans Ann Black, of course). Deal done. At this point, of course, the list still included Pete Willsman, who Lansman later dropped after ‘somebody’ had recorded the comrade at an NEC meeting and leaked the audio to the press. He was charged with ‘anti-Semitism’– for questioning the severity of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party! ‘Bizarre’ does not quite do it justice.

Lansman and Willsman are old comrades, of course – they worked for decades together in the CLPD: both feature in this very entertaining BBC drama, which shows how the CLPD successfully fought for mandatory reselection in the Labour Party back in 1980. Funnily enough, as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, both gave up the fight for this important leftwing principle. In this, they were following Corbyn’s lead, unfortunately, who still attempts to appease the right, in the vain hope that this will keep the centre on board and thus neutralise the right.

This is tactically inept. The majority of Labour MPs have been plotting against Corbyn from day one, if not before. Should he become prime minister – which is far from certain, even if Labour wins the next general election – he would be held hostage by the Parliamentary Labour Party. In all likelihood the right would try one manoeuvre after another to get rid of him. By refusing to back mandatory reselection (aka open selection) at conference, which would have allowed the membership to rid the PLP of the anti-Corbyn right, Corbyn has seriously undermined his own position.

What now?

This latest episode must serve as serious wake-up call for the whole Labour left. As this year’s conference showed very vividly – especially the debacle over open selection – there is now a massive democratic deficit on the Labour left. A huge gap exists between the aspirations and the hopes of many members about what the Labour Party is and what it could achieve – and the attempts by the Labour leadership to steer the organisation into another direction altogether.

There is a huge space for a principled, leftwing organisation of the Labour left that critically supports Jeremy Corbyn, fights openly against the witchhunt and campaigns for the thorough democratisation of the party and the left itself. Reporting openly and honestly about what is going on must an integral part of the culture of such a new organisation and that is why we say that the politics and the methods of the CLGA belong on the scrap heap of history. Neither organisation involved in these aborted subterranean negotiations have seen the need for transparency on any of the political differences involved, let alone to criticise the methods employed. In emails to their members both JVL and CLPD do not even mention the fact that there has been a disagreement with Lansman.

This, comrades, is just not good enough.

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 after Formby’s election

In light of the new incoming regime at party HQ, Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists reports on left-wing objections to Jon Lansman’s slate

Jennie Formby is now the new general secretary of the Labour Party. With the help of most of the mainstream media, the right tried to smear her on every level imaginable: personally, as the “mother of Len McCluskey’s lovechild”, and professionally, by painting her as a mindless union bureaucrat who, it was claimed, was ‘demoted’ from political director of the Unite union to regional secretary.1)www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-statement-on-the-smear-attack-on-jennie-formby-by-laas

Most pathetic was, of course, the attempt to present her as some kind of anti-Semite. In the last two and a half years, this smear has been employed over and over again. Editors have become so ‘oversensitised’ to the subject that they will jump with joy when they get the next tip-off, no matter how stupid. A case in point is the 250-page dodgy dossier of vile rightwinger David Collier (aka GnasherJew), in which he “exposed” the fact that Jeremy Corbyn was once a member of a Facebook group in which some people wrote shite. Big deal. Still, almost every single newspaper found this newsworthy and quoted Collier uncritically.

Similarly they lapped up the charge by the mysterious campaign, Labour Against Anti-Semitism (LAAS), which accuses Formby of “making anti-Semitic comments regarding the suitability of Baroness Royall to conduct an NEC inquiry into alleged anti-Semitism among Labour students at Oxford University”.

More recently we saw the attempt to charge her with having been personally responsible for hiring Vicky Kirby, who did indeed make some rather problematic comments on Twitter a few years back. Kirby was suspended from the Labour Party, but has been reinstated since. Unless we support Berufsverbote for people who have made stupid comments online, this is clearly not much to go on. And in fact, as Unite has explained, Kirby was appointed by a panel.

In the last couple of days, LAAS has also charged Formby with not having

adequately explained her relationship to the ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’ group, made up of divisive suspended or expelled members such as Jackie Walker, who have supported her application for the role of general secretary. We seek assurances from Ms Formby that she has no relationship with this body or any of its members, as we believe this may prejudice her ability to uphold and implement the rules relating to racial discrimination that are embedded in the Labour Party rulebook.

Well, we can put the mind of the anonymous witch-finders to rest: to our knowledge, Jennie Formby has no relationship at all with anybody from Labour Against the Witchhunt. In fact, had LAAS checked their facts, they would have been able to ascertain that LAW’s support for Formby was openly “critical”:

We are concerned about her record on Labour’s NEC, where it appears she has, as recently as last week, failed to oppose the witch-hunting of Jeremy Corbyn supporters by rightwingers who have weaponised false claims of anti-Semitism despite Formby herself being the target of such smears. Nobody in the Labour Party can truly be a socialist if they support the purge and that includes the future general secretary.

That does not really read as if Formby was a fully paid-up member of LAW now, does it?

Some of the rightwing unions on the NEC even went as far as giving “tacit backing” to Momentum owner Jon Lansman over Jennie Formby, clearly judging correctly that he is to her right. After Lansman ally Christine Shawcroft’s ill-judged call to break the union link, that support evaporated quickly and Lansman had to withdraw his candidacy to avoid being crushingly outvoted on the NEC.

Last, but not least, we saw the coordinated resignation (or “exodus”, as The Independent puts its slightly hysterically) of six Blairite Labour staffers, two days before Formby’s expected appointment. Taking their cue from the right in the Parliamentary Labour Party, they clearly tried to do as much damage as possible by going to the press about their joint departure.

Good riddance to them. They include two female employees who directly worked for Iain McNicol; ‘head of policy’ Simon Jackson and, most interestingly, John Stolliday, ‘director of legal and governance’, whose name has popped up in the documents obtained by many of those suspended and expelled from the Labour Party.

Clearly, these Blairite apparatchiks jumped before they could be pushed (or their short-term contracts ran out). Only The Guardian seems naive enough to write that Iain McNicol “stood down unexpectedly”.2)The Guardian March 21 Clearly, McNicol and his willing minions had been living on borrowed time ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader. Once the balance on the NEC shifted in favour of the left, they knew their time was up.

Hotting up

This coordinated attempt to damage Corbyn also serves as a reminder that the civil war in the Labour Party is far from over. The faux outrage over Corbyn’s demand for some form of proof before throwing himself head on into a new kind of cold war with Russia is a case in point. The entire bourgeois media has been joined by the usual assortment of rightwing Labour backbenchers, but also a few frontbenchers like Keir Starmer, who is clearly biding his time before he further twists the knife – he has got quite a good job now under Corbyn, after all.

The leftwing mass membership has, after three long years, finally produced a leftwing NEC, which in turn was able to elect a leftwing general secretary (who will hopefully soon rid HQ of the witch-hunters too). But the right has not yet given up. The Parliamentary Labour Party, the regions and the mass of councillors are still dominated by the right.

NEC regionsLabour First and Progress have just announced the launch of a new campaign by “Labour’s centre-left” (ie, Labour’s right) to increase the number of NEC delegates. Apparently, the “nine centre-left grassroots candidates standing for the NEC” (ie, the nine rightwingers standing against the nine being put forward by Momentum and/or the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance and which include Luke Akehurst3)https://www.necregions.co.uk/about) want “each region, Scotland and Wales to get a members’ place on the national executive committee and the number of places for Labour councillors (currently two) would double.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that rightwingers now think they have to use the language of the left to get anywhere in the party. The ‘model motion’ is full of Momentum-style blurb about “giving the members a voice”. In reality though, they would achieve the opposite – a bit like the proposals advanced by Momentum.4)http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/momentums-loose-cannon/

An additional eleven NEC members would be elected from ‘the regions’, plus two more councillors. Those delegates should be elected by “one member, one vote”. But, because “a national ballot is expensive, prohibitive and extremely difficult without a grouping backing you”, the campaign wants to see those delegates elected by regional conferences. And – you guessed it – those are, of course, still run and dominated by the right. A rather obvious attempt to shift the political balance on the NEC back in favour of the right. This is clearly not about giving “the members a voice” (who in their majority are now to the left of Corbyn). Of course, the proposal has no chance of being implemented by the NEC, but will undoubtedly pop up in branch and CLP meetings across the country.

It is also of concern that the party’s national constitutional committee (NCC) is still firmly in the hands of the Blairites. This deals with any disciplinary cases that the NEC feels merit further investigation – and, in many cases, such a referral leads to expulsion. The few token leftwingers on this committee have proved to be far from useful – or leftwing, for that matter. Momentum’s national vice-chair, Emina Ibrahim, for example, was supposed to be the alibi leftie on the three-person NCC panel at Tony Greenstein’s expulsion hearing – and, despite the obvious democratic shortcomings, lack of natural justice and due process in the accusations against him, she voted in favour of him being expelled. For being rude.

We understand that there are currently about 20 cases before the NCC, with many having lingered there for many months – some for years. The vast majority of them were clearly referred there by an NEC with a very different political balance. We support LAW’s demand to refer all of them back to the now left-majority NEC.

Of course, we are aware that the cases of Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and many others might not automatically be dropped by the NEC (especially as the last meeting decided to refer three further cases). But clearly there has been such a lack of natural justice and due process in all these cases that a new examination of the ‘evidence’ is long overdue. We also hope that, with the election for general secretary out of the way, Unite delegates on the NEC will feel emboldened to speak up against the ongoing witch-hunt of left activists. Maybe Len McCluskey will now even affiliate Unite to Jewish Voice for Labour – a promise he made with much fanfare at last year’s Labour conference.

Start again?

New spikes in the Labour civil war are usually accompanied by chatter about the right wanting to break away. We know that ‘moderate’ Labour MPs have been meeting with Liberal Democrats and Tories to discuss how to stop Brexit. During these cross-party meetings, the idea of a new, pro-European party was mooted some time ago. The ‘Russian agent’ crisis has apparently accelerated this process, so that now we even know the name of the dreamed-up new organisation: Start Again.

According to The Times’ Rachel Sylvester, “for Labour MPs who feel increasingly as if their party has been stolen from them, last week was a tipping point … The equivocation over Russia followed revelations of [Corbyn’s] membership in an anti-Semitic Facebook group” is the last straw for many, apparently. “Labour has mutated into something completely different, and it is increasingly clear that moderates need to recreate the party they once joined. Chatter has focused on the idea of a new pro-European alliance, but this is so much more than Brexit.” Yes, it is. It’s nonsense.

But the right will not do us the favour of breaking away. Unfortunately. No other than ex-Wunderkind Tony Blair has been pulling his hair out over how to do it, and has admitted that it cannot work, thanks mainly to the undemocratic British voting system. With elections based on proportional representation, it would be much easier to build a new party and be represented in parliament. But the failure of the Gang of Four’s Social Democratic Party continues to serve as a stark reminder to Blair and co.

It is much more likely that the right will continue to stay in the party and fight: with leaks to the media, underhand briefings, backstabbing motions, witch-hunts against leftwingers and, one day, if Jeremy Corbyn – or somebody like him – really does become prime minster, perhaps even in cooperation with the full force of the British state.


But the left is in no less disarray, unfortunately. Apart from relatively successful single-issue campaigns like Labour Against the Witchhunt, the left’s conduct in the Labour Party has been characterised by political confusion, a serious lack of democracy and a political method that has more in common with Stalinism than socialism.

We have previously written at length about Momentum’s farcical and worryingly quick descent into the Jon Lansman show. The man runs the organisation with an iron fist that would make certain historical figures gasp with admiration. No wonder the rest of the organised left is increasingly fed up with his methods. Unfortunately, this does not always lead to outcomes or methods that are necessarily preferable.

Take the quarrel over the selection of leftwing candidates for the NEC (full elections take place this summer). Previously, some sections of the Labour left got together under the umbrella of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance to settle on a list of candidates. In the past this has included Ann Black, who is clearly more in the ‘centre’ than on the ‘left’. For some reason, NEC veteran Pete Willsman seems to like her, despite the despicable role she has played in disenfranchising thousands of Corbyn supporters in the party. He ignored a decision by the executive of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (of which he is secretary) and insists that she continue to be featured on the CLGA slate.

But his long-standing CLPD comrade, Jon Lansman, disagreed. And quite right too. But, rather than having a transparent debate on the organised Labour left about who the best representatives of the membership on the NEC might be and how to make them accountable (we have a few ideas on those questions), Lansman went in the other direction and simply declared which nine candidates Momentum would support. The list is identical to the draft CLGA list – but with a replacement for Ann Black. 5)http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/witch-hunts-when-chickens-come-home

Clearly, Lansman’s method stinks to high heaven. We welcome the fact that there is opposition. But we fear that the statement issued by the Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour and Grassroots Black Left (see below) will do little to lead to political clarity or greater democracy.

For a start, the meeting was organised on a very selective basis, as the CLGA’s gatherings have been in the past. As for stating that the “CLGA is supposed to operate on the basis of consensus”, that seems to us rather unlikely and, most importantly, not desirable. Such “consensus” (or, more precisely, compromise) has led to centrists like Ann Black having been run on a leftwing ticket. Clearly, the methods of the CLGA need to be criticised too.

Red Labour is, of course, merely “a network” or a “forum” that sometimes produces humorous pro-Corbyn memes on Facebook. It is not an organisation you can join. It might have 120,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook (rather than ‘participants’), but it has no political coherence, no programme, no strategy. Yes, it has played a useful role in shoring up support for Corbyn in the run-up to various elections. But should the people running such a loose network really be involved in making decisions about NEC elections?

Resolutions calling for increasing the number of “oppressed and disadvantaged comrades” on the Labour Party NEC miss the point. What about their politics? Why does the statement not contain any mention of the basic political principles that we would want our NEC representatives to uphold? At least a commitment that they stand for a democratic republic, abolishing the House of Lords, replacing the standing army with a popular militia, getting rid of capitalism and achieving the rule of the working class and socialism.

We understand that a representative from Jewish Voice for Labour was also at the meeting and agreed to the statement, but that the rest of the JVL executive has since changed its mind. The JVL now supports Lansman’s slate instead. There is also opposition in the LRC. Yes, its executive voted in favour of endorsing the statement, but a sizable minority of  LRC executive members opposed the move.

We would agree with those comrades. It is one thing to criticise Jon Lansman for his undemocratic methods. He deserves it and we have done plenty of it. But to seriously consider standing candidates against a slate endorsed by Momentum, is – how to put this nicely? – not tactically advisable at the moment. We understand the LRC executive will make a final decision on May 6 – we would urge them to vote against. It runs the risk of letting in rightwingers like Eddie Izzard, which, considering that the NEC does not have a rock-solid left majority, could well have dire consequences for the left’s fight to transform the party.

LRC, Red Labour and Grassroots Black Left statement

  1. The CLGA (Centre Left Grassroots Alliance) is supposed to operate on basis of consensus, but the slate has been drawn up without consultation with all its constituent bodies. The slate has to all intents and purposes been presented as a fait accompli.
  2. The GBL has been unilaterally refused membership of the CLGA on the basis of opposition from one person representing Momentum.
  3. Red Labour was invited to join the CLGA, but has been informed that this will not be permitted until its 2018 slate is finalised.

We resolve to start an online consultation process, hosted by Red Labour, to determine whether grassroots candidates want to stand and whether it is the expressed wish of rank-and-file members that such candidates be supported.

In the interest of tackling the underrepresentation of oppressed and disadvantaged comrades,
we would positively welcome applications from black, African, Caribbean, Asian and other people of colour and women.

LRC, Red Labour and GBL will update about how comrades can apply to be an NEC member.

Sent to Jeremy Corbyn, whose progressive politics we support, and Jon Lansman.

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.