Tag Archives: split

TIG: Getting trigger happy

What does the formation of the so-called Independent Group and the suspension of Chris Williamson tell us about the balance of forces? William Sarsfield gives his view

The Independent Group (TIG) has the potential to grow, despite its initial small numbers, its chaotic launch and the absence of policy. Over the coming weeks and months, we can expect money to flow its way, major news outlets to corral behind it and further defections from the venal majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who have attempted unsuccessfully to thwart and derail the leadership of Corbyn from day one.

TIG currently stands at around 8% in some opinion polls – not huge, but not statistically insignificant either. Moreover, we hear murmurs from Chuka Umunna that up to a third of Labour MPs have expressed some sympathy for the venture. Others may well be in political solidarity in the abstract, but are holding back for fear of the damage a split from Labour may do to their own parliamentary careers.

That said, it is worthwhile underlining just how poor this launch was. Despite the obvious fact that this small splinter from Labour (plus its even smaller Tory cohort) had been quite some time coming, there has been glaring lack of basic spadework. So, despite its relatively long gestation period, there are no books, pamphlets, recruitment videos that let us into the Weltanschauung of these intrepid mould-breakers. Indeed, journalists at the group’s launch reported it was a struggle to find coherent ideas strung together coming from the individual TIGers, let alone the group as a collective.

This underlines that this new organisation has little in the way of political gravitas. It is responsive, short-termist and very much of the political moment – specifically, Brexit; the ‘anti-Semitism contagion’ that apparently continues to rip through Labour’s ranks; and the intensely uncomfortable fact of who the current Labour leader is – his history, links, his ‘unpatriotic’ baggage, etc. For the three Tory TIGers – Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen – the key issue was obviously Brexit, of course.

The response from the Labour leadership has once again been extremely disappointing. Publicly, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have bent over backwards to conciliate – and not just by jumping onto the ‘second referendum’ bandwagon. There has been talk of not enough support offered to Luciana Berger MP – effectively putting two fingers up to the rank and file of her Constituency Labour Party, Wavertree, who were threatened with suspension by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson for having the temerity to discuss two motions of no-confidence in the woman.

It may seem a paradox, but objectively the TIG departure reflects the growing strength of the left in the party. The Labour right views the past three-plus years of Corbyn’s leadership as a disaster. Frustration levels have mounted, as every ploy to get rid of this turbulent priest have come to naught.

Early on, we had the plotting of the unctuous Hilary Benn to organise mass resignations from the shadow cabinet following the EU referendum, which came to nothing. Then the wretched Margaret Hodge and sidekick Ann Coffey (a founding member of TIG, of course) tabled a motion of no confidence in the Labour leader in June 2016 – again over his performance in the EU campaign. It was carried by the PLP by 172 votes to 40, but, when it came to the membership, Corbyn was re-elected with an increased majority.


For Camilla Cavendish – a former advisor to Cameron and now a Financial Times columnist – the establishment of TIG is to be warmly welcomed, primarily as it precipitates the disintegration of the rigid, class-based political architecture of the two-party system. This is regarded as an especially necessary corrective, given what she sees as the appalling rise of runaway ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘bullying’ in today’s Labour Party. Despite this all this, she huffs with an impressive degree of faux incomprehension that Corbyn still has the temerity to make “claims” to have the membership on his side.

Of course, there have also been (partially successful) attempts to tame Corbyn – a stratagem that sporadically ran alongside the ‘anti-Semitism’ provocation. All too frequently, both Corbyn and McDonnell have buckled under this pressure and made important – and totally unprincipled – concessions to the right. The latest example being, of course, the suspension of left Labour MP Chris Williamson. After putting up some token resistance Corbyn caved in to the demands of the Labour Parliamentary Committee (made up of 3 Labour peers, five senior Labour MPs, Tom Watson and John Cryer, chair of the PLP). Meeting on the Wednesday afternoon it unanimously demanded his scalp.

However, the right wing of the PLP will now calculate, correctly, that the real danger emanates not from the leader’s office, but from below, in the form of an overwhelmingly pro-Corbyn left in the CLPs, invested with new powers to hold their MPs to account and challenge their assumed right to a ‘job for life’. Specifically, delegates scored an important, if partial, democratic victory at last year’s Labour conference in Liverpool, which enhanced the ability of members to pursue successful trigger ballots to replace sitting MPs. Constituency parties now have far more leeway to call their recalcitrant rightwing MPs to order and get shot of them if needed. The simplified and more democratic provision of trigger ballots could well turn out to be the biggest recruiting tool for TIG, as more MPs jump before they are pushed.

The threat of deselection was clearly the deciding factor for some of the TIG founders … and it is a nightmare scenario that will be playing on the minds many rightwing MPs still parked on the Labour benches. The hoi-polloi – the chumps who should be content with knocking on doors and handing out the leaflets – now have the potential to put an end to the glittering careers of these professional politicians. The nerve of it!

Inevitably, there are qualifications to this good news. It would not be a shock if the central Labour apparatus – in keeping with the quite wretched conciliatory culture promoted by Corbyn and McDonnell – put pressure on local CLPs to drop trigger ballots aimed at replacing local rightist MPs. According to The Guardian, “Labour could delay the start of deselection battles that party sources fear may prompt further resignations.” After all, “We don’t want to further antagonise” (February 26).

For an indicator of the way the political wind blows on this, we must wait for the appearance of a document outlining how and when the newly reformed trigger ballot provisions can be fired up in local CLPs. General secretary Jennie Formby was commissioned at Labour’s January 22 national executive committee meeting to produce a ‘trigger ballot manual’, with the recommendation that it is produced in short order. NEC member Darren Williams confirmed that this was supposed to be published in February. The delay is worrying.

The overwhelming majority of active Labour Party members are now quite clearly to the left and – although there has been a worrying lack of detail from the central apparatus around Jennie Formby – these new provisions are at least somewhere in the pipeline. Across the country, groups of eager left CLP members are keen to get cracking. So, we anticipate more ‘centrists’ bailing out or being given the heave-ho by their members – either way, fingers crossed that their days are numbered …

The key problem for the Labour left is that this objective strength on the ground has yet to translate into a coherent form as a united, national organisation with an ambitious political programme – not simply to purge the existing pro-capitalist right, but for the root-and-branch remaking of the Labour Party, the abolition of the bans and proscriptions on working class organisations, and the radical refounding of Labour as a genuine party of the working class, influenced by the world view of Marxism.

This fight is still hampered not simply by the left’s lack of vision, but also by the fact that Momentum (for the moment) still ‘squats’ the space where a fighting organisation ought to operate. Undoubtedly, Momentum’s lustre faded pretty damn quick and recent scab comments from the organisation’s CEO – Jon Lansman – will no doubt further disillusion many members, if not the few who rely on the organisation for employment. Disillusionment is not a mobilising force, however. (As numerous comrades have commented, Momentum itself is essentially an online mobilising tool these days, as well as a flag of convenience for Lansman to run up when he wants to spout crap.)

Left organisation

The Labour left needs to build a national organisation which embodies a political independence from the current leadership of our party, not simply forms of organisational autonomy as the vast majority of the existing left organisations in Labour restrict themselves to. Perforce, such an organisation would be an open, multi-tendency alliance. Thus, transparency and democracy would be vital components (as it should be in all working class formations) and this culture would demand an explicit statement of our aims and clear perspectives on how to fight the battle. This would find expression in our attitude to Corbyn, McDonnell and their team – we offer them support to the extent that they fight for the interests of our class as a whole; we would criticise and censure them when they renege on that duty.

As an aside, Labour Party Marxists supporters are putting forward exactly such an amendment to the AGM of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Motion 1 – the “work programme” put forward by CLPD secretary Pete Willsman – states: “Full support to the party leader at all times.” This is a crass and misguided approach that smacks of religion. Instead, we think this should be changed to: “We will defend Jeremy Corbyn from any further coups and acts of sabotage. We will support him where he fights for the thorough democratisation of the Labour Party and wider society. But we will also criticise him when and where necessary – for example, over his silence when it comes to the witch-hunt against his supporters in the Labour Party.”

Meanwhile, and paradoxically, Emily Thornberry has launched the most vociferous attack on TIG, telling a Labour rally that she would “rather die” than leave the party, that the quitters are “cuddling up to the Tories” and if they ever found the courage to stand in a by-election, Labour would “crush” them. This might be little more than an exercise in positioning – a chance for Thornberry, the Zionist, to buff up her left street-fighting credentials, perhaps. We can make educated guesses, but we really do not know ….

Berger, Umunna & Co: Good riddance to bad rubbish

The formation of the Independent Group vindicates what the left has long been saying. So called ‘moderate’ Labour MPs belong in another party

As everyone knows, on February 18, seven parliamentarians – Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey and Mike Gapes – announced that they were forming the ‘Independent Group’ of MPs, and the next day they were followed by Joan Ryan. Then, on February 20, they were joined by three Conservative MPs: Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen.

But let me deal first with the Labour defectors. Typical was Ryan’s statement: “I cannot remain a member of the Labour Party, while its leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed, have their motives questioned and their integrity called into doubt.” The others made similar claims, with Berger stating that since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader Labour had become “institutionally anti-Semitic”. In reality, what we have, of course, is not a situation where Jews are “abused with impunity”, but one where rightwing Labour MPs – some of whom happen to be Jewish – are being criticised for their disloyalty.

For example, as far as I know, there is no evidence that any of the Wavertree Labour members supporting a motion of no confidence against Berger had made any anti-Semitic comments. She was targeted not because she is Jewish, but because of her refusal to commit to the party! Just before the original seven quit, a statement was being circulated on social media calling on all Labour MPs to pledge to work for a Labour government “under whatever leadership members elect”. Reasonable, you might think. But Gavin Shuker complained that, by being approached in this way, he was being told to “completely obey and not question Great Leader Jeremy Corbyn”.

However, while such responses are self-evidently pathetic, the media for the most part is behaving as though they are totally in order. For instance, on February 20, Radio Five Live featured a phone-in, where listeners were asked why they thought that prejudice against Jews was not being countered as rigorously as racism against black people – the assumption being, of course, that this was the attitude of the Labour leadership.

Yet no examples of actual anti-Semitism were given. A representative of the Jewish Labour Movement was asked to relate his own personal experience and he immediately came up with a comment directed against him at a recent Labour Party meeting: someone had responded to what he had said by stating that he was a “well-known Zionist”!

And what about deputy leader Tom Watson? He has declared that Berger was the “first casualty” of anti-Semitism and he “no longer recognises” his own party. Acting as though the eight were genuinely committed to ‘Labour values’, he complained that “There are those who are already celebrating the departure of colleagues with whom they disagree”. Talk of “betrayal”, he said, does nothing to help explain why “good colleagues” might want to leave Labour. He called on Corbyn to bring Labour back into the “mainstream tradition”.

In other words, the party’s number two is only just stopping short of saying that the eight were right to leave, because, following Corbyn’s election, ‘Labour is no longer the party I joined’. Watson is clearly unfit to serve as deputy leader. But the real agenda is obvious. It is to prevent by any means possible the election of a Corbyn-led government in the interests of the establishment and British capital.

Just look at the statement promoted by the Independent Group at its launch press conference. It does not take much reading between the lines to see what they are up to. They want to “pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology”: we need to “reach across outdated divides”. The “ideology” they are particularly opposed to, of course, is Corbyn’s. After all, “Britain works best as a diverse, mixed social-market economy, in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress.” By contrast, Labour is now “hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives”. There is no “ideology” behind this blatant pro-capitalism, is there?

As for foreign policy, “We believe in maintaining strong alliances with our closest European and international allies on trade, regulation, defence, security and counter-terrorism.” Yet Labour “now pursues policies that would weaken our national security” and “accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country”. In other words, Labour must remain firmly in the imperialist camp.

Centrist party

It was hardly an impressive launch, with each of the seven giving their own separate, often incoherent assessments of the way ahead. For the most part – unlike the Gang of Four, which split to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981 – they are nonentities.

But that does not mean they can just be written off. For example, that is exactly the implication in the Morning Star front-page headline – “The insignificant seven” (February 19). But Joan Ryan is only the first of a number of other Labour rightwing MPs likely to join them. Those said to be on the verge of quitting include Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman, David Lammy and Ian Austin. As for Jess Phillips MP, who has also come under attack for failing to commit fully to the party, she “has had to put nine locks on her door out of fear for her safety” (The Daily Telegraph February 19). Well, what can you say about behaviour that forces you to put nine locks on your door?

And when the Parliamentary Labour Party – meeting in the evening following the Independent Group’s initial press conference – heard John Cryer, the PLP chair, “pay tribute” to the defectors, it reacted mostly with applause. But this response has hardly been countered by the leadership, with Corbyn himself saying he was “disappointed” the original seven had left and publicly thanking them for their past service to the party. As for John McDonnell, although he correctly stated that the defectors should now do the “honourable thing” by resigning as MPs and standing for re-election, he also bent over backwards before their accusations (particularly over ‘anti-Semitism’), promising a “mammoth listening exercise”.

We should not be misled by the relatively low profile of the original defectors. It is not only other Labour MPs who are considering joining them. In addition to Soubry, Wollaston and Allen, an unnamed minister and three other MPs are also said to be considering doing so. Of course, it is not Corbyn’s leadership of Labour that motivates the Tories, but their own government’s stance on Brexit. If Theresa May presses ahead with a ‘no deal’, that will surely trigger a reaction of some kind – no doubt this has already been taken into account by the Independent Group following their prior discussions with such Tories.

The IG statement declares that, in addition to all its other shortcomings, Labour under Corbyn’s leadership has “failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives’ approach”. This is a key motive in the thinking of those who want to form a new centrist party – stay in the European Union, possibly after a second referendum. It also no doubt figures prominently in the thinking of the likes of Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who is said to be considering stepping down to make way for a new centre party under a different leader after the local elections in May.

We should not underestimate the damage such a party could cause. It is not its electoral impact that should worry us though. Unless we are talking about a national government – far from impossible – a new centrist party will not sweep the board at the next general election. Indeed it would be lucky to retain the MPs it already has. No, it is the chilling effect that a rightwing split might have within the Labour Party. The cowardly statements coming from Corbyn and McDonnell do nothing to embolden the leftwing rank and file in the constituencies. But if anyone wants Jeremy Corbyn in No10 and John McDonnell in No11 committed to actually enacting the programme outlined in For the many, not the few, then the Parliamentary Labour Party has to be thoroughly renewed.

The careerists, the pro-Nato, pro-capitalist right must be deselected and replaced by candidates who are not only committed to defend Corbyn against the right, but who have a proven record as class fighters and are committed to genuine socialism.

Unless that happens, there are a numbers of dangers. Firstly, Corbyn could be nudged, bullied and forced ever further to the right – we have already seen his collapse over Trident renewal, his now Platonic republicanism, his criminal silence over the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt. Secondly, the left in the constituencies could be lent on by the leader’s office not to hold trigger ballots in order to avoid adding to the number of defectors. Thirdly, in the event of Corbyn rediscovering his left-reformist past, the present rightwing majority of Labour MPs will not give Corbyn the parliamentary vote of confidence the constitution requires in order to form a government. The monarch will be advised by the privy council to look at another figure in the House of Commons who can get a vote of confidence.

So the formation of the Independent Group needs to be turned from a warning that Labour will suffer further splits, if the left presses ahead with trigger ballots, into proof that the majority of sitting Labour MPs are traitors to the working class and ought to go – and go quickly.

Peter Manson
(this article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)

Heading towards a split

There are signs that Corbyn and his allies are finally starting to fight back, reports Carla Roberts

Amazingly, there are still people ostensibly on the Labour left appealing for ‘party unity’. But the last few weeks will have done wonders to convince most Jeremy Corbyn supporters that, in fact, there can be no unity with the right in the party. Corbyn and his allies have certainly launched plenty of appeals for ‘unity’ in the past three and a half years – trying to appease the right by bending over backwards to accept most of their demands. But we are seeing signs that, perhaps, the policy of appeasement pursued by Corbyn’s office might finally be coming to an end.

Crucial to this was the news that the national executive committee has commissioned general secretary Jennie Formby to urgently produce an outline of how and when the newly reformed trigger ballots can be applied in local Constituency Labour Parties to allow for a democratic contest between different parliamentary candidates even if a snap election is called – apparently, this is to be produced this month, well before the next meeting of the NEC. This announcement seems to have massively upped the tempo and the temperature of the civil war within the party. Many career members of the PLP had probably hoped that the rule change agreed at the September 2018 conference in Liverpool would be quietly buried – or its implementation postponed and then overtaken by yet another snap election. And, judging by Corbyn’s ‘softly softly’ approach to the right since his election in 2015, that would not have been so surprising.

The fact that local party members will now get a realistic chance to get shot of their unpopular MPs will have put the fear of god into many of them – and they are hitting back with everything they have. Tom Watson’s demand (backed up by Tony Blair) that Wavertree CLP should be suspended simply for organising a discussion of two no-confidence motions against its MP, Luciana Berger, should be seen in this context. It is to be welcomed that Jennie Formby has let it be known publicly that the CLP has no case to answer. Yes, we have seen Corbyn and John McDonnell apparently leaning on the movers to withdraw their motions – but at the same time they have also rather loudly let it be known that Berger should indeed be challenged for refusing to rule out the possibility of leaving Labour to join a new centrist formation. Local comrades have been nudged towards calling a trigger ballot as a more ‘tidy’ way to deal with her.

Writing in The Guardian, Owen Jones went to great lengths to try and ‘intellectualise’ this strategy. In an article entitled ‘Whatever Luciana Berger’s politics, Labour members must stand with her against anti- Semitism’, he tries to paint her with two identities. There is the Luciana Berger who is refusing to deny that she is involved in forming a new ‘centrist’ party – that is the one party activists are allowed to challenge. But there is also the Luciana Berger who has been doing her best to combat anti- Semitism: “If any Labour member did want to expel Berger because she has spoken out about the anti-Semitic abuse directed against her, that would be despicable.”

That is extraordinarily naive – or worse. Perhaps to Owen Jones it really is surprising that all those ‘speaking up about anti-Semitism’ also happen to be the ones who have been involved in attempting to get rid of Corbyn and are now talking about setting up a new Blairite centrist party. Coincidence? Hardly. Only the most ignorant of commentators – or those who subscribe to the pro-imperialist world view of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – would believe that the two have nothing to do with each other.

But the campaign to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is very much part and parcel of the slow coup against Jeremy Corbyn and the left. This campaign is not restricted to Britain, although it has been fought particularly viciously here because Corbyn is known as an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights. And when Corbyn started to go along with those who claim that there is indeed a huge anti-Semitism problem in the party, the mud started to stick. The right in the Labour Party gladly jumped onto the bandwagon and reinvented themselves as brave fighters against racism. But we are seeing the first signs that the party leadership is starting to fight back. We welcome, for example, John McDonnell’s (admittedly not elaborated) “support” for Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt at the February 9 conference of the Labour Representation Committee.

In December, a three-member NEC panel (which worryingly included Momentum’s Claudia Webbe) voted against endorsing her as the democratically selected candidate in Thanet South. The charge was, naturally, one of anti-Semitism – another that deserves the label “smear”. 
We understand
that this decision could
be revisited by the NEC as a whole, but there are clearly deep political divisions on that body – a majority might broadly be described as pro-Corbyn, but that does include Momentum owner Jon Lansman, some of his close allies and most union representatives who have jumped onto the ‘anti-Semitism’ bandwagon (clearly, the unions are as ripe as the Labour Party for radical democratic reform).

Facts and figures

Then there was the latest attempt by the Parliamentary Labour Party, with its overwhelming majority of Blairite MPs, to further embarrass Corbyn. They demanded that the leadership prove it is serious about anti-Semitism by publishing relevant disciplinary statistics. Clearly, this was never meant to be anything but a cheap PR stunt to show that Corbyn and his general secretary were failing. When Jennie Formby initially refused to publish the figures, quoting NEC policy of not giving details of disciplinary matters, she was publicly charged with being obstructive and covering up for the anti-Semites running wild in the party. And so, a week later (February 4) she caved and sent a letter to the PLP (available as PDF here and here), which has been widely quoted in the press – but very selectively, we should stress. She writes that she feared the information might get “misinterpreted or misused for other purposes by the party’s political rivals”. And she was right, as the reports in the mainstream media prove.

“Labour kicks out just 12 members after 673 anti-Semitism claims,” screams the Daily Mail – a sentiment echoed by much of the bourgeois press, including the BBC and The Guardian, despite the fact that this is seriously misleading. In fact, there were 1,106 complaints received between April 2018 and January 2019. But, as it turns out, 433 of them had nothing to do with the Labour Party. And we learn that a number of “complaint dossiers” have been submitted – in those cases, over 60% were about people who are not members.

Furthermore, it is enough for someone to state that anti-Semitism is involved in order for the complaint to be logged as such. In other words, anybodycan make the most outrageous claim and that is included. Clearly, this is open to abuse – especially when there is a blatant campaign of falsification going on. We read, for instance, that the reactionaries of ‘Labour Against Anti-Semitism’ are about to submit “4,000 examples of anti-Semitism” to the party.

According to The Times, the Jewish Labour Movement has “submitted hundreds of complaints against members since last April”. All in the best interest of the party, naturally. We would not be surprised if a large proportion of the ‘evidence’ submitted by the JLM and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism actually relates to remarks made by rightwingers posing as Labour members. Asa Winstanley has exposed 10 such Twitter accounts in an excellent investigation for the Electronic Intifada. It is very doubtful whether these people are simply lone trolls. As comrade Winstanley writes, “It is well established that Israel has been running both covert and overt efforts against Jeremy Corbyn since he became leader.” The vile Zionist, David Collier, has boasted about infiltrating Facebook groups under a false name, so that he can take screenshots of posts and publish them online before sending them to Labour’s compliance unit. Any complaints submitted by these people and groups should be dismissed or at least checked before going into any Labour Party statistics.

As could be expected, the right has been feigning outrage that ‘only’ 12 members have been expelled for anti- Semitism. (By the way, this includes at least one case where the accused was expelled for refusing to respond to the accusations and to accept that the hearing should not be recorded. None of the evidence we have seen in this case is even vaguely anti-Semitic, but it was stated that the charge was “proven” simply through the lack of engagement with the official process. Even bourgeois justice does better than that.) We wonder whether the right would have reacted more positively if the party had expelled all 673 of the accused members. Of course not. This is a battle that Corbyn and his allies simply cannot win.

Margaret Hodge MP, for example, claims that the figure of 673 was an outright lie. She has proudly stated that she alone has “put in over 200 examples … where the evidence suggests they come from Labour” (my emphasis). Leaving aside the obvious question of how a busy MP is supposed to have the time to sift the internet without any outside help, she got nicely slapped down by Jennie Formby almost immediately.

In a second letter to the PLP dated February 11, Formby says:

“I am pleased that our improved procedures allow me to be able to correct an account of a submission made at yesterday’s PLP meeting regarding a dossier submitted with 200 examples. The 200 examples do not relate to 200 separate individuals. They relate to 111 individuals reported, of whom only 20 were members.”

Take that, Hodge!

What makes Formby’s letter even more interesting is that she starts it: “In response to a letter dated 11th February to Jeremy Corbyn from Louise Ellman, Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, John Mann, Catherine McKinnell, Ruth Smeeth and Wes Streeting”. These MP have been, of course, among the main plotters against Corbyn. But the fact that Formby (and Corbyn) are now making not just their response to their demands public, but also include the names of these MPs is more than a two-finger salute. It is an invitation, (maybe even a request) to their local CLPs to do something about these saboteurs.

And high time too. Having given in to the lie that the Labour Party has a huge anti-Semitism problem, Corbyn handed the right wing a potent weapon. Adopting the much-criticised ‘working definition on anti-Semitism’ published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, suspending and expelling members, launching investigation after investigation – nothing he can do will stop the right in this campaign. Quite the opposite: for every step back Corbyn has made, the right has made two steps forward. He has helped them become stronger and more emboldened.

Go ahead and split

Funnily enough though, this campaign by the right might actually have unintended positive consequences. The original plan was, of course, simply to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn by forcing another leadership election (this time having properly exposed what a terrible red he really is). But the chicken coup against Corbyn backfired and he was re-elected leader with an even bigger majority. If there were another challenge, the result would probably be the same.

As an aside, the lame ‘biography’, Dangerous hero: Corbyn’s ruthless plot for power, produced by Daily Mail hack Tom Bower, is obviously part of the increasingly floundering campaign. We are told that Corbyn wasn’t great at school, that his two ex- wives don’t like him much and that he “does not like to talk about emotions or sex”. Contrary to the “ruthless” tag, the book explains how he ran up £30,000 of debt by financing a local community centre and paying for the rent of his constituency office and staff out of his MP salary, rather than charging it to the taxpayer as expenses.

Seriously, who is going to turn against Corbyn when they read this? Surely it is more likely to have the opposite effect, especially when so many are fed up with career politicians who charge nail clippers as expenses and cannot wait to join the board of this or that company after they are done with their ‘public service’. This book paints Corbyn as a politician by conviction – a rare beast indeed.

But there is also Plan B, which could be called ‘The taming of Jeremy Corbyn’. This has had more success – for example, he gave up on his refusal to renew Trident, in addition to the various appeasements over ‘anti-Semitism’. However, Corbyn is not willing to stop criticising Israel, as his attempt to add a ‘disclaimer’ to the NEC’s adoption of the IHRA definition showed. His recent refusal to back a CIA-led coup in Venezuela will have served even more of a reminder that Corbyn was and, crucially, remains a highly unreliable ally when it comes to running capitalism – especially concerning the strategic alliance between the UK, USA and Israel.

This campaign has certainly succeeded in cleaving the party into two camps – not neatly, it has to be said. Momentum especially has been on the wrong side consistently, when it comes to the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign and the need to radically transform Labour. While it will certainly play a part come election time, politically this organisation has lost all credibility, thanks to the misleadership of its owner, Jon Lansman. The number of functioning local Momentum groups has substantially decreased.

Labour, of course, remains a bourgeois workers’ party. Historically – in terms of membership, finances and electoral base – the Labour Party has largely relied on the working class, mainly in the form of the unions. Politically, however, the party and its MPs tend to act in the spirit of the bourgeoisie and the interests of capital. The election of Corbyn has led to an unprecedented situation, where both the mass of the members and the leadership are to the left not just of the PLP, but also of much of the party apparatus.

This situation cannot continue for much longer, clearly. We would certainly encourage members to hold trigger ballots in as many constituencies as possible: that should certainly help drive out the hard-line opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, while ‘convincing’ many other MPs to act more in line with the wishes of their local membership.

And it seems that the combination of Corbyn’s continued unreliability for the establishment, the threat of trigger ballots and the mainstream media support for a new centrist party might now actually lead to such a breakaway – despite the obvious problems that the British electoral system would pose for it (see adjacent article, ‘Lessons of the SDP’). We read that 50 rightwingers have met “in secret” to discuss the formation of a new “pro-European Blairite party”.1)The Times, February 11

Despite the fact that the headlines have been dominated by ‘non- political’ celebrities like Rachel Riley (Countdown), Tracy Ann Oberman (EastEnders) and JK Rowling (Harry Potter), the plotters also include Jonathan Powell (Tony Blair’s former chief of staff) and, presumably, the seven MPs listed in Jennie Formby’s letter (there are probably a couple of dozen more who are seriously considering joining such a split).

It is true that this might cost the party a few seats in parliament, although the vast majority of these saboteurs would surely not be re-elected if they broke with Labour. And undoubtedly it would be presented as a huge political defeat for the Corbyn project. But the opposite is true, actually. A split would bring us a step closer to radically transforming Labour into a united front of the working class and thereby enhance its role in the fight for socialism. And that is a much bigger prize than immediate electoral success.

‘Anti-Semitism’ statistics: really a crisis?

It is worthwhile looking at the figures from Jennie Formby’s letter in more detail (available as PDF here and here) because they show just how few cases are being upheld – and not because the investigators are soft on anti-Semitism, but because the cases are so weak. We also learn a bit more about Labour’s disciplinary process.

  • The number of staff in the governance and legal unit (GLU) dealing with all disciplinary investigations “will increase from five to 11”. This is the first point of contact once a complaint has been received.
  • Since April 2018, complaints have been recorded as anti-Semitic, “irrespective of the evidence, in line with the Macpherson principle”. Formby states that before then no such records were kept. To our knowledge, while many members were certainly charged with anti- Semitism, and often publicly so, very few were disciplined for that offence – instead being suspended and expelled under the catch-all rule of “bringing the party into disrepute” (eg, Marc Wadsworth and Tony Greenstein).
  • The GLU whittled down the 1,106 complaints to 673 that were actually concerning members – and then dismissed another 220 cases outright, where there was “no sufficient evidence of a breach of party rules”. In other words, they were vexatious and false complaints. That took the total down to 453.
  • These 453 cases were passed on to the ‘NEC anti-Semitism panel’, made up of three out of the “10 or so specifically trained” NEC members. The names of the 10 are not publicly available – but we know that Darren Williams, a leftwinger on the NEC, tried to get onto this panel, but was outvoted. We can therefore deduce that this is not a group of people who could be charged with being too leftwing.
  • This NEC anti-Semitism panel then decides if the person should merely receive a ‘reminder of conduct’ (146 cases), be put under investigation (211) or be immediately suspended before the investigation begins (96 cases – we believe that this practice, like automatic expulsions, has now almost ceased). So we are now down to 307 complaints that might have something to them.
  • Of these 307, the NEC anti- Semitism panel ruled on 96 members’ cases: 48 members had their cases closed at this stage, receiving a “formal NEC warning” or a “reminder of conduct”. That leaves 259 members.
  • 42 of those have been referred to the national constitutional committee (dominated by the right), which has so far expelled 12 members and sanctioned six, while five others have left the party. The remaining 19 cases are still ongoing, including that against Jackie Walker, whose NCC hearing takes place on March 26-27.
  • What about the remaining 217 members? We learn that 44 members accused have left the party, about 90 are “recent complaints” and have not yet been investigated. Which leaves about 83 members “where the investigation revealed evidence that meant the case could not be pursued further”. In other words, they were found innocent of the charge of anti-Semitism.


1 The Times, February 11