Tag Archives: Tony Blair

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.

References

1 The Times, February 11

Drama about Luciana Berger: Open the second front!

The public spat involving Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party, the media and sections off the Labour right might may seem to be just the latest skirmish in the slow coup that has been underway since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015. All the usual elements and players in the drama are present: the allegations of anti-Semitism, the demand by the right for suspensions and expulsions, the lurid media stories about bullying and intimidation – and a rather weak response from the Corbyn leadership in the face of an open attack on the rank-and-file members who support him. So have the events of the last fortnight been any different from the countless other attacks launched by the right and their friends in the media over the last four years?

In the last edition of this paper Carla Roberts explained very well the context for these latest attacks on the Labour left (‘Split – and split now!’, February 7). The growing political challenge to the Blairite rump that still controls the Parliamentary Labour Party; the increasing possibility of successful trigger ballots replacing rightwing MPs with Corbyn- supporting candidates; and the possibility of a snap election – all have concentrated the minds of the Labour right wonderfully, as they contemplate a somewhat uncertain future. Whilst some, undoubtedly, want to hold on to their seats for careerist or personal reasons, others are looking to the future and (for them) the appalling vista of a Corbyn government. They need to keep all the MPs they can to continue their work of sabotage and undermine any hint of radicalism, should Labour be successful at the polls. The capitalists need a reliable fifth column inside our movement and Tom Watson and company are just the ticket. So trigger ballots and the composition of the PLP are crucial issues for them, as well as their friends in the media and the boardrooms.

Another important factor is that the appointment of Jennie Formby has seen some relaxation in Labour’s internal regime. Under the previous general secretary there was a ‘Shoot first and ask questions later’ approach: unfounded allegations against individuals and CLPs were met with summary expulsions and suspensions. Anyone who stuck their neck above the parapet risked disciplinary action, resulting in a reluctance to criticise or engage in debate on contentious issues.

Many on the left counselled caution: ‘Don’t rock the boat; if you do speak out, our CLP will be shut down and members expelled’ was a frequent cry. ‘Keep your heads down and wait for better days, and trust in Jeremy,’ many left comrades advised. Well these are better days and it is now that we should fight back against the right and their rearguard action to hold onto power. For these reasons alone the controversy surrounding Liverpool Wavertree is not just another episode in our four-year civil war. For all sides in the battle the last few days represent a qualitative shift to a new phase.

The sequence and pattern of events in the Wavertree affair now seems clear. Two motions of no confidence in the arch-Blairite MP, Luciana Berger, were tabled by members of the CLP. Although signed by only four members of the party, they reflected widespread oppositiontoherpositiononanumber of important issues, ranging from her support for Israeli actions in Gaza to her uncritical support of the Tory government’s posturing over the

Salisbury poisonings.
However, the main thrust of opposition was twofold: one key issue was her refusal to categorically deny persistent media reports that she, along with a number of other Blairites, were preparing to leave Labour and set up a new putative centrist grouping. The second, equally significant issue for members of the CLP was her similar refusal to confirm that she would support a Corbyn- led Labour government. Usually reliable sources in Liverpool suggest that she was asked directly at a CLP meeting whether she would back such a government and, it is alleged, she evaded the question and refused to give a direct answer.

It may seem terribly old-fashioned to the Blairite sophisticates who write Guardianopinion pieces offering advice to our movement, but ordinary members in Wavertree seem to think that it goes without saying that a Labour MP should publicly proclaim their support for a Labour government and should not evade the question, whether it is put by Eddie Mair, Robert Peston or a party member at a CLP meeting.

Crisis

In terms of this drama, so far, so normal. The next act also had a familiar pattern to it. The motions of no confidence were circulated to members in advance of the all- members meeting by the CLP secretary. Given the importance of the issue and the possibility that Luciana Berger might not be able to attend the scheduled meeting because of parliamentary commitments, the CLP’s executive agreed that these motions would be taken at a special weekend meeting. It was at this point that the familiar chorus walked on to the stage and began their song
of woe. Following a leak of the CLP’s internal communications to the media, the local newspaper, The Liverpool Echo, ran a story about the motions.

This was followed by a solo performance on the stage of the House of Commons by that celebrated keeper of the Blairite true faith, Tom Watson. He deliberately and quite inaccurately linked the no-confidence motions to Lucian Berger’s public statements on anti- Semitism, suggesting that a virulent gang of racists in Wavertree CLP was trying to silence her. In a virtuoso performance delivered with all the sincere aplomb of a polished actor, he spoke of a “hateful, bullying culture”, which was not only “threatening towards Luciana personally”, but was “bringing our party into disrepute”. He later wrote to Jennie Formby to “take the necessary steps to suspend Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party” because of this “intolerable” behaviour. This trope of linking the political criticisms of Berger to anti-Semitism was repeated ad nauseam by media commentators and Labour’s right wing over the next few days. Liverpool Labour mayor Joe Anderson, shadow education spokesperson Angela Rayner and Guardiancolumnist Owen Jones all joined in, as did the usual suspects in the PLP. We were all invited to ‘stand with Luciana’ against the anti-Semites who were trying to bring her down. Once again the drama was following a predictable script.

But a new twist in the tale began to emerge. In response to the furore, John McDonnell made a clear defence of Wavertree CLP’s right to hold its MP to account and denied that anti-Semitism played any part in the tabling of the motions. He argued that it was Berger’s refusal to support a future Corbyn-led Labour government or rule out joining another party that had caused the crisis. Speaking to the BBC, he suggested that all she had to do was publicly deny that she was planning to leave the party and the issue could be swiftly put to bed.

Other left MPs, such as Ian Lavery, also showed support for the CLP. Most significantly, Jennie Formby responded to Watson’s demand for the suspension of Wavertree by rejecting his call, arguing that there were no grounds at all for doing so. This was a new and (for Watson and the right) a most unwelcome development. The other actors in the performance were not following the script at all! Big Tom’s stature was much reduced.
Just when it looked as if the action on stage was withdrawn, the movers explaining that they had been under sustained media pressure and harassment since their personal details had been leaked to the media. Again such bullying, undertaken by the media and instigated by the Labour right, was neither unusual nor unexpected. Neither were the attempts by the media to further muddy the waters and attempt to smear the CLP chair, who is Jewish, and other activists with claims of anti-Semitism.

According to sources in Liverpool – confirmed by some media reports – there was another, less expected perhaps, series of pressures on the movers of the no-confidence motions and the CLP. This appeared to come from figures close to the Corbyn- McDonnell leadership, who were urging that the motions be withdrawn. It was also suggested that, whilst leading figures on Labour’s left supported the right of CLPs to hold their MPs to account, now was not the time to move no-confidence motions, especially when such a high-profile opponent as Luciana Berger was in the firing line.

Fight back

So there the performance seems to have ended. The motions were withdrawn; the media continued digging around on Facebook, Twitter , etc for profiles of anyone in Wavertree whose name had been passed on to them by the Labour right; stories continued to appear, and Wavertree CLP was brought up at a PLP meeting by the Labour right as yet another example of the rampant anti-Semitism they see everywhere.

However, the curtain has not quite come down on this show yet. In fact it will run and run, because the underlying issues that it raises have not gone away. The Labour right and their friends in the media played their part, as expected, but some aspects of the left’s part in this drama need looking at critically. Whilst the support that the Corbyn leadership and the general secretary gave to Wavertree CLP was welcome (and a distinct improvement on previous statements in cases such as Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth), it still left plenty of room for improvement. Put simply, the Labour right launched a pre-emptive strike against Wavertree as a direct challenge to the Corbyn leadership and the whole of the Labour left.

We cannot wish this away by urging caution or restraining members who want to hold Blairite MPs to account. If we do not begin the fightback now, we will have to fight even harder if Labour wins an election and the inevitable sabotage of a Corbyn government begins. If Luciana Berger and her fellow Blairites do not do the job for us by joining a new centrist party, we have to help them on their way by using any new trigger ballot procedures to replace them with socialists committed to the historic goals of our movement.

There is a civil war going on in our party, initiated and vigorously perused by the Labour right – let us recognise that fact and take them on in a fight to the finish. Now is not the time to compromise: now is the time for the Corbyn leadership and the whole of the Labour left to take the fight to the enemy within. In the war against the Labour right, it is time to open the second front.

Moshe Machover: the strange case of Labour’s ‘flexible’ rules

If being a supporter of LPM is incompatible with Labour’s ‘aims and principles’, asks Carla Roberts, where does that leave all the other political organisations inside the party?

Our Labour Party Marxists front-page article by Moshé Machover, ‘Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’, captured the mood of conference and, no doubt, helped inspire many to speak out against the witch-hunting right. We gave out 3,000 copies, with countless delegates and visitors commenting on the relevance and quality of the article.

The right was becoming increasingly furious throughout the week. We occasionally got low-level abuse from supporters of Labour First, Progress and the Jewish Labour Movement. JLM chair Jeremy Newmark was spotted creeping around our stall a few times, snapping pictures of LPM supporters and hissing “racists” under his breath. Typically with witch-hunters, challenged to defend his remarks, he skedaddled off.

On September 26, we received an email from Lucy Fisher of The Times:

I wanted to ask you if you wish to comment on a call by Labour MPs and the chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Trust for Labour to investigate the Labour Party Marxists and expel any of your supporters who are party members. They accuse the LPM of producing anti-Semitic literature.

Comrade Machover dealt with these baseless accusations in an interview in last week’s issue of the Weekly Worker. On September 27, when the call for our expulsion appeared in The Times (along with a large cohort of the bourgeois media generally), the right was clearly emboldened. This was a chance to vent their frustration with the fact that they had made no impact at all at conference. Encouraged by the press provocations, a few groups of mainly young, suited ‘n’ booted conference attendees snatched some copies of LPM from our stall and ripped them up. Others shouted abuse at us from a distance. A few half-heartedly tried to provoke physical confrontations. No takers on our side, thank you.

The net result was to actually draw more delegates and conference visitors to our stall. They were eager to show their solidarity by taking our literature – not quite the result our rightwing provocateurs were hoping for, we imagine.

They may have lost conference, but our Labour right wing still has the media and the Labour apparatus on its side, of course. Moshé Machover was informed of his expulsion on October 3, just seven days after the publication of The Times article. Moshé’s ejection was swiftly followed by the expulsion of a handful of LPM sympathisers.

In what is possibly a first of its kind, comrade Machover actually received not one, but two, expulsion letters. The October 2 version makes it clear that he was being excluded for an

apparently anti-Semitic article published in your name by the organisation known as Labour Party Marxists (LPM). The content of these articles appears to meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by the Labour Party.

This initial letter clearly focuses on the charge of anti-Semitism – although hedged around with the qualifications of “apparently” and “appears to meet”. Only in its second section does it raise as a problem the comrade’s

involvement and support for both LPM and the Communist Party of Great Britain (through your participation in CPGB events and regular contributions to the CPGB’s newspaper, the Weekly Worker) … Membership or support for another political party, or a political organisation with incompatible aims to the Labour Party, is incompatible with Labour Party membership.

Civil war

So, clearly, comrade Machover was reported to the compliance unit because of his “apparently anti-Semitic article”. But this alone would have only led to his suspension (as with Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and Ken Livingstone – comrades who have all been suspended for well over a year). But then the eager-beaver bureaucrats in the compliance unit decided to add LPM and the Weekly Worker to their unpublished list of proscribed organisations (officially abolished in the 1970s). Et voila! Comrade Machover could be expelled. Naturally, this charge saved the compliance unit a great deal of bother in terms of trying actually prove that comrade Machover’s article was indeed anti-Semitic.

Or so they thought.

Within days, dozens of Labour Party members, branches and organisations had sent statements and letters of protest to the NEC, Labour general secretary Iain McNicol and his letter-writer, Sam Matthews (“head of disputes”). The clearly arbitrary nature of the accusations was challenged, particularly the charge that his article was anti-Semitic. Many of these protests (and comrade Machover’s expulsion letters) can be found on our website.

Clearly, this pressure made an impact. On October 5, comrade Machover received expulsion letter number two. “Following our letter dated October 3 2017, representations have been made to the Labour Party on your behalf,” it states. No doubt slightly rattled by these “representations”, McNicol and co backtracked with a ‘qualification’:

For the avoidance of any doubt, you are not ineligible for membership as a result of complaints received by the party that you have breached rule 2.I.8 regarding language which may be prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the party in an allegedly anti-Semitic article published in your name. These allegations are not subject to an investigation, as you are not currently a member of the Labour Party.

Well, yes, you’ve just expelled him, haven’t you, Iain?

Comrade Machover was told: “You have been automatically excluded under rule 2.I.4.B due to your clear support of at least one organisation which is incompatible with membership of the Labour Party, namely Labour Party Marxists, as well as the Communist Party of Great Britain.” The charge of having produced anti-Semitic material will handily be kept on file and re-examined should comrade Machover chose to reapply for membership after the standard five years following an expulsion.

Comrade Machover, in reminding the labour movement of the communist witch-hunts of the McCarthy area in the US, has publicly stated: “I am not and nor have I ever been a member of LPM or the CPGB.” We can fully confirm he has never been an LPM member (though we doubt the compliance unit takes much notice of our assurances).

His “clear support” consisted of writing articles for the Weekly Worker and attending some events organised by the CPGB. However, if the same rule were applied to the front bench of the Labour Party, there would be very few MPs left.

Whose rules?

Clearly, this expulsion goes right to the heart of the civil war in the Labour Party. The more naive Labour members might believe the nonsense about the whole party now ‘standing united behind Jeremy Corbyn’. The opposite is the case. The more branch and CLP executives go over to the left, the more pro-Corbyn councillors and MPs are selected, the more leftwing delegates are chosen to go to conference, the more desperately the right is trying to retain their hold over the bureaucracy.

The expulsion of comrade Machover, together with LPM supporters, shows how much arbitrary power the right still wields. One member was expelled for the crime of sharing six LPM posts on Facebook – the only evidence presented in his letter of expulsion.

Let’s look at the main charge being levelled. The rule quoted by Matthews, is 2.1.4.B and concerns “Exclusions from party membership”:

A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member …

For decades, nobody had been expelled for simply belonging to another organisation and the only criterion applied when it came to the (very rare) expulsions was the bit about supporting “any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate”. But after Corbyn’s election the right started to use every method at its disposal to defeat the left. Supporters of Socialist Appeal, many of whom had been loyal and pretty harmless members of the Labour Party for decades, were now targeted. Then, thanks to Tom Watson’s ‘reds under the bed’ dossier, it was the turn of Alliance for Workers’ Liberty members.

But if members face automatic expulsion for joining or supporting any “political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party”, that begs the question why members and supporters of Labour First, Progress, Jewish Labour Movement or Labour Friends of Israel are not turfed out.

McNicol was recently asked exactly this question by comrades from Weaver Vale CLP. Incredibly, he answered – at length. We quote his email of February 13 2017, because it is highly instructive when it comes to how rules are being bent and twisted in today’s Labour Party:

As our head of internal governance advised you, independent groups are not required to conform with Labour Party rules on affiliations and none of the organisations you describe are affiliated to the Labour Party. However, all individual members of the Labour Party are obliged to comply with Labour Party rules. These organisations are their own legal entities with their own funds, membership and rules. If they wish to affiliate to the Labour Party they must demonstrate that they support Labour’s aims and values and provide the party with audited accounts and their rulebook to ensure that these do not conflict with Labour’s own rules and values [our emphasis].

As previously advised, the Labour Party should be the home of lively debate, of new ideas and of campaigns to change society. For a fair debate to take place, people must be able to air their views. This includes for all members and groups the right to make clear their opposition to a party’s policy position or leadership, and the right to campaign for a position or direction they believe the party should follow. We are a democratic organisation and through our conference we settle our direction through the will of all sections of the party. But we do not seek to censor those who disagree.

In your correspondence … you refer to chapter 2, clause 1, section 4.B. However, you have only quoted half of the relevant sentence. The full clause copied below specifically relates to joining or supporting a political organisation that stands or publicly declares an intention to stand a candidate against an official Labour candidate. None of the organisations you describe have stood or have declared an intent to stand a candidate against an official Labour candidate [our emphasis].

So how does all this relate to comrade Machover and Labour Party Marxists – which has never stood or declared “an intention to stand” against Labour?

Incompatible?

Note that McNicol stresses members’ and groups’ “right to make clear their opposition to a party’s policy position or leadership, and the right to campaign for a position or direction they believe the party should follow”. According to his email, only when a group wants to “affiliate to the party” does it have to “demonstrate that they support Labour’s aims and values”.

This is clearly not the case when it comes to the left of the party. In their expulsion letters, LPM supporters have been told:

This organisation’s expressed aims and principles are incompatible with those of the Labour Party, as set out in clause IV of the Labour Party constitutional rules. Membership or support for another political party, or a political organisation with incompatible aims to the Labour Party, is incompatible with Labour Party membership.

Needless to say, LPM has not applied for affiliation. And, all of a sudden, Labour is not that “home of lively debate, of new ideas and of campaigns to change society”.

In reality of course, it all depends on what kind of change your organisation wants to see. We make no secret of our belief that clause four needs to be dramatically reworded to feature a clear commitment to socialism and working class power. While we fight for the radical transformation of the Labour Party, Labour First, Progress, JLM and Labour Friends of Israel clearly want to return to the good old days of Blairite neoliberalism and collaboration with big business.

Speaking of Tony Blair, he certainly was one Labour Party member whose “expressed aims and principles” were “incompatible with those of the Labour Party”, as set out in clause four. After all, he campaigned against the old clause four and managed to force through a total rewrite!

Hugh Gaitskell, another Labour leader, also showed his “incompatibility”. After losing the 1959 general election, he was convinced that public opposition to nationalisation had led to the party’s poor performance. He proposed to amend clause four. The left fought back, however, and defeated moves for change: symbolically, in fact, it was agreed that the clause was to be included on party membership cards.1)www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/09/clause-iv-of-labour-party-constitution-what-is-all-the-fuss-about-reinstating-it

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy has set up a working group to discuss how clause four should be changed. Does that make the CLPD “incompatible” with the Labour Party?

In our view, the people and organisations “incompatible” with the aims and values of the Labour Party are those who vote with the Tories on austerity, those who wage war on migrants and the poorest section of society and those who scream ‘anti-Semites!’ in response to criticism of the state of Israel.

While rules can protect us from the worst excesses of arbitrary abuse, they can be interpreted, bent and twisted ad absurdum by those in charge. It all depends on the balance of forces in the party.

Notes

1..

2.www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/09/clause-iv-of-labour-party-constitution-what-is-all-the-fuss-about-reinstating-it.

Right’s floundering coup

Where next for the Labour right? Jim Grant considers the options

What was it Marx said about history repeating itself?

This time last year, the Weekly Worker was already confidently predicting that Jeremy Corbyn would win a crushing victory in the first round of the Labour Party leadership election. It seems odd in hindsight, but many comrades were very much more cautious, despite polling figures the three stooges must surely have viewed as impossible to overcome.

Some on the far left were engaged in spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in order to save their own perspectives, which were crumbling to nothing before their eyes (Peter ‘Nostradamus’ Taaffe of the Socialist Party springs to mind); others, we fear, had become so utterly accustomed to defeat over the last few decades that they refused to believe it was not some sort of cruel prank.

A year passes, and we are back in the same situation. Corbyn is once again fighting a leadership battle. His opponent, Owen Smith, despite his mendacious self-presentation as a leftwinger, is actually a centre-right hack (although this time there is only one of him). And once more, unless the courts choose a perverse interpretation of the Labour’s rules (more than possible, alas), or some other rabbit is pulled out of a hat, Corbyn is on course to win a crushing victory. Nothing is moving the needle – not the gerrymandering, the fabricated accusations of harassment, nor anything else.

On the assumption – which we stress is hardly a safe one, but anyway – that the courts do not hew to a perverse interpretation of the rulebook and deny Corbyn his candidacy, then, our first goal is to make sure his victory is appropriately demonstrative. Our second, however, is to think more than two months ahead.

After all, we must assume that our enemies are doing just that: the inevitability of Smith’s defeat in anything resembling a fair fight can be more obvious to nobody than Smith himself. We must ask: what is the right’s plan B? At the moment, there are several candidates; all, it must be said, are unattractive.

Version one: the split

There is, first of all, the possibility of some kind of split.

Let us sketch out a scenario: the moment Jeremy Corbyn begins his victory speech at conference in September, the anointed leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s predominant traitor faction declares that the PLP is no longer under the discipline of ‘the Corbyn organisation’, riddled as it is with Trotskyites, anti-Semites and what have you. We will call this leader ‘Owen Smith’, although we doubt he would be suitable for the role, given his mediocrity and the energy with which he is presently pretending to be a leftwinger.

The PLP takes with it a reasonable cache of activists, if not a majority; crucially, in the Commons it dwarfs, in the short term, the official Labour Party, and becomes her majesty’s official opposition. At prime minister’s questions, it is ‘Smith’, not Corbyn, who is called upon to hold Theresa May to account, which he accomplishes by wittering on about his ancestors with a thousand-yard stare.

While attractive in the short term (and if there is one lesson to be drawn from David Cameron’s career, it is that the short term offers a dangerous attraction to today’s bourgeois politicians), the difficulty with this approach to the situation is: what happens when there is an election? To be sure, no split in the PLP has ever taken more than a small minority of it out of the party. Ramsay MacDonald took only 15 with him into the national government in 1931, and the Social Democratic Party 28 in 1981. That 28 became six after the 1983 general election. A traitor organisation of the PLP will have the support of Murdoch, but not of the unions; and it is the latter support that is measured, at the end of the day, in pounds and pence.

Both sides would be likely to suffer; but the traitor side would be likely to suffer worse. And what conclusion would ordinary members draw – that it was Corbyn’s leftism or the Blairites’ sabotage that had led them to defeat? In all likelihood, the split is good for one term only; and, while Theresa May might deny it, one term might not be all that long.

Version two: see you next year!

If an immediate split seems imprudent, our rightists could acknowledge what certainly seems to be the case: that their brave insurrection was, like the Spartacist uprising and the Paris Commune, tragically premature. The solution, then, is to wait until the time is right, and challenge Corbyn then, when he truly gets himself into a pickle. There will still be time to eject him this way before too long, and for a new leader to bed him or herself in for the next election Labour has any chance of winning.

The deficiency of this approach is obvious – if you cannot make a coup against Corbyn now, when will you be able to do so? We on the left can give our rightwing friends a few hard-learned lessons about how long it can take for an enemy to ‘discredit himself’, so long did we wait (for example) for the shine to come off Tony Blair. Insanity, according to an old saying, is characterised by repeating the same action over and over again and expecting different results.

Version three: well grubbed …

So what is left then? Only total inaction and paralysis; waiting for this leftwing fever to usurp itself.

The problem with this approach for the actual individual MPs is that it may bear fruit far too late for them; a promising career will have been mired hopelessly in the wilderness for half a decade or more, maybe. They may well rotate, disillusioned, into sensible jobs in lobbying, PR or high finance, where they will never have to pretend to be leftwing in order to attract the votes of people they truly despise again.

From the point of view of the Labour right as a historic force – the bourgeois pole of this bourgeois workers’ party – things look a little healthier. For, if nothing fundamental changes in the mode of organisation and social basis of the Labour Party, the existence of a pro-capitalist right wing, and its eventual resurgence, is guaranteed.

The Labour left, in its current moment of aberrant ascendancy, has been fortunate, in that its enemies were at first helpful in the shape of the “morons” who agreed to nominate Corbyn. It, also, is a historic force, devilishly hard to kill (it is not like Blair did not try); and a component in Corbyn’s victory and the associated tumult is surely that the right imagined that there was nothing in Labour left of Ed Miliband, and so there was no risk in putting Corbyn on the ballot … before discovering that its own internal cohesion and ability to fight for mass support had withered in the New Labour years of absolute press office diktat.

We cannot imagine that this weakness will last forever, not least because the next generation of Labour rightwingers are going to learn very quickly how to fight effectively for apparatus control, how to lie and smear and exploit the preference of the courts and bourgeois press – an experience denied to the likes of Owen Smith, who had Neil Kinnock, Blair and the rest to do the hard yards for him in advance.

What is necessary then – as this paper has repeatedly argued – is for the left to press its advantage and make war upon the right. Reselections, trigger ballots and expulsions are the order of the day; and the democratic transformation of the party, so that the PLP can be permanently subordinated to the membership. Yet this is not the left’s focus; instead, the obsession is the same as the right’s – with winning the next election. This obsession is the leash by which the left is bound to the right.

Left unchecked, it will destroy the gains made in the last year. Owen Smith will not bring things back into their ‘proper’ order, of course, but – say – Owen Jones might. His press output has been getting wobblier by the week; we read now, on the Guardian website, his idiotic plea to the remaining rump of Bernie Sanders diehards in the States to unite with Hillary Clinton to beat Donald Trump,1 and we wonder whether his real audience is American Democrats after all.

The right is in a bad position to win the coming battles in the Labour Party. But the left is still perfectly capable of giving victory away. Only when our political horizon is no longer circumscribed by an irrational fear of a Tory government – Labour must win at all costs – will real political change become possible; until then, despite their current weakness, we remain the hostages of the coup-makers and their friends in the press l

Notes

1. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/26/sanders-movement-bernie-hillary-donald-trump.