Britain: Defeat the Labour Right’s Coup and Re-elect Corbyn
The election for Labour Party leader is in full swing with huge rallies for Jeremy Corbyn: Liverpool leading with an 8-10,000 turnout and large meetings in Hull and Leeds. The need for another leadership contest is a direct result of the coup staged by Labour MPs in an attempt to drive Corbyn from the post which he won with the support of 60 per cent of Party members only nine months ago. A re-run of that election, however, was the last thing his opponents wanted. Fearing, correctly, that they would lose yet again, they tried every trick in the rulebook, and many that were not, to force him to resign without having to face him in a poll.
On June 25, 172 MPs voted no confidence in Corbyn, trying to blame him for the Brexit vote. At two meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party, PLP, they harassed and harangued him in what John McDonnell described as a lynching without a rope. But Jeremy was made of far sterner stuff than his enemies expected, thinking no doubt that what journalists have called his Zen-like calm was a sign of weakness. They forgot the inner strength that comes from becoming the voice and embodiment of a historic movement, in this case a massive desire by members to recover the Labour Party from the Blair-Brown years of neoliberalism and warmongering.
Having failed with Plan A, forcing him to resign, they had to retreat to Plan B, a leadership challenge followed by an election, but without Corbyn on the ballot paper. They argued that, like a challenger, Corbyn would need to have the support of 51 MPs and MEPs to be a candidate in a new election. This would have meant that they could block him from standing.
Despite consulting lawyers, they were unable to get the Party’s National Executive Committee, the NEC, to go as far as excluding the incumbent party leader, doubtless in fear of the membership uprising this would have provoked. They did, however, succeed in pressurising the NEC into cancelling virtually all Party meetings until the leadership election, and the Party Conference in late September, were over! The only exception to this was permission for local parties to discuss which candidate to endorse, but even these meetings were closed to new members who had joined since January.
Not satisfied with this, they then turned to slashing the numbers entitled to vote, otherwise known as gerrymandering. The reason is simple enough; the party has trebled its membership since Jeremy first put his name forward as leader. Within one week of the coup being launched, 60,000 people joined the party. Understanding that the great majority of these were likely to support Corbyn, the NEC's first move was to rule that only party members who had joined before 12 January, 2016 could vote.
Secondly, they re-wrote the rules so that existing supporters (that is, not full members) would lose their vote unless they paid a new £25 supporter fee within a 48-hour slot. To their amazement, some 180,000 did this, but now we are told on “Labour List” that 40,000 of these have now been “knocked off” by the Compliance Unit, with another 10,000 expected to be. Moreover, those disqualified will not get their £25 back.
Each of these outrageous measures is stamped with one thing; a holy terror of the membership.
Now, it is reported that some 25 of the anti-Corbyn MPs are preparing another truly infamous step. They are threatening to split the party and if possible steal its name and resources. Labour List verifies a report which appeared in the Daily Telegraph, that “confirms plans which are known to have been in circulation in Westminster for some weeks”. These plans are “to choose an alternative figurehead in the Commons and pick their own shadow cabinet, as well as approaching Commons Speaker John Bercow to try to be named the official Opposition on the basis of having a greater number of MPs. They could even launch a legal bid to take control of the Labour Party name and assets.”
Cooler heads amongst the right-wingers prefer an alternative strategy; to “challenge him again and again as his failings and the untenability of his position become more and more apparent, until eventually he is defeated”. They hope they can pre-occupy the left with this civil war throughout the coming year and thus prevent the launch of a mass fightback against the Tories. To achieve this, MPs will do all in their power to lower the party’s rating in the polls, by continuing to greet Corbyn’s interventions in the House of Commons with stony silence, even heckling him and other Labour frontbenchers, while applauding Tory attacks, as we saw them do over the vote to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system and the Chilcot Inquiry into Blair's Iraq War.
Of course, Owen Smith, the oily, fake left candidate the right have put up against Corbyn, has disavowed such intentions himself but, nevertheless, he warns, “I think there is every likelihood that the party will split if Jeremy wins this election. I don’t think it’s a risk, I think it’s a likelihood”. In short, this crude blackmailer is threatening a split by the MPs in order to frighten the membership into voting for him. His promise of radical policies, most stolen from Corbyn, but without the man who would actually try to implement them, is plain deceit.
Whatever purloined policies Smith now says he supports, his PLP backers all want a return to the “realistic” pro-market, austerity-lite policies that brought the Labour membership to below 200,000 and lost it two general elections. Let there be no doubt about it, were he to win, the membership would slump to this level once again. Moreover, it would likely lead to severing the links to the major trade unions that support Labour. Smith is the standard bearer of a counter-revolution that would destroy the Labour Party.
Fortunately, the Left does not have to worry overmuch about Smith. The coup itself has roused the membership, and indeed the whole labour movement, to another mass revolt against the Westminster elite of the party who claim that their lookalike Tory/Lib-Dem policies are the only way to win elections. Of course, they can rely on the Tory and liberal press, and the BBC, and their tame pollsters masquerading as public opinion, to confirm this narrative.
The party's members and supporters have refused to be silenced by the three month lockdown of official party activity. Via the #KeepCorbyn campaign and Momentum, they have given a very clear answer: get out to the meetings, get onto the streets, recruit to Labour. Thousands cheered Corbyn at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Memorial and the Durham Miners' Gala, (traditional events in the Labour calendar) and at public meetings around the country. By contrast, Owen Smith could scarcely muster 100 at his meeting in Liverpool. This is a stunning reply to the charge that Corbyn is just a metropolitan socialist out of touch with “Labour’s heartlands”.
On every front, the PLP/Labour HQ coup seems to have backfired. Local Momentum meetings have been packed and, faced with the closure of party branches and CLPs, have broken down into parallel branch and constituency groups. When the party is obliged to open for business again in the autumn, their meetings should be lively affairs.
Nonetheless, there is a danger that full advantage will not be taken from another Corbyn victory. Jeremy has suggested that he would bring some of those who participated in the coup back into the shadow cabinet. Well known left journalists like Owen Jones and Paul Mason have done likewise. Jones, in particular, advocates near complete surrender to the right’s blackmail. Mason proposes not only inviting Smith and Co. into the shadow cabinet but the Greens, Plaid Cymru and even the Lib-Dems into a coalition government on the pretext of keeping out the Tories and UKIP. Such a government could never break with austerity and neoliberalism, let alone take anti-capitalist measures to defend itself from economic sabotage and mutiny by the forces of the state.
The Left needs to reject this counsel of self-defeating compromise and intellectual despair. It will have more serious tasks in hand on the morrow of another Corbyn victory. It needs to make sure that the MPs, the NEC members and party officials at all levels who plotted to gerrymander the electorate, enforced the closing down of party life and expelled loyal members, are deprived of all positions of authority and replaced with people who really represent the views of the members.
The party’s constitution needs to be radically transformed so that a coup against the membership, such as occurred this June/July, can never happen again. MPs, councillors and Party officials, must never again be able to boycott democratically agreed campaigning policies. The MPs must not be able to constantly attack the leader in the Commons and the press, whilst retaining membership of the parliamentary fraction. Neither should MPs alone have the right to trigger a re-election every summer until they get the result they want. On this, their hypocrisy is breathtaking since they object violently to the very idea that they should submit themselves to a reelection process every five years! Above all, the left needs to prevent MPs and officials from blocking Labour’s onslaught on the Tories and courting electoral defeat.
There is a crying need for party members, supporters and members of the affiliated trade unions to carry out their own agenda, an agenda to transform the party into an instrument for implementing policy, now twice decided on by its members, a party strongly reconnected with working class communities and, indeed, all those oppressed on the basis of race, nationality, gender, age or disability.
It will not be enough simply to elect new left wing members to the NEC, or to wait until next year’s conference. The Left needs to implement a campaigning strategy now; fleshing out the 10 points of Jeremy's leadership platform. That will have to start from the branches and CLPs. The minute the ban on their meetings is lifted, this campaign must build an active relationship with millions of Labour supporters, trade unionists, anti-cuts activists. Labour must become a new model of what a fighting working class party can be.
This summer, Momentum, the movement set up after Corbyn’s election last summer, has finally proved its potential by mobilising and harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of new members. What it needs now, but still does not have, is a plan to develop red-blooded socialist policies on health, education, housing, nationalisation and renationalisation of key industries and services.
It needs to combat the racist scapegoating of migrant workers and refugees. It needs to reject wasting billions on Trident and on the New Cold War in Eastern Europe and on the War on Terrorism, which are just pretexts for further wars and occupations. Of course, the skills and creativity of workers in the war industries need to be redeployed to socially useful tasks rather than building nuclear submarines.
These new policies need to be taken into the branches and constituencies and to the millions of members of affiliated unions. If this year’s conference proves top heavy with delegates who were elected when a huge proportion of the new membership was ineligible to vote, or if it cannot break free of the bureaucratic straitjacket of officials appointed under Blair and Brown, then a special Labour Party conference will be needed.
Its two priorities would be the adoption of socialist policies and the top-to-bottom democratisation of the party. That would mean restoring the sovereignty of the conference as the decision-making body on policy, streamlining its capacity to debate urgent matters and overcoming the bureaucratic obstacles that litter the path of those wishing to put resolutions to it. It should also end the bar on party membership of individual socialists and socialist groupings and disband the Compliance Unit, replacing it with an Appeals Commission either elected at conference or by ballot of the entire membership.
Momentum needs to discuss, nationally and locally, how to rejuvenate Labour branches and CLPs, involving the new mass membership to the full. It needs to encourage the organisation of the rank and file membership in the unions and help unite the anti-cuts movement. It needs to do all this on a basis that does not artificially divide “industrial” and “political” struggles into separate spheres (each left respectively to the care of the union and party officialdom), but that sees them as part of a unified whole.
Sooner, rather than later, Momentum will need a national conference, with delegates elected directly from the local groups instead of via the current regional tier, and a national leadership elected with a clear political mandate on the basis of the outcome of the conference debate.
Momentum must also prioritise winning party branches and constituencies to active involvement in the class struggle outside parliament and the council chamber by, for example, supporting strikes like those of the junior doctors and the wide variety of anti-cuts, anti-racist and anti-war campaigns.
Of course, left wing caucuses of party members need to be built to win branches and constituencies to mandating their councillors and MPs to join the struggle and vote against every cut. Local Labour parties should be taking the lead in creating anti-cuts committees in every town and city, based both on their own delegates and those from trade union branches, anti-cuts campaigns (Keep Our NHS Public, Disabled People Against Cuts, etc.) and residents’ and tenants’ groups.
In short, Momentum needs a mutually reinforcing strategy which, on the one hand, advances the struggle inside Labour for party democracy and the policies that will make Labour into a real workers’ party and, on the other, contributes to building a united front for action against the Tories, uniting in action all socialists and all workers’ and community organisations struggling against austerity.
The objective needs to be nothing less than the transformation of Labour into what millions of workers and youth have repeatedly fought for since it was founded; a Party that can not only defeat the Tories at the ballot box but can effect a socialist transformation of society.