On Friday 6th November, Andrew Fisher – a longstanding Labour left-winger, recently appointed as a political advisor to Jeremy Corbyn – was suspended from the Labour Party. His crime? A single tweet, sent in August 2014, in which he satirically called upon those in Croydon South constituency to vote for the candidate from Class War, an anarchist organisation, instead of the Blairite Labour candidate, Emily Benn.
These latest actions by the Labour Party bureaucracy are a clear provocation and attack against Corbyn and his supporters. The left-wing leader was elected two months ago with an unprecedented democratic mandate on the basis of his anti-austerity programme. Ever since, however, a cabal of right-wing Labour MPs, unable to accept the decision of the rank-and-file, have acted as a Fifth Column within the party, looking to undermine Corbyn at every opportunity. Rather than fighting the Tories - as they attack welfare, public services, and trade union rights – the Blairites have focussed all their efforts on destabilising the Corbyn leadership.
The Blairites were soundly defeated in the leadership election - a mighty fall from only months before, when they were full of hubris, confident that one of their candidates would win. But whilst the leadership contest and the subsequent influx of new members have decisively proven what the rank-and-file are looking towards, the Parliamentary Labour Party remains a reflection of the past. The move against Fisher is the clearest attempt to date by Corbyn’s internal opponents to assess their strength and test the balance of forces inside the Party.
One only has to look at the rogues’ gallery of Fisher’s accusers to see that the calls for his expulsion have nothing to do with upholding the Labour constitution, and everything to do with claiming a scalp in their battle against Corbyn and the movement behind him. Caroline Flint and Siobhain McDonagh of Progress, the Blairite organisation within Labour; Simon Danczuk and John Mann, two of Corbyn’s most consistent and vitriolic opponents; and Emily Benn, the unsuccessful Blairite Croydon South candidate, who has nothing in common with her grandfather expect her name and DNA: these are only some of the right-wing figures who – in league with the Tories and the right-wing media - are leading the charge against the popular left-wing leader.
These Blairite ladies and gentlemen know full well the meaning of Fisher’s tweet, which was intended as nothing more than a light-hearted jab both at the ridiculousness of Class War and at the Tory-lite policies of New Labour types such as Emily Benn. Fisher has formally apologised for the tweet, and both Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have given him their full support and backing – but none of this matters for the right-wing, who are intent on sticking the knife in. Never mind the clear context and intention of this tweet; never mind that Fisher has been a devout and dedicated Labour member since 1996, standing as a Labour councillor in 2006; never mind that he has worked tirelessly to build the left within Labour and organise members in the fight for socialist policies: as the old saying goes, all is fair in love and war.
And, in the final analysis, this is a war - a civil war within the party between two irreconcilable opposites: between the Right and the Left; between the past and the future; between the 1% and their Blairite representatives who support capitalism and the 99% who are looking to Corbyn for an alternative to austerity. This is a fight for the soul of the Labour Party, and only one side can prevail.
Tip of the iceberg
Fisher’s suspension – and possible expulsion – is, in reality, only the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of Corbyn supporters were banned from voting during the leadership election; Socialist Appeal supporters and other active, long-standing Labour Lefts and socialists have been suspended or expelled from the Party as part of the Kafka-esque purge dubbed “Operation Icepick”; and other key Corbyn allies have been hounded out of the Party by the Labour bureaucracy and the right-wing media.
At the same time, as the Corbyn’s opponents undermine him internally, the Tory press slings mud at him from all angles. The latest episode in this farce is the criticism that Jeremy Corbyn did not bow “deeply enough” at the Cenotaph at the Remembrance Sunday commemorations. Conveniently neglecting to mention that he was the only party leader to stay behind to talk to war veterans, Sir Gerald Howarth, a former Tory defence minister, stated in the Telegraph that,
“The Leader of the Opposition needs to understand that you cannot compromise on respect for our fallen, because it is those of our country who have put their lives on the line in two World Wars, who safeguarded for us the freedom to speak our minds today.
“He is a beneficiary of the sacrifice those men and women were prepared to make, and he needs to be uncompromising in his gratitude for them and not to use weasel words.
“He is an embarrassment to his party and also he is an embarrassment in the grudging way in which he is adjusting to his new responsibilities. He is an embarrassment to our country.”
For the representatives of the Establishment such as Howarth and co., however, it doesn't matter if Corbyn sings the national anthem, wears a red poppy, lays a wreath at the Cenotaph, and has his shirt buttoned and his tie done properly. What the ruling class really wants is for Corbyn to say: "Yes, I will bomb other countries in defence of the interests of British imperialism or when the President of the USA tells me to. Yes, I renounce all of my previous views on international relations and the monarchy" - and to say this whilst kneeling in front of the unelected head of state, respectfully kissing her hand, and taking an obscure oath of secrecy going back to 1300…and then to resign as leader of the Labour Party in favour of Liz Kendall!
Defend Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!
The best form of defence is offence. Some within Corbyn’s camp have naively talked about trying to maintain “unity”, opposing the question of mandatory reselection of MPs aimed at removing the Blairite disease that has infected the Party. They hope that they can avoid a conflict with the right-wing by refusing to retaliate and rise to such provocations. But Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP will accept no compromise. They will not be happy until Corbyn resigns as leader and Liz Kendall or some other Blairite clone sits upon the throne. In this respect, weakness invites aggression, and appeals for “unity” will be a unity of the grave for Corbyn.
The call for mandatory reselection is now a vital one. Corbyn’s supporters cannot stand aside calling for a truce, whilst his opponents line up to stab him in the back. Either these Tories in disguise are removed, or they will continue in their attempts to remove Corbyn. At the very least, as Ken Livingstone commented on social media, the demand must be made for Blairite MPs such as Simon Danczuk and Frank Field to be suspended for their open attacks against Corbyn and their suggestion that deselected MPs should trigger by-elections and run as independents against Labour. “The people driving this are trying to undermine the leader who has just been elected, and that’s completely unacceptable,” the former London Mayor stated.
Indeed, the behaviour and words of the Blairites reeks of hypocrisy from beginning to end. They paint themselves as the paragons of democracy, and yet Danczuk et al. have talked openly about launching a “coup” against Corbyn; they berate the Left for organising in groups like Momentum, and yet the Right apparently has an inalienable right to organise in Progress and all manner of other pro-business lobbying groups; and they attack Corbyn’s supporters for “not supporting Labour values”, whilst voting for Tory austerity bills in Parliament.
Comments of support for Fisher below an online petition calling for his reinstatement demonstrate that Corbyn supporters and Labour rank-and-file members understand very well the reality of the situation. In this respect, the provocations of the Blairites may well backfire and blow up in their faces, highlighting their hypocrisy, undermining their legitimacy, and acting as a catalyst for Labour members to get organised and fight back.
“This suspension smacks of an attack on the leadership. MPs vocally attacking the leadership in the media are guilty of much greater disloyalty yet are not censured,” writes Christine in support of Fisher. Another comment below the petition, by Alex M., asserts that, “it is an obviously politically motivated attack on the leader and from people some of whom have openly said they would flout the democratic decision of the party membership. It is just so hypocritical.”
Helen F. also highlights the asymmetry between the measures taken against Fisher and the provocative and damaging behaviour of the Blairites:
“Singling out Andrew Fisher in this way at a time when a number of prominent members (Simon Danczuk, Tristram Hunt, Frank Field etc) are openly hostile to Jeremy Corbyn in the press without sanction is unfair and damaging. An ill-judged tweet is much less harmful to the Labour Party than those senior figures who undermine its democratically elected leadership.”
Janet O., meanwhile, accurately sums up the situation with her comments:
“I elected Jeremy to be leader because I think he represents the true values of the Labour movement. The attempts of the PLP to stage a coup should be resisted not least because they are undemocratic. If these people do not like the party they purport to support then either they should change or go. The membership should not reflect the PLP; the PLP should represent the membership.”
Such comments show the real mood of anger amongst Labour members and supporters, who will not tolerate any more of these attacks against the Corbyn leadership. The task now is to channel this anger and desire for change.
The leaders of the trade unions, with the support and organisation of groups like Momentum, must now through their full weight behind Corbyn and organise his supporters to get into the Labour Party and boot out the Blairites. Those attacking the Labour leader must be told in no uncertain terms: either you support Corbyn and the programme he was elected on; or we will replace you with someone who will.
Only once the right-wing has been vomited out of the Party can there be genuine unity – unity around the anti-austerity policies that Corby’s landslide victory was based on. Only then can the fight against the Tories and for a socialist alternative really begin.
- Reinstate Andrew Fisher!
- Kick out the Blairites! Kick out Capitalism!
- Defend Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!