One week in, and the first round of the Labour leadership contest is over. Already, leadership hopeful Clive Lewis is out of the race, leaving five candidates remaining. In reality, however, the election is a straight up battle between the left and the right.
At the same time, the establishment are piling pressure on left-wing candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey (‘RLB’) to concede to their demands. The Corbyn movement must stand firm in the face of these attacks.
Indeed, as the old sports saying goes, the best defence is offence. In other words, we must use this opportunity to fight back and drive the rotten remnants of Blairism out of the party. This is the best way to draw a clear line in the sand and mobilise members for a left victory.
No return to Blairism
The Labour right wing are clearly feeling emboldened. They, along with the capitalist establishment that they ultimately represent, have rallied behind their champion in this contest: ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer.
This former barrister and knight of the realm has come out on top in terms of nominations from Labour MPs and MEPs, gaining 89 endorsements. This puts Starmer comfortably ahead of his rivals, including RLB, Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy, and Emily Thornberry.
Unlike in 2015, when MPs ‘lent’ candidates their support in the interest of ‘having a wider debate’, this time round nominations closely align with the politics of the candidates. Right-wing MPs have learnt from their previous mistakes, which allowed Corbyn to make it onto the ballot, thus accidently opening up the Pandora’s Box that has haunted them for the last five years.
These endorsements therefore help to shine a light on what interests the different candidates really represent, as well as the balance of forces within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).
Despite her claims that the “label of Blairite is meaningless” and “doesn’t fit”, for example, most New Labour acolytes and unreconstructed Blairites (such as Wes Streeting and Margaret Hodge) have pinned their colours to Phillips’ mast. By contrast, MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group have given their backing to their comrade, Rebecca Long-Bailey.
Starmer’s list of supporters, meanwhile, includes no shortage of right-wing rogues from the past few years, including outspoken Corbyn critics such as Margaret Beckett, Ben Bradshaw, and the Eagle sisters. His campaign, meanwhile, is being run by the same people as those involved in Owen Smith’s in 2016.
Sweet-talking the left-wing mass membership, the Holborn and St Pancras MP has said that Labour members must “neither trash the last Labour government…nor the last four years under Jeremy Corbyn”. He has affirmed his support for the 2017 manifesto (but curiously not the 2019 one…?). And he has stated that “Corbyn was right to make us the party to fight austerity”.
On the one hand, this shows how far Labour has been transformed. The influx of hundreds of thousands of radicalised workers and youth has shifted the party overwhelmingly to the left. CLPs, the party conference, and even the party apparatus are now largely dominated by Corbyn supporters.
This mass movement forms a formidable monolith that cannot be toppled head on. Hence the need for Starmer, a Trojan horse for the right wing, to cloak himself in the language of the left, in order to appeal to grassroots members and lull them into supporting him under the banner of ‘unity’.
But, as we stated previously: you should judge a man not by the words he speaks, but by the company that he keeps. For all his pseudo-left-wing rhetoric, the figures backing the shadow Brexit secretary demonstrate more than anything what a Starmer victory would mean in practice.
Under Starmer, there would be no ‘broad church’, but a full-scale onslaught against the left. After being sidelined and driven underground in recent years, the right wing in the party would reemerge from the shadows, emboldened and determined to viciously crush any remnants of the Corbyn movement.
There is therefore clearly a battle to fight in the coming weeks. Activists must organise and mobilise in order to resist any attempts to return the party to Blairism. This, in turn, requires bold, militant leadership, armed with clear socialist demands.
Fight the witch-hunt
The preparations for this attack against the left are already underway. Yesterday morning, the Board of Deputies (BoD) of British Jews, published a list of 10 pledges on antisemitism, which they demanded that all Labour leadership candidates “publically and unequivocally endorse”.
Included are demands to “make the party’s disciplinary process independent”; to exclude any “MPs, councillors, members or CLPs who support, campaign or provide a platform” for anyone charged of antisemitism; and to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism without qualification – a definition that was even criticised previously by none other than turncoat former MP Chuka Umunna for restricting criticism of the Israeli state and its racist actions.
For good measure, the BoD asserts that “Labour must engage with the Jewish community via its main representatives groups, and not through fringe organisations and individuals”. In other words, there must be no cavorting with ‘bad Jews’ in grassroots groups such as Jewish Voice for Labour; no, only the religious establishment may be allowed a say.
Today we release our #TenPledges, identifying 10 key points we believe Labour needs to sign up to in order to begin healing its relationship with the Jewish community.— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) January 12, 2020
We would expect candidates for Labour Leader or Deputy Leader to publicly & unequivocally endorse these in full pic.twitter.com/fN66jv00c7
These diktats amount to nothing less than a constitutional code for a witch-hunt against the left – a blueprint for a purge.
Opposition to Zionist imperialism is to be suppressed. Aping McCarthyism and the Stalinist purges, anyone defending the accused will be deemed guilty by association. And all of this is to be overseen by a process that is “independent” – independent of the membership, that is, stripped of any democratic control or accountability, and firmly in the hands of a right-wing policeman.
Unsurprisingly, Starmer immediately leapt to support the BoD’s “recommendations”. Unfortunately, RLB followed suit, declaring that she too would enact all 10 of the pledges if elected as Labour leader.
We must offer a firm word of warning, however: these demands are clearly designed to be a trap for the left, laid by the very same people who have led the charge against Corbyn and the left in recent years.
Rejecting them would undoubtedly provoke howls of accusations about antisemitism. But accepting them only hands ammunition to our opponents – ammunition that they will eagerly use against us in the future.
Making such concessions will not placate the right wing and the religious establishment. Indeed, if they are given an inch, they will go on to demand a mile.
Events over the last few years have shown categorically that those leading the hysterical antisemitism smear campaign will never be satisfied, no matter what conciliatory compromises are offered. All of the olive branches held out by the left leaders have been rebuffed with disdain.
Above all, bending to these pressures only acts to confuse and demoralise rank-and-file members, precisely at a time when direction and resolve is required. Weakness invites aggression, which in turn saps the left of its confidence and strength in the face of a vicious fight.
Rather than accepting the demands of our opponents, we must go on the offensive and tell the truth: this is a concerted campaign – a witch-hunt – being conducted by the right wing in an attempt to destroy the Corbyn movement. Only by standing firm can we fortify members and win the battle against the Blairites.
Amongst those limping over today’s nomination deadline was Richard Burgon, the left-wing MP for Leeds East. Although gaining the support of most of his comrades in the Socialist Campaign Group (which he chairs), Burgon only reached the required 22 endorsements at the 11th hour.
The primary reason for this is due to the confusion that has been sown from the top of the Corbyn movement – most notably from the Momentum leadership. This is compounded by the fact that there is a lack of left-wing MPs in the PLP, do to the failure to bring in mandatory reselection in recent years.
Unfortunate illusions have been fostered in Burgon’s rival for the deputy position, Angela Rayner. These do not originate within this contest, but have been brewing for some years, with Rayner promoted by a layer of the labour movement bureaucracy to act as a moderating force against the more avowedly socialist left.
In return for giving RLB a clear run at the leadership job, Rayner has been given the blessing of certain influential left-wing organisations and figures, including Momentum and Long-Bailey herself (who also happens to be Rayner’s flatmate). The justification given is that this will help to ‘unite the left’ going forwards.
Following a meeting of its National Coordinating Group (NCG) on Saturday, Momentum announced that it would be recommending a vote for RLB and Rayner in the leadership elections.
“We need a leader and deputy leader who trust each other, work well together and will unite our party in opposition to the Tories,” stated an email to Momentum members at the weekend.
But we must we wary of such ‘unity’. After all, the Machiavellian Tom Watson was also promoted as the left candidate back in 2015, endorsed by Unite and others, before going on to attack Corbyn and left-wing members at every turn. (In an interesting parallel, he was even a former housemate of Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary with whom he later clashed.)
The nominations Rayner has received also shed light on whose interests she really represents, with many of the same right-wingers that are backing Starmer also throwing their support behind the shadow education secretary. Arch-Blairites such as Hilary Benn, Dan Jarvis, and Rachel Reeves, for example, are amongst those who have endorsed Rayner.
Our movement needs class fighters, armed with socialist policies. This means electing representatives not on the basis of who they live with, but for the programme and ideas that they defend.
Democracy vs bureaucracy
To add a democratic gloss to their decision, the Momentum NCG have also promised members a vote in the coming days. But this will be no exercise in genuine democracy. Rather, it will be a potentially meaningless consultative vote, with members effectively being asked to rubber-stamp the fait accompli being presented from on high.
What would happen, for example, if Momentum members were to overturn the leadership’s decision and vote for Burgon? The result would be a farce, with Momentum then being forced to publicly recommend and campaign for a candidate they had previously dismissed. Such flip-flopping would make a laughing stock of the left.
A similar bureaucratic mess can be seen by the support given to Keir Starmer by the leadership of Unison, the large public sector union. Scandalously, a meeting of the union’s Labour Link committee last week agreed to back the right-winger, without any consultation amongst the wider membership. This was followed up with a ringing endorsement from Unison chief Dave Prentis in a recent Guardian article.
“Time and time again, Keir has put his forensic legal skills and talents at the service of working people,” Prentis assures activists, “standing shoulder to shoulder with those fighting injustice”. But every real gain for the working class has been won through organisation and struggle, not by relying on the “skills and talents” of lawyers.
Today, similarly, we need a Labour leadership that will inspire a mass movement to mobilise and fight. And again, this requires a bold socialist programme, not the reheated Blairism that Starmer and his supporters will be serving up to labour movement activists. This is what union leaders should be saying to their members.
Complete the transformation
Tomorrow, at 5pm, a narrow two-day window will open for supporters to register in order to be able to vote in the upcoming election.
The right wing will clearly be organising to sign up ‘moderates’, in the hope of shifting the balance in their favour. The left must respond with a mass campaign to flood the party with new members and supporters. This should be spearheaded by Momentum and big Corbyn-supporting unions such as Unite, along with grassroots efforts by local Labour left groups and networks.
After that, candidates will be looking for CLP nominations, with local parties meeting to debate who to endorse in the coming weeks. Again, the left must mobilise activists to dominate these events, and provide RLB and Burgon with a wave of support from across the country. This, in turn, would provide a powerful platform for a left campaign to win the vote amongst the wider membership and supporter base.
Above all, such a campaign must be fought by organising grassroots activists around clear socialist demands. Attempts to compromise or placate the establishment and their media mouthpieces will only result in disorientation and demoralisation, hampering efforts to mobilise radicalised workers and youth.
This is the lesson from previous leadership contests, and from the mass Labour election campaigns seen in 2017 and 2019. Bold, radical demands are the secret to success.
The current battle, however, will not be a simple repeat of these previous struggles. In 2015 and 2016, Corbyn represented a clear break with the Blairite past. His anti-austerity programme found an enormous echo, shifting the debate going forwards. Now, however, even figures like Starmer and Rayner are forced (at least in words) to adopt such a stance, muddying the waters in the process.
To draw a clear line in the sand in this leadership election, therefore, Long-Bailey and Burgon must come out with a fighting, radical, socialist programme – one that unquestionably differentiates them from their rivals.
This means not only standing firm in the face of smears and slanders, but also going on the offensive against those who are ultimately behind these scandalous campaigns: the Blairites in the PLP. And the way to do this is to come out forcefully in favour of mandatory reselection (‘open selection’), in order to drive out the saboteurs and gangsters who are destroying our party from the inside.
The Corbyn movement has come a long way, transforming the Labour Party from top-to-bottom. But in reality this transformation was never fully completed.
As a result, the Labour civil war is set to intensify. This will be a struggle to determine the life and soul of the party. We must not allow a return to Blairism. It is the duty of all socialists to organise to prevent this – and to complete the ‘Corbyn revolution’.