Britain: where next for the Labour Party?

The dust has barely settled on last week’s shock election result, but already the Blairites are carrying out a ferocious attack on the Labour left.

New Labour ‘grandees’ such as Peter Mandelson and Alan Johnson have wasted no time in denouncing Corbyn and his supporters for ‘destroying’ the party. “I want them out of the party,” shrieked Johnson, launching into a tirade live on-air during the ITV election night coverage only moments after the exit polls came in. “I want Momentum gone.”

“Labour needs to break the grip of the hard left,” instructed the Financial Times in one headline yesterday. This is nothing less than a bugle call from big business, alerting its agents inside the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that the battle is on.

With many on the left still reeling from Labour’s disappointing defeat, the Blairites are clearly going on the offensive. All manner of careerist creatures and right-wing fossils have crawled out of the woodwork in recent days to castigate the Corbyn movement. Piling in one after another, these right-wingers hope to take advantage of the shellshock and disorientation in order to regain control of the party.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have fallen on their swords, accepting responsibility for Labour’s loss and standing down from their positions. But their critics have nevertheless taken the opportunity to stick the knife in for good measure.

After months of low-level skirmishing, the Labour civil war is now set to bubble up once again into a full-scale, head-on confrontation. We therefore have an immediate task on our hands: to regather our forces and organise for the struggle ahead; to deliver the Blairite wing of the party a knockout blow; and to sweep these gangsters into the dustbin of history, where they belong.

The race begins

Labour members will not have a moment to rest. Still regaining their breath after weeks of tireless campaigning, activists must now regroup to push for a suitable successor to Corbyn.

RLB Rayner McDonnell Image Socialist AppealLeft candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey is the frontrunner to become leader / Image: Socialist Appeal

Jennie Formby, the party’s general secretary, has suggested that the contest should begin early next year on 7 January, with a new leader in place by the end of March.

Already various contenders are throwing their hat into the ring to replace Corbyn. And the deputy leadership position must also be filled, following the surprise departure of Blairite ringleader Tom Watson.

Under new party rules, those looking to secure a place on the ballot paper will have to earn the endorsement of at least 10% of the PLP (that is, around 20 Labour MPs), as well as nominations from trade unions or 5% of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).

Early names mentioned as likely candidates include: arch-Blairite Jess Phillips, who gained notoriety for her comments on how she would happily “stab Corbyn in the front”; right-winger Lisa Nandy, who headed-up Owen Smith’s lackluster leadership challenge in 2016; current shadow cabinet members and ardent Remainers, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry; soft-left shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner; and shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Those looking to “break the grip of the hard left” face a problem, however – namely, democracy. The self-proclaimed ‘moderates’ constitute a tiny fraction of the party’s mass membership. Even with their current efforts to recruit and tip the balance in their favour, the Labour right-wingers will never be able to outnumber the hundreds of thousands of radicalised workers and youth who have joined the Labour Party in recent years because of Corbyn and the left-wing programme he represented.

Who’s to blame?

Even the Economist – the prominent liberal journal – was forced to admit defeat on this front recently. For all the attempts to blame Corbyn and Corbynism for Labour’s recent electoral loss, the Blairites have to reluctantly acknowledge that the manifesto of radical policies is widely popular. “Mr Corbyn was toxic,” states the same Economist article, “but his broader views on the case for more public spending and unrigging Britain’s rigged economy won widespread support.”

The left’s opponents have made much of a recent Opinium survey, which indicated that the main reason given by Labour defectors for their vote-switching was the party’s leadership. This should come as no surprise, however.

As we explained previously, and as both Corbyn and McDonnell have themselves correctly emphasised in their own election post-mortems, is it any wonder that voters have been turned off from Labour, after four years of non-stop smears, lies, and attacks.

Of course, we should expect nothing less from those right-wing rags and establishment outlets that have always attempted to crush anyone who stands up for the working class and the oppressed. But we must above all point the finger at the Blairites – that Fifth Column in the PLP – who have constantly led the chorus when it comes to slandering Corbyn.

These ladies and gentlemen, who have spent far more time attacking the democratically-elected leadership than the Tories across the aisle, now have the audacity to blame the target of their harassment for Labour’s loss.

No appetite for Blairism

Meanwhile, the right wing’s own ideas have been shown to be a spectacular failure in this election. The areas that have turned blue are those that were neglected by three successive New Labour governments, often with right-wing Labour councils carrying out cuts locally over the past decade too.

The lies and spin of the Blair years – as much as anything – are responsible for the cynicism and distrust towards Westminster politics so-frequently seen on the doorstep last Thursday.

And it was Blairites such as Tom Watson who were most insistent in demanding a second referendum, thus pushing working-class Leave voters into Boris Johnson’s arms in order to “Get Brexit Done”.

As both the Opinium poll and other recent surveys demonstrate, Labour’s left-wing, class-based programme is not the reason for our electoral defeat. Only 6 percent of former Labour voters cited “economic policies” as their reason for turning to the Tories this time round, according to Opinium’s figures. Indeed, policies such as nationalisation have widespread support, and were frequently met with a positive response when canvassing working-class households.

In short, there is clearly no appetite – either amongst Labour members or voters – for any form of reheated Blairism. Jess Phillips therefore stands little chance. Similarly in regards to right-wingers such as Lisa Nandy. Candidates such as Starmer and Thornberry, meanwhile, are unlikely to have much luck in the leadership contest, given their track record of attempting to turn Labour into a purely Remainer party.

For all these reasons, the Labour right wing are already largely resigned to losing. But they still won’t go down without a fight.

Carrying the torch

Despite the best efforts of the Blairites, Rebecca Long-Bailey is clearly the frontrunner to win. John McDonnell has heavily-hinted that she is his preferred candidate. She is likely to gain the official backing of Unite and Momentum. And she also ticks all the various identity-based boxes (northerner; female; etc.) that are being pushed from the top.

However, pernicious identity politics aside, ‘RLB’ is also the best of the bunch politically – the only potential contender mentioned so far who can genuinely represent the socialist aspirations of Labour’s mass membership. It is vital that members back her to carry the torch of the Corbyn movement.

Corbyn McDonnell Formby standing Image Socialist AppealThis leadership contest can become a platform for taking on the Blairites and the Tories / Image: Socialist Appeal

As shadow business secretary, Long-Bailey has been close to McDonnell and Corbyn in drawing up this year’s radical manifesto, spearheading the campaign for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. Unlike Rayner, she has been a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, ever since being elected to represent her Salford and Eccles constituency in 2015. And at the last Labour Party conference, she pledged her support for the words of the old Clause IV, stating that “it might not be on the back of our membership cards anymore, but it’s in our hearts.”

At the time of writing, rumours are circling that Rayner might stand aside in order to present a single left candidate. Rather than competing for the top position, it seems that RLB and Rayner might present themselves instead as a leader and deputy leader combo deal.

If such an arrangement transpires, it would no doubt be the result of bureaucratic wrangling at the top. Rayner is backed by Unison, the large public sector union that is dominated by Dave Prentis’ right-wing leadership. They and others would hope to use such a maneuver to avoid opening up a wider political discussion in the coming months, and to soften Long-Bailey’s more radical edges.

Whatever happens, members must ensure that political debate is not squashed or stunted by any attempted coronation. It is vital that members are given a genuine, democratic say in deciding the future direction of our movement; in determining the soul of our party.

To this end, Long-Bailey should run a bold campaign – on a programme of clear socialist policies – in order to galvanise members, boost the confidence of Labour activists, and inspire even more workers and youth to join the party. In such a way, this leadership contest can be turned into a potent platform for taking on both the Blairites and the Tories.

Clear out the saboteurs

For all the reasons outlined above, we can expect – and hope – to see Long-Bailey take over at the top of the Labour Party. And with a new crop of militant left-wing MPs elected last week (such as Apsana Begum in Poplar and Limehouse), the material is there to form a united team that can take the fight to the Tories.

But the elephant in the room still remains: the Blairite saboteurs in the PLP, who have yet to be purged from the party. Many of their leading lights – such as Tom Watson, Chuka Umunna, John Mann, Frank Field, Luciana Berger, Ian Austin and John Woodcock – may have departed and defected. But many more are still at large, lurking and biding their time, waiting for the moment to pounce.

GoodbyeBlairites Image Socialist AppealThe PLP is still dominated by the right-wing detritus of the past / Image: Socialist Appeal

At the end of the day, their issue lies not with Corbyn, but the radical mass movement that has formed behind him since 2015. Even with Corbyn and McDonnell retiring to the backbenches, the Blairite Fifth Column will not cease with their attacks – not until they have crushed the left and regained control of the party on behalf of the establishment.

In truth, these careerists and crooks should have been cleared out long ago. But unfortunately the opportunity to do so was repeatedly missed. Union leaders pushed mandatory reselection off the agenda at the 2018 Labour conference. Self-appointed Momentum leader Jon Lansman has consistently declared his opposition to ‘open selection’. And NEC bureaucrats imposed (often right-wing) candidates on CLPs in advance of the recent election.

The result of this has been that these right-wing Labour MPs have been handed a free rein to attack the leadership – dividing and weakening our movement, and distracting from the urgent task of fighting the Tories and their programme of austerity.

At the same time, by allowing Blairite MPs to keep their seats, we have limited the number of left-wing MPs and class fighters who can emerge and come through. Instead, the PLP is still dominated by the right-wing detritus of the past.

Complete the transformation

The Labour Party has undoubtedly been transformed since Corbyn’s leadership victory in 2015. Hundreds-of-thousands of new members have flooded in, inspiring by the bold vision and programme developed and defended by Corbyn and McDonnell. Local parties have largely been taken over by the left. And an unprecedented mass political movement has taken to the streets in recent weeks in an effort to secure a Labour win.

Labour election rally Corbyn Hackney Dec 2019 Image Socialist AppealThe question of mandatory reselection must be placed firmly front and centre, in order to complete the ‘Corbyn revolution’ / Image: Socialist Appeal

But, ironically, it is arguably Boris Johnson who has transformed his own party even further. Within weeks of being elected by the reactionary rabble that constitutes the Conservative Party membership, the new PM had expelled dissenting ‘moderate’ MPs from his party. These ladies and gentlemen were duly replaced with candidates of the demagogic, right-wing Johnson mould.

With all Tory candidates singing loudly from the same hymn sheet, Johnson was rewarded for his ruthless attitude with a clear majority at the recent election. By comparison, with the Blairites endlessly attacking Corbyn for the past four years, the Labour Party came across as weak, split, and divided.

In the months ahead, therefore, the question of mandatory reselection must be placed firmly front and centre, in order to complete the ‘Corbyn revolution’ that began in 2015.

This should go hand-in-hand with the demand for “workers’ MPs on a worker’s wage”, in order to purge the party of careerism. The newly-elected Labour MP Nadia Whittome (also the youngest member of Parliament) has set the correct example, pledging to only take an average workers’ wage in return for representing the people of Nottingham East.

Educate. Agitate. Organise!

Above all, we need to build on the most positive thing to come out of this election: the incredible mass movement of energetic activists, which brought a whole new generation into political activity. Despite the defeat, we must make every effort to ensure that this dynamism does not now dissipate.

Labour election Leeds Nov 2019 Image Socialist AppealWe must not let the Blairites drag us back to the past. Onward to socialism! / Image: Socialist Appeal

The upcoming debate around the Labour leadership contest provides the perfect opportunity to do this. There should be a recruitment drive in every area – involving street stalls and social media – to organise newly engaged activists. Political education meetings and CLP youth events should be set up to integrate and mobilise those coming into the party. And mass meetings should be called in the New Year by local Momentum and Labour left groups, in order to discuss the lessons of this election, and to plan for the battles ahead.

We must not let the Blairites drag us back to the past. All that is living is on the left. We have taken a punch to the gut with last week’s election result. But our movement will experience all manner of knocks and setbacks along the way. We must not allow ourselves to be blown off course, but instead gather our forces and build an even bigger, stronger army – one armed with clear socialist ideas, capable of changing history forever.