Sunday, 10 July 2016

Where Eagle Dares

So, after nine months, during which time the right-wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and their external supporters, in organisations such as Progress and Labour First, and amongst the Tory media, have been plotting as to how to unseat Jeremy Corbyn, and to overturn the massive mandate he has from the party in all its sections, they now seem to have decided on the means to achieve it. It appears a typically undemocratic, and gutless manoeuvre, which demonstrates just what an elitist bunch they are, and the extent to which they are removed from the party, and from the reality of the working-class in modern Britain.

The outline of their coup is clear. First, they imagined that Corbyn was as spineless and gutless as they are. They hoped that by applying continual pressure on him through the PLP and via the Tory media, they would force him to stand down. That failed, and threw their chicken coup into disarray. The reason they hoped to get Corbyn to stand down was clear. In any new contest, they knew they would lose, and would probably lose by an even larger margin than last year, strengthening Jeremy's position, and posing the stark question to them of how long they could remain in the Labour Party themselves.

In fact, having failed in their coup attempt, it backfired. Tens of thousands of people who were aghast at their antics, joined the party to support Jeremy against the plotters. Demonstrations of thousands more erupted spontaneously across the country to support Jeremy, and denounce the plotters. Constituency Labour Parties, including thatof Angela Eagle, passed resolutions supporting Jeremy, and calling on their MP's not to support the “No Confidence” motion initiated by the plotters. Indicative of the disregard for democracy that the PLP have, most MP's ignored the votes passed by their own CLP's and branches.

It was clear that in any fair election, Jeremy would win hands down. But, its now clear that the plotters next strategy is to stand Angela Eagle as a right-wing candidate – though she will, of course, be described as a moderate by the plotters and the Tory media – and to try to prevent Jeremy from being on the ballot by bureaucratic means. They have delayed, it seems, whilst they try to ensure that they have sufficient support on Labour's NEC to push through an interpretation of the rules, which would prevent Jeremy being automatically on the ballot. It seems they must now think they have such an NEC majority.

The first thing to do, therefore, is for the trades unions to ensure that their representatives on the NEC do not allow that to happen. It is also up to Labour Party members in socialist societies and elsewhere to put pressure on other NEC members to prevent Jeremy being bureaucratically kept off the ballot. Preventing Jeremy being on the ballot is not just against all concepts of natural justice given that he has only just been elected by such a huge majority, but it also goes against the legal advice that the LP obtained recently, which suggests that the requirement for nominations only applies to situations where there is a vacancy, and to challengers to an incumbent, not to the incumbent themselves. The requirement for a minimum number of nominations was intended to prevent frivolous challenges to an existing leader, not as a bureaucratic means of unseating a democratically elected leader, especially one so recently elected by such a huge majority!

There has been a lot of talk about legal challenges that might arise in the event of Jeremy being kept off the ballot. However, socialist principle requires that we do not settle our internal affairs through the bosses courts. The plotters claim that they are parliamentary democrats. In that case, let them prove it. The question of the Labour Party's rules is one that should be resolved through its own internal parliamentary democracy. The sovereign parliament of the Labour party, in that respect, is its conference. If the rules on the leadership election are unclear, then they should be made clear by the convening of a special rules conference, before any leadership election occurs.

Such a conference could be convened in a matter of weeks. There is no rush for a leadership election, because Parliament is about to go into its Summer recess. But, of course, the reason the plotters were desperate to unseat Jeremy now, is precisely for that reason, and ahead of any changes in the party's rules that might be carried through at this year's annual conference.

There is no rational reason why a leadership contest should not be postponed until after such a Rules Conference, because the reality is, whatever the plotters might think, that if they were to push through their bureaucratic plans to keep Jeremy off the ballot, then at the annual conference, there would likely be a motion to overturn the leadership election result, to call for a re-run of the election with Jeremy on the ballot, and to clarify the rules making it clear that, in such future elections, the incumbent is automatically on the ballot, should they choose to stand. In fact, in my opinion, the rules should be changed so that the privileged position of the PLP is removed. If its one member one vote, then that is what it should be, and any challengers should be required only to obtain nominations from the party itself, not just from the PLP.

And, of course, if the plotters keep Jeremy off the ballot, not only would any such rigged election quickly be overturned by the members acting through conference, but it would also virtually ensure the passage of further rule changes introducing mandatory reselection of MP's, as well as setting off a firestorm of such deselections of members of the PLP, who have acted so petulantly and self-servingly, at a time when the focus should have been on attacking the Tories.

The plotters know that, if Jeremy is on the ballot, he will win by a huge majority, and their own position will then become untenable. They would, in practice, have to at least splinter from the party, setting up their own parliamentary group, which might keep them in a job for another four years, but would mean they were consigned to history after that. They must think they have a majority on the NEC.

But, if an election between Jeremy and Angela Eagle does take place, what would be the real basis of it? The plotters continually talk about Jeremy being a nice man, but that they can't support him, simply because he does not have leadership skills. That again simply demonstrates how spineless and gutless the plotters are. They cannot even come out openly to oppose Corbyn, and the majority of the Labour Party, politically. Why, because the politics of the plotters are failed politics. They are the politics of Blair and Brown.

On the most important issues, it was Corbyn who was on the right side, and his opponents that were on the wrong side. We have just had the publication of the Chilcot Report, which was a damning indictment of the Blair government, and the way he took the country to war in Iraq. Jeremy Corbyn was a vocal and principled opponent of the war. John Prescott, who was Deputy Leader, at the time, has come out to say that he now thinks that Blair took the country into an illegal war. But, Angela Eagle was a loyal follower of Blair, at that time, and voted for the war.

In any leadership contest, we should ask whether she apologises for her part in taking the country into an illegal war, and all of the suffering it caused to the people of Iraq, and the surrounding states, that have now been over run by sectarianism, and Islamist terrorism, as well as the suffering to all of those British families that have lost their sons and daughters in that war, or whose sons and daughters have suffered terrible injuries. A motion is to be put to Parliament, holding Tony Blair in contempt of Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will probably vote for such a motion. We should ask Angela Eagle if she too will support such a motion.

More recently, Angela Eagle, and the other possible leadership challenger, Owen Smith, abstained rather than opposing the Tories' Welfare Bill, that cut billions of pounds of benefits from the disabled and poorest in society. Yet, they claim that they have changed, in recent months, following Jeremy's election. They now claim that they have had a Damascene conversion to his policies of anti-austerity and so on. How can anyone believe that when they only so recently failed to oppose the Tories cuts and austerity measures? How can we believe that when they were quite happy to go along with such cuts proposed by Alistair Darling in the last Labour Government, and failed to provide any opposition to Tory austerity measures, proposing the need for austerity themselves during the period after 2010?

Back in the 1980's, when the People's March for Jobs came through Stoke in 1981 and in 1983, as a prominent Labour and trades union activist – I was a Stoke City Councillor in 1983 – I helped make the local arrangements for the march. A number of marchers bunked down in my house. One of them was Lol Duffy, who on another occasion gave me a ride on his motorbike, from a conference in Oxford, so that I could get home just in time to catch a plane to go on my holidays. Lol had been a shop steward at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead. When the yard faced closure, Lol was at the forefront in opposing it, and was even jailed for taking part in an occupation of the yards.

But, like most trades union activists at that time, Lol was also an active Labour Party member, heavily involved in Labour Party campaigns in the area. There are many similarities with the current situation. On the back of his long-term commitment, his standing within the community, and his clear socialist principles, Lol became the official Labour Party candidate in Wallasey in the 1987 General Election. Like Jeremy Corbyn today, even getting to that position had not been easy. Despite the strength of support locally, and within the Wallasey CLP, Lol faced continual opposition from the national Labour leadership, under the domination of the right-wing Kinnock.

Wallasey, at the time, was a Tory held constituency, but the campaign that Lol and his supporters waged came close to overturning the Tory majority. Wallasey had been a Tory seat since 1918. It was occupied by Lynda Chalker, a prominent member of Thatcher's government. But, as a result of Lol's campaign, which mobilised people from across the community, estates and workplaces, Labour's vote rose by 39% in the election, and Lol was just 279 votes short of winning. But, it was no thanks to Kinnock and the Labour leadership who tried to undermine his campaign throughout.

A large part of the campaign against Lol, as the official Labour candidate, came not from the Tories, but from within the Labour Party itself, initially in the form of the odious right-winger Frank Field, who was the MP for the neighbouring Birkenhead constituency. Field, much like the plotters today, slank around various Tory newspapers spreading poison against Lol. He wrote a letter to an anonymous “constituent”, which then appeared in a local paper. The letter said,

I can tell you in the most definite terms that I shall not be supporting Duffy. I have refused to appear on any platforms with him and I hope Cammell Laird workers similarly will refuse to give him a hearing when he tries to gatecrash on our factory-gate meetings during the election campaign."

I had a similar experience myself. In 1983, I was selected along with another socialist to stand in the Burslem Central Ward of Stoke on Trent City Council. I unseated a sitting right-wing Labour councillor for the position. He immediately left the Labour Party to stand as an Independent Labour Councillor, with the full backing of the local Tory media, and many other right-wing Labour Councillors, who put up his posters in their windows, rather than official Labour posters. We launched one of the biggest most active campaigns the ward had seen. Both myself and Jason Hill, the other Labour candidate, were returned with huge votes, and huge majorities, much larger than had been seen in the ward for decades, despite a relentless campaign by the local press against me, particularly, for months ahead of the election. The previous Labour councillor sunk without trace.

In 1989, I was selected to stand for the County Council, in a different ward, after I had moved house. The Regional Labour Party, found a technicality to overturn the selection meeting, and the Branch Chair was told by the Regional Organiser that if they selected me again, they would close down the Branch. In the end, I decided not to stand, rather than see the branch closed down. It was not until 1997, that I again was selected, and was elected to the County Council with 60% of the votes cast in the election!

Similarly, despite the tremendous success that Lol and his supporters achieved in Wallasey, it was not long before Kinnock and the right-wing of the Labour Party began to move against him. By the time the 1992 general election came along, Lol had been suspended from the party, along with many of the other activists. The Constituency Labour Party had been suspended, and a new “safe” candidate was imposed upon it, by Kinnock and the right-wing Labour leadership. That “safe” Labour candidate imposed on the party, by Kinnock and the Labour right, was Angela Eagle.

In the years since, that process of undermining party democracy has been continued by the party leadership. The main reason that the PLP is at odds today with Corbyn, is that Corbyn has been elected by the party members, and is reflective of them, and of Labour voters, whereas the PLP is composed in its large majority of right-wing, careerist MP's that were imposed on local parties over recent years, by the Blair/Brown party apparatus.

The solution to that is to bring the PLP into alignment with the party itself, and with Corbyn as its Leader. That means that we will need to have a wholesale clear-out of all those careerist MP's, and the selection of a new set of Labour MP's that are more reflective of the party.

1 comment:

Long Ben Avery said...

An excellent and illuminating piece of writing.I wish you the best of luck in the coming struggle.