Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Labour's Appearance and Reality - Part 2 of 2

In Part 1, I argued that Corbyn and his supporters have won a commanding victory in the Labour Party against the right. A weakened and defeated right have resorted to a duplicitous longer-term strategy to undermine Corbyn. But, nor should we be too self-satisfied about the apparent commanding position that Corbyn and his supporters now have within the party. In the 1980's, after long battles, and many weeks, days and hours of hard work within communities, the rank and file of the party had advanced considerably too, but it did not stop the right using all of the resources at their disposal to overturn that position by a series of undemocratic manoeuvres.

The outline of such a strategy by the right has been described by Paul Mason. Those of us who were around in the 1970's and 80's, have seen it all before. By far the greatest abuse and intimidation comes from the right of the party against the ordinary members, not from the left against an entrenched establishment. But, the right along with the party apparatus is able to utilise its position and its support within the Tory media to create a narrative that presents an entirely different picture.

We have seen that in practice in the manoeuvres of the old right-dominated NEC, which tried to limit support for Corbyn from members, disenfranchised 130,000 members from voting in the leadership election, closed down the party in the country for the last few months to frustrate organisation by the rank and file, and to give credence to the meme about intimidation, and which also changed the criteria for delegates to annual conference to gerrymander a support for the old right.  We saw the significance of that on Tuesday at conference, when that enabled the Conference Arrangements Committee to force through the proposal to add two additional, unelected members of the NEC, which reinforce the old right's vote on the new NEC, where they would have been in a minority.

In just the same way that today the Tory media continues to repeat the lie that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by the spending of the Blair Labour government on hospitals, schools and other vital infrastructure that had been left to rot by 18 years of Tory misrule, so today they continue the daily lie that Corbyn and his supporters are part of some Jewish-Communist conspiracy to take over the Labour Party and the levers of power. They brand the hundreds of thousands of ordinary party members as a “rabble”, “mob”, “Trots” and other forms of abuse hurled at them, alongside completely unsubstantiated claims about violence and intimidation. They then demand that Corbyn stop such acts, just as the Tories and Tory media insist that Labour should have acted to prevent the 2008 global financial crisis that was actually caused by immensely rich speculators.

One strand of the right's strategy will, therefore, be to intensify this campaign of lies and unfounded accusations of abuse and intimidation. They will use it, and their current control over the party apparatus to close down branches and CLP's, and to suspend and expel ordinary party members they see as supportive of Corbyn. In the meantime all of the former Tories like Sean Woodward will be welcomed with open arms. Day in day out, the right and the Tory media will bang on about this alleged abuse and intimidation, and Corbyn's failure to deal with it. They will seek to turn some of the union leaders, as a potential General Election looms nearer. And, as the right continue to snipe, and cause division they will hope, as it has done over recent months, that it will cause Labour's standing in the polls to remain low, putting further pressure on those union leaders to come to their aid.

There are a number of measures that Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum now need to pursue. Firstly, the Shadow Cabinet should be elected annually by all members, and the results announced at party conference along with the NEC election results. The old right had an opportunity to offer an olive branch in that regard, by agreeing the simple democratic principle that the representation on the NEC from Scotland and Wales, should be elected by the members in Scotland and Wales.  They blew that opportunity, by forcing through bureaucratically, and completely against the party's own rule book, the appointment of those delegates by the Scottish and Welsh party leaders, purely for short term factional advantage.  Had they not done so, there would have been grounds for some negotiation over how the Shadow Cabinet might be elected by some form of electoral college.  But, the old right have shown bad faith for short term advantage once again.  Now, there is no reason not to press ahead with the Shadow Cabinet being elected entirely by the party as whole.

Secondly, the rules for electing the leader and party leader should also be changed. They too should face annual elections, but the privileged position of the PLP in nominating candidates for the position should be ended. Thirdly, the new proposal for the Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties to have NEC representatives should be on the basis of those representatives being elected by the members of the Scottish and Welsh parties.  The bureaucratic manoeuvre pushed through by the old right on Tuesday must be overturned.  Firstly, the members in Scotland and Wales should demand, through their own organisations and conferences, the right to nominate and elect the leaders of the parties in those countries.  They should make clear that they are watching how Dugdale and Jones act on the NEC, and that their positions are at the discretion of party members in those countries.  The Scottish and Welsh parties should pass resolutions that make the decision of who sits on the NEC to represent them, the prerogative of party members in those countries, and not the patronage of the party leaders.

Thirdly, we should have a separate rules conference either later this year, or early next year, that has time to properly discuss the democratic organisation of the party in its new transformed condition. Such a Rules Conference, should reflect the party membership as it now exists, so that the delegates to that conference, reflect all of the 600,000 new members, and not just the old 200,000 members that the present conference reflects.  For one thing, its clear that the 6 NEC seats for CLP's is now wholly inadequate.  It reflected a party membership of 200,000, whereas it is now 600,000.  There should be at least 15 seats for CLP's on the NEC to reflect that transformation.  In fact, given that the NEC itself has been expanded to include the additional Scottish and Welsh delegates, there is a case for arguing that there should be one CLP representative on the NEC for every 30,000 members, which would give CLP's 20 seats.

But, we also need far wider changes that Momentum is in a good position to advance. The process of democratisation of the LP needs to be reflected in a democratisation of the trades unions too. For now, the union leadership of UNITE, and other large unions favours Corbyn, but it has often been the case that the trades unions have been the bastion of support for the Labour establishment against the members. We need Labour Party workplace branches, as used to exist in the early days of the Labour Party, and as started to be built again in the 1980's. Labour Party branches can reach across sectional divisions within workplaces, to all workers, and also translate the solution of industrial and economic issues into political policies and ideas. Similarly, in the early days of the Labour Party, we had Trades and Labour Councils. We should return to such forms of organisation, bringing together District Labour Parties with the local Trades Union Councils. In fact, preferably such organisation should also involve the local Co-operative Party and other co-operative organisations.

That would chime with the proposals that John McDonnell set out in his conference speech on Monday, and that Jeremy will set out in his speech today. But, this local organisation should extend on a much wider scale. In the 1980's, I was an enthusiastic proponent of community organising by the Labour Party, of encouraging local communities to establish tenants and residents committees to pursue their particular local concerns, as well as when I was a County Councillor establishing a local Regeneration Forum, with the purpose of bringing together such committees, to look at what was required in providing the necessary infrastructure to the wider area. We should actively pursue such a course that encourages the widest public involvement in reclaiming ownership and control of our lived environment, rather than simply relying on elected councillors, and local authority bureaucracies to deal with those situations. Real democracy involves more than simply voting every few years.

But, its also clear that as the party has changed, and will continue to change if such wider democratic involvement proceeds, then the elected representatives of the party will also have to change to reflect it. I can understand why Jeremy and his supporters do not want to talk about deselection of MP's, but the fact is that just as an exercise in democracy, the party's representatives should represent the nature of the party, and currently they do not, most noticeably in the case of the PLP, but also in respect of many of the councillors, and senior councillors, who secured their positions some years ago, under a different regime.

The process of reselection will proceed as a result of boundary changes, but the fact is that MP's should be in no more privileged position than any other servant of the party. Branch and CLP officers are elected each year, and incumbents have to be re-elected, councillors have to face mandatory reselection for each new council election. It is simple democracy that MP's should have to face mandatory reselection every time a parliamentary election is held.  Being an MP at the moment seems to be the only job, which gives its incumbent a guaranteed job for life.  That is not even bourgeois democracy, it is a return to the kind of feudal regime of past centuries, whose vestiges remain in the hereditary position of the Monarchy, and Aristocracy.  That has nothing in common with the kind of forward looking, 21st. century principles of democracy and collective aspiration that the Labour Party should represent.

At the moment, the PLP represent merely appearance, but it is an appearance that is starkly at odds with the reality of the current Labour Party. In the spirit of honest talking politics, Corbyn and his supporters should be as open in stating the obvious, and stating their belief,s as have been their opponents, including those comments, over the last few days, by people like Tom Watson, and Saddiq Khan.  The opponents of Corbyn have been open that they want to get rid of him as soon as possible, and by any means they can. Alan Johnson has said they should work day and night from now on to achieve that end. That at least is an honest statement of their position. They have had no reluctance to try to deselect Jeremy, to isolate him within his Shadow Cabinet, to bureaucratically stitch up the new NEC and so on. Its time that Jeremy and his supporters were just as clear in their own statements. Large numbers of the PLP, starting with the 172 that voted against him, are no longer in tune with the Labour Party. The CLP's of many of that 172 nominated Jeremy, the majority of members, in each of those constituencies, voted for him. It is time, as Len McCluskey said the other day, for the MP's that are now out of step with Jeremy, and the members of the party, even in their own CLP's, to go.

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