Monday, 18 February 2019

The Misfortunate 7. A New SDP? Absolutely Not

So, seven Blair-right MP's have left the LP, before they were deselected by their local members. A new SDP this is not. Whatever you thought of the politics of the Gang of Four, and for socialists, it was not much, they at least had the advantage of being political heavyweights, compared to this less than magnificent seven. Of the sorry gaggle, most people will only recognise Chuka Umunna, and he is a nonentity, compared to his 1980's predecessors. As I wrote some time ago, this is not the 1980's, and this splinter, is not going to even have the same fleeting impact as did the SDP, before it had to collapse into the Liberals. This lot did not even have the courage of their convictions to brand themselves as a new party, as the SDP did, preferring instead to follow the thoroughly unprincipled example, of their fellow right-wing MP's Frank Field and John Woodcock, who resigned before they were deselected, and then hung on to their parliamentary salary, rather than put themselves up for re-election. 

The press conference called by the misfortunate seven was a fiasco. They spoke in typically hysterical and unsupported terms about leaving a Labour Party characterised by anti-Semitism and bullying. They spoke a lot about values, but each time one of them stood up to explain what those values were, there was nothing to see other than a belief in motherhood and apple pie, that any politician from UKIP to the Greens could have professed adherence to. When it came to substance, of outlining what any of these vacuous statements actually meant there was no more meat than in their empty accusations about bullying and so on. What they really mean by bullying is that their members disagree with them, and are calling them to account, i.e. they object to being held democratically accountable to the ordinary LP members that get them elected. 

And, it's clear that for those members they have nothing but contempt. Indeed, if their values meant anything, rather than just being a cover for simply wanting to continue in their cushy jobs, they would put their money where their mouth is, and stand down from parliament, putting their claims to the test in a by-election. Then we would see just how much the patronising words of Angela Smith, who talked repeatedly about “her” voters, and knowing what “her” voters – what all 60,000 of them?! - were thinking, have any connection to reality. Of course, they will not do that, because they know they will lose, just as all such independent candidates have lost in the past. They spoke in typically vacuous terms, about “their” voters feeling homeless, with no “sensible” centre ground party for them to vote for. But, of course, that is hogwash. In 2010, those voters rejected Gordon Brown, in 2015, they rejected Ed Miliband, and in the process also rejected and effectively destroyed the epitome of that centre ground, “Motherhood and Apple Pie” politics, the Liberals of Nick Clegg. By contrast, it was the Labour Party of Corbyn, that The Misfortunate 7 despises, that brought the party back from the brink, achieving the largest swing back to Labour since 1945, and as a result of the campaigning work of Momentum supporters, on the ground, even ensured increased majority for some of these hapless Blair-right MP's, who, even during the election campaign, had been going around talking down the party's fortunes. 

They are not declaring a new party, because, unlike even the Gang of Four, they are generals without an army. The only people standing behind them are a bunch of former Blair-right spin doctors, and the media and PR companies they have set up, along with sections of the Tory media, that have choked on the name of Corbyn ever since he was elected, by a massive majority, as party leader in 2015. But, more than that, if they set up a new party, they would come under even more pressure to stand down, and test their support in by-elections. They also hope that by declaring a plague on the houses of the main parties, they will, in coming weeks, pick up other disgruntled MP's, from both Labour and Tory, who face deselection, to sit along with them. Their only hope, is that if such defections occur, they may be able to form some kind of “progressive alliance” with the Liberals, SNP, Plaid and Greens, whose only real basis will be to oppose Brexit. But, at best, the combined votes, in parliament, of such a group would amount to no more than about 90-100. 

But, this episode that has been a long time coming, again shows the weakness of the leadership provided by Corbyn, and those around him. Back in 2015, it was obvious that his position within the PLP was untenable. It's one thing to have a huge majority in the party at large, another to, in practice, be held hostage by a large hostile majority in the PLP. It was obvious back then that the Blair-rights and soft lefts would keep coming back at him, undermining his position using whatever lies, whatever slanders, whatever tactics were necessary to do so. The thing to do, back then, was to have begun the process of democratising the party, and deselecting these right-wing MP's, along with their support layers, in the echelons of right-wing Councillors across the country. Instead of doing that both Corbyn, and his supporters in Momentum, disavowed the idea of mandatory reselection.  In fact, when selection meetings, such as that in Stoke Central came along, in 2016, despite Corbyn having obtained a large majority of support from party members, they still managed to select the anti-Corbyn Gareth Snell, who since then has lined up with other right-wing Labour MP's such as John Mann, and Kate Hoey, when it came to votes on Brexit, and is touted as a potential vote for May's Deal, when push comes to shove, despite the fact that one of the reasons Snell opposed Corbyn, was Snell's opposition to Brexit, prior to his election! 

Had there been a root and branch clear out of all these right-wing MP's, well ahead of the 2017 election, then Labour would not have been faced with the sniping it faced from those right-wing forces, that constituted a party within a party, that continually tried to undermine Corbyn. With candidates that more accurately represented the current party, Labour might well have won in 2017, rather than just seeing the biggest swing to it since 1945. Yet, even after they saw the way the right continued to undermine Corbyn, after 2017, the leadership failed to act against them. In a sense, by then it was too late, because that same right-wing majority in the PLP, had been simply enabled to continue, by failing to deselect them. It was clearly only a matter of time before they renewed their attack, after having been cowed, and their basic argument that Corbyn was unelectable, having been disproved, by Labour's showing in the 2017 election. 

Having lost that leg of their argument against Corbyn, they soon found another. It was the attack on Corbyn, in a typical tactic of guilt by association, over bullying and anti-Semitism. Time and again, simple democratic accountability, by party memberships, was described as “bullying”. In fact, anyone who has been in the party during the period of the 1980's, knows what bullying and intimidation actually looks like, as the Kinnock party machinery threatened to simply close down branches and CLP's, that voted in left-wing candidates, or adopted left-wing policies. On one occasion a right-wing council leader threatened to plaster me against a wall simply for disagreeing with him, about the truth of whether a particular industrial dispute had been won or lost! John Golding, who was not even my MP, continually went into the pages of the local newspaper and on radio to say he was going to get me expelled, but never did. And, when my wife was nine months pregnant another right-wing councillor came banging on our front door, shouting and threatening to sue me, simply because me and other local party members were objecting to the council siting a toxic waste dump near to our houses. 

We heard lots of these reports about bullying, supposedly by Corbyn supporters, but hardly any of the claims have been substantiated. Most of them relate to online abuse, where the Blair-rights are prepared to take at face value that anyone who attacks them is in fact, a LP member, and Corbyn supporter, rather than just the usual collection of sad internet trolls. Today, on TV, one Blair-right MP, talking about the abuse received by Luciana Berger, referred to the fact that some of her abusers are now in gaol, but he failed to make mention of the fact that not only were none of these people, put in gaol, LP members, let alone Corbyn supporters, they are all members or supporters of extreme right-wing groups! 

But, Corbyn and the leadership are themselves to blame for this situation, because they failed to introduce the necessary democracy, and reselection of MP's prior to 2017, and they have shown little enthusiasm for pushing it forward even now. At every step they have appeased the forces of the Right, who then simply push forward yet further. Just as Corbyn and McDonnell backtracked over their republicanism, when they came under pressure from the Tory media over joining the Privy Council, or singing the National Anthem, just as they rowed back from their opposition to British Troops in Ireland, and so on, so they backtracked in opposing the right-wing party within a party that the Blair-rights were building all around them. 

Having isolated Corbyn and McDonnell in parliament, they then began to try to detach Corbyn from his real base of support within the party at large. Having seen the way Corbyn prevaricates and rows back, the Right had an obvious line of attack. They extended the claims over bullying into claims over anti-Semitism, demanding that Corbyn effectively abandoned his long standing positions over Palestine, by equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, demanding that he not only adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, but also that he accept the internationally disputed examples attached to that definition, which effectively makes criticism of Zionism impossible. That opened the door for anyone that criticised Zionism, and the history of the foundation of Israel, as a colonial settler state, to be charged with anti-Semitism, and dragged before a disciplinary hearing. Once again, Corbyn and the party leadership capitulated, enabling the right to launch a witch-hunt against left-wing party members, in the same way the Kinnockites had done in the 1980's. It's no surprise Tom Watson, in similar fashion, called for the Wavertree CLP to be closed down, for having the temerity of putting forward a motion of no confidence in Berger, for her well-known mutterings about setting up a splinter party. But, it is the Wavertree CLP that was proved right, and Watson that was proved wrong, within days of his calls, as Berger was indeed, the lead voice of The Misfortunate 7, as they rode off into the political wilderness. 

The Blair-rights took what was an element of fact, that there are left-wing anti-Semites in the Labour Party, who do not know where the border is between legitimate criticism of Israel, and of Zionism, and anti-Semitism. There are no doubt some out and out anti-Semites too, though far fewer than there are in the Tory Party, and other establishment organisations. And, Corbyn's idiot anti-imperialism, has played into that narrative. But, even with all of the spurious charges submitted to the LP over anti-Semitism, it amounts to only just over 600, which is around 0.1% of party members. Of those, already more than 200 were weeded out as having no evidence to support them. 

But, the right were able to see that Corbyn could be detached from his base within the party, because of his failure to stand up to pressure from the Tory media, and the right inside the party. He has made that worse, by his reactionary policy of economic nationalism in relation to Brexit. That is a gift to the right in detaching him from the 90% of party members, and 75% of party voters that oppose Brexit. Not only, thereby, has Corbyn detached himself from the party rank and file, but he has given the Blair-rights, the Liberals, and the Tory Remainers a perfect pole around which to congregate, leaving Corbyn in alliance with May, and the Tory Right, promoting a thoroughly reactionary policy of Brexit. 

This in many ways is a replay of events in France. Hollande was elected as President promising a turn to the Left. He had the opportunity to have done so, by opposing austerity, and aligning himself with other left wing governments in the EU. Indeed, as I wrote at the time, with interest rates at such historic low levels, there was every opportunity for a progressive social democracy to have challenged austerity, to have implemented a coordinated programme of infrastructure investment across Europe, and turned back the conservative policies that had dominated for more than 20 years. But, Hollande, instead backtracked. When it came to the question of supporting Syriza and its progressive social-democratic programme in Greece, or of lining up with the other peripheral countries being put through the wringer of conservative austerity, he instead sided with Merkel and the other conservative politicians. He undermined progressive social-democracy across Europe, including in France, so that when the French Presidential elections came along, he and the Socialist Party had no chance of winning. 

Worse, whilst voters had no reason to support the Socialists, on the basis of its record, they also had no reason to support the fake Left alternative to the socialists, provided by the Stalinist economic nationalism of Melonchon, which was barely discernible from the economic nationalism of Le Pen. So, it was not surprising that the last Presidential elections were characterised by militant apathy. It meant that Macron was able to cobble together an alliance of “none of the above”, which won not because anyone had the slightest enthusiasm for the old failed policies he was presenting, but solely out of opposition to Le Pen. And, as I predicted at the time, Macron's pursuance of those old failed policies was itself doomed to failure, which would open the door to the far right, a prediction which is being seen every weekend on French city streets, as the reactionary forces of the Gilets Jaunes turn out, and become a symbol of resistance to those failed policies. 

The Misfortunate 7, no doubt hope for some similar development in Britain. But, Britain is not France. It does not have the same electoral system. If they are joined by other disgruntled MP's, and form some kind of anti-Brexit alliance, then given the degree of hostility amongst voters to Corbyn's failure to oppose Brexit, they could well draw enough votes to destroy Labour, probably destroying the Corbyn project in the process, as he will take the blame for the party's reversal of fortune. But, any such alliance cannot win an election. It will inevitably mean that the Tories would win the election with a workable majority. 

As I wrote at the start of the year, May would be mad not to call an election, given the circumstances. The splinter from Labour makes that all the more true, but it has all been made possible by Corbyn's disastrous leadership and tactics, especially now his pursuance of the reactionary nationalist Brexit agenda.

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