Labour leadership elections: Stay and fight! Join the Labour Left Alliance!

We take courage from the over 80,000 members who voted for Richard Burgon as deputy leader. His campaign was unashamedly radical and we note with great interest his “plans to build on the values and principles of my Deputy Leadership campaign”, which he “will continue to take forward”. The LLA will get involved in any such campaign.

The LLA supported Jo Bird in the by-election for the two CLP seats on the NEC. She came fourth with 46,150 votes, despite her outrageous suspension (for the second time) in the middle of the election. A massive outcry from members forced her reinstatement. Sadly, other candidates remain suspended on what we believe are bogus charges. Such suspensions during an election, without serious evidence, are unjustified and can be abused for political gain. The fact they are all left-wing candidates makes it likely these were indeed right wing manoeuvres.

Jo Bird received more significantly more votes than Momentum candidate Leigh Drennan (who argued against open selection at Labour conference 2018 – 30,021 votes) and Cecile Wright, who was backed by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (25,008). But because the Labour left could not agree on a joint set of candidates, all three left-wingers were beaten by the right’s candidates Johanna Baxter (57,181) and Gurinder Singh-Josan (57,181). Lauren Townsend, who tried hard to stay politically ‘neutral’, came third with 56,929 votes. This disastrous result shows that the Labour left must end its anti-democratic methods of choosing candidates behind closed doors. The LLA has initiated a process that we hope will lead to a more transparent and democratic method. We urge all organisations on the Labour left to join with us in this process. Click here to read more about it.

Rebecca Long-Bailey was a weak candidate and ran an uninspiring campaign, thanks in large part to Jon Lansman’s influence as her campaign manager. A grievous mistake was to sign up to the Board of Deputy’s absurd ’10 Pledges’ and her promise to outsource the party’s disciplinary process to an unknown agency (see LLA’s petition on the issue, which has already been signed by 5,000 people – click here). Her comments about being willing to press the nuclear button also didn’t help. In other words, her attempts to present herself as the anti-establishment candidate quickly fell away when she came under pressure from that very establishment.

The right has won a battle, but it hasn’t won the war

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed capitalism’s limitations. As a system that needs to constantly increase its profits, it has proved utterly incapable of stepping up to satisfy the needs of humanity. Tens of thousands will die prematurely and unnecessarily, because health services around the globe have been privatised and starved of vital funds.

The Tory government has been forced into taking some drastic measures that make the demands of Labour’s media-ridiculed manifesto look like peanuts. And still they won’t be enough to stop millions of people sliding into poverty, despair and misery. Some of the emergency measures now in place have been designed to stop the working class from taking collective action when the worst of the outbreak is over. For example, the police can easily cancel events and gatherings; immigration officers can force people into detention; those deemed to “threaten national security” can be held for even longer and it takes only the signature of a single doctor to section somebody under the mental health act – indefinitely.

We have a duty to organise our forces and give radical answers to the problems facing our movement. Please sign our proposed action plan here.  In such periods of crisis, almost anything can happen!

Our attitude to the Labour Party therefore must remain flexible. In the new political situation, the LLA may need to increase its efforts on campaigns outside of the Labour Party’s structures. Developments inside and outside the Labour Party will determine how much emphasis we put into each of these different areas at any particular time.

Because of the undemocratic British electoral system and due to the current low level of the class struggle, experience shows us that any left formations outside the Labour Party are likely to remain miniscule and descend, sooner or later, into irrelevance, losing many good activists along the way. But history suggests that this situation could also change quickly.

Our main task now is to help organise those who were inspired by Corbyn. Urge comrades to keep hold of their Labour Party membership cards and, where still possible and worthwhile, continue to play key roles in branches and CLPs at least. Prevent the gains we have made from being rolled back. And enthuse comrades to fight for some of the overdue demands that Corbyn could not deliver.

Don’t repeat mistakes

First we need to explain honestly what went wrong following Corbyn’s election in 2015. Millions were inspired – how come very little has been achieved?

  1. There was the daily onslaught in the establishment media. Corbyn was accused of being a Czech spy, a terrorist sympathizer and mad. Initially, none of these charges stuck. The general election of 2017, when the media predicted huge losses for the party, showed that Corbyn was not ‘unelectable’. The party should have launched its own media and news outlets to combat the destructive role of the establishment media.
  2. But from Day 1, Corbyn was actively opposed and sabotaged by the right in and outside the party – and by the majority of Labour MPs. They fed lies and rumours to the media and organised two coups against him. The members defeated both coups – but Corbyn was effectively held prisoner by his own Parliamentary Labour Party, due to his commitment to ‘unity’ in the party. The situation on the NEC – party’s ruling body – was only marginally better, but pro-Corbyn forces never held an outright majority.
  3. The Labour leadership around Corbyn did not use the opportunity to radically democratise the Labour Party in order to give more powers to the members. They were wrong to give up on the demand for open selection of Labour MPs, for example, which would have helped to get rid of some of the worst right-wingers in the PLP and helped to democratise the party and solidify a shift to the left to align with the vast majority of the membership. Had he publicly thrown his weight behind this basic, principled demand for more democracy, it would have been adopted at Labour Party conference in 2018. But Unite’s leader Len McCluskey claims that Corbyn asked him to instruct his delegates to vote it down – against the expressed desire of 95% of the CLP delegates there and against Unite policy
  4. The Labour leadership chose the road of trying to appease the right inside and outside the party, rather than fight them. And even when one attempt after another failed, they stuck to this political trajectory. Most disappointing was the attitude of the leadership to the ever-increasing witch-hunt against Corbyn’s own supporters: Instead of publicly speaking out against the flood of false allegations, they stood by and watched as some of the best campaigners in the party were picked off one by one, smeared and subject to trial by media for alleged antisemitism.
  5. The party leadership should have spoken out against those who consciously weaponised the miniscule number of antisemitic incidents in order to smear Corbyn and the left. Instead, some of Corbyn’s closest allies went along with the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism. In order to prove to the right that they followed a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, they threw natural justice, fairness and a transparent disciplinary process to the wind: Instead, we saw the introduction of fast-track expulsions, the massive expansion of the compliance unit (now renamed Legal & Governance) and total subordination to the ever-increasing demands of the right.
  6. This ‘zero tolerance’ approach, particularly enthusiastically espoused by John McDonnell and Momentum owner Jon Lansman, was a suicidal strategy. Instead of proving how tough the party leadership was, every new suspension and every new expulsion just gave the right further justification to falsely claim that the party is riddled with antisemites.

Lessons we must learn:

  • The strategy of calling for ‘unity’ in the party has been exposed as the road to disaster for the left. Trying to appease the right does not work. We must openly take on and defeat the right, which is still working to defeat the hundreds of thousands who have been inspired and politicised by Corbyn. The right would prefer a right-dominated, anti-democratic party of 100,000 to a left-leaning party of 500,000.
  • We cannot and should not rely on our ‘leaders’ to do the job for us. Many people viewed Corbyn almost like a ‘messiah’, who, once in office, could be relied upon to almost single-handedly deliver the radical transformation of the party. The vast majority of new members never got involved in the structures of the Labour Party – and when they did, they often found it to be deeply bureaucratic, boring and off-putting. The Labour left failed to organise and politicise those members.
  • Momentum certainly did not do the job that many hoped for. In fact, it actively participated in the witch-hunt against left-wingers and Corbyn supporters. Its constitution, written and enforced by Jon Lansman in an overnight coup, prevents him from ever being ousted. He personally owns the huge database. But there are many decent independent-minded local Momentum groups – they should break with Lansman and affiliate to the Labour Left Alliance.
  • We need to campaign for the thorough transformation of the Labour Party so that a relatively small number of right-wingers and Blairites cannot continue to hold the mass membership hostage. We need to fight for:

*** Open selection of all parliamentary candidates before every election

*** A democratic and sovereign annual conference and the abolition of the National Policy Forum, which Blair used to outsource and neuter policy making in the party

*** A fair and transparent disciplinary process, based on natural justice, due process and judgments made by one’s peers, not an outside agency. Scrap Legal & Governance (formerly compliance unit). For the right of appeal.

*** The democratisation of the trade union movement and the empowerment and increased input of union members in the party structures at all levels. All trade unions should affiliate to the Labour Party.

Join us to discuss the outcome of the elections – Sunday April 5, 5pm

You need to register in advance for this webinar:
https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_cdMlHRRUQjq8LA9smk2R5A

Confirmed speakers include:
– Jo Bird (NEC candidate)
– Ian Hodson (president BFAWU)
– Moshé Machover
– a speaker form the LLA

Please consider making a donation to help us finance this event (please note the link will take you to Labour Against the Witchhunt’s Paypal account – while our bank account is being set up, they are kindly collating donations for us): https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=ZZLJXNTM9WG3Y&source=url
Join the LLA here: https://labourleft.org/appeal/