Dialogue with an Anti-Corbyn Labour supporter

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(Published now, rather than when it was written because it lost relevance when…  given the convenient coincidence of Article 50 and two tricky by-elections…. a second coup looked all too likely.  This threat has fizzled out for the moment, although another attempt to unseat Jeremy Corbyn may well materialise if Labour loses in Stoke and/or Copeland.  Posting now was also prompted by John McDonnell’s warning  ‘This daily grinding out of distortion and attack can undoubtedly have its effect on our standing in the polls and in turn on the morale of some of our supporters, who are not always close to the action and may not be experienced in past trade union or political campaigns’.)

Dear Person,

We met the other day, and you told me that you had only joined the LP to vote against Jeremy Corbyn,

I asked you if you had actually seen any of Jeremy’s speeches or the debates in the leadership contest?

You did have the grace to look shamefaced as you shook your head… Then you countered:

“But, but I do read the ‘good’ newspapers, the leftwing papers like the Guardian and the i”

Rendered speechless at the idea that the Guardian or the i were leftwing, I stuttered:

“Did you really think Owen Smith was more electable… a man who makes penis jokes??”

But what I should have said was:

Reporting in the MSM is largely without reference to context or history… and typified by criticisms such as Corbyn’s lack of success in winning back Scottish votes. This is reductive to the point of misleading but not new. However, there have been a number of recent academic led studies which have looked at media bias and concluded that the coverage of previous Labour leaders were ‘nowhere near as destructive, as vicious and as antagonistic as is the case now with Corbyn’. One such study indicated that 75% of press coverage misrepresented him and expressed serious concern for its impact on the democratic process.

Furthermore, many of these stories have been fed to the media by hostile members of the LP elite who are rabidly anti-Corbyn, and acting against the expressed wishes of the overwhelming majority of the LP membership.

They justify their behaviour by arguing that Corbyn is unelectable and not a good leader. However, this is hardly convincing when it is clear that they will fight tooth and nail to make it impossible for another more (in their view) ‘plausible’ but similarly leftwing candidate to replace Corbyn. For example, they could agree to reduce the number of nominations required from the PLP to stand for the leadership, from the current 35 to 5.

But they won’t do that because, just like Hilary Clinton, they believe that ‘it’s their turn’ and that the LP can return to being two shades left of the Conservatives and it will suddenly be electable.

This is the complacency and out of touchness that led to Donald Trump being elected. And a fact, that Peter Mandelson acknowledged when he blamed three terms of New Labour for Brexit and a majority rejecting globalization.

But in any event, the undue focus on Corbyn also ignores the plight of neoliberal social democratic parties globally.  As Stephen Bush wrote in the New Statesman:

Across the continent, just two centre-left parties regularly outpoll Corbyn’s Labour: the Portuguese Socialists and the Italian Democrats, the latter of which averages 30 per cent on a good day. And of the two politicians held up as examples by Corbyn’s internal opponents – Matteo Renzi of Italy and Manuel Valls of France – one suffered a self-inflicted defeat in 2016 and the other looks likely to join him in 2017.

Labour’s Corbynsceptics have not yet accepted that the party’s problems do not start or end with the leader. They describe him as an insurmountable obstacle to victory in 2020, but the bigger problem for them is that he has also proved an insurmountable obstacle to their thinking about the party’s long-term future.

http://www.newstatesman.com/2017/01/jeremy-corbyns-internal-critics-have-compelling-diagnosis-they-dont-have-cure

 

It’s not that I have an uncritical relationship with the current Labour leadership but I’m not going to jettison Corbyn and co with all their really good points and policies when there is no comparable candidate who would get the nominations required.   Furthermore, I have no doubt that JC is staying on for the same reason. I don’t know how on earth he stands the constant twisting of facts, delegitimisation and misrepresentation.

Then you would have replied:

172 MPs passed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn!

And I would have suggested that you read this review of Gaye Johnson’s book with its introduction by the late Michael Meacher:

A systematic analysis of the biggest internal coup d’etat in the history of the Labour Party. It contains a wealth of hitherto unreported material of how this was achieved. The Blairite machine gathered and fostered its own panel of ultra-reliable potential candidates (often special advisers of existing MPs) and helped to train and prepare them for the day when winnable seats might become available, exactly as the Blairite ‘Progress’ faction continues to do within the party to this very day.

And the legacy of this takeover remains. The leader may be Jeremy Corbyn, but the MPs, party officials, leaders in local government and many more remain the excrescence of a bygone era. Party employees especially have a long history of right-wing bias and working against left-wing candidates. A former Party Director of Communications openly boasted in 1998 of how he had worked to label the Grassroots Alliance slate for the NEC as “hard left”. Party staff are known to grade Conference delegates according to their loyalty to the leadership and harass delegates about how to vote. Staff themselves were pressured to behave in a certain way by the increased use of short-term contracts.

Many of the powers of the NEC were delegated to hand-picked subcommittees in the New Labour era. Labyrinthine policy filtering mechanisms were introduced, undermining the sovereignty of Party Conference.

http://www.organizedrage.com/2016/12/book-review-new-labour-was-gain-worth.html

 

Then I could have said:

The pivotal moment was the PLP coup when the rebel MPs revealed their true colours, either politically or indeed in moral cowardice.  It was much more important for the prime movers to remove the leftwing leadership than it was to hold Cameron and Osborne to account for their gross irresponsibility and hubris.  It said it all.

At that point, many in the LP membership realised that these rebels MPs were not on the same side as themselves and that being elected on another neoliberal, New Labour platform was worse than useless.

Blair, Brown, Mandelson and the rest, were able to do things that the Tories would not have been able to do and we let them because they did increase funding public services  but in reality it was not enough… and the door was left wide open for the Tories to walk through in 2010 and defund, sell-off and privatise.

As for Jeremy Corbyn’s electability, a friend wrote to me:

Most people want a more equitable distribution of income and sourcing of tax, adequate funding of the NHS, increased public sector funding and management of social care, and investment in services and job creation, support for the integration of migrants and prevention of their exploitation, and that a Labour Government would deliver them. None of these measures is ideological, and the people supporting them within the party or in the population are not ideologues. They are ordinary people, and they rather like Jeremy Corbyn because so is he.

I agree.  And thank you to the Person who I met the other day, who told me that they had only joined the LP to vote against Jeremy Corbyn.  You showed me how unerring George Orwell and Chomsky were in recognising that the propaganda of the elite is contained in the quality press, aimed squarely at the educated middle classes.  Needless to say I think there are a lot of people out there who need to take their blinkers off.

https://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/pdf/JeremyCorbyn/Cobyn-Report-FINAL.pdf

 

 

 

 

Free Speech – Preserving the right to express and share opinions

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We share these concerns expressed, of information of individual members being suspended, for what would seem to be expressing personal opinions, or sharing others, and look upon the Labour Party to preserve the right of free expression.  Please see below the text of a motion from Henley BLP and reasons for their support of the motion.

(Permission to post given from member of Henley BLP:)

TEXT OF FREE SPEECH MOTION

This branch believes that there should be no infringement on the rights of free speech and free criticism within the Labour Party. The thousands of suspensions of Labour members during the 2016 leadership election, based often on one-off comments on social media, unsubstantiated claims or association with left wing organisations, appears to have been politically motivated.

This process was an affront to democracy and this CLP condemns the entire process. Legitimate grievances should be dealt with according to the principles of fairness, with suspension as a last resort not a primary action. We demand the reinstatement of all those still suspended without a hearing.

Regarding expulsions, there should be no ban on memberships of campaigns or organisations as long as they are not campaigning against the election of a Labour government or Labour councils.
The only acceptable political limitation on membership of the Party, other than the exclusion of proscribed organisations, is that people who join or are members or supporters, commit to support Labour candidates in future elections. Earlier electoral activity is of no importance.

We call on the CLP to welcome in any supporter and member prepared to make such a commitment.

We call on the National Executive Committee to ensure that these principles are reflected in the membership application process, so that all party units will welcome in any supporter and member prepared to make such a commitment.

We demand the Party implement the proposals in the Chakrabarti report.

STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF MOTION

I believe that if there is to be any real unity in the Labour Party, we must have transparency, fairness and people must be free to express their opinions freely, without fear of reprisals.

In the run up to the election thousands of members were purged; the figure is now given as 182,000.

The entire Brighton and Hove District CLP were suspended – the Labour Party’s biggest CLP with 6,000 members – days after a vote that installed officers supportive of Jeremy Corbyn in key posts. The entire Wallasey CLP, was also suspended after they threatened to pass a vote of no confidence in Angela Eagle when she was nominated as a candidate in the leadership election.

Others have had the most tenuous accusations to justify their suspensions: retweeting a tweet from the Green Party in 2013; posting a tweet supporting a rock band, the ‘ Foo Fighters’; unsubstantiated accusations of ‘ abuse’ with no details of rights to appeal, or pending investigations.

The Labour Party have gone through members’ Facebook and Twitter accounts for periods up to three years back, in order to dredge up treasons to purge them, contravening their democratic and human right to free speech, a right of privacy and due process.
Many of the purged have had no reasons given to them at all, such as two bed ridden grannies with terminal cancer who have participated in no political activity whatsoever. We have no idea how many conference delegates were suspended.

What most of the purged have in common is that they supported Jeremy Corbyn.

Anti-Corbyn supporters have not been purged in the same way despite a tide of insults, including one who described Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as Nazi Storm Troopers.

Given the timing it is reasonable to assume, it was intended to reduce Corbyn’s mandate.

Many of those who have been suspended remain distressed. One woman claims to have developed depression. Others are afraid to say what they want on social media, for fear that their accounts will be snooped and things will be used against them – because the purge continues.

Last week Labour suspended the black Jewish vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker, after she asked questions deemed inappropriate.

People must be free to express their opinions freely in the Labour Party. There must due process and the right of appeal. These things are natural justice and the Labour Party, must be seen to enact them. The Labour Party has always been a broad church and we must not conduct a witch hunt of our members or silence people by exclusion and force.

Emily Thornberry’s support for Labour Party Democracy

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Posted below is the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry’s letter to her constituents which paints a very different picture to that presented by former members of the shadow cabinet who took part in the staged walkout of the coup.  The most significant aspect is her disgust at the way that the party hierarchy have done their best to stop Jeremy – first from getting on the ballot, then by excluding 130k new members from voting and then by the £25 ‘voting tax’ for supporters.  It is so heartening to know that some MPs have a sense of what is democratic … and are prepared to stand up for what is morally ‘right’ not what is (apparently) politically expedient.

Emily is absolutely on the money with her plea:

‘I do not understand why anyone in the Labour party would want to turn their back on that membership, in the way that the party hierarchy have tried to do this summer.

Instead, it is time to unite as a party – the membership and the elected representatives alike – and together take our fight into the only contest that matters: getting this dreadful Tory government out of office, and punishing them for the mess into which they have plunged our country.

That is what we should have spent our summer doing – uniting, facing outwards, taking on the Tories, and energising the public to our cause – and that is again why I regret so much the chaos and distraction that this attempted coup against Jeremy has caused.’

Emily Thornberry’s full letter to her constituents:

What had begun as the necessary modernisation of the Labour party in 1994, showing how a belief in a dynamic market economy could be combined with the drive for social justice and the transformation of public services, had become distorted into an agenda where the test of every new policy from the leadership was how much it would antagonise the Labour party’s core membership.

Tuition fees, the attempt to marketise the NHS, the careless disregard of long cherished civil liberties and the drive to war in Iraq were being imposed by a leadership who convinced themselves that, if the members hated it, they were doing something right.

When I walked through the voting lobbies against the attempt to impose 90 days’ detention without charge in 2005, Tom Watson –then one of Tony Blair’s whips – growled at me that I was a ‘traitor’. But a traitor to who?

Not to the country, when this was a draconian measure designed to look tough on terrorism, but one that would undermine the cohesion of communities like ours, alienate people and actually undermine our security. My members knew this and I remember when Compass polled party members – at my instigation – it was clear this was the national view as well.

So who exactly was I betraying? Just a party hierarchy and a party leadership who were trying to shore up their relationship with the right-wing press by ‘taking on’ their members, and trying to out-flank the Tories on security.

When Jeremy stood for the leadership after the disaster of the 2015 election, the difference was palpable. Here finally was a candidate interested in listening to the party’s members, reflecting their views, and promising to represent them. As a result, hundreds of thousands more joined, including huge numbers who had left because of Iraq, tuition fees, and other issues.

Here we are now, less than a year after Jeremy’s overwhelming victory, and the party hierarchy – through decisions of the National Executive Committee – is attempting to overturn that result, quash Jeremy’s mandate, and put the party’s members back in their box. And they are doing so in the most naked way.

I was disgusted to see the attempts to try to stop Jeremy from getting on the ballot. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, hundreds of thousands of fully paid-up Labour party members were excluded from taking part in the election, having been told the opposite when they joined. Third, your membership fees were spent on securing that decision through the courts. And then lastly, registered supporters, who had been told they could be involved in the Leadership election, were then told that they must increase their donation to £25 within two days to remain eligible for a vote.

Indeed, you should probably know that even to put on the social events we have held for local members in the last two months – occasions that have been really important to welcome in our new members – we have been forced to seek permission for each event from the party hierarchy.

In short, some people have done their level best to deny the party’s full membership a fair and equal vote in this contest, or even the chance to make their voices heard. Instead of welcoming the enthusiasm of our new members, instead of celebrating the strength of our mass membership, they have been behaving as if it is something to be afraid of.

As someone who spent nearly 30 years as a grass roots activist before becoming your MP, I cannot accept this.

But even more important, as someone who believes our party and our country are best served when our elected representatives and the party membership work together, I fundamentally disagree with this attempt to take us back to the years when our members were deliberately antagonised, alienated and ignored by the people who they helped to put in power.

Islington South and Finsbury Labour Party has a proud reputation for being one of the great campaigning local parties and our election results in the past 11 years have shown what can be done when the membership and its elected representatives work together with respect.

We now have the potential to replicate this success across the country, creating a national activist base that could be unlike anything else in modern British politics, taking our message into the street and onto the doorstep, and turning the activism of thousands into the support of millions.

I do not understand why anyone in the Labour party would want to turn their back on that membership, in the way that the party hierarchy have tried to do this summer.

Instead, it is time to unite as a party – the membership and the elected representatives alike – and together take our fight into the only contest that matters: getting this dreadful Tory government out of office, and punishing them for the mess into which they have plunged our country.

That is what we should have spent our summer doing – uniting, facing outwards, taking on the Tories, and energising the public to our cause – and that is again why I regret so much the chaos and distraction that this attempted coup against Jeremy has caused.

So my plea to all members, and one I will make to my fellow MPs, is this: whatever the outcome of this leadership election, we should stop the internal division, unite as a party, and take the fight to the Tories together.

And I would like my local party to know that I will remain totally loyal to the leader of our party, whoever he shall be.

In the meantime, you all know that I have a very full in-tray with constituency business, and with representing the party on Brexit, foreign affairs, and – together with Clive Lewis – our future defence policies.

I will be concentrating on this vital work in the run up to 24 September, rather than this unnecessary and divisive leadership contest. And when that is over, I hope we can all start focusing on those bigger issues on which Britain needs an effective, united opposition.

I know that not everyone will agree with the conclusions I have reached, but I am completely confident that in Islington South and Finsbury, we will continue to debate this and other issues in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

Best wishes, and please as ever, let me know your views. Looking forward to seeing you on a doorstep with me soon!

Emily