No more concessions to the Blairites!
In late February, the long predicted Blairite split from the Labour Party – or at least its first wave – finally emerged, with the resignation of seven MPs to launch the so-called Independent Group. They were soon joined by one other from the Labour benches and three pro-EU Tories, including Anna Soubry.
The two key planks which apparently unite the Labour defectors are support for a second referendum on EU membership and allegations that the party has become institutionally racist, particularly with regard to antisemitism. Ironically, despite being elected as Labour MPs on the basis of support for Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies, none of these ‘people’s vote’ supporters think the people of their constituencies should have a choice as to whether they should still be an MP through a by-election. Their anti-racist credentials were soon undermined, too, when Angela Smith referred to people of colour as having a “funny tinge”.
The Independent Group has come into being in a period of almost unprecedented instability within the main parties. It is an attempt to create a bridgehead for the pro-EU, neo-liberal politics which are supported by the bulk of the capitalist establishment, in the context of Corbyn’s leadership of Labour, profound division among the Tories and the discredited nature of the Liberal Democrats.
Labour’s unfinished civil war
It is unfortunate that the likes of Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger were left in a position to damage the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in this way. Corbyn and his allies should have thoroughly democratised the Labour Party, including re-introducing mandatory re-selection of candidates, which would have allowed the Blairites to be removed by the membership in advance of the 2017 general election. Unfortunately, the approach of Corbyn, McDonnell and Momentum has been to search in vain for conciliation with the right.
The attempts to placate the right with concessions have continued since the Independent Group’s departure. Quickly, Corbyn announced that the party would back a second EU referendum. This can do the party serious damage in its working class heartlands. Instead, Corbyn should outline a vision of a socialist Brexit, one framed around the interests of ordinary people, which would defend rights and conditions while freeing the UK from the EU’s neoliberal strictures. The trade unions should be organising co-ordinated strikes and mass demonstrations in support of Corbyn’s policies, aimed toppling the Tories and forcing a general election.
Left-wing Labour MP Chris Williamson has been suspended for saying that the party has been “too apologetic” and has “given too much ground” in the face of the assault by the Tories, the media and the Blairites on the issue of antisemitism. This is an entirely cynical and hypocritical campaign has nothing to do with defending Jewish people. It is aimed at both shutting down legitimate criticism of the Israeli state and at undermining support for Corbyn’s leadership. While absolutely rooting out anyone guilty of antisemitism in the party, Corbyn and his allies should go on the offensive against this witch-hunt, calling out the hypocrisy of the Tories and the right-wing press – who are racist to their core – and standing over the labour movement’s long record as the leading force in resisting antisemitism and other forms of racism.
Time for the left to fight back
Concessions have only further emboldened the right. Deputy Leader Tom Watson has set about the establishment of a laughably named ‘social democratic’ group of MPs in opposition to Corbyn’s leadership and has attempted to undermine the party’s disciplinary process, demanding that allegations of antisemitism are reported directly to him.
In reality, Labour is now two irreconcilable parties in one. The Blairites are implacably and ideologically opposed to even the mild, social democratic policies which Corbyn espouses. Ultimately, one trend must win out over the other. It is necessary for the Labour left to go on the offensive to democratically transform the party, removing the Blairites, but also campaigning for socialist policies which can really transform society in the interests of ordinary people by taking the wealth hoarded by the 1% into democratic public ownership.
By Daniel Waldron