As the Ken Livingstone case demonstrates, the right’s call for ‘party unity’ should not be taken at face value, argues David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists
Ken Livingstone: still being hounded for telling the truth
Reports from around the country confirm that, for the moment, the Blairites and Labour right are no longer directly attacking, condemning and generally criticising Jeremy Corbyn. How could they? Two months ago, Labour bounced back from the trouncing it seemed to be heading for just a couple of weeks earlier and won the highest proportion of votes for Labour since Tony Blair’s first campaign as leader in 1997.
And now, because of the fragile nature of the Conservative alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party, the ability of the minority Tory government to carry through the main strands of its legislative programme is by no means a certainty - as everyone knows, another general election could be called at any time. Quite clearly then, the right wing, which dominates the Parliamentary Labour Party, must do nothing to undermine Labour’s chances, upon which the survival of its MPs depends.
As I noted just before the election,
An increase in the popular vote for Labour next week would put the right on the back foot and hopefully instil fresh confidence in the likes of Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, who have been busy back-pedalling on previous long-held progressive positions in a futile attempt to appease the Parliamentary Labour Party and the right in general. Such an outcome would add momentum to the necessary fight to rid Labour of those saboteurs.1
It is true that Corbyn and co are behaving slightly more confidently. For example, at the July 18 meeting of the national executive, they won a narrow majority for a new system for selecting parliamentary candidates in a small number of target seats. The power to do that will rest with locally elected panels - as opposed to the current centralised control of the party machine under general secretary Iain McNicol.
However, in general there is little sign from Corbyn of a forceful demonstration of authority and the reassertion of the kind of left positions he used to uphold - let alone a campaign to defeat the “saboteurs” of the right once and for all. To appease them Corbyn is, for example, continuing to suppress his own deeply felt disgust at nuclear weapons - after all, the party has decided that Britain needs Trident and the leader must not comment on the obscenity of nuclear mass murder.
In fact the leadership is going along with the right in its insistence that Labour is a ‘broad party’ - with plenty of room for the overt pro-capitalists, as well as those who attempt to promote (or pretend to promote) the interests of the working class. For the present that means the right is making no overt move against Corbyn.
For example, reports are coming in of Constituency Labour Parties - even those dominated by the right - voting for motions, originating with Momentum, which “call on all elements of the party ... to come together and support the leadership”. Such motions “congratulate the party leadership” on the “great result in the June general election” and hail “the socialist policies set out in the manifesto”. In general the right is prepared to go along with them.
For one thing, it is well aware that the “policies set out in the manifesto” were far from “socialist” - overwhelmingly they were acceptable even to the Blairites. And, as I have said, for the moment the right is willing to make the appropriate noises in favour of ‘unity’ and even pretend it favours “support” for the current leadership.
For instance, a circular issued by Luke Akehust on behalf of the rightwing Labour First faction reads:
We will be working all out to ensure the strongest possible moderate voice at annual conference, to promote party unity and to stop divisive and partisan changes to Labour’s rules. We want an annual conference that focuses on showcasing what unites Labour, on our team and policies for government, and preparing us in case there is another general election. We will be working to stop Momentum from turning it into a 1980s-style conference about what divides Labour, about factionalism, internal rule changes, and disruptive and boring procedural wrangling.2
As this makes clear, the right is hardly reconciled to that leadership. That is why it is targeting Momentum - set up specifically to generate and consolidate support for Jeremy Corbyn. It is true that Corbyn has continued to compromise, giving the right grounds for hope that he could yet be ‘tamed’. But he is still unacceptably leftwing for both the Labour right and the whole political establishment.
In reality the adoption by the right of the ‘united party’ slogan is a continuation of its civil war. So, because Labour must be a ‘broad church’, the right demands that there should be no deselection of sitting MPs - irrespective of their contempt for party democracy. The new selection panels may well be set up in those 75 target seats, but before they can operate there must first be a vacancy: there is no question of a general deselection of current MPs.
The right also insists that Corbyn must not ‘interfere’ in disciplinary cases - which over the past couple of years have been used overwhelmingly to target the left. In fact McNicol is now inviting applications to join his witch-hunting team investigating suspect (ie, leftwing) individuals and groups operating in the Labour Party, as the following advert makes clear:
The Labour Party is looking to recruit an Investigations Officer, to work as a key member of the disputes team. The post holder will assist in the investigations relating to individual Labour Party members or groups of members, which may lead to disciplinary proceedings or other interventions by the national or regional parties.3
The successful candidate, who will be employed at the party HQ in London, will need “experience of conducting investigations or fact-finding” and of “regulatory or governance issues” to qualify for the £35,000 salary, plus £1,000 annual allowance.
No doubt the new recruit will continue the good work of disciplining, suspending and eventually expelling leftwing comrades - particularly those accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ simply for opposing Zionism and actions of the Israeli state.
Last week the Jewish Chronicle reported that the ‘investigation’ into Ken Livingstone’s 2016 comments in defence of Naz Shah MP - in which he said that Hitler had “supported Zionism” before “he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews” - is still ongoing.
Livingstone was suspended for two years in June 2016: not, of course, for actual anti-Semitism, which would have been totally absurd, but for “bringing the party into disrepute” (for saying something that some people - not least Zionists and supporters of the Israeli state - claim was ‘anti-Semitic’). Since then he has refused to apologise for his comments and stated that they were factually correct.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, “Labour sources have confirmed to the JC that another probe into the former mayor of London ‘is underway’”. Apparently he is accused of “failure to show any remorse” for his original comments, even though “those bringing the new complaints against Mr Livingstone are believed to have been advised not to revisit the original remarks on Hitler and Zionism”.4
Those “new complaints” are said to centre on Livingstone’s subsequent media interviews, when he correctly insisted that his original comment was (apart from some inaccuracies and clumsy phrasing) simply a statement of fact. It is indeed true that, as this paper has frequently pointed out, the Nazis did at first cooperate with the Zionists in order to achieve a shared aim - the emigration of German Jews, so that they could settle in Palestine. It is, of course, this cooperation which today’s Zionists and Israeli apologists wish to cover up.
But Corbyn went along with the witch-hunt and went so far as to condemn Livingstone for his “grossly insensitive” comments, claiming that his failure to apologise for telling the truth had been “deeply disappointing”.
Surely now is the time to say, ‘Enough is enough’. Corbyn should state the obvious - the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign was and is a witch-hunt and all those who were falsely accused, including Ken Livingstone, should be reinstated. He should exercise his authority as party leader to demand that the compliance unit and the right-controlled party machine calls off that farcical campaign.
1. Weekly Worker June 1.
2. My emphasis - update, July 31.