No clean hands
Some are gunning for principal speaker Bianca Todd. Paul Demarty wonders what exactly they hope to achieve
We wonder perhaps if we will soon start seeing a slightly hunted look in the eyes of Bianca Todd.
Comrade Todd, one of the four directly elected principal speakers of Left Unity, apparently cannot turn up at an LU national council meeting without facing a motion of censure directed at her.
The latest was referred to briefly in Yassamine Mather’s report last week of the September 20 NC meeting, brought by Simon Hardy on behalf of Lambeth branch. Comrade Mather was one of many who gave the motion a cold reception - it “seemed to me like a witch-hunt … It is unfortunate that comrades who are now part of a culture that is liable to refer to the expression of political opinions different from their own as ‘bullying’ have submitted a critical motion to the NC targeted at one named comrade.”1
Of course, targeting an individual in a motion is perfectly legitimate in principle: individuals make mistakes, commit acts of cowardice and betrayal, skim party funds for their own use and everything else. So what, exactly, is comrade Todd’s crime? According to a brief, sneery piece in a six-month-old diary column in The Independent,2 she was ‘head of service’ at C:HAT Room - a social enterprise in Leicestershire, which was found by an employment tribunal to have breached the rights of several workers, failing to give them promised contracts and withholding pay that was owed.
Andy Newman of the Socialist Unity blog, which has steadily tacked rightwards into bureaucratic left Labourism over the last decade, managed to dig up a report in the Harborough Mail: “[C:HAT Room workers] Mr Brooks, Mrs Frederick and Mrs Yarrow all said they had not received payment for [the Christmas] period in spite of assurances received from Miss Todd that they would. Mrs Yarrow also said that she did not receive any sick pay from the company when she had to take time off for an operation.”3
There was a little whispering about this at the time the report came out; the Lambeth motion was submitted in June, but only came before the NC on September 20 (where comrade Hardy, in the face of opposition, agreed to withdraw it). Yet comrade Todd was also targeted at the previous, June NC meeting - albeit indirectly, in the form of a motion concerning Steve Hedley (a leftwing union official who has been the subject of domestic abuse allegations).
Discussion around the motion - which was sharply critical of Hedley, and of left organisations who refused to dissociate themselves from him - was heated, and overlaid with an incident shortly beforehand, in which Hedley, on social media, had bemoaned the lack of a party to the left of Labour, and Todd had replied that there was such a party - Left Unity.
Various intersectional feminists, for whom Hedley has become a kind of folk devil, interpreted that as an invitation to Hedley to join - and thus a clear and present danger to the physical safety of women in LU (including comrade Todd herself, one assumes). Then, too, the motion was withdrawn.
Is this merely a coincidence, and comrade Todd just unlucky? Perhaps. We are minded to scepticism, mainly because both attacks seem to emanate from the same source - comrades in the International Socialist Network (whose members in Manchester have already got Laurie McCauly suspended from the branch in essence over the Hedley issue).
Since its formation last spring, the ISN has become completely crippled by its intersectionalist commitments, to the point where it notoriously split over a controversial work of contemporary sculpture. We have, by lucky happenstance, come upon the minutes of the group’s latest leadership meeting, a good part of which seems to have been taken up by report-backs from no less than six caucuses (disabled members, “LGBTQ+ members”, “members who identify as women”, and their three complements - non-disabled members and so on). The more members the ISN loses, the more caucuses it sprouts.
That the ISN should be at the root of both these LU motions does not prove that there is a secret conspiracy against comrade Todd, of course; there are doubts as to whether the ISN has enough coherence for a conspiracy. The motions spring in different ways from a similar mindset, however - and, in any case, both lines of attack are, on their own terms, fatuous.
So far as the case of Hedley goes, even if he is guilty - and he has not, we must stress drearily again, been charged of anything, let alone convicted - reacting so violently against all who refuse to disclaim any contact with the comrade treats violence against women as if it were bubonic plague, a virulently infectious disease transmitted by touch or else in the blood of oblivious pest animals.
On the assumptions of all violence-centric versions of feminism, you would expect some men in LU to be violent towards their partners. It is not in this view a function of their having been near Steve Hedley (or whoever), but of their maleness in a male-dominated society. (It says something about the especial hopelessness of the intersectional brand of feminism that the only political practice it can come up with is precisely these posturing crusades against unclean individuals.)
As for this business of unpaid wages, we note that comrade Todd has hinted that she is unable to comment on the affair, that often there are legal complications in this direction, and that it may be unreasonable to expect her to step outside the law to satisfy the demands of Lambeth branch.
Let us take a step back, however: the left is small enough already, but would be much smaller if those of us whose day jobs strike discordantly with our principles all up and left, or were called to ‘account’ for the way we make money. We can compare Todd with Friedrich Engels, the factory-owner; or perhaps Michael Roberts, the Marxist economic blogger and City economist, who no doubt finds himself party to decisions that lose a lot more people a lot more than a few hundred quid every now and then.
The comrades pushing this issue - and opportunists like The Independent and Andy Newman - claim this is about ‘accountability’, but it is not. So far as LU is concerned, comrade Todd is a spokesperson: she is accountable for what she says, how competently she says it and how well that reflects the programme and policy of the organisation. She is not accountable for her day job; and enforcing such ‘accountability’ across the board would be nightmarish.
Underlying both this and the Hedley crusade is a peculiar desire for cleanliness - it is a mode of politics drawn more from the Pentateuch than the Communist manifesto. It is hopelessly illusory: two very different problems (domestic violence and sharp employment practices) are nevertheless similar, in that they are both social; ours is a society where sexual relationships frequently end in violent terror (and most frequently that terror is directed against women), and also a society in which the well-meaning are forced by circumstance to make grubby compromises. It is a dirty world - few hands are clean.
It is thus unfortunate that comrade Hardy has reacted to the curt rejection of his motion in the manner of a spoilt child. There was “intense pressure and [a] terrible atmosphere” at the NC meeting, he complains in a report-back email to Lambeth branch. “The chair spoke against the motion and said it should never have been tabled. Then Bianca and others got up to say we were bullying her and it was a disgrace that she was being treated like this.” So continues the mewling: “I very much want to get this sorted out so we can move on, but I have never experienced such awful treatment in a meeting before.” He wants an apology for the branch - an apology for reacting angrily to a petty and vindictive motion.
We are getting distinctly tired of this sob-story routine, as its employment spreads poisonously throughout the movement. Has Simon never - not even in his years in the perennial Trot awkward squad, Workers Power - faced an angry response before? Can we really believe that the sight of an upset Bianca Todd puts him in such a terror that he is reduced to crying hot, salty man-tears? Of course not - and so, for all the guff about “accountability”, we must say that it is comrade Hardy who is trying to wriggle out of being held accountable for this apolitical nonsense, by treating the whole affair as though it was about his own feelings, presenting the NC meeting as though he was being physically intimidated into silence. Please, comrade.
Absent entirely from this controversy, alas, are comrade Todd’s politics. She is undeniably drawn from the right wing of LU. We have innumerable disagreements with her: tactical and strategic, principled and incidental. We object, for that matter, to the idea of directly elected spokespeople as such: the leadership ought to be collective, and delegate tasks amongst itself, or among coopted individuals, accountable to the collective. Besides which, surely every comrade in LU ought to aspire to be a confident and articulate advocate of the organisation …?
The worst outcome for principled communists, however - indeed, for any principled opponent of her politics, from the left or right - is this farce, where she is hounded as a morally deficient individual for failing to meet the unquenchable demands of the intersectionalists, or for failing to single-handedly transform the straitened conditions of small businesses in a recession. The rude reception for these ham-fisted slights is encouraging - our movement needs honest polemic, not background checks.
1. ‘Preparing for 2015’ Weekly Worker September 25.