Deselect the Tory 21

The Common Good rebels seem to be advertising their services to the Tory Party, writes Eddie Ford

Last week the press was full of delighted stories about the first parliamentary rebellion against the Jeremy Corbyn leadership - the party was in “shambles”, “chaos”, “disarray”, and so on.

Allegedly, at the “brutal” and now near legendary October 13 weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, an angry John Mann MP could be heard shouting at the leadership from outside the committee room when shadow chancellor John McDonnell announced his U-turn on the vote over George Osborne’s nonsensical fiscal charter. One senior Labour member described the meeting as “warm - in the way that blood running down the street is warm”, and another MP tweeted to the press that, throughout the meeting, Corbyn was strangely “unresponsive” and “silent like a gnome”.

As our readers know, the charter commits the government to a budget surplus (where tax revenues exceed public spending) by 2019-20. From then onwards, so the story goes, in ‘good’ times the government of the day is obliged to run a surplus and only in bad times - when GDP growth falls below 1% - can the fiscal straitjacket be loosened and money spent. Total humbug, of course, because that is the normal thing for capitalist governments to do anyway - and the fact of the matter is that if the Tories found themselves in a tight corner, say a mass strike wave, even if the economy was doing relatively well, they will do whatever is necessary, according to the dictates of the election cycle and international circumstances. As The Economist noted in an editorial, “forswearing any fiscal stimulus” until growth drops to just 1% is “unwise” and is “likely to be junked, just as past fiscal rules in Britain have been, when they have been put to the test” (October 17).1

Anyhow, late on October 14, 20 Labour MPs defied a three-line whip and abstained, whilst another 21 were “unauthorised absences” - the vote being carried by 320 to 258. The seditious MPs unsurprisingly included Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt, Chris Leslie, Jamie Reed, Frank Field, Margaret Hodge, Ben Bradshaw, Simon Danczuk, Shabana Mahmood and Gisela Stuart (although it is worth noting that Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna backed Corbyn).2 According to The Daily Telegraph (not exactly reliable, though what it says is certainly plausible), shadow ministers planning to rebel were initially threatened with the sack, only for Corbyn to back down when he realised the potential scale of the rebellion. Hence the compromise move to allow then to be “off the whip” - people like Kevan Jones, shadow defence minister, Vernon Coaker, shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Lucy Powell, shadow education secretary, and Sarah Champion, shadow minister for preventing abuse.3 Confiding to the Telegraph, one of the shadow ministers given permission to miss the vote just hours after being threatened with the sack said: “It’s fucking chaos. I said I wasn’t voting today and they said I would get sacked. This afternoon they said, will you just stay away? I said, ‘Fair enough.’ They then told me I’ve got authorised absence. I’m going for dinner tonight instead.”

Name and shame

Much to the outrage of the 21 rebels, the Labour whips’ office (ie, Jeremy Corbyn) decided to ‘name and shame’ them by publishing a list of those who voted with the Tories. A Labour spokeswoman insisted that the names were published in order to “help the media.” Thanks for the help.

In reality, this list was clearly put out for the benefit of ordinary Labour members, not the press - in order for them to know what their MP was getting up to, and then do something about it - which we in the CPGB think is an excellent idea. For instance, quite rightly, the newly-formed Labour Young Socialists have called on the CLPs in question to deselect all 21 of them, as their behaviour was “disgraceful” and “on a par with the Tories”. Naturally, the rightwing press has nothing but total sympathy for the “Labour rebels bullied by Corbyn allies” - as The Times headline put it (October 16).4 The same article tells us that the poor things have been “deluged” with “abuse” on social media and elsewhere for being “Tory lites”, a “waste of space”, etc - perfectly accurate descriptions. Ludicrously, the paper suggests that Labour under Corbyn is “effectively outsourcing party discipline to a social media mob”.

Jamie Reed, who resigned his shadow cabinet position the moment Corbyn was elected leader, self-righteously complained that he had been “spat upon”, “sent to the gulag”, “condemned to the salt mines”, “lined up against a wall”, and much more. Apparently this is “genuinely a new form of politics” - “the revolution will not be televised, but the #purge will be live-tweeted”. Graham Jones, MP for Hyndburn, who is on record as saying he could not serve under the “extreme left” Corbyn, because he does not hold Labour’s “true values”, nevertheless posted a tweet condemning the rebels for siding with “murderers, thieves, liars, whores, without any formal qualifications to run this country above Corbyn” - making the suggestion : “you get out of our socialist party and shut the door on the way out”.5

It goes without saying that we are not dealing with people who have militantly stuck to the former and mistaken McDonnell line of voting for the fiscal charter on the dubious basis of trying to “out-Osborne Osborne” in a bit of “traditional parliamentary knockabout” - the shadow chancellor “initially” thinking it “best to treat the vote with the contempt it deserved, vote for the charter, avoid claims of deficit denial and move on”. He changed his mind, it seems, after receiving “professional advice” (presumably from his bank of Keynesian economic advisors), meeting redundant Redcar steelworkers and observing the “gathering economic storm clouds” heading towards the UK.

Whether you find that a convincing explanation or not, what matters in the end is that McDonnell made the right decision. Diane Abbott, apparently nicknamed “Madam Mao” by the party’s right wing, told the BBC’s Today programme on October 13 that “we are in the right position now; it is a position that most of the PLP is comfortable with and, I think, all party members” - not something you can say about the Labour rebels. These people, many of them now grouped together under the Common Good banner, were not just voting against Corbyn and McDonnell over the fiscal charter, but actually committing themselves to Osborne’s anti-working class austerity programme - effectively advertising to the Tories that they are the kind of people who would be willing to join them under the right conditions. Here is our CV - please consider.

There was a lot of silly talk at last month’s Liberal Democrat conference from new leader Tim Farron about making an “unashamed land grab” for Labour votes and offering a “home” to unhappy Labour MPs - apparently his party is the only “credible” alternative to the Tories. Funnily enough though, Farron refused to confirm how many Labour MPs he had spoken to about possible defection, but said it was “more than two” - by which you can deduce three maximum (and that could be an exaggeration).6 Given the current dismal state of the Lib Dems, it is not an attractive prospect for someone hoping for a glittering career - or any sort of a career, now you mention it.

But it is not entirely inconceivable that a bloc of Labour MPs might defect directly to the Tories under these political conditions. In fact, we have had our very first defector in the shape of the vaguely amusingly-named Lord Adonis - former councillor for both the Social Democratic Party and Lib Dems, Tony Blair’s policy chief and transport secretary under Gordon Brown. He has resigned the Labour whip in the House of Lords and is now chair of the chancellor’s newly created national infrastructure commission - obviously part of Osborne’s triangulation policy to present the Tories as the real “workers’ party” by getting rightwing Labourites on board. Adonis may not yet have accepted the Tory whip, but he is certainly in the enemy camp.

Another deserter was Lord Norman Warner, a life peer, who at the beginning of the week also resigned the Labour whip - in his case to become a crossbencher. He believes the party does not have a “hope in hell” of winning the next general election (or the one after that) under Corbyn, who is symptomatic of the “calamitous decline” in the quality of Labour leaders.7 He also fears, hopefully justifiably, that Corbynite activists might secure control of “the party’s apparatus and process” - meaning that the role of the PLP “diminishes further” when it comes to the selection of a leader and the formulation of policies “likely to win an election”.

The charming Warner, it needs reminding, was a Quisling appointed by the coalition government in 2010 as chair of the social care funding commission with a remit to study “future funding arrangements” for the elderly - and three years later he broke the party whip and voted with the Tories and Lib Dems to “open up” the NHS market to practically any willing bidder (the only Labour peer to do so).8 Then, in March 2014, Warner wrote an article for The Guardian suggesting that the NHS should become a “membership scheme”, with users or subscribers paying £10 a month and £20 for every night spent in hospital.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. With opinions like his, the only wonder is that it took him so long to resign. Indeed, what on earth was he doing in the Labour Party in the first place? Surely the Conservatives will have a nice job for him somewhere.

Tory values

It is useless to appeal to the right to “learn loyality” as the dozy, ‘official communists’ of the Morning Star do (October 14). Nor should they be asked to bear in mind Corbyn’s plea for a “gentler and more polite approach” to politics. No, as we have previously commented, Liz Kendall could have been chosen by Tory central casting. The same applies to Labour’s other Common Good rebels, the “resistance” as they are know in Westminster. If they look like Tories, speak like Tories and vote like Tories - then they should be treated like Tories.

Obviously, members in the relevant constituencies should be organising, and fighting for, alternative candidates by using trigger ballots. According to current rules, the CLPs can choose to select a candidate not on the Labour Party’s panel of “approved candidates” (though this has be given the go-ahead by the national executive committee).9 It is important to point out that trigger ballots are a watered-down version of mandatory reselection - a key achievement of the left won at the height of the Bennite movement in the 1970s, which was abolished under Neil Kinnock and replaced with the system we have today. Far too many MPs regard their seat as an entitlement - being an MP is their profession and therefore they should never be put out of their job unless they have done something obviously very wrong - like faking one’s own death (John Stonehouse) or committing fraud on a serial scale (Horatio Bottomley). Communists profoundly disagree with this elitist attitude. As a matter of course, ordinary party members should get to decide who becomes their candidate.

Which is precisely why it is disappointing that Corbyn has come out against mandatory reselection when announcing the appointment of Rosie Winterton, the chief whip, to head the party’s response to the boundary review. Corbyn wished to make it “absolutely crystal-clear” that he does not “support any changes” to Labour’s rules on this question.10 Thus it looks as though, for the foreseeable future, there will be an ‘anti-deselection’ majority on the NEC. However, the Labour left should demand that Corbyn stands up for mandatory reselection as a principle.



1. www.economist.com/news/britain/21674777-george-osbornes-fiscal-charter-makes-little-economic-sense-dangerous-gamble.

2. http://labourlist.org/2015/10/who-abstained-on-the-fiscal-charter.

3. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11930309/Fiscal-charter-Labour-rebellion-live.html.

4. www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4587479.ece.

5. www.sunnation.co.uk/s3/sunnation-prod/uploads/2015/10/len.jpg.

6. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-34305994.

7. www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/10/20/lord-warner-quits-labour-says-party-hasnt-a-hope-in-hell-of-winning_n_8335766.html?utm_hp_ref=uk.

8. www.theguardian.com/society/2013/apr/24/labour-peer-nhs-regulations.

9. http://home.freeuk.com/clpd/trigger.htm.

10. www.newstatesman.com/politics/elections/2015/10/jeremy-corbyn-announces-opposition-mandatory-reselection.