WeeklyWorker

10.12.2015
If only we could cower MPs

Confront, intimidate, deselect

The 66 rebel Labour MPs are traitors. Do not be fooled by their crocodile tears, warns Paul Demarty

It was a traumatic moment for many MPs. A contentious bill in parliament was riling up widespread anger. Mobs were emboldened. Nooses were hung outside members’ houses. Many wondered if they would make it out alive.

Not last week, of course, but in 1807. It is worth bearing in mind, as various disreputable politicians claim to be victims of hounding and intimidation, what actual intimidation looks like. It is not a strongly worded email. It is not an intemperate social media post. It is the clear threat that if you do not obey the will of your constituents, you run the risk of being lynched.

All that sounds like a pretty dark period of British history. What could have possessed the British people, who my government tells me love liberty and the rule of law, to devolve into violent mobs? Just the small matter of abolishing the slave trade. Whenever an MP complains that their constituents have taken unkindly to their choice of lobby, remember that the triangle trade was broken in some part by the willingness of the plebeian classes in the north of England to threaten their MPs with death. You know what they say about omelettes and eggs.

This is one way to put into perspective the complaints of various MPs, many of which have bordered on comical. A scare piece in TheIndependent about the ‘intimidation’ faced by the brave Walthamstow MP, Stella Creasy, portrayed her house with a sinister-looking protest out of focus in the foreground. This turned out, naturally, to be a bunch of vicars, elderly peaceniks and children attending a candlelit peace vigil - not at all outside her house, as it turns out, but the local mosque (in any case, brave Stella was in Westminster at the time, casting her vote). One MP - a certain Lucy Allan, a Tory - posted a vituperative email on Facebook, ending with a death threat. It rapidly emerged, however, that she had spliced the threat in herself.

Most of these degenerates are not so dramatic. Instead - certainly on the Labour benches - the shivers of fear are brought on when talk turns to deselection. Indeed, the whole farrago about the ‘bullying’ of Labour rebels comes down to this: that - horror of horrors - local Labour activists might wonder exactly what image is being projected of their constituency Labour Party when the sitting MP defies the leadership and a thumping majority of ordinary members, and consider their options.

The fear of deselection is ultimately about property. Specifically: does Stella Creasy own the Labour nomination for Walthamstow? Juridically, she plainly does not. If we were to ask her whether she considers the seat to be her property, we suspect she would say no. Actions speak louder than words, however. If deselection is so damn unfair, that can only be because the standing in the seat belongs more to the MP than the people doing the selection.

It is hardly surprising that the ranks of Labour’s traitors are so riven with such proprietorial attitudes. This is, after all, the promise made to them: do your time in central office, yawn your way through enough council meetings, and with a little luck you’ll find yourself on the green benches, and before long - maybe - riding in the back of the ministerial car. This is politics as a nice, neat career path - or, to put it another way, politics without the actual politics.

Alas! Having been reduced, by two decades of New Labour and its diseased offspring, to a bloodless technocratic husk, the Labour Party has almost by accident found itself the site of the most intense political struggle in the recent history of British politics. The smooth ascent from student union to wonk-shop, to Parliament has suddenly taken on a more daunting aspect. It was to be expected, in this long shimmy up the greasy pole, that there would be people higher up calling in favours. Now, unforgivably, the threat comes from below.

This, ultimately, is why all talk of bullying is nonsense. Bullying only works if the bully is above the bullied in some hierarchy. Big kids bully small ones: not the other way round. A bunch of pampered, successful career politicians are taking time out from their long lunches with corporate journalists to complain that ordinary Labour members are ‘bullying’ them by suggesting that they ought to vote in accordance with party policy, rather than with the consciences they pretend to have. It just does not work like that, brothers and sisters. You have the power in this situation: you can be insulted, harangued, confronted and whatever else, but you cannot be bullied by people with a fraction of your social capital.

Forfeit claim

For the 66 traitors, any claim they have on their seats in parliament is - morally speaking - forfeit. They were elected as Labour candidates; the Labour Party has lately acquired a left tilt, especially in its general membership; their decision to vote with David Cameron is a direct and calculated snub, therefore, to the party. The latter has no obligation to them. They can - metaphorically speaking, good friends in GCHQ - go hang.

Whether or not they were right to do so is immaterial to the matter, in fact. If Hilary Benn, Stella Creasy et al are - as we are repeatedly told by those famous champions of the underdog that staff the bourgeois press - ‘brave’ for taking their stand, then they ought to be ‘brave’ enough to stand up to those they have defied. They ought to be ‘brave’ enough to take the consequences. Instead, they spend their time making a big show of jumping at shadows and hiding from candle-wielding five-year-olds, revealing themselves as the nauseating moral cowards they are. Rather than worrying about the pacifist children of Walthamstow, they might spare a thought for the children of Raqqa, who will have a few more bombs to dodge in the coming weeks and months (and years?), and ponder whether their own lot is really so very bad.

In the face of a barrage of press scare stories about ‘intimidation’, the upper ranks of the Corbynistas have reacted in the time-honoured way: retreating pell-mell, as fast as they can. There cannot be a front-bencher, loyalist or scab, who has not condemned protests and moves to reselect. Momentum, the ‘grassroots movement’ in support of the embattled leadership, has further disarmed itself on these fronts. Reselection campaigns are denounced, and declared incompatible with Momentum membership, by an anonymous leadership body barely more accountable than the privy council.

We repeat: what on earth is the point of Momentum if it is going to insist on demobilising its members in this way? And demobilisation, so far as we can tell, is exactly what it is. Our spies tell us of numerous meetings where lay members are clamouring to give their traitor MPs a taste of real opposition, but face endless bureaucratic obstacles to carrying out their goals from leadership viceroys sent to keep them in check. No doubt this is not a universal phenomenon, but it is a real one. The Momentum leadership reacts so biliously to talk of reselection only because it knows that the word is ever on the lips of the rank and file. Well, we suspect they will find other outlets - eventually - for their sound, healthy instincts on this point. By then, however, it may already be too late.

There is a war on in the Labour Party. On one side are the careerists of all stripes: the Blairites, the Brownites, out-and-out chauvinists like Simon Danczuk and Frank Field, and a rump of barely political mediocrities. Their project is to appear acceptable to the bourgeois press. To all intents and purposes, they are agents of the bourgeois press. On the other side, there is the left, which has - by way of a series of comical accidents and a great mass movement - found itself in charge of the commanding heights of the party, and dominant among a resurgent rank and file.

The Labour left has always disarmed itself by allowing itself to be held hostage. Now is really not the time for that sort of thing, comrades. We need to fight. Every MP who voted for this fatuous bit of military willy-waving should be hounded, cajoled and - yes - intimidated. We need pickets of constituency surgeries. Hilary Benn’s floorboards should creak under the weight of a thousand mailed photographs of dead Syrian civilians. Above all, we need these people out: out of parliament, and out of the Labour Party.

paul.demarty@weeklyworker.co.uk