Fight fire with fire

The Labour left needs to go on the offensive against the right, argues Eddie Ford

Thankfully, Labour’s national executive committee decided on July 12 by 18 votes to 14 in a secret ballot that Jeremy Corbyn will automatically be on the ballot paper in the forthcoming leadership election. Essentially, the NEC majority correctly argued that Corbyn does not need to be nominated by 20% of MPs and MEPs, as in effect he has already been nominated by virtue of being the sitting leader.

Obviously, if the NEC ruling had gone the other way that would in reality have kept Corbyn off the ballot paper, as there was no chance he could have secured the nominations of 51 MPs and MEPs. In their June 28 vote of no confidence, more than 75% of the Parliamentary Labour Party (172) voted against Corbyn. Under those circumstances, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was quite right to call the machinations of the PLP an attempt at a “squalid coup” - given that only 10 months ago Corbyn was elected by an overwhelming majority of members, supporters and affiliates.

After the five-and-a-half-hour NEC meeting, Corbyn travelled to Kentish Town for a ‘JC4PM’ rally where - according to the Huffington Post - he was “greeted like a rock star” (July 12) and John McDonnell described the plotters as “fucking useless”.1 Meanwhile, when the leader’s office team back in parliament got the news by text, there was fist-pumping, cheering and a football-style chant of, ‘Watson, Watson, what’s the score?!’2 Another person celebrating was Sam Tarry, a member of Momentum’s steering committee - for him the coup had “completely failed” and he looked forward to Labour amassing one million members by the time of the leadership contest.

However, true to form, the bureaucracy is already trying to fix the vote - perhaps more alarmed than elated by Tarry’s prediction. In an outrageously anti-democratic manoeuvre pulled off right at the end of the NEC meeting (after Corbyn and not a few of his supporters had departed), a vote was taken on a motion - which had not appeared on the formal agenda - to deny a vote to anyone who joined the party after January 12, therefore excluding the 130,000 who have signed up since the Brexit referendum. Obviously, most of them are Corbyn supporters.

Not only that: anyone who joined after that date will now have to pay an extra £25 to register as a supporter and therefore get a vote - with only a two-day window from July 18-20 in which to sign up (you can almost hear the Labour Party website collapsing under the weight of traffic). You can also vote if you are an affiliated supporter - in other words, a member of a trade union or other body affiliated to the party. But there is doubt about whether those who are not already a member of an affiliated organisation will be able to take part in the election if they join one now - watch this space.

The remaining Corbyn supporters in the room countered with amendments of their own, proposing a June 24 cut-off date and a seven-day sign-up period for registered supporters. The plan to extend the sign-up period to a week was defeated by a show of hands with 16 votes to 10, while the proposal to change the freeze date was tied with 14 votes for and against, and as a result fell. In another act of skulduggery, the NEC right voted to suspend all “normal” Constituency Labour Party and branch-level meetings until “the completion” of the leadership election. Now, if unchallenged, only meetings for “supporting” leadership nominations, “campaign planning” meetings for by-elections, “plus others agreed by the general secretary” (Iain McNicol), will be allowed - supposedly to prevent “intimidation” and “harassment” against MPs and members.

These hurried stipulations are clearly a blatant attempt to gerrymander the election. Unsurprisingly, they are not entirely unambiguous, as they talk about requiring voters to “hold six months’ continuous party membership on the freeze date to be eligible to take part in a selection” - when we are having an election, not a “selection”. In other words, there are plenty of grounds - legal and political - on which to contest the NEC’s sneaky decision.

John McDonnell told the BBC that he was “disappointed” by the NEC’s decision, but would “accept” it. On the other hand James Schneider, a Momentum spokesperson, said on the Today programme that the new rules were “not fair”, as a “great number” of those who have joined Labour post-Brexit did so precisely “on the basis that they would be able to vote in a future leadership election”.

However, there are ways of getting around the block. For example, for as little as £2 per week you can become a Unite community member - if you are a student or unwaged - and then vote as an affiliated supporter.


Naturally, the right is spitting blood. Usual suspect John McTernan, a former “special advisor” to Tony Blair, dramatically said that the decision to allow Corbyn onto the ballot was “the day the Labour Party was stabbed in the heart and killed” by the NEC. Corbyn’s appearance on the ballot paper represents “the end of the Labour party - nothing more or less than that” and it is “terribly sad” for “anybody who believes in opposition to the Tories, anybody who believes in the history of the Labour Party and all it has achieved”. He added that if Corbyn “had any shame” he would have walked away some time ago.

Near comically, but mendaciously, NEC member Johanna Baxter bleated to the media that, by voting against the holding of a secret ballot at the July 12 meeting, Corbyn had “endorsed bullying, threats and intimidation” - the “most shameful act” she had ever seen in her political life, apparently.3 Baxter is clearly offended by the idea that NEC members, like MPs, should be accountable. Even more despicably, Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw immediately blamed “thugs” from Momentum for the brick thrown through Angela Eagle’s constituency office window. But, hey, who needs little things like facts when the exercise is to smear Corbyn and his supporters?

Anyhow, Eagle issued a brief statement saying she was “glad” the NEC had come to a decision and welcomed “the contest ahead” - which she is “determined to win”, needless to say. A Labour MP supporting Eagle optimistically told The Independent that “it’s not impossible” that she could defeat Corbyn, as he “only just won 50% of the full members last time” (July 12). Eagle herself refused to state whether she agree with McTernan that a Corbyn victory would spell the end of Labour as we know it, saying only that she was “not going to speculate about what will happen if I lose”. She urged anti-Corbynites to fork out the £25 needed to become registered supporters, obviously thinking it is good value for money. She is right.

As far as communists are concerned, we think it is excellent that Eagle - according to Diane Abbott, the “empire strikes back” candidate - finally put herself forward as a leadership candidate. True, at the prompting of Andy Burnham the NEC agreed that there would be two days of negotiations. Presumably, the aim is to find some rotten compromise and presumably there will be failure. After 10 months of rightwing sabotage we need an election ... where the right is humiliated.

It is therefore also good news that Pontypridd MP Owen Smith has decided to enter the race, thus splitting the anti-Corbyn vote (or, more accurately, ensuring that the campaign and eventual vote against the Labour leader is not fully maximised).4 Maybe he is going for the political equivalent of the Darwin Award?5 Anyway, Smith wants to “make the case to be the next Labour prime minister” - dream on, Owen. Trying to position himself as the soft-left alternative to Corbyn, Smith claims that he was opposed to the Iraq war even if he was not in parliament at the time or seemingly failed to attend any anti-war demonstrations. However, in a 2006 interview with Wales Online, he said “we are making significant inroads in improving what is happening in Iraq” and “the tradition of the Labour Party and the tradition of leftwing engagement to remove dictators was a noble, valuable tradition”. He said he “didn’t know whether he would have voted against the war, as the previous MP, Llew Smith, did”.6

In the same interview he also welcomed the involvement of the private sector in the NHS, “where they can bring good ideas”, and supported the introduction of PFI schemes if it “works”. Apparently, city academies are making “great inroads” and, when it comes to Trident, he favours multilateral disarmament, but “will vote to retain nuclear bombs”. A man of deep principle, obviously.

Eagle, of course, is no better - though she is also posing as some sort of leftwinger, calling herself a “northern girl from working class roots who understands modern life” and a “trade unionist to my fingertips”.7 In fact, she is such a leftwinger that she is pro-Trident, abstained on the welfare bill and supported the Iraq war - she even voted against having any inquiry at all. No wonder she is so unpopular with her CLP in Wallasey, which strongly backs Corbyn and on July 22 was set to pass a motion of no confidence in her.8 Amusingly in some respects, membership in her CLP has swelled since Eagle first started talking about challenging Corbyn - going from 367 on June 24 to over 1,200 today. They were joining, of course, for the privilege of voting against her - many party members apparently particularly angered by the accusations of “intimidation” and “homophobic remarks.” No wonder the NEC wants to suspend all “normal” party meetings and activities, otherwise she might have had the wonderful situation - and huge embarrassment - of being disowned by her own CLP.

Of course, it is still possible - though now less likely - that the right will appeal to the courts to overturn the NEC decision. If that were to happen, then we should not anticipate that the trade union leaderships will merely shrug their shoulders. McCluskey and others have warned that the right risks tearing the party apart: there can be no doubt that a historic split is on the cards. After all, is there any other way out?

Inevitably, and a little tiresomely, there has been much talk about the formation, or emergence, of a new Social Democratic Party. But this is a completely false analogy. The SDP was a small breakaway faction at a time when the Liberals were enjoying a revival in 1981. Now, we are potentially dealing with the majority of the PLP. Why on earth would they want to join the Liberal Democrats, who only have eight MPs and are led by someone whose name no-one can remember. Whilst we in the CPGB have no more idea than anybody else as to what will exactly emerge from the crisis, we confidently predict that it will not involve anti-Corbyn Labour MPs flocking en masse to the Lib Dems.


Whatever happens, the left needs to get the rules radically changed at Labour’s September conference - and not just those concerning how the leader is elected. We obviously need to have a special conference because the situation is utterly unprecedented, whereby a majority of the PLP - as opposed to the leader or this-or-that individual - is in openrevolt against the party, conference, membership and affiliates. We must fight fire with fire.

The left must organise in order to push through rules enabling us to deselect these traitorous scabs before we have a general election. Yes, Theresa May might be saying at the moment that she does not want an early general election - but let’s wake up and smell the coffee. If you have just taken over the reins of the Tory Party, see Labour embroiled in a vicious civil war and look at your current narrow majority - then surely you will be stupid not to take advantage of it. In a snap election Labour will be slaughtered and prime minister May will return with the sort of thumping majority not seen since the days of the national government in the 1930s. Thus Jon Trickett, Labour’s campaigns and elections chair, is being quite stupid - and suicidal - in demanding an early election on the basis that the Tories are in “chaos” and that the country needs to have a “democratically elected” prime minister, “given the instability caused by the Brexit vote”.9 Ditto with the Socialist Workers Party and its silly call for a “general election now”.

Having said that, the left should not be panicked by such a scenario. Instead, it gives us an opportunity to refashion the Labour Party into something that is useful for the class war. Frankly, the party needs to put its own house in order. Primarily, this means sorting out a proper relationship between the NEC, PLP and conference, thoroughly democratising the party and opening up the party to new affiliates (not least leftwing groups).



1. www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2016/jul/13/john-mcdonnell-labour-party-plotters-video.

2. www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jeremy-corbyn-national-executive-committee-nec-how-he-triumphed_uk_57856207e4b08078d6e765d3.

3. www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/13/corbyn-endorsed-bullying-by-voting-against-secret-ballot.

4. www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/13/owen-smith-to-challenge-jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership.

5. The Darwin Awards recognise individuals who have “contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool via death or sterilisation by their own actions”.

6. www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/owen-smith-opens-up-by-election-2338066.

7. http://labourlist.org/2016/07/im-a-northern-girl-from-working-class-roots-who-understands-modern-life-angela-eagle-defends-her-labour-record.


9. http://labourlist.org/2016/07/campaign-chief-trickett-demands-snap-election-amid-tory-chaos.