Enough Blairite bleating
Paul Demarty takes a look at the right’s latest moans - and notes SPEW’s continued refusal to join the battle on the side of the Labour left
We have said repeatedly that the relative quiescence of the Labour Party’s right wing - while most fitting, given the repeated disasters that have befallen their perspectives in recent years - should not be confused with surrender. The evidence just keeps piling up.
After Chuka Umunna’s bizarre self-immolation over the queen’s speech, and the ejection of his allies from the shadow cabinet for their insubordination, there comes a new tsunami of crocodile tears over the ‘threats’ suffered by anti-Corbyn MPs, as the left begins to make some small advances in the party’s machinery. In particular, we draw attention to the bleating of one Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who was told that she ought to get into line, now that Jeremy Corbyn is more secure than ever in the driver’s seat. The immediate issue seems to be that the constituency party has slipped out of the control of her and her allies, and the new guard are keen to put her on notice. “Luciana needs to get on board quite quickly now,” one officer told the Liverpool Echo. “She will now have to sit round the table with us the next time she wants to vote for bombing in Syria or to pass a no-confidence motion in the leader of the party - she will have to be answerable to us.”1
Despite the best efforts of the left’s official leadership, which has spent the last two years relentlessly seeking peace with enemies who want no such thing, the progress of the ‘Corbyn levy’ through the local party institutions continues. The harder edge to leader’s office interventions since the election - Paul Mason’s ‘put up or shut up’ speech to Progress, the firmer hand of the whip’s office - will no doubt offer further encouragement. Inevitably, this brings with it the spectre of mandatory reselection. Hove Labour Party has moved a proposal that MPs require a two-thirds majority of local and affiliated members to avoid a reselection contest - essentially the exact reverse of the current situation, where a trigger ballot, stacked in favour of the incumbent, must be won before an MP’s position is threatened.
It is in this context that we must view Yvette Cooper’s latest idiotic ramblings, whereby she condemns “abuse” directed at Berger and the notorious BBC political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, as “misogynistic”, and essentially of a piece with Donald Trump’s Twitter-spew and Thomas Mair’s murder of Jo Cox last year. She uses the typical dishonest trick of focusing on one or two especially unhinged tweets as a means of smearing the general run of anger against her chums, insulating them from criticism on the basis that it is on a continuum with fascist street terrorism. Of course, people are angry about Berger not because she is a woman, but because she has betrayed her party repeatedly; and they are angry about Kuenssberg not because she is a woman, but because she is violently and obviously biased towards the Tories. Such trifles are beneath the notice of Cooper.
Cooper’s intervention is bizarre on its own terms. Think about that line on the “politics of hatred”, which makes an amalgam of critics of New Labour candidates in the north-east of England, and alt-right mob-handed racist trolls, all the way up to the pussy-grabber in chief himself. Yet this carries with it the implication that the problem with Trump is what he has in common with all the rest of them - that is, that he does not show sufficient deference to the political establishment, and (horror of horrors) is rude on the internet; or otherwise that there is no moral difference of note between impertinent social media commentary and deportations, walls and nuclear sabre-rattling.
This, in the end, is exactly the sort of redoubtable moral leadership we have come to expect from our friends on Labour’s right wing. Their hatred of oppression is always hatred of their own oppression; criticism of their depravity is dressed up in pantomime-villain garb as the ranting of demagogues. It is no surprise at all to find the spectre of reselection haunting Cooper, for that is exactly the sort of terrorism she hates the most of all - the idea that she could be in any way accountable to the people who selected her to represent one of the safest seats in parliament is an unforgivable incursion on her liberty. One can only imagine what her reaction would be should there be a genuinely competitive election in Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford - no doubt that would be the Tories bullying her.
Too often, the response to this sort of mewling from the left has been to capitulate and insist that trivial and scurrilous accusations such as these are ‘taken very seriously’. There are signs, at least, that this routine is no longer working so far as those at the coalface go. Emblematic here is the fate of the now-notorious posting of the list of 49 rebel MPs that joined Chuka as he went over the top into no man’s land, with the comment that they ought to go and “join the Liberals”. Momentum’s central leadership sprung into action to declare it an abrogation of the group’s values, sure; but plainly the message is not getting through, as one such ‘scandal’ follows the next.
Another encouraging item reaches us from the annual general meeting of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), which has been disaffiliated from the Labour Party since 2004, when it decided to support candidates of the Scottish Socialist Party as a protest against Blairism. It has now resolved to conduct a thoroughgoing discussion about its future relationship with Labour, with serious efforts at reaffiliation on the table. (Currently, the RMT formally submits an affiliation cheque every year, but does not offer any assurance that it will not support non-Labour candidates in elections, and so the cheque is returned.)
It is good to see the RMT seriously reconsider its position on Labour affiliation and, while it would have been even better to see more decisive steps in this direction (the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, inter alia, deserves credit for pushing for affiliation now), there is an unavoidable inertia to an organisation like the RMT, and turning it around so dramatically is no small task. The job is being done with no help whatsoever from the bumbling and increasingly delusional Socialist Party in England and Wales, which presented two proposals that concern us here: the first to reaffirm the RMT’s support for the stillborn Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition electoral front; and the second to commit to reaffiliation to Labour under a series of conditions.
The two might appear to be in contradiction, but in reality both amount to the same absurd rearguard wrecking action. The first is obvious enough, explicitly arguing for the RMT to support an organisation whose sole purpose is standing candidates against Labour, avowing itself over the years to be the nucleus of a new workers’ party. SPEW’s continued commitment to this worthless tax on its comrades’ energy is approaching the point of insanity. Its electoral returns were bad enough in the Miliband era, but against a Corbyn-led Labour Party, even the most threadbare pretence at relevance is destroyed.
As for the second, it embodies the half-arsed compromise with reality under whose sign the comrades now operate. SPEW’s paper, The Socialist, offers a series of truly feeble arguments for this compromise:
Several delegates (who, along with RMT’s president, are banned from Labour membership after standing against cuts with Tusc) asked why they remain banned, while the likes of warmonger Tony Blair ... can be allowed membership.
The presence of [Labour’s] leader, deputy leader and chair of the RMT parliamentary group at the AGM suggests that RMT has significant influence even without a formal affiliation. RMT was the first to donate to Corbyn’s leadership campaign and only Unite gave more (July 5).
Yes, we ‘support Jeremy’, and yes, we demand reaffiliation, for the RMT and for SPEW alike ... just as soon as all expelled members are readmitted, bans and proscriptions lifted, cuts budgets defied. In short, just as soon as the left wins the civil war in the Labour Party, SPEW - that great battalion of the working class - will condescend to join it. Is that the purpose of purported revolutionary socialists, comrades - to turn up after the fact like a carpet-bagger, to siphon off some of the spoils of a war others had the courage to fight?
Of course, in SPEW’s case as such, we are hardly talking of a huge numerical difference either way - but the group is not without influence in the RMT, and certainly has a deal of traction in the PCS and NUT, two other unions nudging towards affiliation in the present period. Instead of pulling these forces into battle, however, these ‘Trotskyists’ have adopted the principled revolutionary policy of waiting on the sidelines - all to shore up the flagging authority of their dim-witted leaders. Hopefully RMT branches, regions and members will give this perspective the consideration it deserves - none at all.