Labour Against the Witchhunt: Liverpool launch meeting

Members discuss how to fight back

More than 70 people, including long-standing local activists, took part in the launch of Liverpool Labour Against the Witchhunt at a lively meeting in the Quaker Meeting House on March 22. It came at a time when Liverpool MPs Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman have been joining the latest ‘anti-Semitism’ scare aimed at Jeremy Corbyn.

Both the speakers and the audience were drawn from across Merseyside (including Labour Party members from all of Liverpool’s constituencies), reflecting the different aspects of the Labour right’s witch-hunt against leftwing activists. Speakers included Bob Walker, one of the ‘Garston Three’, expelled from the Labour Party for having attended a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition meeting; Alan Runswick, from Wallasey Constituency Labour Party, which was suspended for many months after a dispute with supporters of its MP, Angela Eagle, who had opposed Jeremy Corbyn; John Davies, a leading leftwing activist and target of the Liverpool Riverside witch-hunt in 2016-17; Anyanna Ndukwe, north-west organiser of Grassroots Black Left; and Marc Wadsworth, the suspended black activist from London, who gave the keynote address.

Each comrade talked about both their individual experiences of the witch-hunt and how they had fought back in defence of Labour Party democracy and leftwing policies. Alan Runswick described the situation that had developed in Wallasey CLP as a result of Angela Eagle’s resignation from the shadow cabinet and her abortive leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn. The CLP’s opposition to their MP’s challenge and its support for Corbyn gave rise to a series of spurious allegations of homophobia, abuse and bullying, outlined in a 100-page dossier, which resulted in the suspension of the whole constituency party. A vigorous campaign by the constituency drew national attention and media interest and eventually led to its reinstatement and no charges being made against individual comrades. The lesson that Alan drew from this was that not only was a successful fightback against the witch-hunt is possible, but it could also be the basis to advance democratic control and accountability over councillors and MPs.

The experience in Liverpool Riverside was different, as John Davies explained. There the attacks by the right had alleged that anti-Semitism and abuse had been directed towards the MP, Louise Ellman. Questions to Ellman on her support for the Israeli state and its policies in the occupied territories were defined as hostile, personal attacks, and used as a justification for the ‘reorganisation’ of the CLP. John argued strongly that debate and questioning cannot be stifled and that organisational manoeuvres which create opaque and secretive structures will ultimately fail - provided the left acts in a coherent and unflinching way against the attacks of the right.

Speaking of his experiences in Garston and Halewood CLP, Bob Walker described how he had been ambushed at a meeting by the right, who had used the rulebook to obtain his expulsion within 24 hours of charges being laid against him. Bob’s crime? Discussing with other socialists at a Tusc public meeting the best strategy to fight austerity! In outlining the case of the Garston Three, Bob warned that all comrades on the left need to fight together to defend those under attack. Politics was about more than labels and slogans: “Just because someone wears a T-shirt with Jeremy Corbyn’s face on it doesn’t mean they are a socialist.”

Anyanna Ndukwe from Grassroots Black Left described the experience of black people in Liverpool and the need for the left to recruit supporters from this community. These struggles were both historic and contemporary, and she appealed to a new generation to continue the fight and build a movement that could win. Her linking of the campaigns of the past with the current battle against the witch-hunt provided a perfect introduction to the keynote speech.

This was given by Marc Wadsworth, who was in rousing form and recalled being in Liverpool during the Toxteth riots of 1981. He had met prominent activists then, including the leading black campaigner, Rashid Mufti, and Sam Semoff, an outstanding Jewish anti-Zionist and anti-racist, both of whom have since died (a minute’s silence was held for them). Wadsworth described the events at the launch of the Shami Chakrabarti report, leading up to his suspension from the Labour Party almost two years ago and the fake news “media storm” surrounding it. Originally Wadsworth was summarily expelled for an alleged verbal attack on Ruth Smeeth MP, an anti-Corbyn member of the Parliamentary Labour Party. This was changed to a suspension after an intervention by Wadsworth’s lawyer. Six months later, with party witch-hunters realising how flimsy the case was, they introduced a false allegation of anti-Semitism against him.

In the wide-ranging and lively discussion that followed comrades discussed not only the attacks by the right, but also wider questions of socialist strategy and the future role of the left, both inside and outside the Labour Party. Amongst the issues covered in nearly two hours of discussion were future perspectives for Labour under Corbyn’s leadership, and the future of the left in the party. Comrades welcomed the appointment of Labour’s new general secretary, Jennie Formby, and expressed the hope that the new left majority on the party’s ruling NEC would now decisively end the purge of Corbyn supporters.

Following this discussion elections were held for the Liverpool LAW committee. Officers elected were Kevin Bean (chair), Jennifer James (vice chair), Kal Ross (secretary/treasurer), and Anyanna Ndukwe and Bob Walker (joint liaison). After the meeting, a Liverpool branch of Grassroots Black Left was set up, with Anyanna Ndukwe as convenor l