Former ministers show true colours
Blairites are really Tories in disguise. If we are going to transform the Labour Party we must get rid of the lot of them, writes Eddie Ford
There can be little doubt that for many on the Labour right getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn takes priority over beating the Tories or winning an election. They were dismayed when Labour did unexpectedly well in the 2015 Oldham West and Royton by-election with a 7.3% swing, and then when Jeremy Corbyn out-performed expectations in the 2017 general election - both times thinking this was going to be a golden opportunity to stage a coup against him. Being a member of the Labour right must be very frustrating at times.
With the December 12 election campaign up and running (and the result anyone’s guess), sections of the Labour right - including those now in exile - are once again actively trying to sabotage the party’s election chances. First off the blocks was Ian Austin, a former minister under Gordon Brown, and an independent MP since February (he had refused to join the newly formed Independent Group, as it was anti-Brexit and wanted another referendum). Outlining his reasons for leaving at the time, he apparently “could not stand by, as the Labour Party has been poisoned by racism, extremism and intolerance” under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership - which sounds exactly like the Labour leader, doesn’t it? Clearly Corbyn is a foaming racist. Even though Austin is not a party member any more, naturally enough he remains a member of Labour Friends of Israel. Indeed, in July he was appointed ‘prime ministerial trade envoy’ to Israel by Theresa May - nice work if you can get it.
Anyhow, last week Austin announced he would not be standing at the general election in his West Midlands constituency - telling the BBC’s Today programme, which no doubt was delighted, that Corbyn was “completely unfit” to lead either the party or the country. Instead he recommended that Labour supporters should vote instead for Boris Johnson, who obviously is superbly fit to run both the country and the Tory Party. Expounding on this theme, Austin said - or ranted - that Corbyn “always picks our country’s enemies, whether that’s the IRA during the troubles, or describing Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends” - not to mention “parroting Putin’s propaganda, when the Russians sent hit-men to murder people on the streets of Britain”.
In fact, the Labour leader’s crimes are even worse than that: “Most shamefully of all for a party that’s got a proud record of fighting for equality and opposing racism,” Austin remarked, Jeremy Corbyn has corrupted the party with - you guessed it - “anti-Jewish racism”, which hits you in the face every time you go to a Labour meeting anywhere in the country. Or so we are led to believe by the anti-Corbyn right. Not to mention the entire bourgeois media.
Austin, the MP for Dudley North, also gave his outstanding local newspaper, the Express & Star, a recent lead story, which went into great detail about a “millionaire who left girlfriend to die after ‘rough sex session’”. So now the paper’s readers who are “decent, patriotic Labour voters” had no choice but to vote for the Tories. In response, an outraged Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, declared that Corbyn is “a patriot, as we all are within the Labour Party” and “we are very proud of our country”. That is certainly hard to disagree with even under Corbyn’s leadership: Labour has always loyally served the interests of the British state.
Austin’s comments were quickly echoed by John Woodcock, the former Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, a shadow minister under Ed Miliband - remember him? - and now a member of The Independents groupuscule, which is not a registered political party (the other member being Gavin Shuker - previously part of Change UK, which after a comical legal dispute became The Independent Group for Change). Woodcock’s only claim to fame, such as it is, was being suspended and having the whip withdrawn in 2018 following allegations of sexual harassment - it was claimed that he sent “inappropriate” text and other messages to a former employee, refusing to cooperate with the Labour Party investigation on the grounds that it was “politically motivated”. What a terrible thought. It almost also goes without saying that he too is a member of Labour Friends of Israel.
Like Ian Austin, Woodcock said Labour supporters had to “face up” to the choice between Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson - no contest for most readers of this publication. But for Woodcock the party was “no longer the broad church it has always been”, but rather had been “taken over by the hard left”, thanks to Corbyn’s leadership. Speaking in Westminster, he went on to say that “we have arrived in a campaign where one of two people are going to be prime minister” - therefore “the choice” he thought we should take was to “keep Jeremy Corbyn away from Downing Street” and to “stop him getting his hands on the levers of national security and defence”. Boris is the man for the job.
Two former Labour MPs and ministers have also openly backed the Tories - Tom Harris and Michael McCann. The former used to be the MP for Glasgow South and is now a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, which about says it all, and is strongly pro-Brexit - he also claims to own every issue of the Doctor Who Magazine and adamantly opposed a female actor playing the role, saying “Keep your hands off the Doctor’s genitalia”1. McCann was the MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and lost his seat in 2015 as part of the landslide victory for the Scottish National Party. And - would you believe it? - both Harris and McCann are LFI members as well. Which, for the suspiciously-minded, might look like a pattern.
The joint attack on Corbyn by Austin and Woodcock came on the very day the Jewish Chronicle published a front page urging “non-Jews” not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, citing an unsourced poll that 87% of British Jews believe the Labour leader is an “anti-Semite” and 47% would “seriously consider” leaving the country if Corbyn wins on December 12.2 Yes, a minority of Jews, along with a similar proportion of the population as a whole, will have been taken in by the scurrilous ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign directed against Labour, but who seriously believes that almost half of them would actually react so absurdly to a Labour victory?
We are informed by the paper that “throughout his career” Corbyn “has allied with and supported anti-Semites, such as Paul Eisen, Stephen Sizer and Raed Salah” - having “laid a wreath to honour terrorists who have murdered Jews”. Even worse, we read, “he has insulted ‘Zionists’ - the word used by anti-Semites when they mean ‘Jew’, because they think it allows them to get away with it - as lacking understanding of ‘English irony’”. In this complete reversal of reality the Jewish Chronicle shamelessly decontextualises the facts. It also laments that, “instead of listening to and learning from mainstream Jewish bodies [sic] such as the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council, Mr Corbyn has treated them and their recommendations with contempt”.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite is the case. Right from the very beginning of the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ slander campaign, Jeremy Corbyn has conceded far too much ground to these reactionary organisations - pathetically believing that appeasement would make the accusations and lies go away. The plan failed. And you can see why the Labour right are avid readers of the JC, nakedly weaponising “anti-Semitism” to attack and undermine Jeremy Corbyn, and the left in general.
Of course, Brexit complicates the issue. There is a minority of the Labour right - and the establishment as a whole - that is prepared to put up with a Corbyn-led government, as least for the time being, if that acts as a step towards the cancellation of Brexit through a second referendum or some other means. But the overwhelming majority are irredeemably hostile to the Labour leader, who is deemed by the establishment to be completely unreliable, given his past record of opposition to war and imperialism.
In this context, the resignation of Tom Watson is interesting. The former deputy leader said in a letter to Corbyn that his decision to quit was “personal, not political”. The fact that he had become “healthy for the first time” had “transformed” his life after he lost seven stone and reversed his type-2 diabetes - now he wants to become a full-time “advocate” for healthy eating and exercise, and will perhaps even retrain as a fitness instructor. This is all complete nonsense, of course. Watson jumped before he was pushed.
This shows that there is still everything to play for in the Labour Party - good riddance to deputy leader and the ‘vote Tory’ gang. But this is precisely why many on the right were appalled by Watson’s move, thinking he has deserted the field of battle. In many ways they are correct, especially as it is more than likely that a Corbynite of some description will be his replacement. David Blunkett, for instance, now a peer for services rendered, wants the right to “stay and fight” to ensure that “reason” prevails - as opposed to the radical left’s “irrational views” on security and international issues, which makes him “despair”. Then again, in the same article for The Daily Telegraph, he says the party is rife with “anti-Semitism” and “thuggery” - which makes you wonder why anybody would want to vote for such a party unless they were an anti-Semite or thug themself. With ‘supporters’ like Blunkett, why does the Labour Party need enemies?
At this point it is worth mentioning Chris Williamson as an object lesson in how not to transform the Labour Party, or conduct political struggle in general. Though understandable on one level, given the trumped-up charges and crap thrown at him by the party bureaucracy, which must be an appalling personal experience, his decision to stand as an independent candidate for Derby North in the general election is thoroughly misguided - if not disastrous. There is a strong likelihood that Williamson could split the vote and let the Tory candidate win - after all, he only won by a majority of 2,015 in the last election. What would be the point of that?
More importantly still, any Labour member seen campaigning for him - or supporting his candidacy in any way - will be expelled, meaning that valuable comrades will be lost, when they should be part of the ongoing fight for positive change in the party. The place for all socialists and partisans of the working class is in the Labour Party, especially given that we are in the midst of a civil war. If we see the election of a government led by Jeremy Corbyn - not an impossibility - that would greatly intensify the civil war, not only in the party, but beyond. As the sudden departure of Tom Watson demonstrates, the balance of power on the NEC and in the party as a whole could change very quickly in a leftwing direction.
Hence we need comrades like Chris Williamson inside the party to take full advantage of such movement, perhaps by standing for a position on the NEC against Momentum’s Jon Lansman - who has played a shameful role by supporting the witch-hunt against Williamson and others like Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone and Marc Wadsworth.
The aim must be to transform Labour into a genuine party of the working class, open to all tendencies within the workers’ movement. Yet, by leaving the party, Chris Williamson is effectively leaving the main field of battle.