WeeklyWorker

29.02.2020
Vote lesser of three evils

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David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists urges a tactical vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey - despite her monarchism, vague politics and accommodation with the right.

With voting now underway in the contest to elect a new Labour leader, it is essential that we intervene and take sides. We in Labour Party Marxists are clear that, despite the resignation of Jeremy Corbyn and the clear move to the right in the party, the space for the left to operate and argue in can be defended. This means voting for Rebecca Long-Bailey for leader and Richard Burgon for deputy - but vote with your eyes open. Expect nothing from an RBL leadership - except betrayal and further moves to appease.

In order to understand the context, let me quote from an article that appeared in The Independent a couple of weeks ago: “Up to 40 MPs are understood to be considering their futures in the party if Ms Long-Bailey is named as the next leader, which could see some sit as independents or some leave politics.”1 While we do not take this threat seriously, it is absolutely clear that a Long-Bailey victory would be seen as a setback by the Labour right.

Nevertheless, in the unlikely event that she emerged victorious, the right would have a degree of confidence in their ability to ‘limit the damage’ in view of the politics she has come out with since the campaign began. First, there was Israel and Zionism. Along with the other candidates, she agreed to attend the hustings organised by two Zionist groupings, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement, on February 13. The candidates were asked whether they agreed it was “anti-Semitic” to “describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist”. But they were not told that those were the very words used by Corbyn in 2018, when he stated that such views should not be regarded as anti-Semitic, because of the “discriminatory impact” on Palestinians of Israel’s foundation.

This is obviously correct. If the intention is not only to colonise an inhabited land, but drive out a huge number of inhabitants because they are not Jews, how can it be “anti-Semitic” to describe such a policy as “racist”? But, like the other candidates, Long-Bailey agreed that it was. So the JLM et al were right all along about Corbyn being an ‘anti-Semite’, were they, even though RLB has said she gave him “10 out of 10” as Labour leader?

But that was not all. Long-Bailey said she supported separate Palestinian and Israeli states, “so I suppose that makes me a Zionist, because I agree with Israel’s right to exist”. Would she have argued in support of apartheid South Africa’s right to exist? Surely not. So let me point out the difference between supporting the right to exist of the current Zionist colonial-settler state and a democratic state, in which all people have equal rights. Israel defines itself as the nation-state of all Jews and treats its Arab population as second-class citizens. Israel keeps the West Bank under asphyxiating military occupation. There are, moreover, plans afoot to annex big chunks of the West Bank into Israel - a move which must involve another round of massive ethnic cleansing. Greater Israel cannot have a roughly equal population of Jews and Arabs: that would run counter to the whole Zionist project. We, of course, favour the voluntary unity of Israel’s population within some kind of pan-Arabic socialist state.

Then there was the February 17 Channel 4 TV hustings, when candidates were asked how they would vote in a referendum on keeping the monarchy. Lisa Nandy replied: “I’m a democrat, so I would vote to scrap it”, although she did not think it was “the priority as a country” to do so. And even the expected leadership victor, Keir Starmer, said he would “downsize” the monarchy. But on this Long-Bailey was more reactionary than the two candidates to her right. She stated categorically: “I wouldn’t vote to abolish the monarchy” - after all, there were “more important things” to be done.

As if to accentuate this position, on February 23 the Sunday Mirror ran a story (accompanied by a touching photograph) about how in 1988 Long-Bailey, when she was just nine, had presented a bouquet on behalf of her school to the late princess, Diana Windsor.2 The tone of the article was entirely sympathetic, and it read as though the Mirror had dug up this information completely independently. But the Daily Mail’s subsequent online headline began: “Labour hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey reveals photo of her meeting Diana” (my emphasis).3

I suspect that is accurate. Long-Bailey is trying to appeal to the Labour right and wants to show just how ‘respectable’ she is.

Manifesto

However, in her election leaflet, sent to all Labour members, she demonstrates that she is also well aware that the majority of the membership remains leftwing. True, following the general election defeat, many now believe that the party must proceed ‘more cautiously’ and ensure that Labour is seen as a ‘responsible party of government’ in order to be elected. Nevertheless, despite this greater willingness to accommodate the Labour right, their desire for more radical policies remains intact.

RLB’s election leaflet, headed ‘Our path to power’, certainly takes that into account. It focuses on four points, each with promising-sounding headings: ‘Aspirational socialism’, ‘A green industrial revolution’, ‘Empower our movement’ and ‘A democratic revolution’. But all of this is completely vague. For example, how does she define “aspirational socialism”? She writes: “To win, we have to understand that people want a better life for their children - that’s aspiration - but we can only secure that together - that’s socialism.” So “socialism” merely means a “better life” - to be achieved by people working “together”.

Her “green industrial revolution” is equally vague: it will be “the aspirational socialist project, around which we build a winning majority for change”. It will bring “social justice” and “good, green jobs to every community”. As for concrete proposals, forget it.

Under ‘Empower our movement’, Long-Bailey specifies that this movement is “for working people”, which means placing “trade unions at the heart of everything we do”. This is followed by a call to “actively develop leaders in every community and workplace to rebuild our movement and fight the Tories on the ground.” Vague, but correct. However, she does declare her “support for open selections” within Labour. This is more than supportable. The right fears “open selection” like the plague. The left needs to ensure that, if elected, RLB keeps to her word.

In ‘A democratic revolution’, she says the aim must be to “take power away from offshore bank accounts and distant Westminster committee rooms and return it to the people”. When did the people have “control”? Control, if it is going to be meaningful, has to be control over the means of production - something the people have never had. That is why there needs to be a real democratic revolution, which leads to the emergence of a democratic republic.

She says she wants to “replace the House of Lords with an elected Senate outside London” and “empower a constitutional convention to explore proportional representation and more devolution”. Of course, it is essential to demand the abolition of the House of Lords - or, to be more precise, the second chamber. Whatever its form (and whether it is situated inside or “outside London”), its role will always be to ensure that there are ‘checks and balances’ in place against democracy. The demand must be for a single-chamber parliament elected by PR.

Another witch-hunt?

Of course, RLB adheres absolutely to political correctness and so will quickly sign up to each and every call to end discrimination against minorities - without, it seems, bothering too much about the detail of what some are proposing.

So, along with Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy, Long-Bailey has signed up to a statement drawn up by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, which labels organisations like Woman’s Place UK “trans-exclusionist hate groups” for their insistence that there are only two biological sexes. According to the LCTR, such an insistence is “transphobic” and Labour members who support it should be expelled.

The LCTR declares that transphobia has “gained ground” within the party, which has simply “failed to act”. Just like over anti-Semitism, presumably. For its part, Woman’s Place UK totally rejects accusations that it is transphobic or “trans-exclusionist”. Its aim is merely to “ensure that women’s voices are heard and our sex-based rights upheld”.

Clearly there is a clash of rights and a proposed solution needs calm, reasoned debate. Shutting down contrary voices and demonising the other side is not the right way to proceed. More expulsions are the last thing we need (no doubt using Labour’s new, ‘efficient’ disciplinary process, which tramples over the rights of the accused).

In fact the ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt is continuing, with two more left candidates in the national executive committee by-election having just been suspended. Graham Durham and Mehmood Mirza now face spurious ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations, it seems, along with the previously suspended Mo Azam and Keith Hussein, and so cannot contest the vacant NEC seats.

Apparently Mirza posted a cartoon on Facebook, which depicted a man displaying a ‘Free Palestine’ sign and wearing a gag marked ‘Anti-Semitism’. So it is ‘anti-Semitic’ just to complain about the false allegations made against campaigners for Palestinian rights, is it?

It is essential that those claiming to be on the left - not least Rebecca Long-Bailey herself - should renounce this witch-hunt (along with any new one relating to ‘transphobia’). However, even in the absence of such a renunciation, it is essential , as I have stated, to remain focused on the central battle over the nature of the Labour Party itself: the aim must be to transform it into a united front of the entire working class, free of all pro-capitalist elements.


  1. . www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-leadership-rebecca-long-bailey-election-corbyn-keir-starmer-a9326391.html.↩︎

  2. . www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/rebecca-long-bailey-princess-dianas-21555851.↩︎

  3. . www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8033671/Rebecca-Long-Bailey-reveals-photo-meeting-Princess-Diana-aged-nine.html.↩︎