WeeklyWorker

13.05.2021
Heronimus Bosch, ‘The ship of fools’ (1490-1500)

Shallow, brief and very stupid

The refusal to face up to the disastrous divisions caused by Brexit stems from referendum cretinism. Clive Dean of Labour Party Marxists reports on the May 9 meeting of LLA supporters

Another ‘all-supporters meeting’ of the Labour Left Alliance was held last weekend. This was billed to last just two hours, and the agenda was restricted to three items: analysis of the local election results, attempts to coordinate the Labour left, and the forthcoming trade union elections.

At the start of the meeting the chair, comrade Daniel Platts, remarked how it was unfortunate that no motions had been submitted. However, in my view this actually highlights the lack of any formal place in the LLA’s constitution for ‘all-supporters meetings’. This means they can only be a talking shop - they are unable to formulate LLA policy, and are being used as a substitute for meetings of local left Labour groups, many of which have ceased to function. This time the attendance online was disappointing. At no point were more than 90 present - not good for an organisation that claims over 2,000 registered supporters.

The invitation to this meeting, emailed to all the supporters, included a political statement that contains three erroneous formulations, which I will address before moving on to what happened on May 9:

The council results in England clearly match the political alignments from the 2019 general election. In addition the Tories have pocketed votes from those who backed the Brexit Party in 2019. Corbyn was responsible for Labour failing to ‘honour the result of the referendum’ after the 2017 election and then committing to a second referendum in the 2019 manifesto. Former Labour voters who backed Brexit abandoned Labour in 2019 and will not be returning in a hurry. So, yes, Corbyn was partly responsible for Labour’s poor results.

The 2019 election defeat was not down to the anti-Semitism smear campaign - it was Brexit, stupid. The fake anti-Semitism campaign was used to undermine support for Corbyn inside the party, and to pick off prominent leftwingers, but the main motive for voters abandoning Labour was Brexit. Labour would have lost to Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit done’ slogan, even if Corbyn had faced down the fake anti-Semitism attacks within the party.

To demand a new leadership contest now is ridiculous. There is no candidate-in-waiting who is willing to “take on the right” of the party in the way that Corbyn would not. And, even if there was, in the current climate they would never make it onto the ballot paper. Concentrating on leadership elections is a distraction - the left needs to fight for political clarity and a socialist programme.

And so to the meeting itself. The opening on the local election results was to have been presented by comrade Roger Silverman, but he was indisposed, so Tina Werkmann delivered a combined opening for the first two items. The comrade’s analysis of Labour’s poor showing highlighted Starmer’s weakness as leader of the opposition and contrasted this with his conduct of the civil war within the Labour Party. Here the fake anti-Semitism purge of leftwingers continues and has been supplemented by multiple taboo subjects that members are forbidden to discuss at party meetings. She repeated the mistaken view that Labour would have won in 2019 if only Corbyn had stood up against the anti-Semitism charges, ignoring the role of Brexit.

Comrade Tina echoed the call for Starmer to go and the wishful thinking that somehow this would open the door for the left, despite its current predicament: she herself made the valid point that the ‘official left’ is yet to learn any lessons from Corbyn’s defeat, and so is bound to repeat the same mistakes - in particular the policy of appeasing the right in the vain hope that this would facilitate a ‘left’ reformist crossing the Downing Street threshold.

Secret

Comrade Tina then moved on to brief the meeting on the Labour left cooperation talks that are underway.1 This was the third time I have heard her verbal summary (but some details have changed in each rendition). She told us that 25 left groups are involved and that many of the smaller groups want to abolish the notorious Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance - the undemocratic and unaccountable vehicle that imposes candidates on the left for all internal party elections. But she freely admitted there is next to no chance that those in control will agree to reform the process or allow the LLA to participate. She confirmed that the organisations involved were bound to the Chatham House rule of secrecy, hence she would not elaborate on the details of the talks.

Clearly you cannot win the argument for openness and transparency on the left by surrendering to demands for secrecy. We deserve a full written report on what is going on and who is involved. Then we can judge whether this is a genuine initiative to involve all the trends on the Labour left - or a thinly veiled attempt to prevent the LLA from supporting candidates against the ‘official left’, as it did in the 2020 NEC election. But, it seems, the LLA is happy to be going along with the ‘big players’. Hence you will find not even a mention of the talks in the LLA’s official minutes.

Comrade Tina spoke for 17 minutes. We were then informed by the chair that speakers in the discussion would be limited to two minutes. This effectively killed any chance of seriously debating the controversial points in the opening. It renders hollow the LLA’s claim that its meetings allow participants to contribute, unlike the safe ‘rally’ format favoured by the ‘official left’. If we are serious about developing a socialist movement, then we need to hear contending arguments in full. Within the LLA that should mean each of the political currents involved being given an opportunity to provide a speaker who will not be restricted by gagging time constraints.

As is usually the case in these meetings, the quality of the contributions varied. Some were on message, while others were more like the ramblings you hear in a Constituency Labour Party meeting, projecting local experiences as generalised solutions to the problems of the left. Supporters of Labour Party Marxists made a number of contributions, emphasising that Brexit was responsible for Labour’s electoral defeats and questioning the wisdom of demanding a fresh leadership contest. We also called for the rejection of secrecy in negotiations on the left and emphasised the need to develop a political programme for socialism.

In his intervention, Tony Greenstein drew parallels between Labour’s decline and that of similar social democratic parties across Europe. True to his position as a loyal ‘remainer’ and keen advocate of referendums, he refused to accept that the politics of Brexit had any determining impact on Labour’s vote in the so-called ‘red wall’ seats. Instead he presented what amounts to a crude sociological narrative of Labour’s decline since 1945 and how this mirrors the decline in “traditional working class employment”. Presumably, there must have been an upswing in “traditional working class employment” in 2017 and then a sudden downturn in “traditional working class employment” in 2019 and yet another sudden downturn in “traditional working class employment” in 2021. Reductive nonsense, that stems from the contemporary ‘left’s’ referendum cretinism.

Comrade Werkmann then spoke again, having been allowed a further six minutes to respond to the discussion. Like most left Labourites she is unable to comprehend the significance of Brexit and how it has split the working class. Instead we have business as usual and the dull routine of putting up ‘left’ career politicians against right career politicians (and not learning the lesson when these ‘lefts’ turn right). Hence we were naively told that a Labour leadership election would open up huge possibilities for the left - especially if Richard Burgon or Zarah Sultana decided to stand! In an effort to justify the LLA’s participation in the secret talks, she provided, with not the least sense of irony, more details of what is not allowed under the ‘left’s’ version of the Chatham House rule, and how the invitation for the LLA to participate came from the ‘murky’ leaders of the Don’t Leave, Organise network. None of this explains why the LLA has so easily abandoned the principle of openness.

The third item on the agenda focused on the LLA’s work in trade unions - in particular the forthcoming elections in Unite and Unison. Comrade Pam Bromley explained that the LLA holds regular caucus meetings for members in Unite, Unison and the National Education Union, as well as a group where members of all unions can share experiences and organise.

The Unite caucus had called a hustings event for the general secretary election, which is currently in the nominations phase. All three left hopefuls were invited: Howard Beckett, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham; and a list of searching questions was prepared. In the event, however, only Howard Beckett attended - indeed Steve Turner was quite dismissive of his invitation. Clearly comrade Beckett performed well, because he went on to win a ballot of LLA supporters in Unite, and has now been endorsed by the LLA steering committee - for the nominations phase at least.

This LLA ballot was not without incident - it seems over 200 votes were cast for one of the candidates within a few minutes just before voting closed, and these votes originated from suspect internet sources. However, this bot activity was deemed not to have affected the overall result. Comrade Pam concluded by expressing the concern of all LLA supporters that three competing left candidates in Unite’s first-past-the-post election would facilitate a win by the rightwing candidate, Gerard Coyne, should he receive the required 100 nominations.

Comrade Carol Taylor-Spedding explained how the NEU caucus was supporting the fight of victimised NEU representatives who have been sacked for insisting on safe working conditions for teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic. She was followed by comrade Ross Charnock, who reported on the Unison caucus, which is busy promoting the left slate for the Unison NEC elections. He suggested that a leftwing NEC would democratise the union and return funds from the centre to the branches. There was a brief discussion where we learnt that all three left Unite candidates are full-time bureaucrats on six-figure salaries and many branches are struggling to organise nomination meetings.

Once the list of speakers was exhausted, the meeting was drawn to a close 15 minutes early - ironic, given the strict time limits imposed earlier.


  1. ‘Chatham House “left”’ Weekly Worker April 29: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1345/chatham-house-left.↩︎