Graham Bash: do not hide, do not stand aside, do not run. No, fight, fight and fight again

Stay and fight and fight again

A call that went unheeded: opening remarks by Graham Bash to LAW’s final all-members meeting

This is the greatest crisis for the Labour left in my lifetime. So many statements from left leaders and organisations are not good enough - that we have seen it all before, that this is a repeat of the 1980s, it’s business as usual, our time will come, keep your head down, wait for Labour Party conference, don’t share platforms with those expelled or members of proscribed organisations. These are not good enough.

Nor is it good enough that much of the left has so often colluded with this witch-hunt - either by allowing the narrative of ‘leftwing anti-Semitism’ to go unchallenged, by failing to support those disciplined, or by scuppering any chance of Labour left unity by refusing to engage with those who have been expelled.

Since party conference it has got worse. At conference, Leah Levane was expelled, then suspended - like getting a red card, followed by a yellow card: you couldn’t make it up! Then in the last few weeks, Jo Bird, Pamela Fitzpatrick, Norman Thomas - and me - have all been expelled. Crispin Flintoff has been suspended. I have been expelled after almost 53 years of continuous membership - a survivor of the Blair years, fighting for Labour in every general election since 1970. My crime was signing a LAW petition in January 2020 - 18 months before it was proscribed!

Yes, it is unfair. Yes, it is an outrage. Yes, I and we are angry. But that is a bit beside the point. We are collateral damage in a much bigger picture. The establishment had the fright of their lives when Corbyn became party leader. They had lost control of the Labour Party. The establishment in the party - controlling the Parliamentary Labour Party and party machinery - were determined at all costs that this would never happen again.

They got rid of Corbyn as leader - even threw him out of the PLP. But this wasn’t enough. They still had the membership to deal with - a membership that had risen to 600,000 during the Corbyn years. That is the meaning of the witch-hunt. It is a war against the members. It is a form of class war. And, if it is necessary, they will destroy the membership, break the union link and threaten the very survival of the party.

So we have to resist. Despair for a moment if you must, but despair - in the words of one Palestinian activist I met - is a luxury we cannot afford.

Over 150,000 members have left the party since the fall of Corbyn. Another 150,000 will leave unless we build a visible resistance. In the meantime our scope for action is being reduced by the day.

Does this mean we leave the Labour Party? It most certainly does not. Why do the establishment’s job for them? The party still has many, many more socialists in it than all of the left outside the party put together. We will not, must not, leave those party and trade union members who managed - even in the face of this assault on our democratic rights - to pass at conference the most radical statement on Palestine and on the Green New Deal. And please avoid the distraction of getting involved in pointless electoral adventures against Labour which leaves the balance of forces within the Labour Party and labour movement totally untouched - unless you stand a chance of winning, that is, like Jeremy Corbyn if he is forced to stand against Labour in Islington North.

It may be that the fight in the Labour Party is being lost - permanently. But we must not accept this defeat - this loss of 120 years of history - without the fight of our lives.

We have to try to unite our forces where possible, but on firmer foundations - not refusing to share platforms with each other, but building a movement in which fighting the witch-hunt, and defending freedom of speech within our movement, is an integral part of our struggle.

Comrades, it has been heart-warming for me, Pamela, Jo, Leah and Crispin to receive such support and solidarity. But we must be careful not to create a hierarchy of those expelled. Yes, we are treated as the good ones, the deserving ones. Just remember those who sections of the left threw under a bus - Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson, Tony Greenstein and so many others - all worthy of our support and solidarity.

I have not engaged with the resolutions before us today - and will not do so - and apologies if I am forced to leave before the conclusion. But a word of caution. We need firmness of principle, but we also need to try to reach out beyond our own small bubble. We need to go far beyond the unity that is being proposed today.

As always, the motor force of change will come from class struggle, from the fights against austerity, against racism, against climate change - in the trade unions and in the broader social movements. Our task as a left is to look outwards, build movements of resistance and try to give these political expression - within the Labour Party if we may, outside if we must.