Rout on all fronts

Official leftwingers cry foul, but have absolutely no answers, says Kevin Bean of Labour Party Marxists

News that Sam Tarry has been deselected as a result of a trigger ballot is just another example of the rout of the official Labour left and the stranglehold of the openly pro-capitalist right.

Whatever the exact circumstances - there are, of course, various allegations of irregularities - the selection of Redbridge council leader Jas Athwal as parliamentary candidate for Ilford South is yet another victory for Sir Keir. The positive reaction of the media, as well as the leading rightwinger and neighbouring MP, Wes Streeting, is surely proof.1

The campaign to unseat Socialist Campaign Group member Tarry had all the elements you would expect: rightwing unions like Usdaw, Unison and Community threw their weight behind Athwal, while Labour’s regional officials encouraged the right sort of members to turn out on the day. It seems that similar tactics have also been used in the unsuccessful campaign to unseat leftwing Coventry MP Zarah Sultana and the ongoing attempt to deselect another SCG member, Ian Byrne, in Liverpool West Derby.2

Angela Rayner has complained. The SCG too. But we positively favour the right of members and affiliates to deselect sitting MPs. If the right can mobilise members and affiliates, why can’t the left? It could and it ought to, yet not a single Labour MP was deselected under the much vaunted leadership of the spineless Jeremy Corbyn. He and his allies, including the Straight Leftist advisors, Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, sought to conciliate, not fight.

The same cannot be said of the right. The campaign to exclude leftwingers from selection panels and parachuting in favoured candidates has been stepped up with a 2024 general election fast approaching. Sam Tarry’s deselection and Ian Byrne’s continuing travails, the exclusions from selection processes of Maurice Macleod in Camberwell and Peckham, and Emma Dent Coad in Kensington, combined with similar rightwing machinations in Sedgefield and Stroud CLPs, are just the well-publicised cases.3

Tarry’s case has some additional elements, which have attracted the headlines - notably his recent dismissal from Starmer’s shadow cabinet because of his posturing support for striking railworkers and his close relationship with Labour’s deputy leader. Putting Tarry in his place sends out a clear signal, not only to the wider left, about who is now really in charge.

Sir Keir is going from strength to strength since Labour’s annual conference. Pollsters put Labour on 40, 45, 50, 53 percent. And don’t forget the idiot left which said Labour could not win the next general election, that Starmer’s only purpose was to purge Corbyn and the Corbynites.

True, there were some supposed left victories at the Liverpool conference. But PR elections and green new deals are perfectly acceptable for the coalitionist-hankering centre and right. The idea that the left is setting the policy agenda owes something to delusion, something to a willingness to be bought, and nothing to reality. Starmer can safely ignore anything he wants, as he continues his version of Blairism and New Labour.

The fall-out from the Kwarteng mini-budget, the judgement of the market and the visible disintegration of Truss’s government has made him prime minister in waiting.


Starmer’s triangulation strategy also explains the current round of attacks on the official Labour left. Removing this or that minor-nuisance left MP, rigging longlists and shortlists, and, moreover, to be seen to be doing so, only amplifies the message that it is the Labour right which is running the show. A few media stories about disgruntled leftwingers claiming foul play will do Starmer’s leadership no harm at all. In fact, he calculates it will only strengthen his position.

However, the Labour bureaucracy and rightwing apparat at regional and local level are also playing their own distinctive role. As the cases of Sam Tarry and Ian Byrne show, Labour councillors and other rightwingers who felt threatened by the growth of the left during the Corbyn period have now taken the opportunity to exact revenge.

The response of the Labour left, as represented by the SCG, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour Representation Committee and Momentum, is exactly what we have come to expect. Pathetic moans and groans, but nothing serious about a concerted fightback. It has all been weak and mushy stuff. Momentum’s leadership criticises the treatment of Emma Dent Coad in Kensington as a “travesty of justice”. In the exact same spirit, John McDonnell calls on Keir Starmer to intervene to ensure fair process.

If he thinks the treatment of Tarry and Dent Coad is disgraceful, why did he turn a blind eye to the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign? Does he not remember how, when he was shadow chancellor, he shamefully conciliated with the Labour right and threw his old comrades to the wolves? Perhaps, more pertinently, given these recent examples of trigger ballots against left MPs, why does McDonnell not recall how he held back activists who wanted to deselect rightwing Labour MPs plotting against the Corbyn leadership? Who was it who promised the right in 2015 that “there is no way there are going to be de-selections and we would not support them. Quite the reverse - we want people back involved.”?4

There is an important political reason to go over this old ground. The authentic left, both within and without the Labour Party, needs to fully understand how we have arrived at the current dire position. As the shameful record of John McDonnell - still LRC president - illustrates, under the Corbyn leadership the left went for conciliation. Far from taking the war to the right and purging the party of its openly capitalist elements in the PLP and the party apparat, it assured them that their place was safe and pleaded with them to stay. A one-sided civil war.

Such an approach is inherent in the political economy of the official Labour left. Being variously situated between the militant working class and the passably rewarded outer defences of the bourgeois state, their default argument is that any Labour government, even one headed by such an arch-capitalist politician as Sir Keir Starmer, is always better than a Tory government. What this means in practice is falling in line behind the right to ‘get the Tories out’. The SCG, CLPD, LRC and Momentum thereby act as a left cover for the pro-capitalist, rightwing leadership.

  1. www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/oct/10/sam-tarry-deselection-bid-ilford-south-constituency.↩︎

  2. www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/zarah-sultana-thrilled-reselection-coventry-25244858; see also: skwawkbox.org/2022/07/28/exclusive-latest-byrne-result-16-14-7-of-his-supporters-not-allowed-in.↩︎

  3. skwawkbox.org/2022/10/16/exclusive-mcleod-labour-black-socialists-on-labour-blocking-candidacy-and-its-feeble-excuses; www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/ex-mp-emma-dent-coad-28260342; labourlist.org/2022/10/sedgefield-clp-officers-resign-after-announcement-of-selection-longlist; labourlist.org/2022/06/labour-council-leader-excluded-from-standing-as-parliamentary-candidate.↩︎

  4. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35133585.↩︎