(Updated 9am Friday 14 July)
We have won the latest round of the battle to stop Corbyn from being ousted and Labour's leader, and his supporters from being driven out of the Party. On Tuesday 12 July Labour's National Executive Committee agreed by 18-14 votes that Corbyn will automatically be on the ballot in the challenge to his leadership. A campaign of political pressure, petitioning, rallying and debate has ensured support for democratic process won out in the vote on Tuesday.
The previous day former Shadow Cabinet member, Angela Eagle, had triggered a leadership contest, putting herself forward for leader. Owen Smith, who has being billed, unconvincingly, as more left than Eagle has reportedly also decided to stand (Wednesday 13 July).
This is just the start of a fight to stop the right wing and rebuild our labour movement.
We now need to challenge or overcome the undemocratic ruling made by the NEC (after Corbyn and some of his backers had left the meeting) over who is eligible to vote. The NEC ruled only members who had joined before 12 January this year, and supporters who join for £25 between 18-20 July, will be eligible to vote. This could disenfranchise 100,000 new people have joined the Labour Party in the last couple of weeks, most of them pro-Corbyn. The only way for them to get a vote is to become a registered supporter for the price-tag of £25, or if they are already a member of an affiliated union (since before 12 January this year), to become an affiliated supporter (they can do this up to 8 August).
These blatant attempts to gerrymander the voting in the election have now been followed by the suspension by Labour's NEC of Brighton and Hove District Labour Party, after a 600-strong meeting voted to back Corbyn. They have also annulled the election of a new left-wing Executive. The NEC have told all local CLPs to stop ordinary business meetings for the duration of the contest. This will stop members from discussing together the political direction they want to see Labour take and to make nominations in the election.
Everyone who has joined recently because they rightly believe Labour can be made into vehicle to fight austerity should get organised, stay in Labour, and fight! We can push back against these the right's attempts to subvert democracy and organise for a vote for Corbyn.
We are strong. A reported 90 or so Constituency Labour Parties have voted confidence in Jeremy Corbyn at crowded meetings, and some no confidence in their anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. Where some constituency Labour Parties (10 or so, as of 7 July) have voted no confidence in Corbyn, or defeated motions supporting Corbyn, that has been at crowded meetings where typically, as one activist reports, “the chair just kept calling ‘random people’ who were all Blairites”.
Thousands have joined pro-Corbyn rallies and street demonstrations. For now all the major Labour-affiliated unions are backing Corbyn.
And we do have a fight on our hands. Millionaire novelist and keen Blairite Robert Harris has made an appeal for people who think like him to join the Labour Party to oust Corbyn, and the right-wing group Labour First is making a similar drive. He may bankroll new supporters. That is why we need to challenge and overcome the ruling on voting.
By organising we can recreate a living, democratic political labour movement, a movement capable of evolving serious working-class policies to address the social discontent showed both in the Leave vote and in the pro-Remain anger on the streets since the 23 June referendum, and of winning a majority for those policies by argument and debate.
The would-be coup-makers want, instead of a party able and willing to fight to shape public opinion and convince people, a party which lives off “soundbites” crafted to placate public opinion but form a non-committal cover for continuing neoliberal policies. After 23 June, they want to aim for a Labour/Tory consensus on the mechanics of Brexit, while Corbyn and McDonnell stand for an independent Labour line, and McDonnell on 5 July reaffirmed that he would continue to fight for freedom of movement.
Reviving the movement is the big issue at stake in this contrived Labour crisis, whatever happens over the next week or so.
If the coup-makers’ pious talk about uniting the movement and widening Labour’s support were sincere, then they would have picked a suitable time — not now, when the Tories are tearing strips off each other — got the 50 nominations for a leader candidate, and had a new vote in due order.
They didn’t do that, because they thought that then Corbyn would win. So they set up a crisis designed to force Corbyn to resign and enable the right-wing to push in a new leader without giving the members real choice.
Only 14 Labour MPs backed Corbyn in the summer 2015 leadership election, according to the well-connected George Eaton of the New Statesman. Many of the rest have been just waiting their time for a coup.
First it was the Oldham West by-election of December 2015. The Labour right hoped for a poor result which would give them a lever to oust Corbyn. But Labour won. Then it was the local elections of May 2016. The Labour right privately craved a big setback which would help them overturn the result of the September 2015 leader election. But Labour did okay.
Finally the Labour right seized on the dismay caused by 23 June. Angela Eagle had praised Jeremy Corbyn’s Remain campaigning on 13 June: “Jeremy is up and down the country, pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired. He has not stopped”. The Labour right and soft-left never really started on Remain campaigning, or joined platforms with Cameron and the pro-Remain Tories. Tom Watson and Ed Balls undermined the Remain case just days before 23 June by declaring that free movement of workers from Europe into Britain must be stopped.
Now the right and soft left declared that Corbyn had campaigned too weakly.
They seized on the disaffection among older, worse-off, white-British working-class voters, caused by decades of Blair-Brown policies which had dismissed mass unemployment, contracting-out, widening inequality, and welfare cuts as inevitable blemishes on the great sun of cosmopolitan modernisation and progress, and blamed that disaffection not on themselves but on Corbyn.
Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey has charged that the coup was organised through the offices of Portland Communications, a PR firm to which Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair’s spin-doctor), Jimmy Leach (“head of digital communications” for Blair and Brown), and Kitty Ussher (former PPS to Margaret Hodge, and an economy minister under Brown), are the three “Strategic Counsel”.
Certainly Portland Communications had foreshadowed the coup back in January 2016: “The ‘Anyone But Corbyn’ MPs are getting organised.... [there is a] rumoured NATO-style pact amongst moderate members of the Shadow Cabinet which would mean mass resignations if key moderates are removed from posts”. And certainly there is a whole small army of Blair-Brown “New Labour” operatives entrenched in the PR, think-tank, and NGO industries clustered round Westminster. These are the people we need to politically defeat in the weeks ahead.
Throughout the famous figures of the Labour right have stayed in the shadows. They know they can’t win in an open right/left battle against Corbyn. They have pushed forward people with a bland or soft-left profile. John McTernan, an ultra-Blairite, Tony Blair’s former chief political adviser, recommended Angela Eagle on exactly those grounds: a way to get the “left” to kill the left. “As a figure from the Left, neither a Brownite nor a Blairite [really? but that’s what he writes], she [Eagle] can truthfully tell the party members that she tried to work with Corbyn and that it failed”. Word is that Peter Mandelson and Margaret McDonagh have privately promised to campaign for Eagle.
Some MPs may now split, if they think they cannot win the leadership election. They can be seen off. In 1981 four top-ranking leaders split from Labour to form the SDP. They took 28 MPs with them. By the end of 1981, the SDP, with the new alliance it had formed with the Liberals, was at 50.5% in the opinion polls, ahead of Labour on 23.5%.
But the SDPers had no solid roots. They helped to lose Labour the 1983 election and enable Thatcher to continue with her work, but in the longer term they were nothing more than a vehicle for the transfer of a few Labour personalities to the Liberals.
Campaigning for a Corbyn vote now is the only way to a revived political labour movement which can bring forth better MPs, better leaders.
• Continue to make an appeal for people, especially young people to join the party or become a supporter. Find out how here: support.labour.org.uk
• Join Momentum and get involved with it's campaigning. Set up constituency left caucuses and discuss the politics on which to fight for a Corbyn vote: free movement of labour; rebuild the NHS; fight the cuts and a new, renewed right-wing Tory government.
• Push for all-members meetings to discuss the future of the Labour Party and to call the coup-organisers to account.
• Campaign for working-class policies and support for Corbyn in your union. Organise for Labour supporters in affiliated unions to participate in this election.
• Organise rallies and meetings in support of Corbyn and socialism.
To check if you are elegible to vote go online to www.members.labour.org.uk or by calling 0345 092 2299.