Martin Thomas’ response to the “triggering” of Margaret Hodge for reselection (Solidarity 519) is too passive.
First, as democrats who believe every Labour MP should face reselection at every election, we should welcome and support every ballot-triggering — both for MPs we want to replace and those we want to keep.
Second, Thomas writes “Replacing Hodge either way [by imposition or democratic election] would signal a move to silence or marginalise protest against antisemitism in the Labour Party.” This is an abdication of our responsibility in the battle against left-antisemitism. In this battle, we can and must do better than leaning on the “signals” sent by the continued careers of rank anti-socialist right-wingers whose anti-racist credentials are patchy at best. In 2006, Hodge helped the BNP win council seats in the area she represents, by echoing and legitimising their racist talking-points.
She described the diversification of Barking’s ethnic make-up as “gobsmacking” and “the key thing that has created the environment the BNP has sought to exploit”. In 2007 she was applauded by the BNP and condemned even by other Labour right-wingers for rhetoric playing off immigrant and British workers against one another in the social housing crisis.
Of course we are not indifferent to the prospect of Hodge’s replacement by another right-winger distinguished only by stronger local ties. Nor would it be an improvement to usher in a representative or apologist for left-antisemitism.
But that doesn’t mean defending Hodge’s position either. In a race between a migrant-baiter and a Jew-baiter, it is not good enough to retreat into backing the migrant-baiter, regardless of how loudly we caveat that backing by proclaiming our lack of enthusiasm.
Thomas has pre-emptively declared defeat, writing that “Evidently not on the cards is Hodge being replaced by a left-winger as outspoken against antisemitism as she is”. The left should put up a fight!
For starters, we are rightly agitating across the country against the undemocratic imposition of candidates from above, which is not inevitable. In Barking specifically, it’s surely the job of socialist opponents of antisemitism to call for, and encourage, a run by exactly the kind of candidate whose prospects Thomas writes off. The odds of winning may be utterly negligible, and the anti-antisemitic left may be small in the constituency.
But even a paper campaign facing near-certain defeat would nevertheless be a rallying point and launchpad, helping to model and build the kind of left we urgently need.
Martin Thomas replies
Seems to me Ben is defining an attitude to the Hodge case by offering conclusions from an imaginary different conflict as an answer to the actual case.
The actual case is the possibility of the Leader’s Office, via its clout on the National Executive, using the trigger ballot as a basis to rid itself of an obstreperous critic on antisemitism, during the likely process to select candidates post-haste for an early election.
Ben instead models his response on what our attitude would be to another case: a challenge to Hodge by a left-winger outspoken against antisemitism. Solidarity is not in touch with any left-wingers in Barking Labour Party. All the accounts of the trigger ballot — from rival corners of the Labour Party, and uncontradicted — say that the few left-wingers of any sort in Barking Labour Party played no significant role in the trigger ballot. The vote against Hodge was driven by local right-wingers.
Avoiding defeatism is one thing. Evading a response to the actual conflict by postulating its magical transformation within the next few weeks into a different one is another