Notes from the front – of 13/5/2016


Labour is driving back the Tories because of the Corbyn leadership

Labour’s advance on 5 May, beating the Tories in the English local elections, is a result of the party’s change of orientation under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. With Labour now robustly opposing the Tories’ austerity policies and attacks on public services, the Tories have lost a five per cent vote share since last year, as reported here.

The mouthpieces of the banks and big business are acutely aware of the Tories’ declining support and their weakness in government. The 11 May Financial Times carried an article headlined ‘U-turn if you want to: 7 policies the UK government has scrapped’, raising concern that Cameron’s government is being forced to abandon key policies. Whilst the reversals are only partial, the seven areas the FT listed as ‘some of the main U-turns’ were: forced academisation, disability payments, tax credits, Sunday trading, child refugees, trade unions and pension tax relief. It also bemoaned government delays in making other big decisions.

The capitalist class understands the Corbyn leadership’s role in driving back the Tories’ agenda. The right wing’s propaganda, including within Labour, ignores Labour’s strengthened situation, but the ruling class is not complacent and so is determinedly building up other parties than Labour as the opposition. Efforts to rehabilitate the Lib Dems led to their four per cent rise in England on 5 May.

Labour’s recent advance could be undermined if its focus shifts from attacking the Tories to agreeing with them on the EU referendum. The Blairites want such a shift, similar to the way they positioned Scottish Labour in the independence referendum.

Labour under Corbyn can expect further gains by setting out its own positive policies detailing how it intends to raise people’s living standards. The Lib Dems will portray themselves as an opposition party, but given their support for austerity they will not set out an agenda to make people better off.

The Corbyn leadership is constantly under attack and needs support internally. Labour party members have the opportunity this July to vote for their representatives on Labour’s National Executive Committee. The centre left slate of candidates broadly represents the politics of the majority of party members that voted for Corbyn to lead the party. The six candidates are seeking nominations from local Labour Parties between now and 24 June and information about their campaign can be found here.


Scottish Blairites keep pressing the self-destruct button

The Blairite-dominated Scottish Labour party continues to wreak havoc on its own electoral standing. It should come as no surprise that this wretched performance is wholly illogically blamed on Jeremy Corbyn, even though the Scottish party is now quite autonomous.

Labour in Scotland had a very bad election, securing overall 21 per cent of the vote to Holyrood (22.6 per cent in the Constituencies and 19.1 per cent in the regions), coming third behind the Tories. Far from recovering any ground lost in the disastrous referendum campaign on independence, Labour’s vote share fell by three per cent from the May 2015 general election and by eight per cent from these same elections in 2011.

The referendum campaign was the watershed moment for Scottish Labour. Lining up with the Tories in the ‘Project Fear’ campaign crystallised the growing hostility to New Labour politics especially among Labour’s traditional working class supporters. It was always going to be a long road back from that debacle.

But the advent of the Corbyn leadership and the recovery in England that has followed shows that voters can be won back.

Scottish Labour seems determined to negate this Corbyn effect. It adopted a similar policy to the Scottish Lib Dems, proposing to increase by 1p in all bands of income tax to restore part of the funds the Tory government has cut from education in particular.

Initially the Blairites intended to soften their proposed tax rise with a rebate for those earning under £20,000, still meaning that average and below-average earners would be worse off, but even this rebate was dropped. Ridiculously, the media described this proposed tax rise as a ‘left wing’ policy.

There is nothing left wing or anti-austerity about lowering the living standards of either average or low-paid workers. Obviously raising their taxes increases, not reduces, the burden of austerity on them. The entire purpose of left or socialist economic policies is to raise the living standards of the overwhelming majority of the population. Socialism is empty phrase-mongering without it. Progressive tax policies are needed, which redistribute the burden to those at the top. It is also the only viable basis for an electoral alliance for a left victory.

The Blairites consistently position Scottish Labour to the right of the SNP. They attacked SNP pledges to scrap tuition fees, provide free higher education and abolish prescription charges. They campaigned jointly with the Tories on the independence referendum and since adopted this across the board tax rise policy.

Sadiq Khan won in London, campaigning to freeze fares. Labour is recovering under Corbyn and McDonnell primarily because voters are starting to believe in their economic policies, and that they will be better off as a result. The Scottish Labour policy amounted to economic and electoral sabotage. It cannot recover while it remains in self-destruct mode.

The situation for Scottish Labour is difficult from this starting-point but not hopeless. Labour is recovering ground in England. The piece-meal devolution of fiscal powers in Scotland continues and this can provide the basis for a distinctive economic programme which places Scottish Labour to the left of the SNP. This would mainly rest on taxes for the highest earners and big property owners, luxury consumption and large businesses in order to fund investment in recovery and to protect public services such as education and health.

Labour needs to be planning to make the majority better off. Doing the opposite is simply a version of austerity.

Refugees U-turn – another success for Labour

On 4 May, the day before elections in Britain, Prime Minister Cameron signalled the government’s partial retreat from its refusal to allow unaccompanied child refugees to come to Britain.

Cameron announced the government will accept a resettlement scheme for children living in European refugee camps for some of those under 16 registered in Greek, Italian or French camps before 20 March.

Whilst the precise details have yet to be announced and Cameron only committing to ‘more than tens’ of children being helped, it is significant that Labour inflicted this partial defeat on the Tories on the issue of refugees.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership Labour has shifted its campaign focus away from tighter immigration controls to attacking the ‘nasty Tories’ unwillingness to assist refugees. The scheme the government conceded to was championed by the Labour peer Alf Dubs.

Fighting on this terrain Labour managed to put the Tories on the back foot and provoked a Tory rebellion with as many as 35 Tory MPs considering voting against the government.

With the 23 June EU referendum in Britain approaching the ‘Leave’ side is making anti-immigration one of its main planks. Stand Up To Racism is campaigning against racism being whipped up in the referendum campaign and holding a London rally on 25 May, details below.

Refugees Welcome Here – Racism out of the Referendum
6.30pm Wednesday, 25 May – Mander Hall, NUT Building London WC1H 9BD
Speakers include:
Lord Alf Dubs, Fighting for government to take 3000 child refugees 
Rabbi Lee Wax, New North London Synagogue
Talha Ahmad, Muslim Council of Britain
Colette Levy, Hidden Child of Vichy France
Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader
Sabby Dhalu and Weyman Bennett, Stand Up to Racism Co-Convenors
Register on Eventbrite Join the Facebook event

Tory Party Islamophobia


Following David Cameron’s apology to Imam Sulaiman Ghani, for falsely accusing him of supporting ISIS, The Muslim Council of Britain has called for an urgent review of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

The smearing of Ghani was part of the Tories’ Islamophobic campaign, falsely linking Sadiq Khan with terrorism.

Labour and anti-Semitism – the Jewish Socialist Group and other statements


1) Statement on ‘Labour’s problem with antisemitism’ – from the Jewish Socialists’ Group

Antisemitism exists and must be exposed and fought against in the same way as other forms of racism by all who are concerned with combating racism and fascism.
Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not the same. Zionism is a political ideology which has always been contested within Jewish life since it emerged in 1897, and it is entirely legitimate for non-Jews as well as Jews to express opinions about it, whether positive or negative. Not all Jews are Zionists. Not all Zionists are Jews.

Criticism of Israeli government policy and Israeli state actions against the Palestinians is not antisemitism. Those who conflate criticism of Israeli policy with antisemitism, whether they are supporters or opponents of Israeli policy, are actually helping the antisemites. We reject any attempt, from whichever quarter, to place legitimate criticism of Israeli policy out of bounds.

Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm a supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally.

A very small number of such cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism. Others represent genuine criticism of Israeli policy and support for Palestinian rights, but expressed in clumsy and ambiguous language, which may unknowingly cross a line into antisemitism. Further cases are simply forthright expressions of support for Palestinian rights, which condemn Israeli government policy and aspects of Zionist ideology, and have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism.

The accusations do not refer to antisemitic actions but usually to comments, often made on social media, long before Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership. Those making the charges now, did not see fit to bring them up at the time, under previous Labour leaders, but are using them now, just before mayoral and local elections, when they believe they can inflict most damage on the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn.

The attack is coming from four main sources, who share agendas: to undermine Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour; to defend Israeli government policy from attack, however unjust, racist and harmful towards the Palestinian people; and to discredit those who make legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy or Zionism as a political ideology. As anti-racist and anti-fascist Jews who are also campaigning for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians, we entirely reject these cynical agendas that are being expressed by:

• The Conservative Party

• Conservative-supporting media in Britain and pro-Zionist Israeli media sources

• Right-wing and pro-Zionist elements claiming to speak on behalf of the Jewish community

• Opponents of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour party.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group recognises that ordinary Jewish people are rightly concerned and fearful about instances of antisemitism. We share their concerns and a have a proud and consistent record of challenging and campaigning against antisemitism. But we will not support those making false accusations for cynical political motives, including the Conservative Party, who are running a racist campaign against Sadiq Khan, and whose leader David Cameron has referred to desperate refugees, as “a swarm” and “a bunch of migrants”. The Conservative Party demonstrated their contempt for Lord Dubs, a Jewish refugee from Nazism, when they voted down en masse an amendment a few days ago to allow 3,000 child refugees into Britain while Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn, gave total support to Lord Dubs and his amendment.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group sees the current fearmongering about antisemitism in the Labour Party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents.

We stand against antisemitism, against racism and fascism and in support of refugees. We stand for free speech and open debate on Israel, Palestine and Zionism.

2) Len McCluskey interview – Huffington Post report

‘We in the Labour Party and on the Left have a magnificent history of challenging anti-Semitism and racism, which is why we attracted huge numbers of the Jewish community to our party and now we are being preached to by these cynics.’

‘This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to manipulate anti-Semitism for political aims because this is all about constantly challenging Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.’

There is ‘no crisis of anti-Semitism’ within the party.

The row over anti-Semitism within the Labour Party is nothing more than a ‘cynical attempt’ to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

3) Momentum statement on the suspension of Jackie Walker from the Labour Party

Momentum condemns the suspension of Jackie Walker, Vice Chair of our Steering Committee, from the Labour Party on 4 May. Jackie, a black activist of Jewish heritage and lifelong anti-racist campaigner and trainer, was suspended by the party for alleged antisemitism following an article that appeared in the Jewish Chronicle, which quotes statements she made on Facebook discussing her family history.

We are extremely concerned by the lack of due process in this case, and the failure to apply the principles of natural justice. Journalists were briefed about Jackie’s suspension by party staff before she had been informed. Indeed, she is still yet to receive any formal notification of either her suspension, the basis for it, or a timetable for her hearing. As the suspension was not briefed to the press as ‘without prejudice’, it has been interpreted by some as a presumption of guilt before any process has taken place.

Momentum calls for the immediate lifting of her suspension and for new rules to be put in place by the party to govern the handling and the press briefing of sensitive disciplinary matters, and for all suspensions to be agreed in advance by NEC members after the person concerned has the right to make representations.

Momentum unambiguously condemns antisemitism and welcomes Jeremy Corbyn’s launch of an expert-led inquiry.

We hope that this inquiry is the start of a process of investigating how all forms of racism and oppression that exist in society replicate themselves in any way within the Labour Party. For the labour movement to fight racism and oppression effectively, we need comradely self-criticism, education, and awareness raising of these complex issues. We pledge that Momentum will play a productive role in this process.

4) A personal statement by Graham Bash can be read here.


The removal of Dilma Rousseff is a coup


Brazil’s elected President Dilma Rousseff has been removed from office by the Brazilian Senate voting 55 to 22 to put her on trial.

Brazilian big business, backed by the US, have staged this constitutional coup because it has been unable to defeat the Workers Party (PT) in elections for the past 12 years. A corrupt elite headed by Michel Temer, the vice-president, has been installed whilst Rousseff’s trial takes place. They aim to take the country back to its pre-democratic past.

The claimed legal basis of the impeachment trial is the charge that Rousseff manipulated the official budget by allowing state-run banks to lend money to the federal government. Rousseff contests the charge and her supporters point out that previous governments have followed such lending practices and were never even reprimanded.

The PT became vulnerable to this coup attempt because its economic policy was incapable of sustaining its popularity. During the period of the commodities boom GDP growth rose and peaked at 7.5 per cent in 2010. Increased production was only used to raise consumption and redistribute, but not to invest for future economic growth.

When commodity prices collapsed, leading to Brazil’s economy starting to slow, the government mistakenly introduced an austerity programme that further slowed the economy, which contracted by 3.8 per cent in 2015. The recession significantly undermined the PT’s popularity.

If Rousseff is found guilty in the Senate trial she will be permanently removed from office. She and the PT are fighting against the coup. The new right wing head of state intends to introduce even greater austerity which will further worsen the situation, so it will not achieve popularity either. Owing to its previous redistributive policies the PT has a huge base of support, so a long struggle can be expected. There will be an emergency rally opposing the coup in London on 23 May, details below.

EMERGENCY RALLY: No to the Coup in Brazil, Democracy SOS!
6pm, Monday May 23, Unite the Union, 128 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8TN
With special Brazilian guests: Julia Felmanas, Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT)
Nara Filippon, ‘Democracy for Brazil’ (Brazilians’ campaigning group in the UK)
Plus: Dr. Francisco Dominguez, Department for Latin American & Brazilian studies, Middlesex University
Tony Burke, Unite The Union Assistant General Secretary
Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition
Chair: Jayne Fisher, Vice-Chair, SERTUC International Committee
You can reserve a place here and invite friends on Facebook here