Notes from the front – of 10/7/2016

Stand firm with Jeremy – oppose an undemocratic coup

Labour’s right wing has announced this weekend that a Labour leadership challenge will be launched on Monday 11 July with Angela Eagle declaring her candidature. Owen Smith is considering announcing a leadership bid too. This is the next stage of the right’s attempted coup.

The right wing is determined to keep Labour’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn off any leadership ballot paper and looking to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), which is expected to meet on Tuesday 12 July, to rule that Corbyn is not automatically on the ballot paper. They may seek a secret ballot at the NEC so any votes to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper or abstentions are hidden from view.

This coup attempt needs to be defeated for Corbyn to continue as leader. Labour activists should demand that NEC members respect party democracy, which clearly means allowing the Party membership to express its views.

Preparing the ground to move on with this coup attempt, Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader, announced he had abandoned the ‘talks’ to broker peace within the parliamentary party. The Labour right will not compromise – its bottom line is Corbyn must go. Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey described Watson’s withdrawal from talks as an ‘act of sabotage’ and pointed out Corbyn’s resignation was never ‘on the agenda’.

The right wing’s propaganda is that Corbyn’s position is not viable because of the number of MPs who lack ‘confidence’ in him or have withdrawn from Labour’s front bench. It is also being claimed that the party will split if he remains leader.

Even Lord Neil Kinnock, who led the Labour Party to two general election defeats, and Kezia Dugdale, who led Scottish Labour to its most recent collapse, have been called on to demand that Corbyn resign.

For more than a week the right focused on these efforts to intimidate Corbyn, but he has stood firm. As a result the right lost some of the momentum of its immediate post-referendum offensive. The right delayed putting forward a leadership challenger because it understands how difficult it would be to defeat Corbyn in a genuine contest.

Approaching 130,000 people have joined Labour since the EU referendum, most of whom would likely back the current Leader. Also YouGov polling in June indicated Corbyn as the clear favourite of Labour’s pre-referendum membership. Stephen Bush writing for the New Statesman estimates Corbyn’s chances of winning in a fair vote at not far off 100 per cent.

Given the odds against a challenger defeating Corbyn in a ballot, the right’s preferred option was to get Corbyn to resign. But given he has not caved in, the right faces the choice of either risking the loss of another leadership election or creating chaos in the party by stopping Corbyn from standing in a leadership contest.

Kinnock and others on the right wing claim Corbyn has no automatic right to be on a leadership election ballot paper. They are pseudo-democrats, who have concluded they cannot win over the Labour party membership to their views, so are urging Labour NEC members to authorise a coup, by insisting that Corbyn secures nominations from at least 51 MPs or MEPs. There is nothing in Labour’s rules stating the sitting Leader has to secure any parliamentary nominations. They were not drafted with the intention of stopping a sitting Leader from contesting a challenger.

Powerful social forces are lined up against Corbyn, particularly big business whose interests are directly challenged by his stand against austerity, racism and war. It wants the main opposition party’s leadership on the opposite of Corbyn’s agenda. Above all else it is keen to to eliminate the risk of a Corbyn government. Labour’s electoral advance at May’s elections and the government’s small majority, which may collapse as the Tories divide over the forthcoming EU negotiations, mean a Labour government is possible before 2020.

The fight over this coup attempt is a serious fight for power, not just an internal Labour struggle, and the left in Britain should do everything possible to defeat it and stand firm with Corbyn.

Freedom of movement under attack

Following the defeat of Remain in the referendum vote there has been a concerted attempt to build momentum behind a campaign to restrict or eliminate the freedom of movement pillar of Europe’s single market.

Tory leaders have lined up to announce their opposition to free movement. It is likely the Tory leadership campaign will be an epilogue to two official racist referendum campaigns. Ridiculously, the restrictions are frequently promoted while insisting the UK’s membership of the single market will be unaffected.

This is a reactionary fantasy as free movement is one of the four fundamental pillars of the single market. For their part, German politicians insist free movement is non-negotiable. In response to the Brexit vote, the EU has insisted on fewer restrictions on labour movement for Switzerland, a non-member of the EU.

A number of British cities have seen semi-spontaneous mass mobilisations in favour of EU membership, primarily youth. They are progressive in character and should be built on. There are already widespread expressions of regret among some who voted Leave, some of whom simply wanted to deal a blow to the government. An opinion poll in Wales shows sentiment would now be a narrow majority to Remain, from a narrow vote to Leave.

The campaign for another vote is growing and needs clarification. It should not be a re-run vote, but should be an actual vote on the terms of any Brexit deal. This is in contrast to the fiction of less immigration, better trade, more money for the NHS and so on.

A popular majority and a majority of MPs want environmental protections, workers’ rights and access to or membership of the single market. For Labour, the SNP and the other Remain parties, the only way to hold a Tory government to account on the EU exit terms negotiated would be by a popular vote when the terms are known. Otherwise, all these rights and benefits are at the mercy of a Tory leader newly elected by the die-hard reactionaries of the Tory membership.

For socialists, within any single market (formerly the nation-state) the free movement of workers is a principle. Just as socialists were against the Poor Laws, or in favour of women entering the workforce, socialists understand free movement of labour is crucial to economic development and the socialisation of production. There can be no socialist echo of reactionary Little Englandism.

Chilcot – a vindication of Stop the War

The Chilcot Report has proved to be more critical than many on the left anticipated. The ease with which it destroys the reputation of Tony Blair and allies is a reflection of the ruling class’s concern at the degree of failure. The Iraq war has been a catastrophe for British foreign policy, military reputation and diplomatic influence.

The report offers politicians, civil servants, intelligence operatives and military chiefs a guide book on avoiding such mismanagement. It is small comfort to the people of Iraq whose country has been devastated.

For the anti-war movement, particularly the Stop the War Coalition, the report is a vindication of all its efforts in the build-up to war, during the war and through the occupation.

Commissioned by Gordon Brown in 2009, the inquiry should have allowed the lessons of Iraq to be drawn in time. The delay allowed David Cameron to embark upon an equally catastrophic intervention in Libya.

Jeremy Corbyn’s public apology on behalf of the Labour Party was a model for those seeking a popular alternative to permanent wars abroad. The proposed legal action of families of military personnel killed abroad should be supported. And the need to build the strong anti-war campaigns, CND and the Stop the War Coalition, remains crucial.