By Adrian Bailey
On 18 January Jeremy Corbyn applied to the High Court for an order that would require the Labour Party to disclose documents detailing the discussions between his representatives and Keir Starmer’s that agreed the terms for his readmission to the Labour Party on 17 November – following his suspension from the party on 29 October. Corbyn’s legal team requires access to the minutes and notes of these meetings to demonstrate that Starmer’s removal of the Labour whip from Corbyn breached the agreement that was made. A judge will now consider whether to grant this order.
The right wing and the media present Corbyn’s exclusion from the Parliamentary Labour Party as due to some remarks he made on 29 October, in response to the publication of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report. That was simply the event chosen by the Labour leadership around which to launch this attack on Corbyn. The fundamental reason for these attacks on Corbyn is that he and his supporters continue to pose a serious challenge to the political agenda of Labour’s right wing.
Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party created a powerful platform in British politics for a progressive left wing that defends the living standards of the population and opposes racism and war. That has been weakened by the loss of the party leadership, but the strength within Labour that it has retained continues to be a problem for British capitalism. The Labour right has secured the leadership, but does not have total control in the party. It cannot guarantee Labour will be totally supine to capitalism and give unquestioning support to the heightened offensive that has been unleashed against the population.
The scale of the offensive the capitalist class has unleashed in Britain, through letting the coronavirus spread through the population, is huge. The framework for the pandemic is similar to that adopted in the US and Western Europe – the coronavirus is being used to terrorise populations into accepting worsening living standards, in order to drive up profits.
In Britain already the best part of one million jobs have been lost since the crisis started a year ago. The creation of mass unemployment is being used to discipline the workforce into accepting lower wages and conditions. ‘Fire and re-hire’, widely pursued in the US pandemic, has spread to Britain. Threats of dismissal are used to pressure workers into agreeing cuts to their wages and working conditions. British Airways, Heathrow and British Gas are amongst the employers that have already started down this route, and others will follow.
The pandemic is providing capitalism with an opportunity to attack living standards and slash public services. Wages have been reduced due to furlough and there have been real cuts in the provision of health care and other services. To divert attention from who is responsible the Tories have been whipping up racism in society – with deportations and racist propaganda.
Starmer, since being elected party Leader in April 2020, has made it abundantly clear that he wants Labour to be aligned with capitalism’s principal objectives, not in conflict – as was the case with Corbyn. He immediately changed the Labour front bench political framework and has given support to the Tories’ principal economic, social and international agenda.
Most important for capitalism, Starmer has backed Boris Johnson on the pandemic, despite the government’s policies resulting in Britain having one of the worst levels of deaths and infections per capita in the world – which has led to one of the worst economic contractions in the world.
At times Starmer has even positioned Labour to the right of the Prime Minister. In April he was publicly demanding that Johnson come forward with plans to end the lockdown, despite the high level of deaths and cases at the time. Similar to the Tory right wing, he has regularly pressed for schools to remain open – and he only backed down this January when it had become clear Johnson had already abandoned that policy. Like the Tories, Labour’s front bench have ignored months of evidence that schools play a key role in the spread of the infection.
Starmer also decisively shifted Labour’s policy to supporting Johnson’s hard Brexit and he demanded Labour MPs vote for it in parliament – allowing the Lib Dems and SNP to be the main opposition to a slim trade deal with the EU that will allow further attacks on the working class. The Tories are already reviewing Britain’s regulations on workers’ rights, whilst environmental and consumer protections and US companies privatising the NHS are up for discussion in the trade talks with the US.
Corbyn refused to vote for the Tories’ bill, whereas Starmer, who previously had presented himself as committed to the EU to secure the party leadership, voted for the hard Brexit.
Starmer is aligning Labour’s social agenda with ‘Blue Labour’ – a reactionary strand within Labour that promotes a racist anti-immigrant agenda. His dismissive remarks about Black Lives Matter and failure to challenge white supremacy when confronted with it in a radio discussion sharply contrasts with the approach taken by the previous Corbyn leadership.
Labour’s international agenda under Starmer has also decisively changed, to line it up closely with US policy. Starmer’s front bench supported the Tories increasing military spending by £24 billion and it is getting behind the US drive for a cold war against China. Starmer even demanded that Labour abstain on the second reading of legislation that will protect from prosecution British armed forces who commit war crimes – not Labour’s framework under Corbyn.
Labour right lack total control of the party
Starmer has changed the party’s front bench and its policies, but has been encountering growing resistance to the scale of support he has given the Tories. There have been several rebellions by Labour MPs not willing to support reactionary policies, increasing public criticism of his leadership from the left trade union affiliates and many local Labour Parties expressing discontent – particularly since the suspension of Corbyn. This has all placed pressure on Starmer, who recently has felt it necessary, for tactical reasons, to make a shift so that Labour publicly appears less supportive of the Tories. Labour’s front bench have been expressing some criticism of elements of government policy, whilst still supporting the overall Tory framework. Labour’s tabling of a non-binding motion, on 18 January, calling for the universal credit top-up to be kept in place beyond 31 March, was part of this recent tactical shift.
Capitalism requires Labour to be supportive of its agenda and the influence the left still holds within the party is considered problematic. Labour’s right wing do not have the situation within the party sufficiently under their control. They do have the Leader, General Secretary, NEC and the majority of MPs firmly on side. But there is still Corbyn, the MPs that support him, the left wing trade unions affiliated to Labour and the tens of thousands of Corbyn supporters amongst Labour members. These progressive elements within the party are all under attack and should all be defended.
The attempts to crush Corbyn are central to the attacks on the left. He is the key person that bought together a left alliance within Labour capable of leading an opposition to the Tories. The demand from Labour’s current leadership, via the chief whip, is that Corbyn must ‘unequivocally, unambiguously and without reservation’ apologise for the comments he made on the day that the EHRC published its report. In his statement responding to the report Corbyn made the entirely accurate point that the scale of antisemitism problem that exists within the Labour Party has been ‘dramatically overstated for political reasons’. In this particular offensive against Corbyn he is continuously pressed to apologise. The purpose of making the demand for an apology is to discredit him with the entirely false claim that he is an antisemite. Achieving an apology is not the goal. If an apology was made then the attacks on Corbyn’s character would intensify and another demand for an apology would come forward. It is not possible to draw a line under things, stop these attacks and move on by making an apology.
As previously pointed out here on this website, what has been taking place since Corbyn was elected Labour leader is a dishonest campaign against him, deliberately organised by the Israeli state and its allies because of Corbyn’s support for the Palestinians. The labelling of anyone who criticises Israel’s massacres of civilians or its ethnic cleaning as an ‘antisemite’ is a standard Israeli government operating procedure. The campaign by Israel and its allies to portray criticism of it as ‘antisemitic’ is an international campaign. It has been waged in Ireland, but the Irish Dáil passed a pro-Palestinian position anyway, and the Spanish courts this week ruled against such a campaign.
It is no accident that Starmer is reported to have recently recruited a former Israeli spy to work in his office. The campaign against Corbyn has not been waged to eradicate ‘antisemitism’ at all, but to damage the standing of Corbyn and his supporters. The Jewish community in Britain, rightly, enjoys sympathy in progressive opinion because of the disgusting centuries-old discrimination against and persecution of Jews, culminating in the Holocaust, and the real (as opposed to fake) antisemitism which exists in parts of British society today – that antisemitism being concentrated historically in the Tory Party.
Failure to clearly point out that this is what is happening has already proved politically damaging. It still needs pointing out – to prevent and reduce further damage. The progressive elements within Labour need to oppose the demand that Corbyn apologise, make it clear he has nothing to apologise for, explain why these attacks on him are being made and continue campaigning for the Labour whip to be restored to him.
The parliamentary left
MPs who are members of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs (SCG) have been leading the fight in parliament to get Labour to act as an opposition to the Tories and not just support or abstain on Johnson’s policies. In September the SCG issued a statement, calling for a Zero Covid strategy. The group’s left wing has been central to the rebellions that have taken place against Starmer’s instructions on how MPs should vote.
Approximately one fifth of Labour MPs have rebelled at least once against the Labour whip. On the second reading of the Overseas Operations Bill, which protects British military forces from prosecution for war crimes, Starmer instructed Labour MPs to abstain – 18 defied the whip and voted against. On the second reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill (‘Spy Cops’ bill), which gives undercover police, intelligence agents and soldiers immunity from prosecution for any criminal offence, Starmer instructed MPs to abstain – 20 defied the whip to vote against it, Shami Chakrabarti moved an amendment in the House of Lords and Starmer instructed other members of the House of Lords to vote it down, and Labour members of the Scottish Parliament voted to reject the bill becoming law in Scotland, alongside the SNP and Lib Dems. On the Tories’ trade deal with the EU, Starmer instructed MPs to vote in favour – 37 defied the whip to abstain or vote against.
The unions on Labour’s left
Amongst the unions affiliated to Labour, Unite is the largest and most powerful force on the left. This is why Starmer’s supporters are determined to get control of that union in its General Secretary election this year. That contest will have significant consequences on Labour’s political direction – a victory for the right-wing would help it consolidate its control of the party, so it is important that the left does everything possible to maintain its leadership of that union.
The Corbyn supporting Labour membership
Corbyn’s supporters in the party membership remain a significant force and still control many local Labour Parties. Last November, in Labour’s National Executive Committee elections, the left slate secured five of the nine seats representing party members.
Following that election the persecution of left-wing activists by the party bureaucracy was stepped up. The party’s General Secretary has told local parties they can no longer freely discuss some of the key issues confronting the party, including the attacks on Corbyn and the EHRC report into Labour. Since November more than 50 officers of local parties have had their membership of the party suspended and they now face disciplinary action for allowing local members to discuss such matters. These and other trumped up charges are being used to remove left-wing officers and help the right-wing gain control of local parties.
Labour’s right-wing does not support freedom of speech nor democracy within the Labour Party. Its use of intimidation – threats of suspension and expulsion – is its attempt to ‘house train’ the left into obeying the bureaucracy’s instructions about what issues it can raise within Starmer’s Labour. It hopes to silence opposition to Starmer’s right-wing agenda and, by making the party unwelcoming to Corbyn’s supporters, drive as many left-wing members out of the party as possible.
This is not a time for Corbyn’s supporters to give up, let the right wing take greater control and leave the Labour Party. The struggle against capitalism’s offensive needs to be waged inside Labour, despite it being more difficult under the Starmer leadership. As part of that, the left needs to campaign in defence of Corbyn, as well as the local party officers who are being victimised by the leadership. Alongside that the fight against Labour’s current right-wing agenda needs to be stepped up.
This article was originally published on 27 January 2021