I’m calling – not for the first time – for all socialists in Britain to join Labour. Nobody has any legitimate excuse not to do this; certainly not the alleged impossibility of a parliamentary road to socialism, the equally impossible socialism in one country or similar abstractions that won’t be in voters minds at the next election. None of these count as anything other than lame excuses for dereliction of duty. That kind of sectarianism is a luxury the exploited and oppressed can’t afford. Not on the eve of Jeremy Corbyn entering 10 Downing Street.
If you live in Scotland, as I do, then you may resist joining Labour for a variety of reasons. That’s okay. I’m patient. You’ll get no ultimatums from me. The reality is left wingers have joined, or at the very least voted for, The SNP and/or the Scottish Greens for the last few decades. That isn’t going to change overnight.
Scotland’s much healthier electoral system, as well as the legacy of a Blairite stranglehold over the apparatus as well as most of the elected politicians here, mean socialists will have to make common cause across the party divide for years to come. The left should face up to this as our second best option. Outside Scotland, however, joining Labour is a no-brainer.
As arch Blairite Alan Johnson conceded on last week’s ‘This Week’, the so called ‘hard left’ within the Labour Party has never come close to being as strong as it is today. Jeremy Corbyn is extremely popular with the membership. And it’s now obvious that only his supporters have any prospect of winning any elections within the party regardless of the smears and censorship of all the mainstream media, whose behavior is so bad it’s actually counterproductive.
The left have won the leadership in Scotland, as well as the National Executive Committee, and – indirectly through the NEC – the powerful general secretary’s position. McCarthyite purges of the left should now be history.
Only the Parliamentary Labour Party and associated other legacy politicians in the European Union and Holyrood resist the onward march of the left. The era of Tony Blair’s counterrevolution is less a serious obstacle so much as it is a bad dream from which socialists are waking up. Alan Johnson conceded the Blairites have no good options left. He is praising his friends who he admits are now leaving the party in droves. Those in the PLP are reduced to sitting around waiting for deselection, while doing their damnedest to transform their party into a train wreck before skulking off to form another SDP in an electoral pact with David Cameron’s glovepuppets of the Liberal Democrats. The latest anti-Semitism row could prove the last straw for the membership. Lies on this scale won’t be forgiven.
How should the 600,000 members behave this side of the PLP’s rejuvenation with fresh blood? That is the question the left needs to pose. Clearly we need to get this right. We need to debate. And we need to listen carefully to each other since none of us is the font of all wisdom. We need to refine our own ideas as we discover better ones suggested by our comrades. And where there are differences that are not brought to an end by facts, logic and persuasion? Then what? The left has a long established means of settling such differences: we base them on democratic and respectful debate at the end of which majority votes give us our answer. Even when a minority fears the majority has ignored something important, they need to concede defeat if the debate was conducted fairly. Only by conceding defeat do we earn our right to be listened to next time, even if the next thing we get a change to say is ‘I told you so’.
Should the left call for expulsions of Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies? Insofar as we are dealing with elected members of parliament, that is not something we should be striving for. Of course it can’t be ruled out if someone has brought the party into disrepute, but it has to be the last resort. There is no question that Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies in the PLP have been trying desperately to provoke expulsion for a very long time. One problem with giving them what they want is anyone deprived of Labour membership earns an immediate right to stand in elections against the official Labour candidate. Since we don’t want to hand Blairites the moral high ground by blaming Jeremy Corbyn for spliting the anti-Tory vote, expelling MPs is a bad idea.
The right of those expelled to split the anti-Tory vote is a problem for those wanting excessive discipline of MPs. But it has an upside for Jeremy Corbyn. It gives all Labour’s left their incentive to bring to an end generations of McCarthyite witch hunting. Any sectarian who wilfully splits the left vote in circumstances where they had the option of joining Jeremy Corbyn’s broad church is asking for trouble at the ballot box and with their potential radical reservoire of recruits in the universities and trade unions. If all socialists are invited to take out Labour membership, then the few who refuse will wither away and cease to be a problem for the left. The choise is theirs. I don’t expect many to opt for sectarianism when such a credible alternative exists.
Is it possible to just deselect Blairites and then make life intolerable for them once they’re reduced to rank and file members? So long as they behave as loyal members, they should earn their right to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of the rest of the membership, so a return to parliament etc can’t be ruled out. Expulsion should not on the agenda for ex-MPs. But they do need to act constructively. The ball is entirely in their court.
Should Blairite MPs turn over a new leaf this side of a general election is it still too late for them? This is tricky. Many of them have behaved so badly for so long it doesn’t look like Labour voters or members could ever trust them. However, forgiveness is good for the soul wheras bitterness destroys those who can’t give people a chance to redeem themselves.
Furthermore, Jeremy Corbyn’s sacking of Owen Smith has lead to an outbreak of public collective responsibility. Because Britain is nothing like a presidential system, we have never had the ability to elect Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister. His Queens Speech and his budget could be voted down en masse by the PLP. That is certainly what I would predict if today’s Blairites are reelected as MPs despite making clear to everyone that they are as committed to removing Jeremy Corbyn as leader as they always have been. Nevertheless, at least some of them have to be given time to prove they can be trusted to loyally implement the manifesto if they get elected on as Labour MPs.
It’s very easy to be suspicious about Tom Watson’s motives when he spoke so well on this week’s Andrew Marr Show. But, regardless of what his real motives are, he did say pretty much all the right things. If he is capable of maintaining such loyality he would deserve a reward: carrots and sticks are the order of the day in real politics.
MPs determined to continue to sabotage the local elections will pay a very heavy price. Those smearing Jeremy Corbyn as anti-Semitic don’t do so because they believe it. Their sole motivation is to protect Theresa May in the local elections. And they will never be forgiven for that. These MPs are queuing up to sign their own deselection papers. The more they exploit television and radio interviews to damage their own party, the quicker their CLPs will pass votes of no confidence in them. If they’re too stupid to realise that, that’s not our problem. By effectively deselecting themselves they would simply give the left more time to decide who should represent Labour at each constituency when Theresa May’s gawd awful government finally bites the dust. And that could be long before most commentators think.