May might want to be Bonaparte – but she hasn’t got an army

Reports of May contemplating a general election at the end of February are difficult to believe. But it is difficult to see any other way forward for her, so what if it is true?

And if it is true, what is going on in her head?

In both the Withdrawal Agreement and the No Confidence debate May seemed to base her challenges to Corbyn on the expectation that he would stutter because of the division both in the PLP, the Party as well as in the Shadow Cabinet.

He didn’t. He immediately called a no confidence motion and his quick response to her invitation to talks probably surprised her. These were refreshing moments of clarity from Corbyn.

But despite them, May probably still believes that lack of clarity on what Labour will actually do on Brexit renders Corbyn weak.

She may expect there will be chaos on what Labour says in its Manifesto, as the battle between Lexiters and PVers comes to the boil.

She will note the reaction to the parliamentary logjam of ‘just get on with it’ from the electorate, particularly Tory-inclined voters with low attention-spans.

May probably believes her greatest parliamentary defeat was the one that compelled her to have a meaningful vote in parliament. If that hadn’t happened, she would now be imposing her deal.

So after ‘Strong and Stable’ her next electoral catch-phrase may be ‘I am in charge: I’ll get on with it’.

She can confidently expect that the Tory media will continue to present Corbyn as the wrecker and downplay the real chaos on the Tory side.

She will note that UKIP are disorganized at present and unlikely to split the Tory vote.

The Tory election campaign might try to make May some sort of Bonaparte willing to ride roughshod over democratic processes in the ‘interests of the people’.

Problems though

Unfortunately for May, unlike Bonaparte she doesn’t have an army behind her and most of the Brexit chaos comes from her own MPs who represent increasingly mutually hostile wings of the Party.

On the one hand, behind MPs and the whole of the Tory Party are big business and the City, still the primary funders and bedrock of the Tory Party. Dominic Grieve is their champion.

On the other hand there are local Conservative Associations whipped up recently by the No Deal nationalist rhetoric of Rees-Mogg. They are not particularly enamoured with their leader’s Brexit.

However the Tory membership, unlike the Party’s big business backers has no control of Tory manifestos or their electoral campaigns.

So a Tory manifesto would likely rule out no deal, advocate May’s current Brexit plans and this manifesto would be considered binding on Tory MPs elected on it.

The problem is obvious. The third of Tory MPs who voted against her Withdrawal Agreement won’t like it. Recognising how an election might be used against them, they might even revolt in the vote in Parliament that is needed to calling a general election and requires a 2/3 majority. Whilst Labour would vote for a General Election, other opposition parties might not. So a 2/3 majority might not be achieved.

But if she could have an early election?

Could May conceivably win an election, now overwhelmingly overshadowed by the Brexit debate?

It somewhat depends on the Party campaigns and what Labour says on Brexit?

Labour is unlikely to get a repeat of the swing of 2017. Then its limited but significant anti-austerity policies were a revelation to an electorate who earlier had only seen scary headlines about Corbyn.

There are no catchy revelations this time and ambitions about restoring public spending will be measured against a likely Brexit recession.

Labour will need to recognise that the ‘Just get on it’ agitation is not necessarily a pro-Brexit one. It is one for simple answers, not more purposeless negotiations.

Labour should therefore have a simple line of reversing austerity and privatisation here and taking that battle into the EU.

At the very least, Labour must have a clear and simple means to protect migrants, to defend workers and human rights and to stop the Tories’ Brexit.

But May has bigger problems than Labour. She would need a majority of 50-100 seats. She may say in an election ‘I will just get on it’ but without a win of that magnitude, she will be vulnerable to the hard right of the Tories.

Of course, her Withdrawal Agreement does not end the pain of Brexit but will extend it for years. Her current ‘I have a deal’ posture is a lie.

And any pretence she would want to make of being a strong leader with her MPs behind her would be a joke.

She is not a President. She is the Prime Minister, requiring the support of MPs of a deeply divided party.

Calling an election would be a daft decision for her to make. But she’s already made a few of those.

Added —
But there is now a Labour for a Socialist Europe campaign prepared to fight for both an election and a referendum to Stop Brexit


The demonisation of migrants by the British government – how it began in post War Britain

Alternative title: There has never been and there is no such thing as fair immigration controls – Part 2 – The Commonwealth and Immigration Act of 1962.

The Alien Act was the first legislation passed in the UK Parliament with the aim of restricting immigration. It was passed in 1905 and primarily targeted those Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Poland. This first attack on migrant rights in the UK is very well covered in this article by Daniel Randall on the Labour Campaign for Free Movement website.

The next big change in UK migration law was the Commonwealth Immigrant Bill of 1961 which passed into law in 1962. As the name implies the Bill was aimed at restricting immigration from the British Commonwealth which had comprised a significant element of the immigration into the UK in the 1950s. As similar Acts afterwards, it wasn’t couched as being permanent legislation: its long title claimed that it was “an Act to make temporary provision for controlling the immigration into the United Kingdom” (my emphasis).

Immigration into Britain from what had been the colonies and were now becoming Commonwealth countries had always existed. But after World War II that had accelerated. However despite the increased immigration from the Commonwealth, throughout the 1950s the majority  of immigrants continued to come from the Irish Republic, in excess of 40,000 a year.

Migration from the Commonwealth had been made easier through the Labour Government’s Nationality Act of 1948. That Act had introduced into UK law the definition of a British citizen or rather the concept of ‘Citizen of the UK and Colonies’ (CUKC). The Act gave to all peoples in the British Empire/ Commonwealth the right to a British Passport and the consequent right to free movement within the new Commonwealth.

Britain extended citizenship to the its former colonies partly to maintain its imperialist influence when there were increasing demands for independence and democracy. Granting common citizenship also had the advantage of allowing workers to be more easily brought to Britain to rebuild its still war-damaged economy. It also simplified the emigration of British workers to Australia, Canada and throughout Africa.

Following the 1948 Act, in June of the same year, the passenger liner Windrush brought the first large tranche of West Indian migrants who were to form the Windrush generation.

Reasons for West Indian emigration to Britain

Deprived of serious investment, the economies of the West Indian colonies had neither diversified nor grown. So for many West Indians looking for a future, a job or an education, there was little hope other than to emigrate.

Up to 1952 workers in the West Indies had primarily chosen the US as their emigration destination. It was geographically far closer and less costly to get to. 41,000 had migrated there during the US’s war years 1942-46: many to work in the booming US arms industry.

But in 1952 the US Senate passed the McCarran-Walter – Immigration and Nationality Act. The Act was introduced at the height of the McCarthyite reaction in the US. Its prime mover, Democrat Senator McCarran amongst other things was a prominent supporter of General Franco. The Bill pitched its attack on migrants as one against ‘subversives’ and ‘undesirable foreigners’ and their rights of access to the US. The racism of the bill was so extreme that even President Truman vetoed it, only for that veto to then be overturned by the Senate.

In the debates around the Bill, amongst the ‘undesirable’ races to be monitored and restricted were Jewish immigrants – because of their propensity for radicalism. But black workers from the West Indies were also demonised. It is not difficult to understand why.

In the 1940s a massive internal migration restarted in the US. 5 million black workers moved from the Southern States to the North West and East Coast cities. It was later to be called the ‘Second Great Migration’. For racist reactionaries like McCarran, the growth of significant black populations in American cities was a significant political threat. They feared what was to eventually happen ten years later – that black workers in the cities in the northern states would use the organisational opportunities those cities provided and would help build a national movement for civil rights of all black Americans.

Those like McCarran who wanted restrictions on immigration from the Caribbean didn’t want West Indian workers joining with indigenous blacks in the possible creation of an educated, organised black working class movement. So from 1952 onwards the Act restricted immigration to a maximum of 800 a year – from the whole of the West Indies to the whole of the US!

So after 1952 and being blocked from entry to the US, West Indians looking for a future inevitably and increasingly turned to Britain – which was only too keen to welcome them into its factories, foundries and hospitals. For Britain was short of labour with its full employment economy of that time.

Immigration from the Commonwealth to Britain. From Teresa Hayter’s “Open borders: the case against immigration controls”

Particularly active in recruiting Caribbean as well Asian workers was the UK Department of Health, led from 1960 by its Tory minister Enoch Powell!

The changing nature of British racism

In spite of the immigration possibilities, racism was as rampant in 1950s Britain as ever. The ideology of empire, the conflicts and occasional wars with people in the colonies wanting independence: these allowed all sorts of racist sentiments to be expressed in the media and in parliament.

The far right organisation formed in 1954 was the ‘League of Empire Loyalists’. It brought together old fascists from the Mosley’s BUF as well as younger elements who were to form the leadership of fascist groups over the next 20 years. People such as Colin Jordan, John Tyndall, Martin Webster began in the Empire Loyalist ranks. The name it chose ‘Empire Loyalists’ drew attention to its priority – maintaining the privileges and power of the British Empire, resisting the independence movements and maintaining white power in the colonies, opposing the liberals who wanted to negotiate self-rule with the indigenous peoples. These were their concerns. For them immigration was not the primary target. Not yet anyway.

To the extent that the Tory Government feared that immigration might be electorally damaging to them, it tried to semi-secretly restrict black immigration. They didn’t want to block migrant entry at British ports. Instead they leant on Commonwealth administrations to restrict their processing of paperwork needed by migrants.

In the main the Tories kept away from racist political attacks on their migrant populations. They needed migrants economically, they didn’t need populist racism – at least during the 50s when the ‘never had it so good’ optimism was electorally sufficient to keep them in power.

That is not to say that the Tories opposed racism – they didn’t. There was widespread racism quite openly in Britain in the 50s: in employment, housing, from the police and on the streets. The racism was directed not only at immigrants from the West Indies and Asia but also those from Ireland. But that racism was not combatted at any level by the Government – nor significantly by any other agency in education, in the labour movement or legislatively.

So it is little surprise that in 1958, in both St Anns in Nottingham and Notting Hill in London, ‘riots’ took place targeting West Indians. Anti-migrant racism started to be an issue that the right thought they may be able to use electorally.

And not only the right of the Tory Party. The Daily Sketch quoted Labour MP for North Kensington, George Rogers, talking on the “effect of the ‘tremendous influx of coloured people from the Commonwealth’ “ and saying that “overcrowding has fostered vice, drugs, prostitution and the use of knives. For years the white people have been tolerant. Now their tempers are up.”

Undoubtedly these sentiments would have been heard louder amongst the Tory rank and file. Sure enough the Tory Party conference in 1959 called for immigration controls.

Whilst it didn’t figure much in the 1959 general election campaign by 1961 the Tory government decided to act. The Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was moved in October 1961.

The arguments about the Bill

In focusing solely on immigration from the Commonwealth, the Bill immediately encountered opposition from not only Labour benches (Labour Party leader, Hugh Gaitskell called the bill a “cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation”) but also some Tories – who were even more hostile to Irish than they were to black immigrants!

Like Senator McCarran’s views about ‘undesirable’ Jewish immigrants in the US, some Tory MPs argued that action was more of a priority against immigrants who were in the words of Tory MP John Vaughan Morgan “Irish Republicans”, i.e. from the Irish Republic. After all they argued, immigration into Britain from the Republic was over half of the total immigration, the Irish Republic was not in the Commonwealth and had been neutral during the then recent World War Two.

The ‘liberal’ Tory Home Secretary Rab Butler countered that relations with the Republic of Ireland were good – and they were. Although both governments had a mutual blind spot on the severity of the problems in the Northern Ireland statelet which were to explode seven years later.

At the time there was a shared belief that the borders between the Republic and the UK would progressively come down – one way or another. Therefore the UK government thought that immigration controls directed at Eire would be politically damaging. Certainly they would be economically damaging in the short term. Irish migration was beneficial to both economies – workers from Eire comprised over half of Britain’s much needed migrant labour force whilst the Irish economy was stagnant and unemployment was high.

In the words of Labour MP Patrick Gordon-Walker Butler’s Irish exemption was a “fig leaf to preserve his reputation for liberalism. Now he stands revealed before us in his nakedness. He is an advocate now of a Bill which contains bare faced open race discrimination”.

The Tory Bill was passed with no dissent from Tory benches.

The consequences of the Act

The Act like all legislation to limit immigration did not reduce racism. The very opposite – it opened up a period where immigration remained low but racist agitation against it went through the roof.

The Monday Club, an anti-migrant, pro-apartheid Tory Party faction was founded in 1961. It soon became a cross-roads where fascists, outside of the Tory Party throughout the fifties, could meet up with others attracted and recruited to an increasingly racist Tory Party.

The extent of this rank and file Tory racism was soon revealed in the notorious 1964 General Election campaign. Tory candidates in some constituencies used either inflammatory predictions of immigration (“300,000 immigrants: This could happen if you vote Labour”, Wyndham Davies, Perry Barr) or used openly racist calls (“If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour.” Peter Griffiths, Smethwick).

At the time both the crude racism of Peter Griffiths’s campaign and the populism of that of Wyndham Davies caused outrage and disquiet – even in Tory circles. Whilst the crude racism of Griffiths was not openly repeated, the populism of Griffiths became increasingly common in the Tory Party.

Worryingly, the ‘nigger for a neighbour’ Tory campaign in Smethwick gave them a spectacular success in winning a safe Labour seat – that of Patrick Gordon Walker, who had spoken so strongly against the 1962 Immigration Act. So despite causing immediate embarrassment to the Tory Party, particularly its liberal wing, it gave the Tory hard right some important lessons for the future. 

They might have compared the Smethwick result with that in 1959 in Kensington North, the constituency in which Notting Hill lay. The veteran fascist Oswald Mosley had only got 7.5% of the vote whereas Griffiths had won the seat!

Mosley was unable to capitalise on the violent racism in Notting Hill in 1959, Griffiths successfully related to a stream of racist ignorance in 1964. Open fascism failed, but the crudest racism worked.

Also and more importantly, by 1964, it was now acceptable to demonise migrants, MPs were doing it, governments were doing it, legislation had been passed.

Out of government from 1964, some Tory politicians increasingly looked to populist racism to restore their electoral fortunes. This would eventually lead to Powell and his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 and the victory of Thatcher as Tory leader with her 1978 interview references to Britains being ‘swamped by people of a different culture’.

In government from 1964, Labour didn’t repeal the 1962 Act that it had rightly denounced when the Act had come before Parliament. Instead, it bent to the growing anti-migrant narrative. The Labour government actually tightened immigration restrictions both in 1964 and 1965. They ended the migration of Commonwealth citizens who came without an existing job offer and they reduced the number of migrant vouchers available.

And then in 1968 they made an even more significant and disgraceful redraft of the legislation. Panicking in response to the possible migration of Kenyan Asians who were being racially victimised in Kenya they Introduced a distinction between those Commonwealth citizens who ‘belonged’ – those with parents or grandparents from the UK (overwhelmingly white) – from those who, in the words of Labour Home Secretary James Callaghan, “did not belong to this country in the sense of having any direct family connection with it”.

But more on Labour government’s 1968 attacks on migrants in the next essay.

Further reading and references

  1. The Labour Campaign for Free Movement is pulling together some excellent resources to argue against immigration controls. Including this one mentioned in the text of the 1905 Aliens Act by Daniel Randall
  2. The pamphlet of No-one Is Illegal by Teresa Hayter, OPEN BORDERS The Case Against Immigration Controls is an essential pamphlet to read

Other sources from which information has been drawn

  1. The Passage of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, a Case-Study of Backbench Power
  2. West Indian Immigration

What will come of the Tory leadership challenge?

Apparently May’s strategy is to outface and ignore all opposition to her Brexit deal in her Party. She expects business Toryism over the coming weeks to sort out the No Deal Brexiters.
The Tories’ business backers will be worried about predictions of economic catastrophe. They hold the Party’s purse strings. They could threaten withdrawal of financial support from the Party if May is deposed or the No Deal Brexiters take over.

Given the cowardly duplicity of these opponents of hers, May’s strategy could work – at least partially. 

After all, despite demagogically calling for Brexit in the last referendum, Johnson and other hard Brexiteers never wanted to win. Nor did they dare take responsibility for it afterwards. They love the nationalist posturing and rhetoric but they have never yet shown the guts to fight for a party or a government that is sustained on such rhetoric.

The transition is not easy from a stable bourgeois Party, like the Tories have been in the past, to a nationalist and populist one, like that of UKIP or perhaps the Trump movement.
But for some of the hard right Brexiteer MPs transition time is here, the old Tory Party’s stance of stability is over. They see it no longer able to garner electoral support without aggressive nationalism. 

Some of the hard right nationalists in the Tory Party were whooping it up with cries of ‘traitor’ along with MPs like Mark Francois at the Bruges group conference last week-end. It will be difficult for people like that to pull back.

But for most Tory MPs, like the cautious career-calculator Michael Gove, this is still too scary.

What will happen?

I reckon that May will survive as leader. But her deal and her party? Not so well.

Many of the hard Brexiters have now gone too far. In response to May’s attempt to outface them, some will try to outface her back. They are not likely after a failed leadership challenge to say ‘ok, we’re in the minority, we will do as we are told from now on’.

Whilst a split in the Tories is unlikely, the rebels will be increasingly uncontrollable by the Tory Party whips. And they will likely continue to bring May’s deal down.

What happens between them, UKIP and the ragbag of nasty nationalists on the far right we will have to see. 

But the labour movement has to see them all off along with their anti-migrant xenophobic crap

The fight for internationalism sometimes needs us to ‘hold our noses’

‘I’ll have to hold my nose’ is a common expression on the left for a reason. We often have spokespersons imposed on our movement and its protests, who we dislike considerably, even detest.

We are presented with a choice ‘do we protest on an important issue or do we stay silent?’.

Over the last few days there have been many attacks on tomorrow’s People’s Vote march. Those of us going on it are being portrayed as anti-Corbyn, even anti-Labour, agents of Chuka Umunna or even Anna Soubry.

We have been here before.

As an opponent of tyranny, I had to ‘hold my nose’ when Galloway and Islamists were welcomed on Stop The War demos.

Galloway was a close friend of Tariq Aziz, himself both Saddam Hussein’s Deputy Prime Minister and close ally. Aziz went along with the mass-murdering activities of Saddam in Kurdish and Shia areas of Iraq, Galloway also notoriously ‘saluted’ Saddam’s ‘indefatigability’.

One of the invited sponsors of the Stop The War campaign was the Muslim Association of Britain – the British branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MAB). The MAB had speakers on the Stop The War platform at their rallies.

The Brotherhood is the core of the largest international Islamist movement. A movement which, whilst not being a ‘Jihadist’ one still advocated the persecution of gays, atheists, was against the equality of women and peddled antisemitism. Occasionally MAB was granted the right to segregate audiences (including non-Muslim ones) by gender at StW meetings.

But I wasn’t going to allow the appearance on the platform of Galloway or Islamists stop me demonstrating against the Iraq War.

The same tomorrow. Shamefully most of the ‘far left’ – of which I am still a part – has not campaigned against Brexit. They have surrendered that ground to many on the right wing of Labour, even to a couple of Tories like Soubry.

I don’t like Chuka Umunna’s record of trying to regain the Party for neoliberalism or ‘Blairism’. I pretty much detest Anna Soubry’s record of supporting virtually every disgraceful Tory attack on working people in this country.

Is Anna Soubry worse than Galloway? I don’t think so. The only way you could say she is, was if you believed that Kurdish and Iraqi lives, now Syrian lives, were less important than British ones.

On the Peoples Vote demo as on the Stop The War ones, I will have to hold my nose, but more importantly I will try to stamp whatever mark I can make on those demonstrations – against nationalism, xenophobia and austerity and in support of migrants and for socialism.

How to make your left wing mark tomorrow – join the left contingent

Is war possible – what can we do?

The possibility of war looks real.

Can the EU states restrain Trump and Netanyahu from going to war?

Is Trump restrainable?

Saner elements in the US Democratic Party establishment have been trying to get Trump out of office for months through legal action. A few Republicans have indicated they would revolt against Trump – initially saying they would do so after the tax cuts on the rich last autumn.

But the legal challenges to Trump drag on. The anti-Trump Republican revolt has yet to happen if it ever does.

I remember one of the ‘dissident’ Republican congressman explaining their strategy saying “of course, we will have to keep our fingers crossed that he doesn’t push the button”. He may have said “or launch a war”. Today that ‘dissident’ may regret depending on his ‘crossed fingers’.

What is going on in Trump’s head?

No matter what one’s view are about Trump’s psychological state at the start of his presidency, just think how he may have changed over the last few months.

What must it do to such a clear narcissist to be almost daily humiliated?

He can dream of long-term heroic stature as the ‘greatest US President ever’ but the truth will break through in momentary shudders.

Trump faces eventual impeachment and after that probably a lifelong notoriety worse than Nixon. He will become the most joked about and reviled President in history.

Every day he probably gets a briefing on the legal action being taken against those who were close to him at some time.

Each day, a briefing – each day a shudder followed by an arrogant shrug. ‘I survive, I survive, … I am invincible.’ And locked away from reasonable counsel this is the man taking decisions about war!

Meanwhile in Israel/ Palestine things look no safer. I have read a couple of reports about Hamas in Gaza. There has been growing dissent against them which the Israeli government knows all about. A sane Israeli government would see this as a suitable time to make concessions, if needs be over the heads of Hamas to the Gaza Palestinians: to reduce the appalling conditions they have to to endure because of the blockade. But no, in response to the ‘Great March of Return’ protests at the fence, without there being any breaches of it, the IDF have so far killed over 40 protestors!

This is hardly intended to promote peace or to encourage more Gazans towards any ‘peace process’ or negotiations for a two-states solution!

In fact the opposite. Aware of the fracturing of Hamas’s control in Gaza, Netanyahu is choosing to drive as many Palestinians either back toward Hamas or breaking away towards an even more militant force, hostile not only to Netanyahu but to all Israelis. A major war is what Netanyahu seems to be preparing for.

Netanyahu and Likud have scared and politically exploited the Israeli people with the prospect of a war with Iran for decades. Iranian militants might try to make the aim of a war the destruction of Israel. Every pronouncement made by them would get amplified by the Israeli government. “This is a war for Israel’s very survival”, Netanyahu will claim.

War will give a legitimacy to him despite his crimes.

Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons. But their control over Syrian territory is strong. Their ally Hezbollah in Lebanon has demonstrated its continuing near total dominance over Lebanese Shia in the recent elections.

The Iranian leader Rouhani is part of a tyrannical regime to his own people but on international issues he has been a comparative moderate. The likes of former President Ahmedinijad are still lurking within the ranks of the ruling elite. Like the failing demagogue Trump, they may also welcome a war to unite a sceptical, even hostile people behind them.

The Palestinians and the Kurds may see a wider war as an opportunity to get progress on their grievances: being continually militarily attacked and having a democratic homeland denied to them. But the belligerent role of the major actors, US, Iran and Israel will give a baptism in blood to any territories ‘liberated’ for the Kurds or the Palestinians. Both peoples need liberation from continuing horror but so do the Syrians. There can be no liberation of one if it means continuing or increased horrors for another.

US and Israeli bombings of Iran or Iranian forces and Hezbollah in Syria can only have significant human casualties. They will wreak havoc on the millions of displaced refugees. More people will be drawn towards variants of nationalism where internationalism and human solidarity are forgotten. More towards apocalyptic missions whether that be jihadist or for a Greater Israel.

A war will be a disaster. None of the main protagonists, the US, Iran, Israel can be supported. Anti-war sentiment will be widespread throughout the world. It must not only bring pressure to stop any war, it has to address the rights of the Palestinians to a viable homeland, a genuine two state settlement that can ensure long term peace. It has to address the rights of the Kurds and the Syrians to democracy and peace – an end to the Assad regime and the carving up of Syria by Iran, Russia, the US and Israel.

These things won’t be either initiated or carried through by governments. They can only start through growing dialogue between the peoples: starting off with internationalists, secularists and workers. Opposition to war can only be driven by such dialogue. The governments have to be forced to accept them.

The EU’s fear of Corbyn is why we should Remain

There was some talk on Twitter yesterday on the Times article in the picture. What does it prove?

Some are arguing that it shows yet again the coercive neoliberal nature of an EU that we are best out of.
Others have argued that the article is a malicious one-sided exaggeration, circulated by the Times to show how internationally unacceptable and catastrophic a Corbyn government would be. It is also thought to be intended by some to promote division in the Party.
For me, both arguments on this article miss the point.
Neoliberalism is strong. There are banks who are particularly powerful in the UK: right-wing neoliberal governments rule in most EU countries and of course the US. Yes, whilst the EU is so undemocratic and under the control of those right wing governments, they will try to impose an austerity agenda. But the strongest international bodies imposing austerity are the IMF and the WTO. Neither of them are EU bodies. They have always worked against anything radical in Labour governments of the past – they were responsible for the austerity forced on the Labour government of the late 70s.
All of these will fight against a radical anti-capitalist government in Britain. Unfortunately, few in the Labour Party, however, want to talk about how we stop these non-EU bodies undermining a future Labour government.
The Times article highlights that the current EU institutions can and will organise against us – EVEN IF BREXIT PROCEEDS!
A lot of pro-Brexit argument in the labour movement simply ignores this important fact. Capitalist is international – more now than ever. There can be no ‘Socialism in one country’. We have to organise and fight back against it internationally.
In or out of the EU, a radical Labour government would need to defy attempts to block pro-worker legislation by international neoliberal forces.
In or out, we would have call for international solidarity with such a government of ours – particularly from neighbouring countries.
Paul Mason pointed out only yesterday there is growing opposition to neoliberalism in many social democratic parties across the EU.

A great many EU states are in serious crisis. Austerity has dramatically failed to promote economic growth. It would be an ideal time for a radical government in the EU to defy any EU guidelines on austerity, whether from the Maastricht Treaty or elsewhere. Every worker in the EU would look on it and say ‘that looks a good policy for the UK, why not here? Why should we accept austerity?’.
They are less likely to be concerned with a battle between the international forces of neoliberalism and a country whose governance has little to do with them.
A good reason that Britain under a radical Labour government should stay in the EU if we possibly can.

There are rules for a democratic selection of General Secretary – we should use them!

The last two and a half years have seen the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Iain McNicol acting not only appallingly but without accountability to the NEC, the Party leader or Party conference.

McNicol allowed the notorious Compliance Unit to try and rig the leadership elections through mass exclusions during the 2015 contest. He tried to demoralise new members and drive them out of the Party by using Party finances to reverse the court’s ruling that they should be given a vote.

But even on the basic responsibility to build the party and make the most of its anti-austerity policies, his performance has been poor. There has been little campaigning or materials, particularly those that might appeal to poorer voters, on issues like £10 minimum wage, mass council house building, rights at work etc.

McNicol exploited the enhanced power he enjoyed as a result of the factional paralysis on Labour’s NEC. He openly acted to try and regain the Party for its former ruling Blairite clique.

So it is good that we have an opportunity for a new General Secretary and all the contenders currently known would be a serious improvement.

Do we want an elected GS?

Some argue that the GS is just a functionary who should do as he is told by the leader. Even if that were true and constitutionally the GS were the simple tool of the Party leader, would that be democratic? Would we have wanted the General Secretary to be the tool of Blair when he was leader?

No, the Labour Party should not be a rigidly centralised party behind the leader. There should be a pluralistic democracy in which the members decide genuinely. Not by plebiscites. Not on individuals whose policies are unknown and who are not accountable.

The General Secretary position is too important to be a de facto appointment.

The candidates

GenSecCandsThe favourite, at least the seeming choice of both John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn is Jennie Formby. Jennie is a long-standing left wing opponent of the Blairites and Iain McNicol. By all accounts and to her credit she is prepared to argue on policy issues and party matters bluntly. She is a strong advocate of union and workers rights in the Party.

Jon Lansman, who declared his candidacy after Formby, has made many enemies on the left. He closed down democracy in Momentum and made it very much his personal vehicle – handing out appointed positions and patronage to gather round him a politically mixed group of ambitious individuals.

Under his leadership Momentum has ducked and dived for perceived political gain. In its earlier months, it failed to get action on the EU referendum, trying to stay on the fence as long as possible. Lansman fairly unilaterally closed down Momentum’s democratic bodies and now Momentum actions and policies are pretty much whatever Jon decides they are.

Despite earlier occasional arguments by Lansman for mandatory selection, Momentum hasn’t argued or organised for it. Momentum closed down debate on the EU at last year’s party conference. That denied the Party the opportunity of coming to a position but it also gave the right wing of the Party the opportunity to claim, with some justification, that the Party hasn’t a democratically decided policy.

Now Jon Lansman argues that he wants an ‘open contest’ but It is unclear what sort of open contest Jon wants.

An Open Contest?

Momentum sent an email to members today (2nd March) inviting people to express interest in standing for the GS position. Some may wonder how sincere Jon’s desire for other candidates is. But it looks at least as if Lansman is hoping to stretch the timeline of the selection beyond any possible selection at the March NEC. If so, nothing wrong with that but the question that needs answering is ‘what after that’?

  1. Is it that there should be a proper selection from other than a shortlist of one on the NEC?
  2. Is it for a OMOV ballot?
  3. Is it for the operation of the rule that allows conference to vote for General Secretary but with an ‘open contest’?

Party members who want a democracy decision should go for the third option.

The problem with OMOV

As with the Corbyn’s election OMOV ballots can occasionally allow an alienated, unrecognised majority to be empowered to remove an arrogant, complacent and politically dominant tendency.

More normally in politics it is intended as a way by which a well-oiled machine with a database of volunteers with access to contact lists can ensure their candidate wins.

The right-wing Progress group supported the Collins proposal in its 2014 review as they thought the machine that would determine the result was their own, heavily entrenched in the Party structures.

Over the last two years Lansman has built an alternative machine in Momentum. He hasn’t shown much concern for abstract democratic principles in its operation but he has however shown a determination to get his way, believing his way was the only way.

If Lansman wants ‘member involvement’, I would guess he favours the OMOV option.
Under OMOV, selections in the Party, PPC and others have too often been apolitical contests – not run on the politics of candidates but on sponsorship, selfies with leading figures etc.

That model was  particularly promoted by the Blairites for their candidates. After all, they had few principled policies on which to garner support. It also made parachuting of the leader’s allies easier.

We need radically different selection methods for the Party GS and ultimately for PPCs.

Use the Rule Book – democratise the process

The Party’s rule book actually calls for an election by conference of the General Secretary (Chapter 4.II.4.a) although there is the proviso that the election is on the ’NEC’s recommendation’.

In the past conference has been a barely concealed rubber-stamp for an NEC decision remote from the Party membership. That has to change.

The Party need to hear answers from the candidates for GS and debate them in its branches, constituencies and affiliates up to conference

  • What will they do to make the Party an open and inclusive Party? Will they end the culture of bans and exclusions? How will they enable and promote active democratic debate?
  • What will the candidate advocate to increase the Party’s campaigning focus? Can we not do better than one campaign day every few months?
  • Our Party needs to be put on a war footing to win back the generations of poor workers primarily, who have drifted out of voting or been pulled into the wake of nationalist politics of the UKIP and Tory right. What will the GS candidates do to address that?

Of course the Labour Party needs someone to ‘fill in’ until that selection. That is not unusual, we have had acting leaders of the Party whilst awaiting a democratic decision.

But Party members should call now on the NEC to begin a meaningful selection. We need an organisationally and politically competent GS. Using Tony Benn’s 5 principles of accountability, we need to know not only what s/he can do – we have seen that negatively – we need to deal with Benn’s last two principles.

“To whom are you accountable?”
“How do we get rid of you?”

The General Secretary should not only be elected by an open contest at conference but they should be answerable to it as well.

I urge Party members and organisations to contact the NEC to call for such a democratic process in the election of our next General Secretary.

Draft letter calling for above downloadable from this link