Sunday, July 10, 2016
I was honoured to speak (twice) at a mass rally in support of Jeremy Corbyn in Brighton yesterday (once in an overcrowded Brighthelm Centre and once to those outside who had not been able to get in).
The rally preceded the Annual General Meeting of the Brighton and Hove City Labour Party. Towards a thousand of our 5,900 members (two thirds of whom have joined since the General Election - and over 500 since the Referendum and subsequent machinations against Corbyn) attended a meeting which had to be organised in three shifts to accommodate the numbers.
Candidates supportive of Jeremy Corbyn swept the board in contested elections for the ruling Executive of the City Party (the largest single membership unit of the Party in England I believe).
Since I first attended a meeting of the Labour Party Young Socialists in a dingy basement on the Lewes Road in 1979 I have not experienced such energy and enthusiasm at a meeting of our Party. A social movement is moving into, and through the Labour Party and we all need to come to terms with the changes which it is bringing.
Regular readers of the blog (Sid and Doris Progress-Momentum) will know that I offer here no more than my own random thoughts. So here are a couple of those.
First, elements of the right-wing who are uncomfortable with the growing membership of our Party (because it contradicts their received wisdom that socialism is unpopular and that Labour must ever chase the (rightward moving) political \'centre\') will stoop to almost any depths to resist the tides which \'around their heads foam\' because they don\'t want to accept that \'the times they are a-changing.\'
Yesterday on social media the first response of those whose candidates had failed to be elected to leading positions in the Brighton and Hove City Labour Party was to obssess about an isolated incident in which someone (who may or may not have been a Party member) allegedly spat at a member of staff at the City College.
Just as the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove is a microcosm of the wider Party, so this episode showed (on a tiny scale) the tactic of slander against the left being employed nationally through allegations of abuse levelled at Labour Parliamentarians.
This represents a strategy of denial on two levels. First, rather than confront and engage with the popularity of socialist politics, the right-wing change the subject and seize on anything they can find to develop a narrative about \'extremists.\'
Secondly - and vitally - this strategy of denial operates within the minds of the right-wingers themselves, some of whom did get involved in politics to do good for working class people but have spent many years convincing themselves that they have to advocate privatisation at home and imperialist war abroad (because that is the \'realism\' that allows us to deliver tax credits and a minimum wage). Otherwise decent people have to obssess about limited evidence of isolated incidents which they can describe as \'harassment\' because - if they did not - they would have to confront the lack of necessity for a lifetime of political compromise and retreat.
From the point of view of socialists, our understanding of the dilemma of some of the right-wing cannot mean that we do anything other than rebut unfounded allegations. We do also have to come down like a ton of bricks on any idiots who think that the cause of socialism can be advanced by intemperate and unreasonable behaviour.
This is part of what we also need to ensure - which is that all those who (justly or otherwise) are vulnerable to criticism and attack step back from the front-line at this crucial time.
Ken Livingstone - who has a claim to be described as one of the greatest socialist politicians alive today (and who would not necessarily be considered self-effacing) stood down from the NEC because that was the best way to support the cause in which he believes and the Leader we support.
Anyone else who has potentially damaging \'baggage\' needs to follow that fine example and step aside. Attacks will be made upon Corbyn and all those around him. None of those attacks will be genuine or honest - but the left must respond intelligently and offer no hostages to fortune.
The second thought which comes to me is that members of Labour\'s National Executive face a challenge now almost without precedent in the history of our Party. Any sound reading of the Party Rule Book puts Corbyn on the ballot paper in a leadership election - but it is clear that the right-wing, knowing that they cannot defeat socialism in a fair fight, are contemplating a manouevre to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper by requiring him to secure nominations from Members of Parliament.
If the right-wing can convince a majority of the NEC to misread the Rules in the hope of excluding our current Leader, under whose leadership we have recruited more new members than anyone could have imagined, from the ballot paper in a fresh election, they will ignite a war within the Party which will make the early 1980s look like a vicarage tea party.
The unity of the Labour Party hangs by a thread - and this is not because Corbyn supporters would walk away were he excluded from a ballot (and were those who abused our rules to achieve this fortunate enough to find a malleable judge). Some fainthearts might leave - but Jeremy Corbyn has given us an example of strength which the majority will follow.
We are here, in the Labour Party, in our hundreds of thousands.
We will make the policy of the Party.
We will select Labour candidates at every level.
We will have our say.
The NEC can accommodate the changing composition of the Party membership and build unity by ensuring that Jeremy Corbyn\'s name is, as it should be, on the ballot paper in any election.
If they fail to do this then the PLP (or sufficient of their numbers) can come to their senses and ensure the same outcome.
Neither the NEC nor the PLP wish to contemplate a world in which they fail to do this.
And I am confident they won\'t make such a mistake.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.