Following an NEC decision to prevent Chris Williamson from standing, he has chosen to run as an independent. The left must not let frustrations get in the way of the fight against the Tories.
Overshadowed by Tom Watson’s shock resignation yesterday was an announcement by the Labour NEC that suspended MP, Chris Williamson, would not be allowed to stand as a candidate for Labour in the upcoming election.
This disappointing news is the culmination of a saga that goes back years.
Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader in 2015, the right wing of the party – aided by the establishment media – have launched a relentless campaign of smears and attacks against the left.
Corbyn himself has been accused of every slander under the sun: from terrorist sympathiser to Moscow stooge. And the movement behind Corbyn has been dragged through the mud with him in the process.
After many attempts to get said mud to stick, the Blairites finally hit upon an agreed line of attack in 2016, when Ken Livingstone (the former London Mayor) and Naz Shah MP were accused of antisemitism.
This quickly escalated to assertions that the entire Labour left – including Corbyn – were riddled with antisemites and racists. All sorts of scattered remarks and anecdotal ‘evidence’ were then dug up by the Labour right wing and their friends in the press to justify their claims post hoc.
This hysterical smear campaign, led by the Blairites and their allies in the Jewish Labour Movement, has claimed a number of scalps along the way. Prominent left-wing activists such as Jackie Walker, Pete Willsman, and Marc Wadsworth have all been caught up in this witch-hunt – all on the most spurious of charges.
This is the context to the hounding and harassment of Chris Williamson, who was originally suspended in February this year for stating that Labour had been “too apologetic” in accepting the false accusations that the party is “institutionally anti-semitic”.
Williamson’s suspension was later overturned, after an NEC disciplinary panel concluded that his remarks warranted nothing more than an official warning. However, following a cacophony of protest from Labour right-wingers, this decision was itself reversed, and Williamson was re-suspended.
The Derby North MP subsequently fought an arduous legal battle in order to clear his name. And last month, High Court judges even concluded in his favour, ruling that his re-suspension was unlawful.
In the meantime, however, party bureaucrats had submitted a whole host of new trumped-up charges against Williamson. As a result, he was farcically suspended once again.
With the snap election announced, Williamson’s fate lay in the hands of the NEC, who would have the power to state whether he could still stand for Labour in the upcoming contest. Yesterday the NEC announced that he would be denied this opportunity.
This scandalous decision is only the latest in a series of recent episodes in which the NEC has angered grassroots members through its bureaucratic manoeuvres.
Not long after Williamson’s court case last month, activists woke up to the news that Labour’s ruling body would be imposing parliamentary candidates on local parties for the upcoming election.
In a number of high-profile cases – including Enfield North, the City of Durham, and Ealing North – the NEC denied members the opportunity to select locally supported candidates. Instead, an attempt was made to parachute in candidates backed by the top.
Unsurprisingly, this was met with fury by rank-and-file Labour members, who are now forced to campaign in this election for candidates that do not reflect their views.
Aside from questions over democratic principles, transparency, and accountability, this can only have a negative effect in terms of demoralising and alienating the very activists who are the key to Labour’s “people powered” campaign.
Despite these slights, Labour members are throwing themselves into the election campaign and correctly focussing on the battle in front of us: the fight to boot out Boris and take on the billionaires.
Unfortunately, however, Chris Williamson has chosen to stand as an independent in the upcoming election – in protest against his mistreatment, and in order to carry on fighting in Parliament for social justice.
After almost 44 years of loyal service and commitment, it’s with a heavy heart that I’m resigning from the Labour Party.
I’ll be standing as an independent candidate for Derby North to fight for social justice, internationalism and socialist values. pic.twitter.com/rKmxpJrFSP
— Chris Williamson #GTTO (@DerbyChrisW) November 6, 2019
While we are in no doubt that Chris has been much maligned, and that his intentions are good, we must state clearly that this is a mistake.
Derby North is an important marginal seat. By running as an independent – against a new Labour candidate – Chris risks splitting the left-wing vote and letting the Tories in through the middle.
In an election as closely fought as this one, we cannot allow for any divisions, adventurist antics, or personal crusades that could cost us seats – and thus the chance of coming to power. We must focus all our fire on the Tories. The call everywhere must be for united mass action, even if this means holding one’s nose and campaigning for an imposed right-wing Labour candidate.
It is deeply tragic and ironic that Williamson took this decision on the same day that the Witchfinder General, Tom Watson, chose to resign from his position as deputy leader.
Watson has consistently led the right-wing charge against Corbyn and the left. His office has been at the centre of every Machiavellian plot and scheme against our movement. His departure reflects the fact that the Labour right wing have completely lost all control of the party.
In the wake of Watson’s resignation, the Blairites are shattered and demoralised. The next deputy leader will undoubtedly be on the left of the party.
Meanwhile, a new wave of left-wing MPs will be propelled into Westminster on the back of members’ tremendous campaigning efforts in the coming weeks. And the election campaign itself will further transform the party, as thousands of fresh activists look to continue the fight for socialism once a Corbyn Labour government has been secured.
In these increasingly radicalised conditions, and under the pressure from below, Williamson could see himself let back into the party – potentially even standing once again as a Labour candidate in the future. In this respect, Chris is not doing himself any favours by announcing his decision to stand against Labour in this election.
Unite and fight
Above all, with a Labour government in power and a mass membership actively participating inside the party, prominent left-wing figures such as Williamson could play an important role in future struggles to democratise the Labour Party and put bold socialist demands on the agenda.
Indeed, as Chris himself correctly stated in his resignation letter yesterday, the reason he has been targeted with such venom by the Labour right wing is because he threatened their cosy careers with his campaign for ‘open selection’ (i.e. mandatory reselection).
The time will come to right the wrongs and redress any injustices of recent years. But that time is after this election. For now, we must not let anything distract us from the immediate fight to kick out the Tories and put Corbyn in Number 10. First Boris, then the Blairites: this must be our mantra.
By Theresa Kellegher, Enfield North CLP executive committee (personal capacity)
Following a bureaucratic selections stitch up, Enfield North CLP in London has had an unrepresentative, right-wing candidate imposed, without any real scrutiny or input from the local party. This has left hardworking left-wing activists sidelined and dismayed.
The strength of the Corbyn movement comes from the membership, without which the tremendous growth and electoral gains seen in the last few years would have been impossible. Only by empowering our members and the working class can we ensure the victory of a socialist Labour government.
The result in Enfield North therefore offers a stark lesson and a warning for our movement: that the fight to transform the Labour Party into a truly democratic, socialist party is far from over. A fully open and democratic selection process is an essential part of that fight.
Enfield North CLP has had no Labour MP since Joan Ryan resigned from the Labour Party in February 2019. Despite requests from the local party to begin the selection process for a new Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC), we were only given permission to elect a selection committee in April.
We were then informed that we would have to hold the election again as no party officials were present to observe the proceedings. As the Labour Party rules were strictly adhered to at this meeting, members were shocked and appalled at this lack of trust in the members to hold a democratic election.
The selection committee was therefore elected at another meeting on 1 September 2019 with regional party officials present.
This twice-elected selection committee then began the work of selecting a new PPC. They continued this work (under the supervision of an NEC representative), until a few weeks ago. At this point, they were informed, totally out of the blue, that the NEC had decided it would take over the whole selection process in the CLP.
The NEC then went onto compile a ‘longlist’, completely ignoring the seven ward nominations in Enfield North for candidates. All the ward nominations showed a strong preference for local candidates, with some connection with Enfield North Labour Party. And yet none of these candidates made it onto the longlist.
So, despite the struggles over democracy, the work done locally to remove Joan Ryan, it seems that all in Enfield North CLP have been left off the MP candidate longlist. NEC once again going to parachute someone in. What is the point @JennieGenSec @jeremycorbyn @edwardpoole1975?
— Raphael Dogg (@raphaeldogg) October 16, 2019
At its All Members Meeting (AMM) on 21 October, Enfield North CLP overwhelmingly passed a motion condemning this takeover by the NEC. The motion also called for the NEC “to halt the current selection process based on imposed ‘longlists’, and instead to restore power to local selection committees”.
This motion has also been echoed by several other motions in solidarity from other CLPs, such as Hornsey & Wood Green. And yet it has not even been acknowledged by the NEC, which persisted in imposing its own totally unrepresentative shortlist.
The hustings for the four imposed candidates were held on 26 October 2019, with regional Labour Party officials in charge. The voices of members were stifled yet again in this meeting in a disgraceful way. Points of order were not allowed to be heard, and the questions submitted by members on key policy issues (such as mandatory reselection and Clause 4) were ruled out of order, with no explanation given.
It was clear that the entire process had been rigged to ensure as little discussion and scrutiny from the membership as possible.
This further alienated party activists, who had done everything they could to secure a committed socialist and pro-Corbyn candidate. A number of members even chose to spoil their ballots rather than support any of the shortlisted candidates.
Similar bureaucratic methods were regularly used to silence left-wing voices in the party throughout the Blair years.
As a result of these recent manoeuvres, Feryal Clark, a right-wing Hackney councillor who did not even back Jeremy Corbyn to become the leader of the Labour Party, has been ‘parachuted’ into the constituency.
This has been celebrated as a victory by ardent right-wingers, such as Labour First’s Luke Akehurst. But it is only bad news for workers and youth fighting for a socialist Labour government.
Mandatory reselection needed
Enfield has one of the highest rates of homelessness and people living in temporary accommodation in the UK. We need a Labour MP who is going to call for a crash programme of council house building and restrictions on private rental charges.
There are high levels of unemployment and poverty in parts of Enfield, so we must have an MP who will fight to end austerity, reverse the cuts and fully fund public services.
This whole undemocratic campaign by the NEC to take away the rights of local Labour Party members to choose their PPC must be fought against, both locally and nationally.
What has happened in Enfield North is an important local battle in a much bigger fight – to bring the party fully under the control of the working class and eradicate the last vestiges of Blairism from our movement.
Mandatory reselection must become a reality in every CLP. There can be no place for careerism, right or ‘left’, in our movement. The party membership must be allowed to decide who their representatives are. This is a basic democratic right.
We must not allow ourselves to be demoralised and quieted by this stitch up. The working class deserves a PLP made up of honest workers’ representatives, accountable to the membership and committed to socialism. We can and must achieve this historic victory.
We must organise to defend our socialist principles and carry on the campaign for a Corbyn socialist Labour government. We have a world to win!