Appeasement by Labour’s leading body won’t stop the attacks on Corbyn from the Blairites and the establishment.
Whilst the summer heatwave is subsiding, temperatures inside the Labour Party are rising. After months of smears and attacks from Corbyn’s critics, the Labour leadership has attempted to make significant compromises in order to calm the situation. But it is clear that the only concession that would mollify Corbyn’s opponents is his resignation.
Yesterday, the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) met to discuss whether or not to adopt the full definition of anti-Semitism – including all 11 examples – provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
The NEC had already agreed to adopt the complete IHRA definition of anti-Semitism back in 2016. Ironically (and hypocritically), leading Blairites such as Chuka Umunna actually opposed the IHRA text at the time, highlighting that the wording provided would curtail freedom of speech in relation to debate around Israel and Palestine.
It is this legitimate criticism of the IHRA examples from Corbyn and his supporters that has been latched onto by the Labour leader’s detractors in recent months. The arch-Blairite Margaret Hodge even went so far as to confront Corbyn personally over the issue back in July, accusing him to his face of being an anti-Semite and a racist.
Now, after hours of debate at Labour HQ, the NEC has agreed to adopt all 11 of the IHRA examples into its official code of conduct, in order to try and stem the tide of hostility.
This retreat had the backing of important movers and shakers in the labour movement, including Len McCluskey (the general secretary of Unite the Union and a key influencer in the Labour leader’s office) and John McDonnell (the shadow chancellor and Corbyn’s right-hand man).
These leading figures of Team Corbyn believed that this concession might appease opponents and put the issue to bed. But this attitude naively assumes that the real reasons for the summer-long attack are sincerely and genuinely about the question of anti-Semitism.
But to anyone with eyes to see, it is evident that the allegations of anti-Semitism against the Corbyn movement have only ever been a cynical stick with which to beat the Labour leader.
Indeed, this was explicitly stated by none other than Margaret Hodge herself. In advance of Tuesday’s NEC meeting, at a conference of the Jewish Labour Movement last weekend, the right-wing Labour MP told the audience that adopting the full IHRA definition and its examples would not be enough. “The problem,” Hodge openly admitted, “is that he [Corbyn] is the problem.”
This acknowledgement by the Blairites – that their “problem” is really with the Labour leader, and not simply his position on anti-Semitism – was quickly confirmed following yesterday’s NEC decision.
Despite agreeing to the demands of the establishment, the Labour right wing, and the self-proclaimed leaders of the Jewish community, Corbyn’s opponents have continued to attack him.
The nominal justification for the latest wave of hostility is the caveat added to the NEC concession, with Labour’s ruling body agreeing upon “a statement which ensures this [the adoption of all the IHRA examples into the Labour code of conduct] will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians”.
This small addendum was quickly jumped upon by all the usual figures, arousing yet another cacophony of condemnation. Long-standing Corbyn critic Stephen Kinnock asserted that the addition was “pouring more fuel on the fire”. Elsewhere, Richard Angell, the head of the Blairite organisation Progress, described the decision as “a retrograde step” and “an insult”, calling the statement “a ‘right to be racist’ protection”.
A tale of two protests
The right-wing heads of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) also jumped on board the bandwagon, with JLC chief executive Simon Johnson stating that Corbyn had “attempted shamefully to undermine the entire IHRA definition” by “driving a coach and horses” through it with his caveat.
But it is evident that figures like Johnson and the JLC in reality represent nobody but themselves. This could be seen yesterday, when two simultaneous protests took place outside the Labour NEC meeting.
On one side, hundreds of Corbyn supporters and critics of the Israeli government’s imperialist policies gathered in a rally organised by the Jewish Voice for Labour group to call for the Labour NEC not to adopt the IHRA examples into the Party’s code of conduct.
On the other side, a tiny handful of Zionist Corbyn opponents gathered to protest against the Labour leader.
Needless to say, you will not find any mention of this disparity between the two demonstrations in any mainstream media outlet. Indeed, the craven journalists present actively crowded round the small Zionist protest, attempting to inflate its importance out of all proportions (see below).
One Socialist Appeal activist went along to the Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) rally with his local Momentum group. Here is what he reported:
Around 300 Labour and Corbyn supporters attended a protest outside the Labour Party HQ as the NEC met to decide on the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism.
The purpose of the protest was to encourage the NEC’s left-wing members not to capitulate to right-wing pressure and implement this definition, and to make a general point about the need to stand firm in the face of the relentless waves of attacks and ludicrous smears on Corbyn.
That it managed to gather so many people for what was a protest on a Tuesday morning during working hours, for what is an internal Labour Party matter, proves the mass support that Corbyn and the left wing still rightly command, and that these smears are widely seen as just that.
There was a counter protest of Zionists shouting absurd accusations that Corbyn is a Nazi, but they literally numbered about five. This was a stark reminder that the vast majority of Labour members support Corbyn. The right wing’s campaign has no support outside of the groups of Blairite MPs and their media friends.
The demonstration itself was very lively, upbeat and confident. Several speakers from Jewish Voice for Labour (who called the demo) spoke and argued that by adopting IHRA Labour would be betraying the Palestinian cause. In all the sound and fury over alleged anti-Semitism, the constant racism against Muslims, and in Israel against Palestinians, is criminally ignored.
The rally ended with a speech by Chris Williamson MP. He underlined the need for Labour, as an anti-racist party, to fight for the oppressed Palestinians.
This latest episode, once again, has highlighted the stark contrast between the naive and compromising attitude of the labour movement leadership and the firmness and boldness of the grassroots.
Whilst McCluskey and McDonnell are calling for retreat, rank-and-file Labour members and activists are coming out in their hundreds on a weekday morning to demand that Corbyn and co. stand firm.
And whilst the leaders of Momentum attempted to hold out an olive branch to implacable opponents, local Momentum groups organised to attend the JVL rally outside Labour HQ, banners in hand.
(The cheers for Pete Willsman at yesterday’s protest also confirm the same point. Willsman was thrown under the bus by the Momentum leadership over the summer, removed from their NEC slate as a result of comments he made correctly criticising right-wing, pro-Trump rabbis. But despite losing Momentum’s official backing, Willsman was re-elected to the NEC in results that were announced on Monday. These saw a clean sweep for the Left and a demoralising defeat for the right wing.)
On this question of anti-Semitism, and every other over the past few years, the leadership of the Corbyn movement has consistently tried to appease the saboteurs – in particular, the Blairite gangsters in the Parliamentary Labour Party. But, at every step, the rabid actions of this intransigent right-wing cabal have in fact helped to radicalise grassroots activists even more.
Indeed, the ludicrous claims and allegations made against Corbyn over the past few months have only served to expose the ridiculousness of the anti-Semitism smear campaign and the cynical intentions of the Blairites behind it.
See, for example, the absurd hyperbole made by former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who compared some innocuous remarks made by the Labour leader several years ago to Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech – a statement so over-the-top that even Frank Field MP was forced to distance himself from it. And this from a man who only last week resigned from the Labour whip, citing Corbyn’s attitude to anti-Semitism as an important factor in his decision.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that as the hysteria surrounding the Blairite smear campaign has escalated, calls to kick out the Labour right-wingers have grown louder also. And with the annual Labour conference fast approaching, the pressure from below has become overwhelming.
Several motions on the question of mandatory reselection will be up for debate at this year’s conference, despite the topic being consciously omitted from the recent “democratic review” of Labour Party structures and procedures.
The recent resignation of Frank Field, meanwhile, will only have helped to draw yet more attention to the scandalous behaviour of the Blairites, emphasising to ordinary members why these treacherous ladies and gentlemen must be given the boot.
In recent days, as a result of this grassroots pressure, the Momentum leadership has even been forced to openly come out in favour of shaking up the existing system for selecting Labour’s parliamentary representatives.
In an email to Momentum supporters sent out yesterday, the pro-Corbyn organisation stated that they would be backing calls for “open selections” of parliamentary candidates, citing the election of left-wing underdog Ocasio-Cortez in New York as an example of why the Labour Party needs to change its selection process.
This could have significant ramifications at the upcoming Labour conference. Last year, Momentum played an important role in organising Corbyn-supporting delegates at conference, who represented an overwhelming majority. With the composition of delegates expected to be equally in the Left’s favour this year, and with major unions such as Unite and the Fire Brigades Union backing calls for mandatory reselection, it is clear that the demand could be voted through.
Kick out the careerists
As Stephen Bush notes in the New Statesman, the Labour right wing will have a hard task defending the selection process status quo. But this is only a reflection of the broken status quo in society that these careerists so ardently attempt to defend at every available opportunity.
On war, nuclear weapons, and international alliances; on austerity, cuts, and privatisation; on the EU, the Single Market, and freedom of movement: on all these questions and many more besides, the Blairites are consistently out of step with the working class voters and ordinary Labour members that they supposedly represent. It is therefore time to show these political rogues and reprobates the door.
But the demand for mandatory reselection is only the first step. To ensure that we have representatives who genuinely represent us, this call needs to go hand-in-hand with the fight for socialist policies. Only by campaigning for a bold socialist programme can we really have a movement for the many and not the few.