Events over the last week have underlined that we still have a long way to go in terms of fighting for democracy and justice within the Labour Party. Members must rally to defend Chris Williamson and demand mandatory reselection.
Labour’s trigger ballot process is in full swing. Under the new setup, all Labour MPs have been offered the right to stand in the next general election. Where MPs wish to stand down, a selection process has begun. In other areas, party branches and affiliated organisations have been voting on whether to endorse their sitting MP or open up a selection process.
This trigger ballot setup is a step forward for party democracy compared to the previous process, whereby sitting MPs essentially felt they had a job for life. It is now easier for grassroots members to remove those in the PLP who do not represent their views.
In some CLPs, local members have already taken the first steps in removing out-of-touch MPs. The most high-profile case has been that of Margaret Hodge in Barking – a notoriously vocal Corbyn critic, who has repeatedly clashed with rank-and-file members locally and nationally.
Unsurprisingly, these attempts to deselect careerists and right-wingers have not been met warmly by the Blairites, who have resorted to bureaucratic manoeuvres in order to shutdown any democratic accountability.
Furthermore, earlier this week, the Labour NEC announced that selection processes (in cases where MPs have voluntarily stood down) will be truncated, denying party members full control over deciding who is to represent them in the next general election.
Thankfully, members’ worst fears – of candidates being parachuted in, as was so frequently seen in the Blair era – have not transpired.
Instead, a fast-tracked process has been put in place, whereby ‘long lists’ of candidates, drawn up by the NEC, are to be whittled down to shortlists by panels comprised of representatives from the region and the local party. The final decision will then be taken at selection meetings within CLPs.
Applications have already opened – and closed – for a number of important seats, including: Barking, to potentially replace the triggered Hodge; Bassetlaw, to replace arch-Blairite John Mann; and Ilford South, to replace Change UK defector Mike Gapes.
These recent events demonstrate clearly how the current system still leaves much to be desired in terms of democracy. Instead of trigger ballots and imposed lists, we need a full open selection process: mandatory reselection for all Labour MPs – in every seat, for every election.
This would introduce genuine transparency and accountability, putting rank-and-file members in control. It would help clear the party of careerism – bringing fresh layers to the fore, putting the best candidates in place and allowing us to choose class fighters to represent workers, youth, and the oppressed in Parliament.
Holding our representatives to account through mandatory reselection should be a basic democratic right. Party members must be able to have the right to remove those who they believe are not doing a good enough job, or who are not doing what they promised.
And yet Blairite MPs have fought tooth-and-nail against attempts to bring in such measures. This opposition should immediately set alarm bells ringing. After all, if an MP is doing a good job, they should have nothing to worry about!
Chris Williamson MP has been at the forefront of the fight for greater party democracy, launching his Democracy Roadshow last summer to campaign for open selection and to debate these issues with Labour activists all over the country.
Labour’s Democracy Review suggested many important ways in which party democracy could be improved. Williamson’s roadshow is designed to discuss how these could be implemented, allowing the party’s mass membership to be involved and empowered.
Alongside Tosh McDonald, former ASLEF president, Williamson has recently re-launched the roadshow. This time the focus is not only on the demand for mandatory reselection, but also for greater democractic control within the economy.
Writing for the Morning Star, Williamson stated that:
“Greater democracy gives us the potential to ensure the fruits of the nation’s economic growth are used to deliver world class public services, full employment, a compassionate social security system and a radical Green New Deal.”
Williamson is correct to highlight what democratic control over the levers of the economy could bring for the working class. In order to radically transform the lives of working people, we must take steps to put organised workers in control of workplaces and the wider economy.
In this respect, mandatory reselection is not an end-in-itself. Rather, it is a means by which Labour members can elect representatives who will fight for bold socialist policies – including public ownership and workers’ control.
In campaigning for party democracy and speaking out against careerism, however, Chris Williamson has drawn the ire of the Labour right wing. As a result, he has been one of the primary targets of the Blairite witch-hunt, suspended from the Labour Party over trumped-up charges of anti-semitism.
The smear campaign waged against Williamson has been hysterical. All manner of lies and slanders have been spread in order to justify his removal from the party. In the process, like many others falsely accused, he has been constantly harassed by opponents and denied any fair hearing.
Things came to a head yesterday when Williamson’s case was heard in the High Court. The fact that Chris has had to resort to the courts and appeals to judges in the first place is a damning indictment of the lack of natural justice within the official Labour structures. But what transpired is even more shocking.
Just to recap: Williamson was originally suspended in February of this year for comments made at a Momentum meeting in Sheffield, where he correctly stated that Labour representatives have been “too apologetic” in response to false accusations that the party is “institutionally anti-semitic”.
This suspension was later overturned by an NEC disciplinary panel, which concluded (in June) that none of Chris’ words or actions warranted anything more than a formal warning.
This conclusion was quickly met with a backlash from Labour right-wingers, who demanded that the decision be reversed. Party officials buckled under this pressure. And so the Derby North MP was re-suspended just days later, on 28 June.
At yesterday’s High Court hearing, the judge ruled that this re-suspension was unlawful, and “that there was no proper reason” for the U-turn on the NEC panel’s original decision to readmit Williamson.
Furthermore, the judge even asserted that: “it is not…difficult to infer that the true reason for the decision in this case was that [NEC] members…were influenced by the ferocity of the outcry following the June decision.”
But despite this ruling, Chris Williamson scandalously remains suspended. This is thanks to the determined efforts of Williamson’s right-wing opponents.
Fearing that the courts might find in the Derby MP’s favour, party bureaucrats utilised various tricks and loopholes to suspend Chris once again in advance of the court hearing, on the basis of a whole new series of trumped-up charges.
“I’m outraged that membership subscriptions given by our loyal activists have been used to pay legal fees,” stated Williamson in response to yesterday’s outcome. “I’m outraged that I’ve had to resort to legal means to achieve justice.”
These latest events mean that Williamson is unlikely to be able to stand as a Labour candidate in an upcoming general election. Trade union officials have reportedly said that they will use their influence to trigger a selection contest against Williamson even if he is able to clear his name.
If such threats transpire to be true, this would be an absolute outrage. And yet it would be perfectly in keeping with the pernicious role that conservative leading elements within the unions have played in blocking attempts to democratise the party: opposing moves to bring in mandatory reselection at last year’s Labour conference, and more recently attempting to impose their own candidates on local parties.
The problem here, however, is wider than one man being suspended. Suspensions over alleged anti-semitism have been routinely used against left-wing Labour activists in order to silence and remove ‘troublemakers’.
This campaign has been led by Witchfinder General Tom Watson – a man who has routinely abused and ignored the party’s democratic structures. The Machiavellian deputy Labour leader has led the right-wing charge to undermine Corbyn and his supporters. In the process, many left-wing members have been bureaucratically removed from the party in recent years.
Grassroots members must oppose this witch-hunt against the Labour left and defend those – such as Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker and Pete Willsman – who have been attacked and hounded by the Blairites. The manoeuvres against Williamson, Walker and Willsman are nothing more than a cowardly and bureaucratic attempt by the right wing to remove those seen as a threat.
Williamson has vowed to fight on. Left-wing Labour members and activists must support him in his struggle to be readmitted. A blow against Williamson is a blow against party democracy – and a blow to the Corbyn movement.
Already, Chris has had to spend thousands on legal fees. This has only been possible thanks to the £60,000 raised from supporters. But for the scores of other members who have been expelled or suspended, this is not an option.
Whilst stamping out any bigotry or bullying within our party, we must therefore fight for a fair and transparent process of dealing with any internal complaints.
And, above all, we must fight against the scurrilous lies of those right-wingers who are weaponising anti-semitism, cynically using this question as a stick with which to beat the Corbyn movement.
The Labour Party is undergoing a radical transformation. Hundreds of thousands of new members have entered the party under Corbyn’s leadership. The party is being changed at every level, as the left organises and takes back control from bottom-to-top. With a programme of bold left-wing demands, the possibility of a socialist Labour government lies within our grasp.
In order to realise this potential, however, we need to complete the revolution inside the party. This means further democratising the party, bringing in mandatory reselection, electing workers’ MPs on a worker’s wage, and putting rank-and-file members and labour movement activists in the driving seat.
Speaking about those MPs who fear reselection, Chris Williamson stated: “We have a world to win and they should get on board or do something else.”
Williamson is 100% correct. Echoing the famous words of Karl Marx: we have a world to win. But we also have no time to lose. We are rapidly heading for a general election. We urgently need to complete the transformation of the Labour Party into a mass movement of workers and youth – into a weapon wielded by the organised working class in the fight for socialist policies.
Photo of Margaret Hodge by Chris Boland / www.chrisboland.com