The contest to replace Labour’s general secretary will open up a battle at the top of the party. The recent leaked report has shattered any idea of ‘unity’. The left must fight for party democracy and socialism.
Labour’s left-wing general secretary, Jennie Formby, announced today that she is stepping down. Her resignation will come as little surprise to members. The move has been on the cards ever since Keir Starmer secured his victory in the Labour leadership contest exactly a month ago.
Indeed, even before this, the establishment was calling for a purge of Corbynistas from all levels of the Labour Party. The Murdoch press, for example, was demanding a “scorched earth” strategy, in order to remove all remnants of Corbyn’s legacy.
‘Sir’ Starmer wasted no time in beginning his purge. Within days of becoming leader, he had removed almost all the left-wingers in the shadow cabinet, replacing them with an assortment of unrecognisable nobodies and Blairite headbangers.
As a sop, a few lefts, such as Rebecca Long-Bailey, were given tokenistic positions. But overall, the shift is unmistakable. The balance is now firmly to the right.
The intentions are clear. Promises of ‘unity’ and an ‘end to factionalism’ have been quickly jettisoned. The right wing is set on regaining control. The party, they hope, is once again to be run by the ‘adults’.
The establishment believes that they can now breathe a sigh of relief. Labour is back in a ‘safe pair of hands’. Big business finally has their reliable Second XI to call upon.
To underline the point, liberal commentators gushed with praise for the ‘return of a credible opposition’ following Starmer’s supposedly ‘forensic’ (read: uninspiring) debut performance at PMQs.
But this is not the end of the story. The Blairites have not won a decisive victory. Rather, Formby’s resignation represents the opening of a new chapter in Labour’s civil war. And the outcome will be determined by a battle of living forces.
After the shadow cabinet, the party’s apparatus was always going to be next in line. But then the bombshell of the Labour leaked report exploded onto the scene.
In its 850-plus pages, this incendiary document listed a litany of crimes by the right-wing bureaucracy that had run Labour HQ under the previous general secretary, Iain McNicol. The scandalous contents is now well known to grassroots members, who are rightly still fuming at the revelations of sabotage, racism, and bullying undertaken by paid party staffers.
Amongst those implicated in the report were the very apparatchiks lining up to replace Formby and co. at Labour’s Southside offices. This included Emilie Oldknow, formerly the head of Labour’s governance team, and currently assistant general secretary at Unison, who was widely tipped to be Starmer’s preferred choice for general secretary.
The nefarious links between the party machinery and right-wing unions, such as Unison and GMB, were clearly revealed by the leaked report (if they weren’t already apparent). Rather than acknowledging any wrongdoing, for example, the GMB’s branch representing Labour staff passed a motion of no confidence in Formby for creating a “hostile environment”. In other words, the bully was accusing their victims of bullying!
Similarly, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis quickly moved to assure high-up officials such as Oldknow that they would be protected, despite calls from over 1000 Unison members for action against those named in the leaks.
And any remaining credibility that this bureaucracy held soon evaporated last week with the shock news that GMB general secretary Tim Roache was standing down, due to accusations of sexual assault and cover-up.
Struggle for control
This string of exposés have therefore scuppered the Labour right wing’s plans. How now – with the right-wing bureaucrats discredited and rank-and-file members enraged – can there be any smooth changing of the guard?
Indeed, the timing of such events seems almost too good to be mere coincidence. The incriminating correspondence contained in the ‘dodgy dossier’, for example, was no doubt known about for some time. Whoever is responsible for putting it into the public domain was clearly just waiting for the most opportune moment to do so. Ditto with the allegations against Roache.
One can easily imagine that knowledge of such crimes was being held back on purpose, to be used like a boobytrap, bringing down the whole bunker if the enemy ever recaptured the fortress.
Whether by accident or by design, these recent revelations have damaged the right wing’s hopes of replacing Formby with another Unison or GMB-backed bureaucrat. Whatever the aim, therefore, the result will be a renewed struggle for control at the top of the party.
Under current Labour rules, after all, it is the NEC that gets to choose the party’s general secretary. But the balance between the left and right has shifted as a result of Starmer’s leadership and recent NEC elections.
Like mafiosa gangs ‘hitting’ each other’s members, therefore, the big unions – such as Unite, Unison, and GMB – are now battling it out in the open to be the Labour Party’s kingpins and kingmakers.
But this raises important questions over party and union democracy. Why is the general secretary appointed in the first place? And who gets to decide who represents affiliated unions on Labour’s ruling body?
Labour and trade union members must therefore use this opportunity to demand that Formby’s replacement be elected, so that the party’s apparatus can begin to be brought under the control of the membership. And union activists must demand that their NEC reps, similarly, be elected and accountable to rank-and-file members.
‘Independent’ or establishment?
If the leaked Labour report has taught us anything, it is that grassroots members must trust only in themselves.
This has become even more apparent with the announcement of the so-called ‘independent’ panel that has been appointed to conduct the investigations into the report. As ever, ‘independent’ is just a synonym for ‘establishment’, with three peers and a QC given the task of carrying out the review.
Amongst these is Baroness Debbie Wilcox, a former leader of Newport City Council, who publicly declared her support for Starmer earlier this year. And also Lord Larry Whitty, a former Labour general secretary under Neil Kinnock, responsible for the 1980s witch-hunt against socialists in the party. How ‘independent’!
Elsewhere, the Jewish Board of Deputies (BoD) have emphasised in recent days what is really meant by such ‘independence’.
Continuing their offensive against the Corbyn movement, the BoD have demanded that left-wing Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Bell Ribero-Addy be suspended for speaking at an online meeting attended by members caught up in the anti-Semitism witch-hunt.
“This breaches the Board of Deputies’ 10 pledges that Keir and the other Labour leadership contenders signed up to,” asserted BoD president Marie van der Zyl, as she demanded “swift and decisive action” from Starmer.
But who on earth are these people to demand anything of the Labour Party? Labour – and its structures – must belong to its members, not any outside establishment influences, whether it be religious leaders, Tory infiltrators, or City bankers.
Drain the cesspit
However all these recent revelations have come to light, the point is that the lid has now been firmly lifted on the stinking cesspit that is the bureaucracy of the labour movement.
Labour and trade union members must use these scandalous revelations to wage a forceful campaign for party and union democracy. This means fighting for demands such as:
- The election of all union officials and NEC representatives, with the right to recall so that they are accountable to members.
- The election of the Labour general secretary position, with rank-and-file members and union affiliates able to choose the party’s chief based on their political programme, and then hold them to account.
- For all party and union officials to only take the wage of an average skilled worker, in order to rid our movement of careerism.
But we must go further. The leaked report has shown that it was not just a cabal of party bureaucrats who were sabotaging our chances of electing a left Labour government. These traitors were also working hand-in-glove with right-wingers in the PLP, who equally preferred to see a Tory victory than put Corbyn in Number 10.
This emphasises the urgent need for open selection (mandatory reselection), in order to sweep away these renegades, and replace them instead with real class fighters. For this same reason, Labour MPs and councillors too must only be on an average workers’ wage, to cleanse the party of careerists.
Organise and fight
Ordinary party members are right to have low expectations when it comes to seeing justice from the official investigation into the leaked report. After all, it is clear that Starmer and his clique of grandees are more concerned with protecting their own and identifying whistleblowers than punishing saboteurs.
What is needed, instead, is a campaign for genuine justice – for the expulsion of all those found guilty by this damning document. There can be no more turning of the cheek when it comes to these gangsters.
This requires bold leadership. The Socialist Campaign Group of MPs – and its secretary Richard Burgon – should loudly denounce the Blairites and bureaucrats; spearhead efforts for justice and party democracy; and organise the Labour left around clear socialist policies.
The battle for the life and soul of the Labour Party is far from over. Events will transform and re-transform Labour. In the process, a militant left wing will emerge, hardened by the bitter lessons of these experiences.
Britain is entering into a maelstrom of crises. Capitalism is at an impasse. The need for a socialist Labour Party has never been more evident. We must get organised and fight for it. Join us in this task.