Grassroots Labour members should be able to hold their representatives to account. But Labour right-wingers have vehemently opposed this basic democratic principle.
Incredibly, in a recent debate in Parliament about the Holocaust, Tom Watson launched an attack on Liverpool Wavertree CLP for their supposed “bullying hatred” of local MP, Luciana Berger. Watson followed this with a demand that the CLP be suspended.
Watson’s remarks were part of a barrage of attacks launched against the local Labour Party for the ‘crime’ of accepting properly constituted motions of no confidence in the MP and organising a special meeting to discuss these.
The CLP executive even went out of its way to ensure that Berger could attend this meeting, as the originally scheduled date was for 14th February, when there was a three-line whip for Labour MPs in Parliament. But why let such facts get in the way of a good story?
The CLP had not publicly announced this meeting or the motions to be debated, but had sent out the customary notice for the meeting to members only. Within hours all the information had been leaked to the press. Ridiculously, the CLP was then attacked for bringing the party into disrepute – even though it had not contacted the media!
The executive of the CLP has since issued a public statement, saying that: “We strongly reject the media inaccuracies and accusations of political bullying for simply adhering to party rules and doing our jobs.”
This is the crux of the matter: Watson was demanding that the local party be suspended simply for facilitating the right of members to hold their MP to account – that is, for following the most elementary principles of democracy.
Watson’s demand was later rebuked by Jennie Formby, the general secretary of the Labour Party, who clarified that “there was no constitutional basis on which to suspend the CLP”. Ian Lavery, the chair of the Labour Party, also warned against subjecting local parties to “trial by social media”.
Another honourable exception to this latest right-wing barrage was John McDonnell, the Labour shadow chancellor. McDonnell pointed out that the motions of no confidence against Luciana Berger had nothing to do with anti-semitism.
Indeed, these motions had been sparked by concerns regarding Berger’s failure to deny widely reported claims that she was involved in a planned breakaway of Blairites from the Labour Party. On ITV’s Peston programme, Berger was asked three times about the breakaway. She neither confirmed nor denied any intention to split.
.@lucianaberger refuses to rule out joining a new Party saying there’s a disaffection with the lack of leadership #Peston pic.twitter.com/kOA4ZOnqTr
— Peston (@itvpeston) February 6, 2019
McDonnell was then attacked for “Stalinism” for suggesting that Berger should put the rumours to bed and declare her loyalty to the Labour Party. This is not an unreasonable demand for someone elected as a Labour MP. But it is telling that even this comment – intended to try and heal the rift – was attacked by the establishment media.
Whilst the attacks continued from the PLP and the press, support rushed in from hundreds of party members, using the hashtag #IstandWithWavertree. Clearly the Wavertree case has found an echo amongst grassroots Labour members across the country, many of whom will be similarly sickened by the behaviour of their right-wing Labour MPs. This is why we need mandatory reselection.