Recent events have demonstrated that the Labour leadership has no genuine concern about tackling racism – in the party or in society. The left must expose this hypocrisy, and organise members to take the fight to the right.
It is now over six weeks since the decision by Keir Starmer to suspend Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party; and almost four weeks since the incendiary move by the Labour leader not to restore the whip for his predecessor. Yet the official grounds for Corbyn’s suspension still remain a mystery.
Nominally, it is Corbyn’s response to the EHRC report that has sparked this explosive chain of events. In a statement released on Facebook in the wake of the report’s release, the former Labour leader asserted that:
“One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”
On this, Jeremy Corbyn is 100% correct. The Labour right wing – and the whole of the establishment – had hyperbolically asserted that the party was ‘institutionally antisemitic’. But even with its own shortcomings as a supposedly ‘independent’ equalities watchdog, the EHRC and its investigators did not agree.
Where cases of ‘political interference’ in the disciplinary process were identified, it was mostly a case of the leader’s office seeking to resolve the situation more speedily. But the leaked report showed that oppositional party bureaucrats actively sought to sabotage such attempts, in order to undermine Corbyn and his supporters.
Yet why let the facts get in the way of a good story? Rather, the EHRC report and its real contents were actively ignored by the right wing, who instead stuck to their pre-prepared script: to condemn Corbyn and call for his suspension.
Subsequently, the party’s machinery has gone into overdrive, using this incident as a pretext to purge the left. Even Franz Kafka would struggle to write a story so surreal and farcical as that which has taken place in recent weeks.
David Evans, the Labour general secretary, has sent out a string of edicts banning the discussion of these events within the party’s democratic structures. First members were forbidden from mentioning Corbyn and his suspension. Then it was announced that solidarity motions for those punished for defying this order were also verboten.
The list of outlawed topics has continued to grow by the day. Grassroots members now cannot even discuss the fact that democratic discussion has been severely curtailed. Amazingly, Evans has even decreed that motions of no confidence in himself are also out of order!
The right-wing leadership continues to claim that these draconian measures are necessary in order to ensure that Jewish members feel safe within the party. Deputy leader Angela Rayner even assured a conference of the Jewish Labour Movement that she is prepared to “suspend thousands and thousands of members” if necessary in order to achieve this supposed aim.
But rank-and-file members can see through such insincere posturing and cant. After all, amongst those now suspended for speaking out against Starmer is none other than Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a Jewish socialist in Chingford and Woodford Green CLP, and a prominent member of Jewish Voice for Labour.
In short, these attacks on Corbyn and on party democracy have nothing to do with fighting antisemitism, and everything to do with fighting the left.
BREAKING: Jewish Socialist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi has been suspended from the Labour Party pic.twitter.com/7jxlhPIgTC
— Double Down News (@DoubleDownNews) December 3, 2020
Recent events have only underlined Starmer’s hypocrisy on the question of tackling racism.
For starters, the Labour leader has kept his distance from the Black Lives Matter movement (or “moment”, in his words), condemning the actions of protestors who have torn down slave trade statues, and refusing to support protestors threatened with state punishment.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, Starmer incensed Muslim Labour members with news reports that he had approached Blairite businessmen and renowned Islamophobe David Abrahams for a sizeable donation to the party.
All manner of racist tweets by Abrahams have been exposed. Yet the Labour leadership’s response has been muted, with officials simply denying that the property developer has renewed his financial support for the party.
Under pressure from below, an internal ‘investigation’ has since been promised. But ordinary members will have little faith in such inquiries, given the lack of justice seen in relation to the crimes committed by those identified in the leaked report – crimes that also included racist abuse against black Labour MPs.
To top all of this off, ‘Sir’ Starmer caused further outrage yesterday when – during an appearance on LBC radio – he refused to challenge white supremacist rants and racist conspiracy theories peddled by a caller.
There needs to be a full explanation and apology from Labour’s leadership about this diabolical failure to challenge full-blown white supremacism on national radio.
(Watch this 1:10 in, I nearly clawed my eyes out) pic.twitter.com/kUoCpgAOWP
— Owen Jones ? (@OwenJones84) December 14, 2020
Left-wing Labour MPs promptly gave voice to the indignation felt by grassroots members and ordinary voters towards Starmer’s nonchalant and apathetic response to this racist rhetoric.
“When white supremacist conspiracy theories and racist undemocratic laws are promoted on national radio,” said Zarah Sultana, the MP for Coventry South, “they must be called out and vigorously challenged.”
Recognising the furore, the Labour Party last night released an official statement clarifying that Starmer “completely rejects the racist conspiracy theory that this caller espoused”. But many are rightly asking: why did the Labour leader not challenge this blatant racism whilst on air with the same vigour that he has displayed in punishing and gagging his own members?
The evidence is clear: Starmer’s supposed determination in fighting racism is nothing but a thinly-veiled excuse for carrying out a witch-hunt and political attack against the Labour left.
Instead of taking on racists, the Labour leader has pandered to them – jettisoning class-based demands in favour of flag-waving nationalism and pledges to put ‘Britain first’.
All of this is designed to reassure the establishment that Labour is under ‘new management’; that the party is once again a ‘safe pair of hands’ for big business.
This is the reason that Starmer has approached Abrahams and other capitalists about making donations to the party. His goal is to remove the reliance on trade union funding, and thus to eventually achieve what even Blair failed to do: to sever the links between the Labour Party and the unions.
Trade unionists and left-wingers should not aid Starmer and the right wing in this aim. Rather than making toothless financial threats, leaders of affiliated trade unions – such as Unite general secretary Len McCluskey – should be mobilising activists to take the fight to the right.
And whilst members are understandably disgusted by the rapid rightward turn being undertaken by the new Labour leadership, the solution does not lie in ripping up party cards, but in organising to take on the right wing politically.
This means retaining and taking control of CLPs, defying Starmer and Evans by passing votes of no confidence, and pushing for mandatory reselection in order to drive right-wingers out of the PLP.
Instead of suing for peace and calling for ‘unity’, the left leaders must get off their knees and provide a call to arms. Rather than compromises and appeasement, we need a bold challenge to the current rotten right-wing leadership.
This is a war between antagonistic class interests: between a left-wing mass membership that yearns for socialist policies; and a gang of Tory infiltrators who want to turn Labour into a reliable reserve team for the capitalist class.
We must fight this battle to finish. Only by transforming Labour into a real socialist party can we genuinely struggle against racism – and against the right-wing politicians and media who whip up bigotry and xenophobia in order to divide the working class for the benefit of the bosses.