On the evening of Thursday 30 June, at about 6:40, I went over to leaflet the opening rally of the Socialist Workers' Party's Marxism 2016, with fliers for Ideas for Freedom: Changing Labour, Changing Politics.
This would be a pretty unremarkable thing, were it not for the following events: an example of the kind of unedifying farce for which the SWP has become famous.
As attendees filed into the Institute of Education, I saw one of the speakers, Moazzam Begg, approaching. Workers' Liberty supporters have commented elsewhere about why we find it perverse that Begg should be speaking at a rally against “racism, austerity and war” - suffice it to say, we disagree with Begg seriously, on a number of scores.
I walked over to Begg and introduced myself, shaking his hand. “Mr Begg,” I said, “I am from a socialist group called Workers' Liberty; we have some serious political disagreements with you - we would like to invite you to have a public debate with us”.
Begg took this perfectly civilly - but no sooner were these words out of my mouth than a watching SWP activist swung into action.
“How DARE you?” she yelled, storming over, “After all Moazzam has been through, how dare you be so disrespectful?” Turning to Moazzam, she continued: “Moazzam, I beg you: do not talk to this man! He is a sectarian and means you no good! Salaam!”
Begg looked a little blank during this short speech, before saying to me, slightly peevishly, “What would we debate?”
I offered, “secularism in politics”.
He responded, “Torture. I'll debate you on torture. That's what I'm about” (for the record: we're up for that). With that, he entered the IoE, to speak on the panel.
The SWP activist continued her noisy tirade about what outrageous 'disrespect' I had shown by telling Begg that we had disagreements with him - until another woman (an organiser on the SWP payroll) told her to stop shouting (in diplomatic tones, she said, “It would be better if we were not shouting at each other”). I continued leafleting, and when the meeting began and the last ticketholders hurried inside, peace descended once more on Bloomsbury.
And that would have been that: only the following day, I received a text: a comrade had been told by an SWPer that a report was circulating that I had assaulted Moazzam Begg! Moreover, this report was accompanied by a threat: that if the SWP activist who sprang to Begg's 'defence' on Thursday saw me again, her intention was to headbutt me.
I am committing this sorry tale to paper by way of insurance: it seems that either as a matter of deliberate policy, or as a side-effect of a culture of shrill sectarianism and disrespect for the truth, the SWP is putting about the story that a Workers' Liberty supporter assaulted Moazzam Begg. I'm putting on record that this is not the case - and that this manufactured 'scandal' reminds me of the method of Blairites who try to discredit Corbyn with fairy-stories about him 'lunging' at reporters, and so on. This story of me 'assaulting' Begg is untrue: but I think it tells us something about the culture of the SWP which is true.
And if I'm found headbutted to death: you'll all know what happened.
Ed, 4 July 2016