The Labour Party’s National Executive Committee has moved the deadline for MPs to nominate candidates for party leader from 27 May to 9 June. Candidates need the support of 33 MPs, 12.5 percent of the Parliamentary Labour Party, to get in the election; in 2007, left-winger John McDonnell got 29. The delay means McDonnell has at least a chance of getting on the ballot paper; we have two weeks left to fight.
The reason socialists and working-class activists should back John McDonnell is not just a question of his paper policies — though on cuts, the anti-union laws, privatisation, immigration, foreign policy, these are light years away from the neo-Blairite agenda offered by all the other candidates with the partial exception of Diane Abbott. It is a question of what he has used his position to do, and of the movement or movements he represents.
McDonnell has spent thirteen years in Parliament championing strikes and workers’ struggles, cuts battles and anti-deportation campaigns, using his position and voice to help workers and the oppressed organise. He does not just run union parliamentary groups, but is an ubiquitous presence on picket lines, at meetings and at demonstrations. Through the Labour Representation Committee which he chairs, he has made a contribution to uniting the left and helped build a movement for working-class representation, however weak and whatever its political limitations.
At times McDonnell has seemed like a one-man parliamentary opposition to New Labour. Without him on the ballot, there will be essentially no choice in the Labour leadership election — or very little choice, if Diane Abbot makes it through.
John McDonnell’s candidacy represents the possibility of building up a fighting left in the Labour Party and the unions. Everyone who believes in the need for class politics should use the next fortnight to work for McDonnell’s nomination.
“We aim for the socialist transformation of society”
By John McDonnell MP (taken from his speech at PCS conference on 19 May)
In 2007 I came to this conference and I received a very warm and kind reception. It was the day that I had to concede that I couldn’t get onto the ballot paper and what then happened was the coronation of Gordon Brown, the bizarre spectacle of one name on the ballot paper.
But it has moved on. There has been a democratic revolution within the Labour Party and it now looks like we may have one family on the ballot paper.
Ed Balls is going to announce his candidacy. What that means is the son of Blair versus the sons of Brown — and if that carries on and we don’t re-establish democracy in the Labour Party, then five years down the line we might have the son of the 2010 general election defeat.
I make my position clear, I have always supported the older Miliband. This is a statement he made a number of years ago: “The idea that trade unions have too much power is part of a distortion of reality; one whose purpose is to obscure the power of capital. A socialist government would acknowledge that trade unions are an essential means of redress for wage earners… a socialist government would seek to strengthen trade unions.” You can see why I supported Ralph Miliband…
If I couldn’t get on the ballot paper in 2007, it’s going to be extremely difficult this time around. Members were encouraged to come forward by the Labour Party hierarchy, asking for a lot of candidates representing a spectrum of views. We expected six to eight weeks of campaigning and then nominations would close; then a democratic election where members and others could have their say.
Oh, what hopes! The bureaucracy has re-established itself; the command-and-control Stalinists of New Labour have moved in and made this almost impossible to happen. Instead of an exciting, detailed debate where we could contest ideas within the whole community, not just the Labour Party, the hierarchy has effectively tainted the whole process from the beginning.
There will be no time for MPs to go back to their constituencies to consult the rank and file; or for CLPs to give advice on nominations. The process was stitched up from the start, and it is almost impossible for me to get on the ballot paper.
I am using this platform to call upon Labour Party members, trade unions and others and the wider community, including non-affiliated unions, to call out for democracy.
The New Labour bureaucrats might well be able to block my candidacy again. They may be able to keep me off the ballot paper. But what they can’t do is silence the views and the opinions and policies that we pursue. What they can’t silence is the ideas that PCS and others have campaigned with, and what they can’t block is the movement of resistance that is building up against the policies of all the leaders of all the political parties.
And you know what it is: the policy backed by Cameron and Clegg, Miliband and Balls is that this economic crisis that was caused by rapacious financiers with the collusion of government ministers over thirty years will be paid for, not by those who caused this crisis, but by me and you. And you know that you’re in the front line of that attack when they call for public sector workers to be sacked. It will be paid for in cuts in public services, in jobs in pensions in benefits and yes conditions of employment.
So if I’m blocked from the leadership campaign, from the debate about the future of the Labour Party, which will then be stifled, where do we go from here? What we do is we launch what you’ve launched at this conference this week — a campaign to explain the truth about who caused this crisis and how it will be resolved. I invite you to join in that campaign to explain that we have an alternative. That it doesn’t have to be like this. That there doesn’t have to be an assault on services. That we can build a resistance to this coalition of cuts that’s been built by this this nation’s leaders.
That’s a message that’s been debated this week: this crisis isn’t our fault and we’re not paying for it. If you want to cut the deficit, you do what the PCS advocated over the last year: bring in a fair tax system, tackling the tax evasion of anything between £90 and £150bn a year according to the Tax Justice Campaign; tackling the corporate sector and the wealthiest to pay their fair share and. You get back into planning our economy in the long term by public ownership of the finance sector and regulation.
We’ve got to control these banks and the market rather than being servants of the market.
We’re advocating is investment in our public services and an end to the scandal of the privatisations — all of it designed to cut the wages of our members, and to undercut the provision of our services, and to launder public money into private profits.
I’m the only one of the candidates so far advocating Labour Party policy to restore public ownership pf the railways, and bring back the public utilities into public ownership.
I support civil liberties, the scrapping of ID cards, the right to protest — I might need that right in the next few weeks. But I support another liberty — I support trade union rights.
Where is the mention of trade union rights in this agenda? I support that basic right of a person to be able to withdraw their labour and in solidarity with others as well. I support the right of trade unions to consult their own members in ballots that aren’t interfered with by employers, whether it’s the cabin crew in Unite or our own members down at the Royal Naval Museum, where ballots are overturned by court actions on the most technical of details.
But I also support social rights. I support the right to have a decent home over one’s head. That means we start building council housing and social housing once again. It’s a scandal that homelessness doubled under a Labour government.
I support the right to free education, and that means scrapping tuition fees and top up fees and all the other charges that have crept in.
And I support the right of people to live free from poverty, and that means decent pensions: restore the link to earning.
It means a living wage, not a minimum wage. It means child benefits that reflect the cost of bringing up the child.
I support the right of people to live in peace and that means no more Iraqs and Afghanistans. It means scrapping Trident and all the other nuclear weapons.
I want a criminal justice system, where many of you work, which is aimed at preventing crime and rehabilitating rather than just locking people up.
I went to the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting last week, and it was rather like a car crash. People climb out of the wreckage and realise they’re still alive. There was a euphoria that we were still alive.
Then there was a discussion about why we lost. We talked about the drop in votes because of the issue of immigration.
Let me say this clearly: I welcome people coming into this country. I stand proud of the United Kingdom and its role in offering asylum to those needing asylum and refugee status.
I am the grandson of an Irish migrant, and we contributed to the economy. We have built it, we have constructed it, we have populated its public services, we have made a contribution.
Where there are divisions, it is not because of migrants but because of a shortage of houses and of jobs, which is the result of a mismanaged economy.
We need to be explaining to people that within 50 years we will have open borders across the world. You cannot have a fortress Britain, you cannot have a fortress Europe and we should start preparing for that.
We must assist the developing world so that people aren’t forced out of their homes due to poverty. We must end the arms trade that drives people out of their houses in the developing world and forces people to come here for refugee status.
When Labour lost in 1931, R H Tawney published a paper trying to explain why they were defeated and why the coalition governementt went into power. He said that it wasn’t just about policies — a party needs a creed.
I suppose that’s what Gordon Brown was talking about when he talked about his “moral compass.” But I had difficulty finding that moral compass at times.
And what made it difficult to find was the voices of the children locked up in Yarls’ Wood.
What made it difficult was meeting the families of some of those half million Iraqis who died in the war. What made it difficult is the homeless families that come to my surgeries on a weekly basis and can’t be housed because we haven’t built the homes that they need. That’s the real reason New Labour lost — because I believe they lost the moral basis of the Labour Party, as it was founded and as it was campaigned for over generations by people who gave their lives to a cause they believed in.
That cause is the creation of a fair and just and peaceful and equal society. We used to sum it up in one word that is never used any more by New Labour — one word: socialism.
Whether I get on the ballot paper or not, the campaign will go on for those principles that we established the Labour and trade union movement on.
That’s what we aim for: the socialist transformation of society so that we can meet the needs of people, so that we can tackle issues like climate change, so that we can overcome poverty, so that we can create prosperity for all, not just for a few.