Labour’s right is trying to stage a coup. If the Corbyn leadership and the unions stand firm, and force the right wing to put up a candidate against Corbyn in a new leadership contest which Corbyn wins, this attempted coup could turn into a rout. The way will be open for the unions to get through Labour Party conference democratic reforms which they have already put in draft form, and for the Labour Party really to be revived as a living movement, close to the unions, and with the right wing discredited.
But if it goes the other way — if the unions swing over to back a rotten “compromise”, or if Corbyn buckles — then the right wing be in pole position to shut down all the channels reopened in the last year. They won’t be able to do it all at once, but they will be well-placed to destroy today’s possibilities of creating a real working class alternative in British politics. With their staged series of shadow cabinet resignations, Labour’s right have seized the chance of the dismay and disarray caused by the Brexit vote to try to reverse the Labour revival generated by the 2015 leadership contest and Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory.
They have staged a stand-off, an open split in the Labour Party. They did not make the straightforward move to a leadership contest just by getting 50 MPs to nominate a rival candidate. If they’d done that then, according to their legal advice, Jeremy Corbyn had to be on the ballot paper in the leadership election, and likely to win. They wanted to force Corbyn to resign, confident that if he does then they could deny any left-wing candidate the MP nominations necessary to get on the ballot paper, and so deny the members a choice.
As we go to press, the coup-plotters have staged a vote of no confidence among Labour MPs 172 to 40 (with 17 abstainers or spoiled ballots). It looks as if they will now nominate a candidate, or candidates, to oppose Corbyn in a new leadership election. They may still try some legal trick to get Corbyn off the ballot paper.
Some of the coup-plotters talk about the desirability of Labour wining the next General Election. But that is clearly low in their priorities. Otherwise they wouldn’t be splitting the party now. Otherwise they would shelve for now their criticisms of Corbyn and focus on unity against the shocked, dislocated, and divided Tories. At the very least, they’d do a leadership challenge later, and by the normal process of collecting nominations. Some of them talk about unity. Some of them claim they have no difference with Corbyn’s politics, and praise his kind and friendly manner. They so value unity... that they make a split! When they claim to have no serious political grounds! Some of them say Corbyn has been weak. Sometimes he has — but only because he allowed anxiety to conciliate them and has therefore muted his message against the Tories.
The role in the script for those soft-soap types is to serve as cover for someone with a vaguely soft-left profile to emerge as front-person (while the hard right-wingers pull the levers in the background), and to try to persuade the members and the unions to support them as promising both unity and not-too-wrenching a reversal of Labour’s course. To be for 2016 what Neil Kinnock was for 1983. Some of them talk about Jeremy Corbyn being poor in the Remain campaign. That criticism is much more aptly applied to them.
What about the Labour figures who joined platforms with the Tories, copying Labour’s wretched policy in the Scottish separation referendum? What about Tom Watson and Ed Balls, who gave Leave a last-minute boost by saying that Labour should limit EU migration?
What about the Labour right-wingers from whom we heard nothing at all? What about Corbyn-baiter Gloria de Piero, whose safe-Labour constituency returned a 70% Leave vote? Or Stephen Kinnock, another Corbyn-baiter, who got a 57% Leave vote in his ultra-safe Labour area? Or Labour right-winger Alan Johnson, appointed to lead the Labour Remain campaign. Did you ever hear from him? His Hull area voted 68% Leave.
They wail and scream about one-third of Labour voters backing Leave. That is bad, but not surprising: one-third of Lib Dem voters, and one-third of SNP voters, also went for Leave. Especially not surprising when for many older Labour voters, anti-EUism has been a major and sometimes dominant thread in Labour politics for the last half-century; when the 2015 Labour election campaign organisers, backed by most of the anti-Corbyn plotters but not by Corbyn, produced a “campaign mug” inscribed “Control Immigration”; when most pro-EU Labour politics has had, for twenty years, the neoliberal face of Blair and Brown, blandly praising “modernisation” and ignoring the havoc caused by free-ranging global capital in many working-class communities.
The coup-plotters want to return to the same soft-Tory politics and undemocratic organisation which have gutted and enfeebled Labour’s base for decades now, and block the possibilities of a renewal. Anti-Corbyn Labour MP Yvette Cooper talks about “broader arrangements to build a wider consensus” with the Tories in the management of Brexit. Corbyn’s own response to the 23 June decision has been weak — he should be more vigorous, from our angle, in defending freedom of movement and European ties, than the Tories now pressing the “Norway option” are from theirs — but these people want to be even weaker. Stay strong! Stand firm! Labour members and trade unionists must rally in defence of our movement’s democracy.
Unite the left to fight back!
Workers’ Liberty activists are seeking discussions with other left “Remain” campaigners on collaboration now to campaign for:
• Defence of migrant rights
• Defence of workers’ rights
• Workers’ unity between workers of all origins and across the new borders
• Tax the rich, expropriate the banks, give socialist answers to the social ills on which the Eurosceptics have fed.
We deny that the referendum, in which 16-17 year olds could not vote, in which the alternatives were not clear (the Brexit leaders visibly didn’t expect to win, maybe didn’t even want to win, and are evasive about what they plan), creates any democratic obligation for Labour to abandon defence of freedom of movement or to support any particular Tory scheme for Brexit. Labour should fight to minimise barriers are put up between Britain and Europe. In pursuit of these demands and in campaigning for a workers’ government, we’ll be calling for the Labour Party to discuss and adopt demands like the above and to begin an energetic campaign for them along with unions in areas of identified high working class disaffection with the EU. Which means, in the first place, that we must see off the Labour right’s anti-Corbyn plotters, who are scapegoating Corbyn for discontent among Labour voters which is really the product of decades of arrogant right-wing Labour politics.
In Labour, Momentum, and the unions we’re arguing for:
• No accommodation to the push against migrant rights; defend and extend freedom of movement; organise migrant workers.
• Labour and the labour movement must begin loudly to advocate and actually campaign for basic policies to address nationalism-feeding social distress: ban zero-hours contracts, raise the minimum wage, strengthen union rights, create secure jobs in the public sector, build council houses, restore benefits, rebuild the NHS.
We’re reaching out to the many left-minded people who are shocked by the 23 June result and wan to discuss how to fight back. We’ll be encouraging them to join the Labour Party and Momentum and be active with us, and organising public meetings on such themes as “Brake the Brexit surge, fight for workers’ unity”. That’s the best way to turn the widespread dismay among left-minded people into positive action rather than demoralisation and dispersal. We are alarmed about the implications of the Brexit vote, not only for remilitarisation of the Northern Ireland border with the rest of Ireland, but for a possible new Scottish-English border. That might become an EU-English border, requiring strict and comprehensive border checks, and physical barriers along its whole length.