Our aims RED FLAG strongly supports Jeremy Corbyn against the MPs who are daily undermining him in the Tory and liberal media and will seek to oust him the moment they think they can get away with it. Blair, Brown and Miliband halved the membership during their years in leadership, lost two general elections and decimated the Party in its historic stronghold north of the border. We want no return to those days.
We support policies put forward in Jeremy’s election campaign:
- Transforming Labour into an actively anti-austerity party
- Welcoming back militant socialists who left the party due to witch-hunts and its right wing policies
- Attracting new members from the union and direct action struggles of the years since the Great Recession hit
- Restoring democracy to the constituencies, the power of policy-making to the Labour conference, and party control over its MPs
- Fighting for Labour Councils and a Labour government that will pursue socialist policies, sustaining and restoring the NHS, council housing, a national education service: make the capitalist class and the rich pay
- Fighting racism, sexism and NATO war mongering
We support too the building a mass movement supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Left within the Labour Party and promoting the above struggles.
But our support cannot be uncritical, especially when, as we see it, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have made a number of tactical mistakes and retreats on policy which weaken or undermine key parts of his election manifesto.
Controlling elected representatives
Firstly there is the blow to the struggle against austerity contained in the letter, signed by Jeremy, John and Jon Trickett, stating that, “the situation councils are now in is if they don’t set a budget, a council officer will do it for them. There is no choice for them anymore”. In short, they must set legal, i.e. austerity budgets.
We deal with this in details on pages 8 and 9, but suffice it to say, on this, rank and file Corbyn supporters should not follow their leader’s advice.
Jeremy has likewise made a major concession to the parliamentary party (PLP) majority. He has assured them that they can keep their seats, secure from a challenge by forces loyal to him. He has done this by rejecting “mandatory re-selection”, i.e. the right of ordinary members in their constituencies to democratically select their parliamentary candidates from a list of runners open to all, just like they can currently select candidates for council elections.
At present sitting MPs are protected against a challenge by a so-called trigger ballot, a secret ballot on a YES/NO basis as to whether to re-select the sitting MP. Only if the MP loses this ballot would an open contest be allowed. Whilst it seems that 10 per cent of Labour MPs will have to face selection due to the creation of new constituencies, including anti-Corbyn champions Hilary Benn, Chuka Umunna, and Alison McGovern, chair of Progress, this will not be enough to bring the PLP into line with the democratic will of the membership, willing to speak and vote for its policies.
Jeremy’s compromises with the right should be seen in the context of the facts that the PLP is overwhelmingly opposed to his key policies and that Labour Councils have been making cuts for years. Another factor is that the top union leaders are far from reliable supporters, as was seen over Trident. But any tactical advantage in making concessions to them is more than outweighed by the confusion it spreads in the ranks of Labour’s 388,000 members. Secondly it invests his enemies in key positions, ready to strike at him the moment the left tide begins to abate or shows signs of demoralisation.
Jeremy appointed a majority of right and centre-right people to the shadow cabinet who immediately began to brief against him. This culminated in Hilary Benn’s “brilliant” Commons speech, delivered to wild Tory cheers, advocating the bombing of Syria. He did so as Labour’s spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, even though he openly opposed the line of his leader, September’s conference resolution, the mass membership, most Labour MPs and most of the shadow cabinet.
The New Year shadow cabinet reshuffle resulted in Benn holding on to his post, subject to “an end to public dissent” – a promise he immediately reneged on in a lengthy interview on Channel 4 where he repeated the necessity of Britain bombing Syria. Will Corbyn punish him for his broken promise? It seems not. Yet Benn is the chosen champion of the Labour right and the Tory and liberal media – the man they have chosen to replace him at the earliest opportunity.
The Labour right, who dominate the candidates for May’s local council elections, will, if Labour performs badly, blame this on Corbyn. They could then use this as another excuse to launch a coup. Scottish Labour remains dominated by the centre-right and this makes it unlikely that Labour will regain mass support from the SNP electorate. Additionally, the SNP in Westminster is able to pose to the left of Labour even though in Scotland it is carrying out austerity.
Despite these self-inflicted setbacks, the forces wanting to go forward in the Labour Party and the unions far outnumber the numbers of the right, despite their control of the elected representatives and the Party apparatus.
Hundreds of thousands of people have turned towards Labour, attracted by Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme. We must engage them to the full in the struggle between the supporters of Corbyn and the majority of the PLP, Councillors and bureaucrats inside the party. Integral to this is the struggle to weaken and remove the other major obstacles to the struggle against the Tories: the bureaucracy within the trade unions.
The months leading up to the next Labour Party Conference are critical. We need to get through the constituencies and the affiliated unions new policies on party democracy, on local government resistance to austerity, on Trident and NATO warmongering and on a new socialist manifesto for a Labour government.