Instead of accommodating the right, we should organise the left It makes a change to have a Labour leadership that attacks the Tories rather than concedes to them. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have succeeded in knocking the Tories off their perch several times recently.
Their counterattack against the Budget resulted in George Osborne’s humiliating U-turn over the cut to Personal Independent Payments, which would have cut disabled claimants’ income by thousands of pounds.
When the steel crisis broke, Jeremy caught David Cameron and Sajid Javid on the hop. Both were holidaying abroad at the time. His demand for Parliament to be recalled and for nationalisation to be considered went down well in Port Talbot and across Britain.
Likewise Jeremy’s suspicions over David Cameron’s father’s offshore fund proved to be spot on: the Camerons had indeed benefited from a tax avoidance scheme, and quite knowingly. The prime minister’s wriggling and squirming only made the catch more enjoyable: and, an important point this, memorable.
Of course this will not stop Guardianistas and the Labour right from sniping at McDonnell and Corbyn and predicting electoral disaster on 5 May.
But some of Corbyn’s informal advisers, in particular journalists Paul Mason and Owen Jones, have used their access to the media to argue for what Mason admits is a “compromise with one’s own principles”, to be struck with what they call the “centre” of the Party. This will, they are clear, involve a retreat from important commitments that Jeremy made last summer.
Mason says the “centre” must be given control over certain policy areas around the idea of a “redesigned welfare state”. Using a key phrase of the Labour right, he says that here “hard choices” must be made. Pointing out that many Tory welfare “reforms” including means tests, fitness tests and coercive interviews were pioneered under New Labour, he calls Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit plan a “good idea”, just underfunded.
To hand over this area to those who wanted to abstain on the Tories’ Welfare Bill is to concede one of the key issues that triggered Corbyn’s meteoric rise within the Party.
Mason adds that Labour should vote to keep Trident, but concentrate the deployment of conventional forces away from the Middle East, to meet the threat of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Owen Jones too believes Labour should concentrate on domestic issues rather than Trident. But leaving aside the fact that frying the working class in a nuclear holocaust is a very domestic issue, have these journalists not noticed the mounting war psychosis? Indeed, by touting Putin as the main danger and suggesting how “our” defence forces can best be deployed to meet it, Mason is signing up for the patriots’ camp. Jeremy should not follow him there.
Mason then concludes that if Jeremy adopted such policies he would have to “face down resistance to that from some in the Momentum group”.
There he is dead right, at least insofar as concerns those who supported Corbyn because of his policies, rather than those who believe those policies are disposable in order to protect him from the right.
In our view, uncritical support is the worst sort of “support” and can only benefit the right, who are doing all they can to make Labour’s new leader their prisoner.
There have already been some bad calls. Keeping a low profile so far in the junior doctors’ dispute is one. Jeremy could have used his presence on the picket line to strengthen the strike and call on Labour-affiliated unions for solidarity action.
Another was conceding to Labour councillors making cuts by publishing an open letter calling on Labour councils to pass balanced budgets. This put local Labour parties on a collision course with those sections of the working class fighting cuts, like the Lambeth Libraries workers in south London. A statement condemning this cultural vandalism would win Labour Mayoral and Greater London Assembly votes, not lose them.
The quid pro quo in the open letter was that Labour parties and councils should launch a huge campaign, with real roots in the community, against the Tory cuts, laying the ground for no cuts platforms in the future. Launching this campaign is now long overdue: let’s be seeing it.
Before the Budget, John McDonnell unwisely promised his own fiscal rule, trying to convince journalists and business leaders that Labour would always balance the books. At least he insisted this would not lead to a return to “austerity-lite”, because he would “grow the economy”.
But when John Humphrys asked him three times on Radio 4 what would he do if the economy didn’t grow, McDonnell had to evade the question. A simple answer would have been to slap a solidarity tax on the banks, the corporate giants and super rich.
On Tata, John did call for nationalisation, more than we have heard from a Labour Shadow Chancellor for a long time. But his rider that it would only be done if a buyer cannot be found, and that it should be “temporary” is an unnecessary concession to the right.
This policy could become a re-run of Gordon Brown’s bailing out of the banks with taxpayers’ money, only to sell them off, cut price, back to the private capitalist sector. This has rightly been described as “socialising losses and privatising profits”.
Not to be forgotten either is a number of expulsions of socialists from Labour, overseen and orchestrated by the unconstitutional “Compliance Unit”, with victims not being informed of the charges or evidence against them, not being invited to give their defence, not being told when their hearings will take place or who will make the decision. Neither Jeremy nor John have yet spoken out against these expulsions. Nor have they called for their victims’ readmission. The Compliance Unit should be dissolved forthwith.
Undoubtedly these concessions are due to pressure from the right wing of the party, from the media and ultimately from our class enemies.
What we need to counter this is a strong and critical left wing inside and outside the Party, pushing back against those who want to triangulate with a “centre left” that looks suspiciously like the centre right. For every right-winger denouncing Corbyn and his policies, we can put thousands on the streets supporting his policy commitments.
But where is this movement? Momentum is supposed to be it. And locally, its meetings are lively, well attended and beginning to win policies and positions inside the local Labour parties.
But nationally Momentum is quiet. There are rules aplenty: rules about who should or should not be allowed to serve on Momentum committees, rules about conduct in meetings, rules about what can be said on social media.
But there is not yet even a Momentum slate of candidates for Labour’s National Executive Committee elections, leaving the field open for the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance to propose the only option against the right.
What is needed is a national Momentum conference to democratically thrash out an action plan to build a movement to kick out the Tories, to win Labour to socialist policies and to transform the Labour Party into a socialist alternative.
With the Tories in total disarray, there is no reason to hold back on our support for all those fighting back, even if they are forced to fight cuts-making Labour councils. Nor is there any need to make unprincipled compromises and hand over areas like welfare and defence from those who doubled Labour’s membership to those who halved it.
Our message for the coming period should be:
- Attack on all fronts, kick out the Tories
- No backsliding from Jeremy’s election manifesto promises, win Labour to socialist policies
- Stop the witch-hunt of left-wingers, reinstate the expelled
- Fight the right for all party positions, especially conference delegates
- Call a sovereign national conference of Momentum