Guest Blog – The Labour left’s challenge
January 29, 2021
We cannot let the right drive the socialists out of Labour with a campaign of suspensions and expulsions— the left needs to get organised and fight for its own reform agenda at the next party conference instead, writes STUART HILL
A hundred years ago Lenin described the Labour Party as “opportunist and social-chauvinist.” Since then, on only a few occasions, the top leadership has come from the left. However, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the party bureaucracy have always remained decisively right wing and treacherous.
Today the right has declared the end of the “broad church” concept where the left were recognised as junior partners. We were previously allowed to press for progressive improvements, on the margins, while doing most of the grassroots election work.
The current campaign of suspensions and expulsions is intended to “cleanse” the membership of its progressive majority. The objective is to demoralise the socialists so that they see no future in remaining.
Losing 200,000-300,000 members and next year’s May elections is a price the right seem to think worth paying to eliminate the risk of another Corbyn appearing. The right has made a start, with over 50,000 members leaving.
However, others on the left have reacted by developing a higher level of organisational unity. There is also an intense debate on agreeing the most effective counter-strategies.
What is to be done? Resistance has been developing on legal, institutional, ideological and constitutional fronts. Here are a few of the constitutional ideas being explored.
The right have demonstrated a ruthlessness in exploiting their current majority on the NEC, scrapping procedures and precedents without hesitation. We need to fight for our own “modernisation and democratisation” agenda at the 2021 party conference. The party needs to be fundamentally changed to make it “fit for purpose” in the struggle for socialist advance.
Firstly, the national executive committee needs a radical overhaul. The six seats currently held by right-wing MPs should be abolished, leaving only the leader and deputy leader, perhaps with a second elected deputy leader.
The elected CLP seats should be doubled to 18 and elected in regional constituencies rather than a single national one. Devolution in England has to mean something, even in today’s Labour Party.
Trade-union seats should be increased to 20, maintaining a balance between the two great strengths of the party: its mass membership and trade-union connection.
Disciplinary procedures need to be replaced by new rules that incorporate natural justice and the approach of the Chakrabarti Report. This weapon must be removed from the control of the right faction. Perhaps Jewish Voice for Labour could utilise their legal resources and considerable direct experience of disciplinary matters to come up with a new wording?
The existence of a Parliamentary Labour Party separate from the Labour Party itself should be ended. The culture of elitism and superiority displayed by the majority of the PLP, especially Starmer, has to be done away with.
Not only the general secretary but the regional and national directors should all be elected by, and therefore accountable to, the membership. Factional partisanship should be deemed gross misconduct if proven against staff. Employees should serve the whole of our movement impartially.
The Blair era poisoned the role of staff. Frequent displays of corrupt partisanship damaged the party’s reputation.
The rule book reflects the previous right-wing control and many shoddy compromises. Its renewal is not a dry academic exercise but a vital political task. The trade unions are very likely to prove the decisive battleground that tips the balance one way or the other.
We should not accept the traditional descriptions of some unions as “right-wing” and therefore not worth seeking to influence. After all, it is not only general secretaries who are up for election in 2021, there are NEC members, conference delegates and branch officers as well.
In northern England there is a sustained effort to ensure more people of the left are elected to positions in the party and as candidates. This basic work in the structures of the party is allied with political education. We promote 10 motions that challenge Starmer’s 10 points.
We also encourage financial support for the legal challenges currently under way. Our approach is based on friendship, trust and mutual respect as well as the last two manifestos. We are not going away. We are here to stay.
(First published in the Morning Star Online, https://morningstaronline.co.uk)