Britain: Labour leadership election draws to a close

Battle lines drawn: build a real mass party of the 99%

Polls are closing in the Labour leadership election ahead of the announcement of the result before the start of Labour Party conference. It is no exaggeration to say that this is a pivotal moment for the Labour, trade union and anti-austerity movements.

A victory for Jeremy Corbyn, virtually three months to the day after the Brexit vote, would be another blow against the establishment, the 1% and their political representatives in the Tories and on the Labour right. It could even give a shot of confidence to some big current industrial disputes, such as that of the junior doctors and the wider struggle to defend the NHS from the new Tory cuts.

But it would need to be consolidated and built upon to open the way to Labour being transformed into a pro-worker, anti-austerity party. The starting position for this is to recognise finally that this is a fight to the end against the same establishment and their Blairite agents. Even right to the end of the leadership election, the right-wing Labour machine is carrying out a one-sided civil war against Corbyn and the left.

While tens of thousands of Labour members and affiliated supporters were still waiting for ballots, many did receive a mailing last weekend – but one telling them that they were suspended or even expelled! This included the assistant general secretary of the RMT transport union Steve Hedley, just two weeks after Ronnie Draper, general secretary of the BFAWU bakers' union, was first suspended and then reinstated (although he has yet to receive his ballot!) Both Steve and Ronnie's suspensions were for alleged online statements. Yet Blairite Alan Johnson can give an interview in the Times where he called Jeremy Corbyn "useless" and "incompetent".

It is outrageous that socialists, fighting union leaders and activists, and anti-austerity campaigners are thrown out of the party while the likes of Johnson and right-wing Labour councillors are safe despite passing on brutal Tory cuts. In fact, not only should they be reinstated, but all those expelled for having socialist ideas over the last three decades – from ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock's witch-hunt against Militant (the predecessor of the Socialist Party) onwards – should be offered the right to re-join.

Compromise impossible

These suspensions are further confirmation that it is impossible to compromise with the Labour right who will never reconcile themselves to a Corbyn-led party. A victory for Jeremy, even by an increased margin, will not stay their hand. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) vote to change the rules so that the shadow cabinet is elected by MPs is a clear statement of intent from the right wing that the will of Labour members will be ignored.

They may conclude that they have to live with Corbyn until the next challenge – and some are arguing for it to be annual – but if this vote was endorsed by the NEC and at the conference, John McDonnell's position as shadow chancellor would be in their sights. The margin of the vote – 169 to 34 – is a virtual replica of the PLP vote of no-confidence in Jeremy on 28 June, four days after the Brexit vote that effectively triggered the leadership challenge.

The no-confidence vote set in motion an uprising against this attempted coup. While MPs stabbed Jeremy in the back, up to 10,000 Corbyn supporters from inside and outside Labour protested in Parliament Square. This has been replicated in meetings, rallies and protests of hundreds and thousands in many towns and cities up and down the country. Despite doubts caused by his retreats to conciliate with the right, working class people understand that this attempt to turn the political clock back to the days of Blair and Brown must be fought at all costs.

These supporters will be disappointed by Jeremy's reported olive branch to these same MPs. In fact, the demand of the Socialist Party – now also the position of the Unite union – to reinstate democratic mandatory re-selection of Labour MPs, is increasingly popular at pro-Corbyn rallies. As Jeremy himself said: "I will put it to them [Labour MPs] that I've got a mandate, if I'm elected…[it] is about the policies I'm trying to put forward. Not every dot and comma and crossed t, or whatever. But it is the general direction of the economy and policy. And I'll invite them to work with us."

But we think he should go further by telling the 172 MPs who triggered the coup that they must accept and not contradict the renewed mandate for Corbyn and his anti-austerity, anti-war policies. We also call for the cutting councillors to be challenged from the majority of members who support an anti-austerity programme.

This would be the starting point for the reversal of the measures brought in by New Labour that made the party safe for big business. We support the rule changes that hopefully will get on the conference agenda that seek to restore District Labour Parties, which could hold councillors accountable and decide the manifesto for local elections. The undemocratic National Policy Forum that hasn't actually met for two years should be abolished and annual conference restored as the supreme policy making body. The central role of the trade unions and their ability to act collectively in the party, which has been virtually outlawed, should be restored.

But we would go further. If Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected, especially in the face of a tirade of the undemocratic ruling out from voting of many of those who have been attracted to the party in the last year, it would be a decisive vote to oppose austerity. Therefore, all anti-cuts forces – including the Socialist Party – should be welcomed into a reconstituted federal Labour Party.

The battle-lines have been drawn. It would be a mistake to miss this historic opportunity to build a real mass party of the 99%.


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September 2016