Whilst Parliament ends for the summer, the drama in the party has come early for the conference this year. With the suspension of Chris Williamson being lifted and re-applied within two days, the Labour machine has now created what is the start of a summer storm to come.
Three NEC members reinstated Chris Williamson and a large chunk of the Labour right and a number on the left reversed this, 140 parliamentarians wrote asking for him to be resuspended. Many who also called for Corbyn to step in despite in the past asking the leaders office to stay out of disciplinary cases. The lack of response from the leader’s office seems to have made little or more difference to the case.
Now the NEC are more than likely going to refer his case to the highest disciplinary panel the National Constitution Committee. Whatever way you see it, Labour has just created another headache for itself as Williamson himself, and other activists in the party, appeared to be taken by surprise at his initial reinstatement. All the more reason to have an independent disaplinary system that
Labour continues to fight the forces of the so-called neutral Civil service, saying that Jeremy Corbyn was too old and not in good health to become prime minister. The response to this matter was swift and clean, asking for an investigation into the neutrality of the people who are meant to keep the ship sturdy in times of crisis. Corbyn and close left allies, such as Laura Pidcock MP dealt with this in a combative yet united way that allowed the establishments true desperation to show.
The Brexit Migraine
Whilst these things continue for variable periods and differ in their importance to voters, the biggest pain that Labour has is the direction of Brexit.
Last week Owen Jones came out asking for Labour to back a second referendum and remain. Whilst he pointed out the number of groups in Labour that back remain in the party are high, and that we cannot with the leave seats without remain voters, he failed to address what would be gained by backing remain, or how it would get us a Labour government. I’ve seen more polls and predictions on this issue that I care to remember, I suppose it depends on the article you are writing, doesn’t it?
Jones concedes that there are not enough votes in the current Labour class of MPs to support a People’s vote. This is the problem you get when you mix direct democracy with Parliamentary representative democracy. They just don’t mix: Brexit proves this itself.
Whilst support for soft Brexit in the media and in some polls seems to have diminished it doesn’t feel that way for people I know. Times means people resort to desperation when talking about topics such as Brexit. Many people I have spoken to even think a second referendum would be electoral suicide, on the other hand some say facilitating Brexit is also suicidal in equal measure. The Liberal Democrats have beat us to it, they are the remain party and the truth is no poll or data will decide this outcome, the only thing that will do that is democracy itself.
At last year’s conference Labour members were swindled out of Open Selection, on how to choose MPs, due to a last-minute fudge in the voting by the unions and party. I believe democratically we would have won this, however many feel it was helping the party swerve a right-wing backlash as many career driven MPs would have hated to face democracy. Oh the horror! An elected representative being elected to a platform.
This was one contradiction of Change UK, they were asking for democracy in the form of a People’s vote yet face the call to hold a single by election. This hypocritical contradiction was cemented when Chuka Umunna went to the Lib Dems who came third in his constituency, they now have a Liberal Democrat MP that they never voted for.
Labour is a democratic socialist party and we want to see social change in the UK. We can only achieve this through democracy and we must work within the democratic institutions that we have. Recently Labour asked all MPs notify them if they are planning to stand in for the next general election. If they want to, then they may have to face a selection process, if 33 percent of branches want one, and the NEC don’t halt them, selection processes could be going on this summer.
Craig Murray recently posted a short blog post asking all Labour members that want democratic change to go to the party meetings and elect good MPs. If there really is a call in the Labour Party for a second referendum, this can be proven by voting for candidates that promise to vote for a second referendum should a vote be held in parliament.
Following this comes conference, Labour must hold a democratic process to agree a Brexit strategy. That should not only involve members but also MPs, the leadership and the unions. However, rather than being tucked away in a back room for hours upon hours like the last Conference each side of the argument must put out its reasons and plans for labour’s position.
Whilst it must be a fair fight, members must remember that if they achieve a second referendum, they might sacrifice a Labour government, which is the obvious reason some in the shadow cabinet, leave seat MPs and the leadership office have not backed a second referendum already. There are no numbers for it in parliament and for many it would kill any democratic credentials Labour has.
The debate must be a healthy one between all sides. If the right-wing of the party had any decency, which I question, then they would try to put together a comprehensive plan similar to that of the Norway + group. We must also allow smaller groups such as this to speak and make a clear case for a soft brexit that would also allow us to implement our manifesto. Many say no one wants a soft brexit, no-one is fighting for it loud enough, we need to believe in it if we want it.
The leadership, and people opposed to a second referendum, must also be clear why they feel we should maintain Labour’s current position of respecting the initial referendum. I personally have a lot of respect for Corbyn’s management of brexit, as he respected the last conference motion on brexit and has done well to guide the party that has the most to loose depending on its position.
Costas Lapavitsas says in his plural opposite article to Jones’s, that if Britain remains in the EU it will not get the transformative Corbyn the government that the UK needs now because of things such as state aid rules and the intrinsic nature of the EU to favour banks and businesses over member states.
Jones and Lapavitsas both choose facts to support their opinions and their articles. Labour this now provide its members and voters with the information to make their own decision.
-Can we have renationalisation whilst in the EU?
-How would soft brexit benefit us?
-What would remain and reform or even rebel accomplish, and would it make things worse or better?
Labour is not the party of status quo, and if it wants to be the party of democracy and change, then the manipulation of conference and messing around with disciplinary hearings needs to stop. Members who want Labour to change their position, need to change their MPs and go to meetings to make the change happen. Chris Williamson himself is a supporter of Open Selection and many have speculated that is why his case got so much attention from the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is followed by media attention.
It’s worth remembering Chris Williamson wasn’t directly anti-sematic, it was his comments about the parties responce anti-semitism that are in question and he should be given due process the same as anybody else as should. This is where the party must also increase in fairness. Disciplining MPs that bring the party into disrepute. Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge have done many things to bring the party in to disrepute, on more occasions and caused a great deal of damage to the party. We cannot have one rule for one and not for another, letting Blairites go on TV weekly to run down the party, set up alternative complaits procedures and shouting in Parliament that the leader of your party is a “Fucking anti-semite”. All this whilst hanging out one of our more honest left wing MPs, who often is the only voice in the party standing against imperialism, and fighting for a more democratic party, despite knowing that it would be unpopular with the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Despite Williamson’s name being dragged through the mud and many on the left leaving him when he needs it most, there is a silver lining, he seems to have a large part of the membership in his corner. Labour List, which is the centrist daily bulletin, carried out its weekly survey. This week 61% of 10,066 voters said that Chris should be allowed back in the party, 31% said that he shouldn’t.
74% also agreed that Labour needed an independent complaints procedure. Allowing for this to take place will stop any abuse of the disciplinary procedures, but it also means that cases of antisemitism, sexual harassment and all forms of prejudice can be dealt with swiftly and impartially. This will ensure there is no form of political or media pressure to interfere with cases. Who can disagree with that?
Democracy is only as good as the information people have, and the debates they have with that information. The Labour Party has a responsibility to provide this to its members and voters a simple online ballot will not do. Furthermore democracy also means trusting in those that that are elected to positions such as leader and MP of your local party. If they are not trusted, like Tom Watson, then they should face democratic selection. What is quite clear is that members still trust Corbyn. He must trust the membership to support him, as his comments on brexit will influence members. If we cannot achieve a socialist government inside the EU, or fears losing the north over brexit then he needs to say this clearly. Members with a clear idea of the EU will understand.
Unless clear debates are had, and the myths cleared up, then Labour will struggle to get behind any Brexit policy, no matter how simple it may appear. Labour needs a clear path on Brexit, and it should find that path democratically with the leadership and members taking the initiative to set the terms of the debate. After all it is our party.