Above: The Mirror joins in
By Martin Thomas
Labour’s right is trying to stage a coup. If the Corbyn leadership and the unions stand firm, and force the right wing to put up a candidate against Corbyn in a new leadership contest which Corbyn wins, this attempted coup could turn into a rout.
The way will be open for the unions to get through Labour Party conference democratic reforms which they have already put in draft form, and for the Labour Party really to be revived as a living movement, close to the unions, and with the right wing discredited.
But if it goes the other way – if the unions swing over to back a rotten “compromise”, or if Corbyn buckles – then the right wing be in pole position to shut down all the channels reopened in the last year. They won’t be able to do it all at once, but they will be well-placed to destroy today’s possibilities of creating a real working class alternative in British politics.
With their staged series of shadow cabinet resignations, Labour’s right have seized the chance of the dismay and disarray caused by the Brexit vote to try to reverse the Labour revival generated by the 2015 leadership contest and Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory.
As we go to press, they are staging a stand-off, an open split in the Labour Party, and using it to press Jeremy Corbyn to resign.
They could force a leadership contest by getting 50 MPs to nominate a rival candidate. For now at least they are not doing that, because if they do that then Jeremy Corbyn has to be on the ballot paper in the leadership election, and will probably win.
They want to force Corbyn to resign, confident that if he does then they can deny any left-wing candidate the MP nominations necessary to get on the ballot paper, and so deny the members a choice.
There is talk of setting up a rival Parliamentary Labour Party in opposition to the one led by Corbyn, or even splitting the Party outright. Probably this talk is designed to panic and pressure the Corbyn camp.
Some of the coup-plotters talk about the desirability of Labour wining the next General Election. But that is clearly low in their priorities. Otherwise they wouldn’t be splitting the party now. Otherwise they would shelve for now their criticisms of Corbyn and focus on unity against the shocked, dislocated, and divided Tories.
Some of them talk about unity. Some of them claim they have no difference with Corbyn’s politics, and praise his kind and friendly manner. They so value unity… that they make a split! When they claim to have no serious political grounds!
Some of them say Corbyn has been weak. Sometimes he has: often because he has constrained by them, or allowed anxiety to conciliate them to mute his message against the Tories.
The role in the script for those soft-soap types is to serve as cover for someone with a vaguely soft-left profile to emerge as front-person (while the hard right-wingers pull the levers in the background), and to try to persuade the members and the unions to support them as promising both unity and not-too-wrenching a reversal of Labour’s course. To be for 2016 what Neil Kinnock was for 1983.
Some of them talk about Jeremy Corbyn being poor in the Remain campaign. But what about them? What about the Labour figures who joined platforms with the Tories, copying Labour’s wretched policy in the Scottish separation referendum? What about Tom Watson and Ed Balls, who gave Leave a last-minute boost by saying that Labour should limit EU migration?
What about the Labour right-wingers from whom we heard nothing at all? What about Corbyn-baiter Gloria de Piero, whose safe-Labour constituency returned a 70% Leave vote? Or Stephen Kinnock, another Corbyn-baiter, who got a 57% Leave vote in his ultra-safe Labour area? Or Labour right-winger Alan Johnson, appointed to lead the Labour Remain campaign. Did you ever hear from him? His Hull area voted 68% Leave.
They wail and scream about one-third of Labour voters backing Leave. That is bad, but not surprising: one-third of Lib Dem voters, and one-third of SNP voters, also went for Leave. Especially not surprising when for many older Labour voters, anti-EUism has been a major and sometimes dominant thread in Labour politics for the last half-century; when the 2015 Labour election campaign organisers, backed by most of the anti-Corbyn plotters but not by Corbyn, produced a “campaign mug” inscribed “Control Immigration”; when most pro-EU Labour politics has had, for 20 years, the neoliberal face of Blair and Brown, blandly praising “modernisation” and ignoring the havoc caused by free-ranging global capital in many working-class communities.
The coup-plotters want to return to the same soft-Tory politics and undemocratic organisation which have gutted and enfeebled Labour’s base for decades now, and block the possibilities of a renewal.
Anti-Corbyn Labour MP Yvette Cooper talks about “broader arrangements to build a wider consensus” with the Tories in the management of Brexit. Corbyn’s own response to the 23 June decision has been weak – he should be more vigorous, from our angle, in defending freedom of movement and European ties, than the Tories now pressing the “Norway option” are from theirs – but these people want to be even weaker.
Stay strong! Stand firm! Labour members and trade unionists must rally in defence of our movement’s democracy.