Friday, 6 November 2015

Andrew Fisher: It's Not About Rule-Breaking

So a couple of Labour MPs have made complaints against Andrew Fisher, Jeremy's head of policy, and the NEC have moved to suspend him. His offence? Among other things, publishing a tweet advocating a vote for our anarchist friends Class War over Labour's Emily Benn in Croydon South almost a year prior to the general election. Not the political crime of the century by any means, but rules are rules. Or are they?

As with all bureaucratic organisations, there are rules covering pretty much every element of the operation. And the Labour Party is no different. There are rules for elections. Rules for members. Rules for affiliates. Rules specifying party structures. Where there are grey areas there are rules for governing 'them', and rules for governing 'us'. So it is that if you're a powerful figure, rules can be flouted with seeming impunity. The clutch of Labour MPs, for instance, who quietly agitated against Ken Livingstone in the 2012 London mayoral elections - no action. The repeated public attacks by MPs on Ed Miliband - no action. The contempt for the party 'simple' Simon Danczuk fills his Mail on Sunday column each week - no action. The uppity anti-austerity campaigner who sent unwise and politically foolish tweets? Throw the bloody book at him.

Let's be clear here. This isn't about rules and rule breaking. This is about factional struggle. There are elements of the Parliamentary Labour Party incapable of reconciling themselves to the situation they now find themselves in. They know that a frontal assault on Jeremy's office is suicidal and means curtains for their careers, so they're taking up position and sniping at the leader's appointments. John McDonnell, Seumas Milne, Andrew Fisher, if they can be picked off the leader will remain permanently weak vis a vis the PLP, and therefore less able to get his agenda and - possibly - changes to party structures through. And it will encourage them too. This week's PLP elections give the 4.5%ers a weight entirely out of proportion to their real support in the party. They will also take heart from the selection of Jim McMahon for the Oldham West by-election. Jim was able to romp home in a CLP that had returned a key leftwing MP for 45 years. If a 'moderate' can win Michael Meacher's old stomping ground, then perhaps there's a wider appetite in the party for their brand of politics than they first thought.

Nevertheless what I find frustrating, if not appalling, is the timing of all this. The government are lurching from crisis to crisis at the moment. Their difficulties are our opportunity, and yet the selfish behaviour of idiot trouble makers divert time and energy away from making an effective opposition. Perhaps that's the whole point. The last thing they want is Jeremy to turn that polling deficit into a lead, for Labour under his leadership to start appearing successful.


Chris Spence said...

"The last thing they want is Jeremy to turn that polling deficit into a lead, for Labour under his leadership to start appearing successful."

Blair said as much himself, he'd rather lose than win on a left wing platform. The left need to urgently identify and coach left candidates so as to address the imbalance between the Party membership's politics and those of the Parliamentary Party.

It looks like we're settling in to PLP trench warfare. Time for the circular firing squads again...*sigh*

Rowan Draper said...

Chris, the Labour membership voted for mainstream candidates in the majority. That doesn't suggest to me that there is any imbalance.

I'd also add that there has been no issue with some of Corbyn's appointments: Neale Coleman, Katy Clark, etc for example because they haven't been unsuitable appointees. Corbyn needs to exercise better judgement. There are lots of people to choose from that haven't endorsed rival parties and rejoiced in Labour MPs losing.

Phli said...

I think that's right - it's a win-win for these people: either weaken Corbyn or make Labour less popular under Corbyn. Spies, wreckers and saboteurs, as an old comrade of mine was wont to growl.

Good job Emily Benn's never tweeted in support of another party, eh readers?

Boffy said...

The odious Frank Field also recently spoke about right-wing (why is it that the media also refer to them as "moderate"?) Labour MP's could band together and support any of their ilk who were deselected, who then stood as Independents.

The party couldn't expel all of them, he argued. Want a bet? The right-wing ha no compunction against such wholesale expulsions, and closures of entire CLP's. Its large numbers of rank and file members that a real party cannot do without out, not a comparative handful of troublesome right-wing MP's. A party of more than half a million supported by the trades unions will always be able to find all the talented candidates it requires.

Notable that, for all the right-wing, and Blair-right claims over the last few months, both before and after his election, none of them are pointing to any collapse of Labour's standing in the opinion polls. That's because it hasn't happened.

But, Corbyn needs to learn from the lesson of Foot in the 1980's, and of Syriza more recently. Instead of being distracted on to internal discussions and fights, he needs to start big external campaigns to continue the momentum, mobilise the new supporters brought in by turning the part at rank and file level outwards. He should organise a series of big demos and events against the Welfare Cuts and so on, which he can physically spearhead.

Perpetua said...

Jim Mcmahon may not be an overt left-winger, but he is certainly no right-winger either. He has said publicly that his views are very close to those of Jeremy Corbyn in key areas and isn't afraid to use the word socialist in his tweets. He romped home because he is a very well-known and highly-respected council leader who has done a lot for his town in a short time.

SpiritSkill said...

I agree with the thrust of this, but I think I also want the leader of the Labour Party to make wise choices in who he listens to. And Andrew's foul and abusive tweet to Simon Danzcuk suggests that he isn't a wise appointment. Being unwisely appointed isn't a disciplinary offence of course.

Paul Canning said...

As I just tweeted at you. Emily Benn pretty much endorsed Sandi Toksvig's party. So yes there is no fairness in applying 'rules'.

However your skating over the appointment of Milne as PR and policy chief ignores the very real worries from many, many comrades about his influence that have nothing to do with 'undermining Corbyn'.