Saturday, 14 July 2018

On Saboteurs and Sabotage

Ever got in a fight with one hand tied behind your back? Well, that was the situation Labour faced during last year's general election, if The Times is to be believed. To hype a bit of interest in what otherwise sounds like a snoring boring slice of Blairist nostalgia, ex-spinner Tom Baldwin made this observation by way of "Shippers":
Corbyn's aides sometimes demanded big spending on Facebook advertising for pet projects that southsiders [Labour HQ staff} regarded as a waste of money," Baldwin writes.

He quotes an official explaining: "They wanted us to spend a fortune on some schemes like the one they had to encourage voter registration, but we only had to spend about £5,000 to make sure Jeremy's people, some journalists and bloggers saw it was there on Facebook.

And if it was there for them, they thought it must be there for everyone. It wasn't. That's how targeted ads can work."

The Sunday Times has verified the existence of the deception operation with two Labour sources familiar with the Facebook adverts.
Is it true? Well, Let's examine the context. During the campaign, national ran a dreary, steady-as-she-goes campaign. It saw resources directed into safe seats at the expense of marginals, of favours done for candidates approved by Labour officialdom, of Southside changing the locks to prevent Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell from entering the building, of leaking information, like electoral projections to Labour Uncut during the campaign and, it also turns out, to Barack Obama as well. It's worth noting that in a fit of liberal heroics he duly passed the leaks on to the Tories. Seeing allegations of social media shenanigans in the context of the apparat's behaviour since Jeremy Corbyn was elected, it shames the Labour Party that the story cannot simply be dismissed a book puff fodder.

I've met plenty of so-called insiders who fancy themselves as witchfinder generals, of folks who like to think they know where all the bodies are buried, and not a few for whom shifting political realities is an occasion to indulge their John Golding cosplay perversions, as opposed to getting a radical Labour government elected. Spending campaign monies to get one over on the Leader's office, and later chuckling about it with Progress and Labour First neophytes over drinks at conference is entirely believable. I can easily imagine the people who did it, as would anyone who's had more than a passing acquaintance with luminaries of the ancien regime. As Labour is now committed to straight talking, these people are no better than scabs. And in the spirit of honest politics, they should be permanently excluded from the party.

Remember, this culture doesn't exist because of a few bad apples. You find it rife in any organisation in which bureaucratic sinecure is zealously guarded, where power is hoarded, and accountability is from the top down and not the bottom up. Since Blairism eviscerated the party, the apparat grew more remote from the membership. The abuses of power and the dirt tricks used to maintain it are much more egregious than even the trade union lash ups that used to get done to run the party before Blair's time. It's a systemic problem, and when you have these issues you must address root causes.

Thankfully there is a way of digging out this choking, chummy culture: and that is more democracy. Mandatory reselection, more of a say over Labour leadership nominations, and local ballots on Labour council group leaders cannot be separated out from a thorough democratisation of the party. Abuse of delegate places to CLPs and Local Campaign Forums, where a delegate-based system still operates, has to be sorted out. There is also a strong case for more member scrutiny of decisions made by officials, and the strict subordination of regional directors to regional boards (and not the other way round, which was the case in the West Midlands for many years) are a couple of measures that immediately spring to mind. But why not the election of some officials, too? If it's good enough for the trade union movement ...

More democracy, however, is not an optional extra, it is necessary. If our political programme is about fundamental social change, our project cannot rely on the election of enlightened MPs. Mass democracy can only come about through the democratic organisation of ourselves, of the overwhelming mass of people, around our political objectives. The shenanigans culture, the saboteurs and backroom braggarts, they need sweeping away not just because they're unpleasant, but because they present a blockage to the transformation of Labour into an instrument that can help our class take power. They should either get with us, or get out.

2 comments:

Colin O'Driscoll said...

All very true. On the subject of Mandatory Reselection, my CLP has a motion up for debate at this year's conference:
https://www.labour-open-selection.org.uk/motion

Mark Livingston said...

Sign the petition:

https://skwawkbox.org/2018/07/15/labour-members-launch-petition-calling-for-action-against-centrist-sabotage/