Tuesday 15 October 2019

Against Stitch-Ups

About five minutes after my joining the Labour Party, our sitting MP announced he wouldn't be running in the 2010 general election. As Stoke Central's constituency party had also just got placed in special measures, the selection process was taken over entirely by the NEC. They drew up a credible long list of local notables, activists and outsiders. And when it came to the short listing, it was Tristram Hunt and two also-rans specifically selected for that purpose. Tristram walked it, of course. What an introduction to the cynicism and chicanery that had the run of the Labour Party back then.

Almost 10 years later, you might ask what has changed? Now, instead of red princes and favoured sons of the Labour right getting a leg up in the selection process, luminaries of the Labour left are in receipt of helpful hands from above. Suddenly the new politics are looking very much like the old politics.

I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to sharp practices. They are inevitable in any organisation, not just politics. When interests clash with interests the counter briefing, the back stab, and the shafting are going to happen. For instance, when it looked like Tom Watson was in trouble, my tear ducts were as dry as my laughter as the stitcher-in-chief so very nearly became the stitched. How humiliating it must have been to have got saved only by Jeremy Corbyn's intervention, though he's never going to show his gratitude or act as if he owes the Labour leader a debt of honour. Political struggle and democratic victories are infinitely preferable, and in my view reaching for administrative mechanisms is an absolute last resort when nothing else is possible. It is subordinate to, and not a substitute for politics.

To find the left finessing seat after seat speaks both to Corbynism's strength and weakness. Strong, because Labour First - former purveyors of and beneficiaries of fixed selections - are reduced to begging signatures for a petition against rigged selections. Their marginalisation from the party machine is such that this is the only avenue open to them. A fitting fate for such an awful organisation. Corbynism is now the master of the central party machine, and making it known this is now the case. And yet it is also a symptom of weakness. As we have seen with the trigger ballots, the membership have so far proven unreliable. Or, to put it more subtly, it's simply not mobilising in numbers to turf out awful MPs who deserve turfing out. The success of Jess Phillips last week being a case in point. Without the work being done to prepare the ground, Momentum pointedly not mobilising for trigger meetings, and a membership shell shocked and cynical following two years of demobilisation and demoralisation as elite politics has asserted itself again over movement politics, is anyone really surprised? And so without a mass appetite for reselections, most members are staying home - and those who are turning up are buying the pragmatism of now-is-not-the-time. Bureaucratic selections then are a symptom of weakness. If an active movement of members can't do the job, then despotic but enlightened administrative moves it is.

The problem is going all stitchy compromises the left's image, and feeds cynicism and nihilism. And to go all out as these selections are doing risks alienating others hitherto supportive of the Corbyn project. It's not just right wingers getting the cold shoulder, local lefts without the impeccable connections are facing the squeeze out too. And what happens when, say, a favourite of the Unite machine gets a seat thanks to the bureaucratic exclusion of a Unison nominee? Nothing good. It's a recipe for the division and balkanisation of the left, and one that could cost us in the long run. Is this price for redressing the balance in the parliamentary party really worth paying?


David Sullivan said...

Yes, this is all fair enough, but only underlines the necessity of Open (Mandatory) Reselections. The Trigger process is flawed for your reasons but also because new members in right wing CLPs are not encouraged to attend branches, and not even visited in a welcoming and comradely fashion. You would have to be very brave to go to a branch meeting where you don't know anyone and feel maybe outnumbered/outgunned/and perhaps in a 'very nice house' venue to argue against the sitting MP if you just joined the LP with little party machine experience. It all becomes very personal and allows for this current #BBCbias and MSM magnification of the process. If it was generalised and understood that every Labour MP & Mayor! had to undergo at every election proper scrutiny in their role representing the Labour Party membership, our MPs would be of a finer calibre than the Philips/Hodge/Watson/TIGdefectors and all the other careerists - from the right certainly but also 'the left'.

Richard said...

I have never been a member of the Labour Party. I've always seen it as the problem in the labour movement, not the solution. I am surprised, as you are a subtle and intelligent person, that you find the Labour Party to be what it says on the tin. The one significant ting Corbyn could have done to make the Labour Party fit for socialist progress was to radically democratise the Labour Party. But Stalinists don't do democracy. They say follow the leader.

The simple truth is that Morning Star writers are yet another alternative government. They are not socialists.

Anonymous said...

You've touched on this before, and this is a genuine question. Can you quantify the number of parachuted-in New Labour MPs you think there are?

Anonymous said...

"Or, to put it more subtly, it's simply not mobilising in numbers to turf out awful MPs who deserve turfing out. The success of Jess Phillips last week being a case in point."

Mind you if Phillips had lost, we'd have never have heard the end of it, not least from Philips herself.

PS: The Guardian's take on 'trigger ballots' is that it's all about female/Jewish MPs. Any data to support this (e.g. in comparison to male MPs)?

Anonymous said...

Precisely one Jewish MP has been triggered.

Current score is two men and four women - one of the latter being leftish and targeted by a corrupt "old guard" right locally.

BCFG said...

Maybe once, though I doubt it, politics really was about sending people as representatives of local communities etc.

But in the here and now it is a cesspit of careerists feathering their own nest. It also represents predominately the middle classes and the continued functioning of the global capitalist system (has there ever been anything more politically repulsive than Hilary Benn's Syria speech?).

We might call democracy the most mature form of class domination. Though I think that is open to question because given the current trajectory I am possibly with Zizek in thinking capitalism with Asian values will supersede it. I mean the US empire and its lackey the UK have spying systems that only the most repressive madmen could have dreamt of. All this as become completely normalised now the 'civilised centre' has taken it to new heights.

When the Soviets spied on their citizens this was proof of its awful totalitarianism, when the 'civilised centre' spy on their citizens to a greater degree than any nation in history this is proof of their technological advancement!

Everything the 'civilised centre' do, from carpet bombing dark skinned people, to locking up whistle-blowers, to mass spying, to infantile planet destroying consumerism is always dressed up as civilising, while whatever the periphery do is always dressed up as barbarism.

Corbyn is a bit of fresh mint in a colossal pile of horse dung!

Capitalism is a death cult!

Blissex said...

Phil and other commenters, the whole battle between the whig/likudnik wings of Labour and the Labour wing of Labour is all about the threshold for nominations to the leadership once Corbyn leaves it. AFAIK it is still at 15%, which means no other candidate from the Labour wing of Labour will ever be nominated again, regardless of how much membership and voter support they have.

Most of the PLP is highly unrepresenative of the Labour membership (and Labour voters), to the point that in the 2015 leadership election the membership votes for the whig/likudnik wings were almost negligible (I put A Burnham in the right of the Labour wing).

So the big tasks are either change the threshold for nominations to 5%, or to slowly increase the number of MPs representative of the membership to above 15%. It would be nicer if this was done more straightforwardly, but I can understand if some people are thinking "now or never".

Anonymous said...

I'm okay with the stitch-ups. We've got to get some socialists into the PLP somehow.

theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth said...

In other words Blissex, when Corbyn goes the Labour has to be dead in the eyes of the left and that Corbyn has been a disaster for the left because at this stage in history having a decent chap as the leftist leader of Labour is a calamity because he hasn't done anything anywhere near strong enough to change the party, meaning the Blairites will never ever make the mistake again of having a leftist as leader.

In fact the Blairites should thank Corbyn for giving them a salutary lesson! Like the computer geek who hacks into the defence system, thank god it was the geek and not the North Koreans! Now lets tighten up that security!

I am thinking McDonnell must simply be protecting his cosy career and anticipating life after Corbyn.

To be honest given that Corbyn was able to be in Labour through the Iraq war makes me wonder how much of a careerist he is! Though that is better than staying in labour through the mass murder in iraq but deciding to leave because a few Palestinian supporters have dared speak out in the party! That is Mcarthyism at its most sinister, Louise Ellman presents herself as a victim while being part of a campaign to criminalise, drive from civil society and destroy the lives of anyone who takes a stand against the racist white supremacist state of Israel.

To be honest none of this matters really, the fact is Scientific Socialism is dead, the working classes look more like a servile mass of passive consumer lackeys more than what could be described as anything approaching a class, let alone a revolutionary one. But maybe I just spend too much time at the imperialist centre!

A new way forward is required, I am with the extinction rebellion here, only mass disruption can shake up this death cult.

The working class do not need to be pandered to, they need a rocket up their dumb passive consumer docile asses.

In fact the left should forget about the so called working classes. I think the left should look to create a movement among the bottom 25%, coordinate this with the climate protesters and the aim of that movement should be to make this society ungovernable and unworkable.

Reaching the consumer addled brains of the masses is not possible, they are simply too far gone.

Anonymous said...

Blissex - pretty sure the MP threshold was cut to 10% last year.

Anon - the left adopting the cynical tactics of the Blairites in the past is unlikely to end well. A lot of members are not happy.

Blissex said...

«Corbyn has been a disaster for the left because at this stage in history having a decent chap as the leftist leader of Labour is a calamity because he hasn't done anything anywhere near strong enough to change the party»

That's unfair: it is a long term project, and perhaps Corbyn has been too slow and cautious, but the enemies of the Labour wing of Labour are many and nasty (and surely helped by moles, the security services, turncoats, the press, etc.).
Still there has been a significant achievement: the party internal administration is no longer utterly owned by the Mandelsonian Tendency and their fellow travellers in the vast scratch-my-back-Ill-scratch-yours network of local rightist labour cadres. The hardcode is however largely the significant number of whigs/likudniks/quasi-tories in the PLP, and that can only be changed at general elections and incrementally.

theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth said...

"and that can only be changed at general elections and incrementally."

By that point Corbyn will be dead and some awful disgusting Blairite like Yvette Cooper will be leader and the project will be dead forever, given the Blairites will never again make the mistake of putting a leftist on the ballot. They will in the end thank the weak and weaselly Corbyn for giving them a wake up call. In fact I predict that in 20 years time, when the Blairites try and pretend they represent a broad church and keep their hands on that members money, they will all toast Corbyn and tell us how they all loved him! Now that is Stalinoid!