Monday 13 April 2020

Keir Starmer's Falkirk Moment

Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters "should be shot." Vendettas against "Trots" pursued with alacrity while complaints, including anti-semitism charges piled up. Cheering on the Labour Party's opponents in elections. Discussions of who should leak documents. Setting up secret campaigns to funnel monies to favour MPs. Speaking about senior party figures in the most derogatory terms, including suggesting that a young party member with mental health difficulties should "die in a fire". Deliberations over cooking up crises to maximise embarrassment and damage to the leadership. Sabotaging campaign efforts. All this and more can be found in the 800 page document prepared for submission to the EHRC inquiry into Labour's anti-semitism crisis, of which excellent summaries are available here and here.

The report is utterly damning, and the response of those named and very publicly shamed equally pathetic. Iain McNicol, the former party General Secretary who was very much an instigator of this appalling behaviour said "The energy and effort that must have been invested in trawling 10,000 emails rather than challenging antisemitism in the party is deeply troubling." Rich coming from someone who, thanks to the documentary evidence provided saw anti-Jewish racism as less a cancer to be zapped and more an opportunity to damage the people he and his team were working against. Sam Matthews, the former Head of Disputes who featured prominently in last year's hatchet job on the Labour Party said this is sour grapes from a defeated faction. That's right, it was Corbynist disappointment in 2019 that forced senior staffers to scab on the party they ran until their departure from the party's employ.

The sad truth is none of this stuff shocked me - apart from the laughable incompetence of these people leaving a paper trail that could be used later to expose them. Encountering party staff drunk on their position, having watched careerists up close capitalise on apparat preferment, seeing shenanigans and hearing the stories (the worst of which I haven't and won't be writing about any time soon), being privy to conversations, witnessing stitch ups take place, all this I've encountered as a bag carrier in the bowels of constituency politics, a CLP officer, and an ordinary member in my decade of being in the party. I've also come across kindness, support, commitment, and solidarity. Though it says everything the latter is very much the preserve of the rank-and-file while the crushing fusion of infantilism and psychopathy characterises the party bureaucracy.

None of these people who participated in these discussions and made decisions about the party are fit to be members, let alone senior staff in other organisations. One, Emilie Oldknow was, apparently, Keir Starmer's pick for new General Secretary. I think it's safe to say she's now out of the running. What this means for her current senior role in Unison will cause the union something of a headache, but it has certainly put a new spin on the leak of Jonathan Ashworth's anti-Corbyn comments just prior to the election. For those not in the know, they are married to each other. Likewise the position of Patrick Heneghan, who went on to run the so-called People's Vote campaign would raise a few eyebrows subsequently given the role his organisation played in attacking Labour's voter coalition.

No one forced our Southside scabs to, well, scab. Yet when this is acknowledged across the party as custom and practice that goes back decades (see Uncle John Golding's tedious but revealing The Hammer of the Left), we're seeing something more than individual failure. This matter is a question of culture and is inseparable from how the party organises itself. Writing about the development of the German Social Democrats a century ago, Robert Michels' Political Parties argued that as organisations became more complex and specialised, so a dedicated bureaucracy forms up with its own offices and set of tasks. Furthermore, office-holding becomes the basis of power rather than the voluntary party and goes on to become the real decision makers in the organisation. Hence his famous term, the iron law of oligarchy. We see this reproduced in the Labour Party in the contemptuous attitudes toward the membership: it was the ordinary dues-paying member who was responsible and accountable to them, and not the other way round. The idea of democratic oversight or accountability was either a joke, or brought our bureaucrats out in a rage of hostility. Therefore those hoping for a neutral, professionalised bureaucracy are going to be disappointed: for as long as democratic determination by the members is kept away from the general secretaryship and regional directorship, the sorts of abuses our dossier details will happen time and again. This, among many other reasons, was why democratisation of the party was vital in the Corbyn era and remains the case.

Curiously, our fearless media, previously wall-to-wall with condemnation every time Jeremy Corbyn sneezed without a hanky, have barely covered the leak. Nothing on the Sunday politics shows. Nothing on interviews with senior Labour politicians this morning. We have the Sky News splash, a piece in the Graun, and that's about it. And some wonder why conspiracy theory is so popular. However, the lack of coverage does not mean this is something the party's new leadership can ignore. It's one thing to have party members calling it out, even if it does include high profile backers of Keir Starmer's campaign, but another to have MPs grumbling openly on Twitter about it. Without a doubt, this is an early, and for Keir, an unwelcome test for his unity credentials.

This then is Keir Starmer's Falkirk moment, so what is the Labour leader likely to do? I would expect ... very little. Not just because his first week in office has been weak sauce, or that his shadow cabinet appointments left a lot to be desired, but because he has no programme for the party itself. Whatever one thought of Ed Miliband, he used the occasion of Falkirk to neutralise what he perceived as overweening union influence on the party by introducing opt-in political levies for individual affiliated trade unionists, and the three quid supporters' fee. The scandal facing Keir is more fundamental to the party because it touches not on the fiddles of candidate selection but how the apparatus operates - an apparatus the leader not only needs, but also supported him more so than Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey during the contest. He could ignore the systemic nature of the apparat's corruption, and the fact the scab tendency have moved on to pastures new opens up a window for a 'bad apples' argument. Keir's not about to champion the cause for more party democracy that's for sure. What would benefit him, however, is if the party moves immediately to suspend the former officials, including Lord McNicol. Not just because it would placate his support in the party, who are likely to find these revelations as appalling as everyone else, but to show he means business to the right who'll happily undermine him as they did with each of his three predecessors.

Talking to Sophy Ridge yesterday, Keir said now was not the time to ask tough questions of ministers - as if politics is a leisurely pursuit for a better tomorrow. Something that will assist getting an easy ride in the media perhaps, but not help much when it comes to people noticing Labour's existence, let alone winning over hearts and minds. This search for a zone of non-punishment, I think, is going to condition his response to the dossier leak too. Say little, do nothing, wait for the EHRC report, take it on the chin and hope it will all go away in time. Sadly, if Keir can't or refuses to respond properly to a crisis that is entirely within his power to address, the next four years are not going to be a happy time for the Labour Party.

Image Credit


Shai Masot said...

Why didn't the leaker leak during the leadership election? It would have forced whole-hearted public commitments for robust action and completely changed the dynamics of the contest. Very interesting.

David said...

Good God. Just read the two reports linked, plus the Guardian report, and what a complete disgrace. They brought the entire party into disrepute with their disloyal antics, sack the lot!

Alan Story said...

This report has exposed a number of serious problems in the internal governance, structure and culture of the Labour Party ….and I can fully understand the upset this is causing to many Labour Party members.

But in my reading of Labour focused Facebook groups in the past 36 hours, I find that a great deal of the comment has been on what certain individual backstabbers and bastards did in modern Labour’s “bleakest hour” as one person said. The main solution that I have read: “expel the bad guys.”

Some of the higher-ups in Labour may very well be or have been “bad guys” but I think it would be helpful to have a more structural/ systematic assessment and a broader analysis of what went gone wrong in Labour.

The Green Party internally is hardly without its faults. It would be good to learn from this experience and not turn it merely into a GP “recruiting moment” as some seem to want to do.

Phil said...

I completely agree, Alan. This is a structural issue and comes from an absence of accountability. You similar sorts of behaviour in all organisations, though generally speaking "competent" bullies tend not to document their behaviour by email.

Also, by way of an update Keir Starmer have announced an investigation into ... this investigation. It has a threefold remit: the circumstances under which this report was commissioned, a look at the behaviour it uncovered, and how the report was leaked.

William Large said...

I am convinced he will do nothing

Anonymous said...

There should have been no need to leak the report! It should have been published in the interests of transparency. It was obviously going to be yet another cover up

Jim Denham said...

This from Labour list is the most comprehensive and balanced report on the inquiry into antisemitism I have seen so far.

The thing that's been entirely lost is the key finding of the report is horrific anti semitism is a real problem in the party.

But it was not being dealt with properly with due to a mixture of staggering levels incompetence, utterly inadequate processes and deliberate sabotaged due to factional infighting.

It says of a Labour Against Anti Semitism dossier that LOTO passed to Governance and Legal

Governance and Legal then told LOTO that most of the cases weren't members and others had been dealt with, or cases not proven. None of this was true. It was a well evidence and put together dossier and these cases were just not actioned by the Labour Bureaucracy.
Now it does raise a question about whether that was just complete laziness or a deliberate plan by G&L to embarrass Corbyn by failing to deal with it and blame him.

James said...

I guess because most decent people don't want to leak things unless there's a strong just cause. Leaking to influence a leadership election isn't honorable (although the Labour right wouldn't think twice about it, of course). In this case, or seems that what prompted the whistleblower was the party's decision not to send the report to the ECHR. He or she presumably assumed that meant it would never be made public.

David said...

Does raise the obvious question of whether the current LOTO was aware of the decision not to send the report off to the EHRC and why. Could be covered off by the new inquiry maybe?

Anonymous said...

Appalling and institutionally embedded in the governance. Nonetheless if there is the desire it can be largely sorted.

Graham said...

Unfortunately the scabs won. The membership elected Corbyn but the party apparatus deposed him by derailing two General Election campaigns. Raises serious questions on how far the Labour Party can be transformed.

Jim Denham said...

The report tells us a lot about the behavior of the Labour right (but no great surprises there) ... but I have seen people attempt to use the report to justify the claim that antisemitism was never a problem and was just made up by these malevolent forces. Anyone trying to do that simply hasn’t read the report.

The executive summary says this: “This report thoroughly disproves any suggestion that antisemitism is not a problem in the Party, or that it is all a ‘smear’ or a ‘witch-hunt’. The report’s findings prove the scale of the problem, and could help end the denialism amongst parts of the Party membership which has further hurt Jewish members and the Jewish community.”

Blissex said...

«Hence his famous term, the iron law of oligarchy. We see this reproduced in the Labour Party in the contemptuous attitudes toward the membership: it was the ordinary dues-paying member who was responsible and accountable to them, and not the other way round.»

Two relevant quotes:

Robert de Jouvenel:

There is more in common between two deputies, one of whom is a Communist, than between two Communists, one of whom is a deputy.

Bertolt Brecht, "The Solution"

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

«it was the ordinary dues-paying member who was responsible and accountable to them, and not the other way round.»

Therefore I propose that one-man-one-vote be modified for greater party democracy to either or both of these

* one-MP-one-vote: Labour party members be elected by a vote of Labour MPs.
* one-Mandelson-one-vote: Labour candidates and the leader be elected by a vote of Peter Mandelson.

Blissex said...

«This, among many other reasons, was why democratisation of the party was vital in the Corbyn era and remains the case.»

Many people of course think that J Corbyn's biggest failure was not having even started a process of elimination of spivs and saboteurs, while K Starmer has started a ruthless process of "normalization".

Obviously J Corbyn went soft on them for the sake of "party unity", I suspect because he sort of did not fully realize the difference between his "opponents" and his "enemies".

«Without a doubt, this is an early, and for Keir, an unwelcome test for his unity credentials.»

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! It will be a very welcome test for him of his anti-Corbyn credentials.
As to "unity", the shadow cabinet he appointed is far from a "unity" one; compare with Corbyn's initial shadow cabinet, in which Mandelson Tendency entrysts were given a large share of senior posts, and they used that to frontstab Corbyn as viciously as possible with the "drip-drip" resignations.

Anonymous said...

Tip of the iceberg and many people know this.

Anonymous said...

A much better morning read than the saccharine Guardian. I don't doubt that there is much more that goes on behind the scenes- nonetheless good to get some insight.

Yonah Tzvi said...

Shai Masot, a great question. Because the leak is from the a wing of the Labour/Trade Union bureaucracy that wants to discredit the right wing bureaucrats who caused Labour's 2017 defeat, but that does not want the Left's candidate to become Leader. This same centrist bureaucracy seeks to deflect the manufactured moral panic that exploits antisemitism away from the Party (which it presumes is its own vehicle) and on to the right bureaucracy and left membership.

Anonymous said...

I find this shocking reading. Please lets get this sorted. Difficult perhaps but the culture must change otherwise we have very low expectations...

Anonymous said...

Clearly there needs to be both a structural and a cultural change. Whether that happens lets see - effort and time. There is also the issue of confidential emails being leaked through this report and being made available to 3rd parties. Nonetheless this does not detract from the substantive point regarding its contents.

Anonymous said...

They don't cover themselves in glory.

Unknown said...

I agree totally .