Tuesday 23 February 2021

Labour's Rotten Heart

Is there something rotten at the heart of the Labour Party? Yes and, I'm afraid to say, 'twas forever thus. The latest victims of shenanigans are the three hopefuls shortlisted for Liverpool's mayoral elections. Having pulled the plug on the final selection meeting, the party today declared it was reopening applications, scrapping the all-women's shortlist, and barring the shortlisters from standing. Anna Rothery, whose candidacy had received an endorsement from Jeremy Corbyn and the backing of Unite said she would take legal action if the decision is not reversed.

In typical Labour fashion, the whole thing was handled appallingly. No explanation was forthcoming about the decision, releasing a pitiful non-statement saying the party wanted a candidate who would "stand up against the Conservatives, lead Liverpool out of the coronavirus crisis and fight for the resources that the city desperately needs." Candidates were not even informed that their bids had been given the heave ho. And so, where there is a vacuum of information speculation rushes in.

While much has been made about the politics of Anna Rothery, my first instinct wasn't a question of compatibility between her (soft left) positions and the world according to Dear Keir, but more an issue of tidying up. Given what has happened with Joe Anderson, the former mayor who resigned under a cloud of corruption allegations, there might have been a concern all of the candidates were considered too close to the ancien regime. And so while Unite has had its nose put out of joint by the suspension, so too has Unison who are normally considered reliable by LOTO. A clean break with what went before appeared to offer a good explanation. Avoid embarrassment, and put as much distance between the party and fall out from whatever happens with the Anderson case.

But, as per Skwawkbox's story, my spies in the belly of the beast back their reporting up. The overturn did not come from the top but within the regional apparatus. Less a case of hobbling the left candidate and more one of installing a favoured son of the bureaucracy, as the cancellation of the AWS attests. Anna suffered not because she was the leftist, but simply because as per Ann O'Bryne and Wendy Simon, she was in the way of someone else.

Either way, while knowing the factional details are important for the minutiae of inner party manoeuvring, the point of principle remains. Stitch ups were bad when the right did it. They were no better when the left pulled the same. And now the right are back in charge, here we are again. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Remember, when there was the merest suggestion the party's complaints system was going to abide by due process and no longer be a factional football, a certain someone made their displeasure known.

Therefore best of luck to Anna if she goes down the injunction route, but unfortunately I don't hold out much hope for success. Shabby manoeuvres are fine as long as they're consistent with the rule book and NEC rulings. Natural justice doesn't exist in the party. This serves to remind us that if Labour is to change a strategy is required to transform it from top to bottom, to enhance democratic decision making, due process, and bring the parliamentary party to heel. We had this opportunity, and the left will forever rue the day Corbynism didn't push change harder. And sadly, the task becomes more difficult as every outrage, rotten move, and terrible tactical positioning repels good people from the party. Legal challenges won't stop the right and the apparatus. And neither will giving up.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Thank you for an interesting and rational viewpoint. With you right to the last sentence.

Labour has spent three decades in a soft-right neoliberal state of complacency. Times have changed. The old ways no longer work, as Brown and Miliband discovered. Starmer should have realised that in 2018 but didn't. After a brief leftist accident under Corbyn Labour has reverted to type under the influence of a totally unchanged PLP, to a model which lost Scotland and the North. The problem is no longer LOTO, but the entrenched PLP and the party structure and processes it manipulates. It is fundamentally undemocratic, root and branch, as we've seen since the failure of litigation to compel Tom Watson to honour his promise to members on voting rights. Today's episode in Liverpool is no exception.

Next we look at the balance of effort and benefit from pursuing different courses of action. I see no value in fighting to correct Labour's course. The problem is not to find a middle way that satisfies an imaginary consensus. Soft left might accept it but hard right never will. And I doubt any such compromise navigation will produce a vital, inspirational opposition which is key to winning over the country. I can't see any prospect for even this modest change in time for 2024. The PLP will never allow it without a large does of humility.

Which leaves a scorched earth policy. Labour cannot expect support from people it despises. Socialists need a new focus which reflects the values Labour originally stood for. If Labour is wiped out in 2024, the PLP may be more willing to accept the need for change. But whether it is or not, we need a genuine socialist party on the left of Labour to keep it honest - if that's remotely possible. The effort to start an alternative party isn't wasted even if it only wins a few seats. With FPTP, the best we can hope for is leverage and an opportunity for left candidates to develop their skills and experience as MPs.

-- Jorge

Anonymous said...

Good to highlight but as you say in your intro quite usual in Labour Party selections particularly in winnable seats. Seen this so many times throughout the years.

Anonymous said...

Been going on for years in the Labour Party its how things work or perhaps don't work alas. Yes important topic to 'highlight' but not news in the LP.

Anonymous said...

Always thus.

Anonymous said...

Everything Anonymous at 00.42 said EXCEPT it's not an 'ether/or" it's probably a "both", i.e. both Starmer (and his appointed GS, David Evans) AND the PLP that should be castigated for these atrocious anti-democratic shenanigans currently occurring in Labour.

Anonymous said...

They need to have a think, because getting rid of the AWS leaves a route back for Keith Vaz in Leicester East, where he's still continuing to do (effectively) constituency work.

Anonymous said...

Seen this often on the right for many years, and during the last election on the left and right during selections depending on who influences who gets on the selection panel etc... Also who pulls the strings regarding (very often but not always) Trade Union support for candidates which is very important in getting selected as a candidate.

Anonymous said...

In general who gets longlisted and then shortlisted for seats is very often dependent on who you know and what interests are served rather than ability or experience. That has been a fact in the Labour Party for a long time. Of course it should be sorted. Not holding my breath.

Jim Denham said...

A genuine question (becuase I don't know the answer): did Joe Anderson nominate Anna Rothery? And, f so, might that possibly have anything to do with why Starmer has suspended the entire process?

Anonymous said...

Not giving up is always important so is understanding the importance of your time. Worthwhile for party members to remind themselves of this at times. Members of Parliament will never stop taking the free labour. Just be careful how much of it you give.