Wednesday 12 October 2022

Left Wing Ruthlessness

Not just another take on Sam Tarry's defenestration, but one produced well after the fact. Better late than never. Despite Sam's repeated complaints about dodgy practices at the Ilford South trigger ballot meetings, the Labour machine demonstrated its lack of concern by allowing everything to proceed unhindered. And the result brought a gust of warmth to the dark voids where the Labour right's hearts used to be. Sam won 361 votes while the victorious Jas Athwal polled 499. An emphatic win, notwithstanding allegations of ballot stuffing and manipulation of electronic votes - allegations that will never result in any investigation, let alone action by the party.

As a lot of people have spent the last day pointing out, Sam won the selection in 2019 thanks to less-than-transparent shenanigans. There is no suggestion Sam was involved in these himself, but it was a case of convenient timing that Athwal, then the frontrunner, got suspended on the eve of the selection meeting on "very serious allegations". Which were as empty and as defamatory than anything woven by the stitch up sweatshops in Luke Akehurst's basement.

There is a lesson here for the left. Writing in criticism of left stitching at the time, the resort to administrative measures to meet political objectives simultaneously showed the strength and weakness of Corbynism. Weak, because not enough of the rank-and-file could be relied upon to get the right outcomes. And strong because it underlined what appeared to be the left grip's on the apparatus. On reflection, this was more a tide mark - an impression left on the bureaucracy thanks to the unprecedented deluge of new members, but whose enthusiasm had ebbed by the period immediately before the election. This is a kinder way of saying what had really happened: the apparat had, to all intents and purposes, captured the left. And so it proved stupidly easy for Keir Starmer to clear out Corbynist officials, and the sights of newly apprenticed fixers who got their leg up from left notables now fritting here and there doing favours for Labour First are not unknown. As such, "advances" won by fixing a selection were vulnerable to reversal, especially when it was accomplished by committing an awful injustice in the first place.

It's a truth generally acknowledged that Jeremy Corbyn didn't have the stomach or the inclination to do what was necessary to kick the party into touch. I agree. Saboteurs and scabs deserved the door, not a seat in the House of Lords. But ruthlessness for the left is not the same as ruthlessness for the right. What we have to be ruthless about is opening politics up. This means in the Labour Party a single minded pursuit to maximise the accountability of representatives and officials, pushing policy making down from the top to the membership, and making sure politicians and bureaucrats whose raison d'etre is the preservation of their privileges are pushed out. This was the promise of Corbynism, and we fluffed it as decisive action was eschewed too many times for compromises with opponents who would never accept a compromise. The 2017 result and subsequent conference was the time to consolidate, but magnamity - if not hubris - won out over pragmatics, strategic thinking, and doing what was necessary.

And here we are, left in a situation where the right rule the roost again and left wing MPs are scrabbling around pleading to be reselected. A hard lesson but, unfortunately, a necessary one that democracy is never an optional extra where socialism is concerned.


Phil said...

"And here we are, left in a situation where the right rule the roost again and left wing MPs are scrabbling around pleading to be reselected. A hard lesson but, unfortunately, a necessary one that democracy is never an optional extra where socialism is concerned."

Not just left-wing MPs - left-wing councillors I know have let it be known that they aren't going to have much time or energy for campaigning for the foreseeable, because they need all they've got to fend off constant attacks from the Right. (Which is to say, from fellow councillors elected for the same party - what a wretched party it is sometimes!)

I keep coming back to democracy as the key issue - not democracy as in Westminster but democracy as in what's barely found anywhere in this country: democracy as in "popular control of institutions mediated by accountable representatives elected through transparent and neutral mechanisms", something which we don't even have in local Labour Party branches, let alone in health or education (and don't even mention policing). At least, I say democracy is barely found anywhere, but the awful truth is that a lot of British institutions used to be a lot more democratic than they are now - and New Labour played a big part in the process of de-democratisation. Democracy for the UK (starting with the Labour Party)!

Anonymous said...

Sir Kiers anti-working-class and anti-left positions are disastrous for the party, and Labour are going to have to do harder than the usual "booo Tories" schtick to gain support.