Monday 7 November 2022

Taking the Labour Right to Court

When is enough, enough? In the lead up to Sam Tarry's deselection, reports of dirty tricks were legion. But ultimately, nothing came of the complaints his team made against them. While Apsana Begum was out of action following harassment in her local party led by her ex-husband's family, the London regional bureaucracy turned a blind eye as her reselection was forced through. And now it's Ian Byrne's turn. Despite winning MP of the year from the Patchwork foundation in recognition of his campaigning, the Labour right want him out. And it's the same old tricks. "Lost" invitations to branch nomination meetings, the outright exclusion of Byrne supporters, and now the revoking of Byrne's access to the local membership list. Every low level shenanigan available to the petty fixer is getting employed.

This is inseparable from a concerted effort by the Labour right to lock the left out of the parliamentary party. They don't always get their way, as the reselection of Faiza Shaheen in Chingford and Woodford Green shows. Then again, what is one selection against a score of left wingers who've been disposed of for dubious reasons? She's the exception that proves the rule. As Patrick Maguire points out in his Times piece, Keir Starmer is unconcerned - he's largely contracted the purging and the brutality out to the creatures for whom sharp practices are the definition of sharp politics. And the Labour right can get away with it. There's no Corbynite surge on the horizon threatening to sweep them away. On the contrary, as tens of thousands of leftists have quit and continue to quit, the stitching up jobs of self-styled Tammany Hall-types gets easier.

The right also rely on something else: a certain acquiescence of the Labour left. They reckon, not unreasonably, that the left won't rock the boat too much. The fact trade union leaders, even the left wing ones, aren't saying or doing much publicly as their affiliated branch endorsements get rebuffed for flimsy and/or undisclosed reasons. True, the CWU's Dave Ward has two crucial disputes occupying his time, and Sharon Graham has been clear that her priority is industrial action, not pissing around with internal Labour matters. But still. And the second is court action. Bringing the courts into labour movement matters has long been taboo. Because our organisations were built by the hard graft of our people in the face of bitter opposition, this is good grounds for not letting bewigged members of the ruling class adjudicate on our internal matters. That is a labour movement competency alone. But the Labour right have consistently and with great success relied on this taboo to get away with the most egregious rule breaking. As we know, the party rule book is enforced by the right. It never applies to them. However, the court taboo broken in the Corbyn years. Elements of the right supported a court challenge to keep Jeremy Corbyn off the second leadership ballot. And when the NEC changed the rules over who could vote in the election, some Corbyn supporters launched their own action. In both cases they were doomed to failure as the party's leading lay body acted entirely within its competency. Neither were successful, but the caution against using courts to settle disputes died with the cases.

Therefore, Ian Byrne's announcement that he's gathering materials for a legal challenge is a welcome one. From a mainstream melty, centrist point of view how can a party that hopes to be the lawful government of the land be cavalier about the breaking of its own rules? But from a leftist standpoint, given how the party treats its own rules as optional depending on the politics of those on the receiving end, there is a legal case to be heard. As argued previously, the degeneration of Labour Party structures into something akin to feudal patronage means a dashing of bourgeois law might be a step forward. In the absence of anything else, why not? If a day in court means shining light on party nepotism and hypocrisy, that could hardly be regarded as a bad thing. If Ian goes down this path, good luck to him. Enforcing proper due process across the party would be a big win for the left.

But there's something else of interest going on here. A side note of internal politics. As the North West region is home to Angela Rayner, Andy Burnham, and Steve Rotheram - three not inconsiderable party figures who have endorsed Ian Byrne's reselection, the fact dirty tricks are getting fielded against someone they support either suggests their backing is a cynical tilt to the left for movement kudos, or as is more likely their writ in the region doesn't run as far as it might. Admittedly, because Bryne won his 2019 selection by the tightest of margins - three votes if memory recalls - the contest would likely be tight without the right's attempts to fix the results. But if these two powerful Labour politicians can't knock the shenanigans on the head, what hope do either of them have in running successful future leadership campaigns if sections of the apparat can defy them with impunity?

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1 comment:

Robert Dyson said...

This is not really on topic. I wonder our Phil sees this analysis of new social divisions.