Time for an effective fightback

JVL Introduction

Pete Firmin,  chair of Hampstead & Kilburn Constituency Labour Party,  is one of dozens of senior elected CLP officers to have been suspended by diktat of general secretary David Evans since mid-November.

Last week a group of suspended officers wrote to left trade unions, NEC members, members of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and other leading socialists calling for a unified campaign against factional suspensions and for Jeremy Corbyn’s readmission to the Parliamentary Labour Party.

In this piece, written for Labour Briefing, Firmin says, “The battle is not just about individual reinstatement – important as that is – but the defence of party democracy.”

He makes the case for a response fleshed out with concrete actions, based on political clarity as well as breadth and unity – for “a campaign which brings together as wide a coalition as possible of those willing to fight. At the heart of this must be trade union involvement.”

For unity and political clarity

by Pete Firmin, Labour Briefing, forthcoming, 10th January 2021

Many of us warned during Starmer’s campaign for the party leadership not to take at face value his commitment to the 2017 and 2019 manifesto policies. All Starmer’s political instincts and his core support base indicated he would want to move Labour back to the centre, hoping to show it was yet again a safe pair of hands for capitalism. However, Starmer knows that probably a majority of party members – whether they voted for him or not – are committed to radical socialist policies. To deal with that he needs to either expel, intimidate or demoralise large numbers of the left.

Assisted by the lack of a party conference in 2020, Starmer and Evans have set about their task with relish.

First off, they got the NEC to change the method of election for the CLPs section (and no other) of the NEC, ensuring the left could no longer win all nine places.

Then the appearance of the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) report was used to claim that certain discussions could not take place in the party because they make “the Jewish community” uncomfortable. Thus, even discussion of the EHRC report itself has been banned, except  “how it will be implemented”.

This ban on discussion would have happened whether or not Jeremy Corbyn had spoken out on the day of the report’s launch. But – rightly – Corbyn did speak out because he knew the launch would be used to try to trash his record. Whether his statement was agreed with Starmer’s office in advance is irrelevant – except for the fact that Starmer has previous form in that he agreed Rebecca Long-Bailey’s apology and then sacked her anyway.

It seems Starmer hoped that he could wash his hands of the Corbyn case by allowing the disciplinary panel to reach a decision. He appeared to be taken aback both by the decision to reinstate Corbyn (on the basis of legal advice) and the vehemence of the response of Margaret Hodge and others to Corbyn’s reinstatement and, as a result, he withdrew the whip.

Hodge and others – like the Jewish Labour Movement, which had asked for the EHRC investigation – were disappointed that the EHRC report did not declare the Labour Party institutionally antisemitic and Corbyn responsible. That was not going to deter them from wanting Corbyn’s head on a plate. Starmer was committed to their agenda.

But Starmer had to contend with the storm of outrage among members. Enter David Evan’s using his – supposed – delegated powers to prescribe what party units can discuss and to discipline those who defy such edicts. This covers motions about Corbyn, the disciplining of those who have spoken out and motions of no confidence in Starmer and Evans – as well as a charity bike ride in support of Palestinian children! Even officers who have not allowed the discussion of such motions but have spoken out against the clampdown on democracy have been suspended. Niceties about the nature or absence of the ‘charges’ and the correctness of the procedure have all been brushed aside.

However, far from rolling over, activists at CLP level have continued to protest. Over 80 CLPs have passed ‘banned’ motions and over 250 CLP chairs and secretaries wrote to Evans complaining at the invidious position his letters put them in, caught between his edicts and the wishes of members for democratic discussion.

A new alliance has developed between CLP and trade union representatives on the NEC in protest at Starmer sidelining the NEC in decision-making, and on December 17th the statement Stand up for Labour Party Democracy, was signed by MPs, peers, NEC members, seven union general secretaries and numerous Labour left organisations.

Several legal cases against the party are underway, challenging both procedures and individual cases. In addition, we need an explicitly political campaign. The battle is not just about individual reinstatement – important as that is – but the defence of party democracy.

If we are to defeat the Starmer/Evans assault on democracy we need to build a campaign which brings together as wide a coalition as possible of those willing to fight. At the heart of this must be trade union involvement – essential if we are to turn back the tide of attacks. Its basis must be solidarity – with all victims of this witch-hunt.

That means a willingness to defend those wrongly accused of antisemitism.  Over the last five years much of the left has – wrongly – ducked this fight, even though some of us argued it was being used as a weapon against the radical policies of Corbyn and his supporters. Avoiding this issue is no longer an option when Evans and Starmer are making the link between the two explicit.

To that end, a group of suspended comrades are writing to all those who signed the 17th December statement, urging them to support such a united campaign. This is not the time for a fragmented response with multiple, separate campaigns. Our response must be fleshed out with concrete actions, such as protests, rallies and conferences. Its basis must be both political clarity – and breadth and unity.

Comments (19)

  • Lee says:

    ‘Our response must be fleshed out with concrete actions, such as protests, rallies and conferences. Its basis must be both political clarity – and breadth and unity.’
    So, Pete argues for yet more petitions/statements, zoom rallies, and conferences/meetings to carry resolutions denouncing the purge taking place.

  • George McManus says:

    Well said Pete.

  • Sandy Palmer says:

    I so hope that all members of the socialist coalition come together to fight what is happening to our party, from the witch-hunt to fighting for the socialist soul of the party. Pete is right about this, the silent need to break cover now.

  • rc says:

    May I, as a former Hampstead (then: and Highgate) CLP secretary, wholeheartedly support Pete Firmin; and also suggest a warning for the left, however conceived?
    In 2002 even as Blair and his associates were blatantly celebrating their ‘dodgy dossier’ and corrupting the impartiality of the ‘security services’, the H and H GC had no problem with a full, frank, and indeed heated discussion of no less than three motions condemning the proposed aggression war crime of the British regime. The postKinnock witchunt apparatus stood idly by. Even under Blair, elements of democracy flourished at the CLP level.
    Yet the three left factions refused to composite their motions, time ran out, and under standing orders no decision could be taken: Blair’s warmonger faction rejoiced in their ‘victory’ and Iraq, already half starved to death and poisoned by the effective denial of medical supplies, was trampled by Bush’s ‘coalition of the Freiwilliger’ into a sectarian shambles that still tortures the Iraqi masses. For free speech and democracy, let not only the traditional lefts, but all democrats who are prepared to defy the capitalist class, its lying press and its willing allies in the ‘focus group’ triangulators, stand up and defy the tyrant Evans and his repressive apparatus. He is no servant of the party, but of the most reactionary forces inBritish politics.

  • The systemic destruction of our democratic processes and the removal of socialists members is a terrible thing ,MrCorbyn expanded the party and inspired everyone for the many not the few, The incompetence and corruption in the Tories will make labour much more appealing to the electorate ,being free of the stain of corruption got to be a good thing .

  • Voirrey Faragher says:

    Thank you. I agree that breadth and unity is needed in order to struggle effectively for party democracy – and in order to become truly anti racist.

  • Hazel Davies says:

    Excellent analysis. I have contributed to the legal fund. These legal challenges must go ahead. The fraud has to be exposed.

  • Peter Johnson says:

    Those of us ‘being investigated’ unwillingly assume the status of ‘the infected’ – to be avoided by the main ‘body politic’… after all – “no smoke without fire” is a familiar response .. but the test is of course without validity. Stay Strong everybody.

  • Carol says:

    Good to hear Pete. Let’s see support for this and solidarity for comrades suspended, expelled and fight for the right to free speech. It is more important right now than any other time.

  • Larry Hyett says:

    The rank & file members need revaluation of its working arrangements and commitment to electoral support for the parliamentary Labour Party & party leadership, by defiying the suspension of clp officer’s, continuing to organise clp meetings with members and organise activist strikes. With the demands of mandatory re-selections of MPs as a core, along side the reinstatement of all suspended and expelled party members.
    Larry Hyett

  • Pauline Fraser says:

    I welcome Pete Firmin’s piece supporting a unified campaign against factional suspensions and calling for the Whip to be reinstated to Jeremy Corbyn. His summary of the Starmer-Evans clampdown on free speech is very useful.

  • Max cook says:

    This is a good article and totally explains the disgraceful and illegal activities and actions of Starmer (scammer) Rayner and the unelected Evans.
    We MUST fight this we CAN’T let them take our great movement and destroy it.

  • Dennis says:

    Thank you for speaking out. I have tried to raise issues at my CLP but the David Evans Email gets quoted along with a “nothing we can do” sentiment.

  • Taraneh Ahmadi-Parker says:

    Totally agree with the article.

  • Ronnie Scott says:

    We must strongly challenge this tyranny.

  • Jacqueline says:

    Agree, we want our party back.

  • Isabel Cooke says:

    This is a great article. My beef at the moment is that our CLP, and branch, have not been allowed by the paternalists who run it to meet at all over the last year. Our democratic rights have been completely suppressed. It suits the clan attempting to control my city’s politics to keep the lid on everything.
    How many other CLPs are not meeting, I wonder?
    I suppose once the mob, the Labour admin and the PLP, threw the 2017 election for the Tories, the work of storming the Capitol was done, and democracy successfully subverted. The English ruling class way is to smother democracy very politely; and because the nonsense from the leadership is dressed-up in – probably spurious – claims to delegated powers, and respectable-sounding legalistic phrases, people bow to it.
    You frightened people; why are you accepting these scruple-free apparatchiks have the right to tell you what to do? Starmer is a man who couldn’t even contradict a white supremacist on a public radio show. He allowed her twice, unchallenged, to promulgate her ‘white replacement’ theory. How can he judge what’s racist? How can anyone judge what the members say before they say it? Grotesque.

  • steve mitchell says:

    The effects of withdrawal from the EU are already being felt. Fishermen throughout the country have realised they have been betrayed. The Scottish potato industry has been partially abandoned. Super market shelves in Northern Ireland are empty. Some business which have done business with the UK forever are refusing to trade with us because of the increased costs . There isn’t one aspect of the Brexit deal that has made an improvement to British lives. The billionaires ,the Right Wing outriders, the extreme conservative mainstream media who planned , funded and carried out the project have got exactly what they wanted ;deregulation. Currently ,Tory plans are on hold due to the pandemic. Make no mistake ,those who own this government will make certain the race to the bottom begins. Too much money has been spent for them to give up now. And what has the current Labour leadership done. They have fled the battlefield. Starmer is adamant the Brexit issue is finished . He will ignore it and hope it goes away. In reality it has barely started. He has shown terrible judgement. When the consequences of Brexit start to really bite he will have nothing to say. He has destroyed his reputation for moral and intellectual integrity . He has inflicted a mortal blow on the soul of the Party .

  • Pam Laurance says:

    Our good mate, Pete…

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