Tom Watson recently accused 'Trotskyist entryists' of 'twisting the arms' of young members of the Labour Party. A young left-wing activist responds
Tom Watson’s claims about ‘Trotskyist arm-twisting’ are not only a complete fabrication. This is also extremely damaging rhetoric that will cause further disillusionment amongst young people towards the Labour Party and mainstream politics.
Labour MP Neil Coyle recently accused eighteen-year-old Alex Mockridge - a Labour endorsed independent candidate for South Hams district council - of being an “entryist” and called her campaign “utter shambles & incompetence”. Michael Foster, a Labour donor, branded Corbyn supporters as “Nazi Stormtroopers”. A shallow pond filled with crocodiles would appear more welcoming than the Labour right. It’s hardly a surprise that many people, especially young people, would be discouraged by such rhetoric.
In 2014 a Survation Poll showed that 59% of young people had no confidence that politicians would address the issues important to them, those being especially health, education and unemployment. At the time, the poll showed the two most important characteristics young people wanted in a leader was “honesty” and “being in touch with ordinary people.”
Alex Mockridge met Corbyn at a rally in Cornwall, “Corbyn came across as incredibly confident and as someone who is deeply intelligent. But neither of those things made Corbyn come across as arrogant or narcissistic, he was incredibly humble and put others first in every one of his actions.” In fact, an Ipsos MORI poll in September 2015 showed that the public felt Corbyn was both more honest and in touch with the public than David Cameron.
It is absolutely essential for Labour to engage young people, at the last general election the turnout for 18-24 year-olds was 43%. That rose to 64% at the EU referendum, illustrating that since the General election 18-24 year-olds are far more politically aware and involved than they were a year ago.
This could be Labour’s opportunity to engage young people and that’s exactly what Jeremy Corbyn and John Mcdonnell have been doing. Mike Southard, 18, told me “The impact that Corbyn has had on the younger generation is incredible from a politician. Anyone can see how anti-tory and anti-Blair the younger generation is.” The increase in Labour membership to a record 500,000, many of which are reckoned to be young people, illustrates the positive difference Corbyn has made.
Watson’s accusation that young people are supporting Corbyn because they are being manipulated essentially argues that young people are too naive and immature to make political decisions. It’s a fundamentally paternalistic outlook to assume such things and will inevitably lead to disenfranchising young people.
Charlie Perkins, 18, told me “They’re [The right of the Labour Party] purposely trying to alienate us, mainly because they realise that the youth of the nation is generally more left-wing”when asked about Tom Watson’s comments.
However, this attitude is nothing new; the right of the Labour Party is fraught withpaternalist and elitist attitudes. You only have to look at the centralisation of decision making and the rejection of cabinet discussions that Tony Blair introduced or arrogance of Labour MPs like John Spellar calling the Corbyn supporting Labour membership “Trots” and “Momentum entryists”, despite the fact that his CLP voted in support of Corbyn.
Watson and Spellar’s scaremongering that some people who are joining the Labour Party are from the Alliance for Workers Liberty, the Green Party and other left-wing groups, and those “entryists” are going to somehow destroy the party wouldn't look out of place as a satirical headline. When you don't want members of left-wing groups joining your party because they don’t subscribe to “Labour principles” - which according to a Labour membership card is democratic socialism - but your entire election plan is to appeal to Conservative and UKIP voters, then you’ve completely lost the plot.
If a Tory accused former UKIP members who recently joined the party of being entryists and then went on to argue the party should be trying to appeal to Green party voters they would be openly ridiculed. To cut through the rhetoric, when the Labour Right accuse people of being “entryists”, what they are really accusing people of is simply joining the party.
Alex Mockridge commented on the accusations of entryism, “I think the right of the Labour Party are driving young people away, if they’re accusing established Labour Party members of entryism, how can anyone feel that they want new people in the party?”
All the rhetoric about “Momentum Thugs” from Ben Bradshaw and “Entryists” ignores the inconvenient truth of Progress, the shadowy Blairite organisation that was started in 1996, funded primarily by Lord Sainsbury and lacking any transparency or democratic principles. Unsurprisingly Ben Bradshaw and a number of other Labour MPs are closely associated to Progress who are pro-privatisation and essentially operate as a Party within a Party.
Momentum is run democratically and transparently by grassroots members. Where Momentum is inclusive, Progress is elitist. Momentum obeys all internal Labour Party rules, Progress considers itself exempt. If all of the MPs who are shouting down young Momentum members - who are campaigning actively for the Labour Party - actually cared, they would focus on Progress, the real entryist faction that does not share Labour’s values of democratic socialism.
I spoke to Dylan Woodward - an eighteen-year-old member of the Labour Party and Momentum in Exeter - about disillusionment among young people with the Labour Party.
“The institutions of the Labour Party put you off. Basically, it’s the format that’s old fashioned. There are apologies and minutes and formal motion procedures. There’s no actual discussion except if it’s a motion that’s been tabled. It’s not a setting that encourages you to speak up.”
The Labour Party cannot afford to get stuck in bureaucracy and formalities, it will push away young people and anyone else who has joined the party. Momentum, on the other hand, has been helping to mobilise a lot of young people due to its more inclusive and welcoming nature: whereas “Momentum tries to encourage new members and be more dynamic with its meetings.”
In many ways, Momentum has re-energised grassroots Labour activism and turned Labour back into the social movement it used to be.
Labour’s huge losses in Scotland to the SNP have become a key indicator of the failure of the Blairite doctrine. The SNP ran on a platform to the left of Labour and - despite losing the Scottish referendum - obliterated Labour’s presence in Scotland because of Labour’s “austerity-lite manifesto.
I spoke to twenty-year-old Declan Moran who lives in Scotland:
“The right of the Labour Party seem to think that in order to beat the Tories they should become the Tories, but that alienates millions upon millions of people who are evidently desperate for a legitimate left wing option. Given that I live in Scotland, if the right of the Labour Party manage to gain control, I’ll be voting SNP at the next election because they’re at least capable of convincing people that they have the interests of the working class at heart.”
It’s not just the Labour Right’s rhetoric that alienates people, it’s their entire ideology. They subscribe to the free-market orthodoxy, disguising it as the “centre ground,” which makes them almost indistinguishable from the New Right.
Esther Daniels told me:
“Any left leaning young person has no realistic way to vote for what they believe in, as socialism is dismissed as “loony” by the socialist party itself. This pushes a generation away from not just the Labour Party, but alternatives to Conservatism as a whole.”
Regardless of how Tom Watson wants to spin it, young people aren’t having their arms twisted, they just genuinely see Corbyn’s politics as the best way forward for them. It might have something to do with his refusal to stoop to the childish tactics that are rife within British politics.
Then again, I myself am a young person so clearly a “Trotskyite” is whispering what to write in my ear because I can’t form my own opinions and should leave politics to the adults. Labour must embrace pluralism and welcome all those with shared values to the Labour Party and engage with young people who want a real alternative to austerity. Jeremy Corbyn has already done this - that’s why he was elected by such a huge majority and that’s what has led to a massive increase in membership.
However, the right of the Labour Party need to stop spreading elitist and paternalist rhetoric, it has no place in our political discourse and it certainly has no place the Labour Party. If they care so much about young people, they should be listening to young people, advocating the introduction of political education and working as a proper opposition to ensure young people are not punished further by the Conservative Government.