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  • Published in Opinion
Official portrait of Dame Margaret Hodge, June 2017. Photo: Wikimedia/Chris McAndrew

Official portrait of Dame Margaret Hodge, June 2017. Photo: Wikimedia/Chris McAndrew

Grassroots Momentum needs to re-assert itself to fend off this coup against Jeremy Corbyn, argues Lindsey German

The surreal nature of British politics continues. To the establishment politicians and media, this is another supposed crunch week for Theresa May. With only 18 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU, there’s a vote on her deal, then if that falls - as is likely - there is one on whether to prevent a no deal Brexit, and then finally one on extending Article 50 to delay leaving the EU.

All important of course, but a measure of the priorities of our system that this is scrutinised in fine detail while the daily drama which is the life of millions of working people is barely considered. So the TV crews travel to Grimsby, the fishing port in industrial Lincolnshire with a heavy Leave vote, to film May making a speech to a captive audience of factory workers who have to dutifully applaud the crazed looking figure with the coat of arms on her podium while she opines that her deal is the best outcome that can be achieved.

No one seriously considers the reasons why people voted Leave in the first place or the parlous state of public services for Remain and Leave voters alike, and which will continue whatever the outcome in parliament this week. Schools are closing early and keeping buildings unheated to save money because of cuts, every week another privatised public service fails to meet its targets, the privatisation of the NHS continues. This refusal to deal with any of the problems facing people will cost all the political parties dearly, but mostly of course the Tories, who are deliberately talking down austerity while applying the ratchet harder to the public services. Labour will not be immune from it, however, as it faces two internal political crises, over antisemitism and Brexit, which are both consuming its energy and dulling its radical insurgent message.

The result is an utterly frustrating political situation. The antisemitism crisis in Labour has not been sorted, indeed it is now widely accepted that Labour is institutionally antisemitic. The fact that the Tories have just suspended 14 members for Islamophobia, something which Tory former chair Baroness Warsi thinks is endemic within the party, is barely commented on.

It is an astonishing fact that this latest row over antisemitism has been triggered not by any new instances within Labour, but by the assertion of MPs that not enough is being done. Margaret Hodge is allowed massive space in every form of media to make unwarranted accusations, and it seems that this woman - hardly a role model either as council leader or MP - is treated as the oracle on all such questions. Yet Labour’s own figures show that of Hodge’s 200 complaints of antisemitism, nearly all turned out to be not from Labour members.

On Brexit too, Labour has allowed itself to be painted as the second referendum party, something which again is likely to damage it in future elections. But perhaps most damaging of all are the actions of Tom Watson who this week sets up his own party within a party - the latest and most deadly attack on Corbyn so far, and which aims to present an alternative Labour leadership which can - Watson hopes - oust the democratically elected leader. There is only one message from Watson, which is that Corbyn faces endless war from him. There will be no compromise, no middle way - the aim is to force Corbyn out one way or the other - either by open defeat or sheer exhaustion from constant attacks.

Last week, Corbyn was subject to a serious assault in Finsbury Park Mosque which was downplayed in the media although it is leading to criminal charges. The levels of abuse make this an all too likely occurrence, and one which his critics in Labour did not bother to condemn.

I really think there should be much more criticism of Hodge and Watson’s behaviour from within Labour. This is not about pluralism but a soft coup against the left. It won’t just affect Labour members if successful, but the whole of the wider left. They are moving now because they see that May’s days are numbered and there will be a new Tory leader and possibly an election, and they want the centre right back in control of Labour by then. They will only succeed if the left fails to fight. Jeremy Corbyn was elected on a left radical agenda twice. He has a mandate to press forward and that needs to start right now. Momentum’s leadership may be doing nothing on this but a lot of Momentum branches and members know that this is a fight to the finish now.

Condemning a little less might be a good idea 

Every few days another picture of a young person with a life before them now tragically cut short, their grieving friends and relatives and outpourings of sadness, is all over the media. A total of 42 victims of knife crime have died this year. But all the calls for more police and prison are missing the point. It is obvious when you have something like this, it is not down to straightforward ‘criminality’ but to a series of often complex reasons which lead young people to behave in a dangerous and destructive way.

These include the lack of hope felt by many young people, increases in poverty and inequality, the decline of the education system including the growing number of exclusions from schools, the growth of gangs and the growth in the drug trade. What links all of these is government policies, particularly severe cuts to youth services, over the past decade which have actively and, I’m sorry to say, consciously worsened the situation of many young people.

I’m not an expert but I would like to see those teachers, youth workers, parents and young people themselves say what they want to happen to stop the senseless killing. I’m pretty sure their solutions would not be draconian sentences and zero tolerance rhetoric which pass for serious commentary in so much of the media.

Ireland - about rights, not sectarianism 

Karen Bradley must be the most stupid and inept Northern Ireland Secretary ever. Her remarks some months ago that she didn’t realise Unionists and Nationalists voted for different parties was a showstopper and has now been followed by her claim that army and police killings in Northern Ireland should not be classed as criminal. She has roundly been attacked from all sides - but still keeps her job (as does the awful Chris Grayling, so unstable is May). There is outrage across Ireland.

This is not the week therefore for John McDonnell to distance himself still further from his erstwhile support for the IRA. Apart from anything else it aids the Tories and miseducates the many young people who may not know the history. It was no more a sectarian struggle than the fight of US southern blacks for civil rights was, and it had the same roots - the lack of civil rights of the nationalist/Catholic population. The IRA had many faults and made many mistakes but its support lay in its determination to fight for these rights. Against it were the Loyalist paramilitaries, sometimes in league with the police and army. This was not an equal struggle and the families of the Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy killings, to name just two, are still waiting for justice.

Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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