Lindsey German on retreats, witch-hunts and war
The scale of Labour’s defeat in December was such that it would invite an inevitable backlash. It has come from across the board – Tony Blair is yet again given a platform in the Observer yesterday to spout his reactionary views. The right’s message is simple – that left-wing politics lose elections and that Labour can only win with a Blair-anointed candidate.
However, the immediate form that Labour’s election postmortem is taking is the shape of the leadership election. It’s interesting that most of the candidates are having to pay lip service to many of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies and are having to tack to the left in order to do so. This was obvious when all the candidates had to criticise Donald Trump’s recent actions over Iran. But we should be in no doubt of the overall direction of travel – and it is well to the right of where Corbyn ended up.
So on the one hand, Sir Keir Starmer attacks the free market and launches his campaign at Manchester’s Mechanics Institute – the birthplace of the TUC. This partly reflects the knowledge that many of Labour’s members are left wing and will not settle for warmed up Blairism, but it is also a recognition that labour’s policies, for the most part, were not unpopular. And when Boris Johnson’s Tory government decides to renationalise Northern rail, it isn’t a good look for Labour to see this as undue interference in the market.
On the other hand, all the signals from Starmer – from his hiring of right wingers to his initial statement on the Iran crisis which was so balanced that it meant nothing – are that he will be a safe pair of hands for capital and that he will become the favoured centre candidate.
So despite the fine words in internal elections, we will have to fight a drift towards the centre with Labour once more. Moreover, the lessons of the election have in reality been lost on most of the candidates. Clive Lewis is the continuity Remain candidate, even though his position is widely acknowledged to have lost Labour the election, and while he has put forward some good left policies, his obsession about deals with the Lib Dems and Greens continues, at the expense of clear left policies.
Starmer too has said that, while he now acknowledges that Brexit is happening (despite all that agitation for a second referendum and for campaigning for Remain), he will attempt to keep Britain closely aligned to the EU. And Jess Phillips, the most right wing of the candidates, argued that she might fight for Britain to re-join the EU – until she backtracked the following day, no doubt advised that this really wasn’t a sensible position for a potential leadership candidate following an election won on the slogan ‘get Brexit done.’ Still, she has much support for this view in the liberal media and elsewhere.
The leadership race is almost certainly going to narrow down to a contest between Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey. People are surprised that Starmer is doing so well, but I’m not. He is the antithesis of Corbyn which is why he represents what one friend called the Thermidor candidate – a reference to the counter-revolution in the French revolution. Why those who only weeks ago were saying we need a northern woman think that a fanatical Remain, wealthy, knighted, London lawyer is the answer is beyond me until you consider the politics. Sir Keir may be stilted and dull, with little charisma. But he can be trusted to deliver a brief and is seen as a safe pair of hands who won’t talk about socialism.
My money would be on him winning, but Long-Bailey will garner a lot of support from the left, particularly since she will be endorsed by Momentum. If I had a vote, I would support her and Richard Burgon for deputy, but the fact that the left is not clearly behind one candidate tells you how weak ideologically a lot of it is. Burgon is the clearest continuity Corbyn candidate with Long-Bailey some way behind, especially with her views on nuclear war, but still ahead of the rest. The choices aren’t great though and underline the points many of us have made in recent weeks, that we are going to have to place much more emphasis on extra-parliamentary activity.
And here’s a sobering thought: in three months time, we may have two knights of the realm as party leaders, facing an old Etonian charlatan. Campaigns, strikes and protests will be at a premium.
This is a witch-hunt that is targeted at the left
Deeply worrying already is the readiness to capitulate to the 10 pledges from the Jewish Board of Deputies, which it is demanding that all candidates sign up to. If they do so – and it is likely that nearly all will, including Long-Bailey – it will represent a shameful capitulation.
The demands are effectively insisting that a major independent party outsource its complaints investigation to another – supposedly impartial – body. They also want to penalise and suspend from the party anyone who allows a platform or otherwise gives support to those suspended or expelled because of antisemitism; to refuse re-entry to the party of Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker under any circumstances; to deny any say in these matters to what they say are not ‘representative’ of the Jewish community but are fringe organisations and individuals; to enforce the full adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism with all its examples; and to hand antisemitism training over to the Jewish Labour Movement – which refused to campaign for Labour in the last election.
These are unacceptable demands because they will institutionalise witch-hunting inside the party; they will allow right wing Labour and those who are not Labour at all to make the running in deciding policy on racism and on Israel/Palestine because the IHRA definition will aim to weaken support for BDS and for Palestinian solidarity more generally. More left wingers will be expelled, including Jewish left wingers who have stood up against many of the lies and distortions of recent years.
War with Iran: another step down the road
Donald Trump certainly started the new year with a bang, ordering the assassination of the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Qassem Soleimeni. Despite claims that he presented an imminent threat to the US, no such evidence has been produced, meaning that this was totally illegal and a war crime. I have spent the past couple of weeks organising demonstrations in opposition to the escalating crisis and potential war with Iran – and of course with Iraq, which has voted for US troops to leave its country. Despite the present quietening down of the situation, thousands turned out on the streets across Britain and we received trade union support against a war.
There is not the possibility of a ground war with Iran – mass opposition to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has made that more difficult, and it is hard to see how the US would carry it out. But that means more proxy wars, more drone strikes, more intensive bombing and more illegal acts. Plus more sanctions, which are economic warfare; the tearing up of the nuclear deal with Iran; and heightened tensions in the region.
The road to war is usually long and often punctuated with flashpoints and heightened tensions which can lead to sudden escalations and terrible mistakes. This week we had the shooting down by Iran of a Ukrainian plane, killing Iranians, Canadians and Ukrainians. They are the victims of this situation of tension.
Trump continues to fuel this tension. A Washington Post report claimed that he told allies he killed Solomeini to win support over his impeachment from hardline Republican senators. If true, it shows how reckless the whole operation is and how easily it can spiral out of control. Trump and Johnson need to understand if they carry on this path there will be mass opposition in their own countries to what they are doing, as well as in the Middle East
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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