Now is the time to expose, explain and defend our legacy, writes Terina Hine
Socialists must understand and learn the lessons from the Corbyn project, and the investigation into the leaked report on antisemitism has provided us with the chance to do just that. Much to the dismay of Starmer and his supporters, Corbyn's leadership team have grabbed this opportunity to set the record straight.
The frontline in the battle for socialism went to the heart of the Labour Party, and the battle was bloody and dirty. The defeat of the Corbyn project was, to a significant degree, the result of what happened inside the Labour Party itself.
For almost five years Corbyn and his supporters were systematically abused. Corbyn was undermined at every possible opportunity: he was continually briefed against by party insiders with the ear of the media; supporters were expelled from the party on spurious charges; Labour MPs plotted a coup in plain sight; and Labour grandees repeatedly proclaimed a Tory government was preferable to a Corbyn-led victory. It was relentless.
On the heels of Starmer’s election as leader, Labour’s internal report into antisemitism was leaked to the public. Members and activists were horrified. The report put into black and white what many had imagined. Only worse. And now it was official.
It was the peak of the Covid crisis, the country was in full lock-down. Prepared to read suitably lengthy tracts - War and Peace or the latest Hilary Mantel - members and activists were instead presented with an 860 page horror story, a tale of the Labour right’s scorched earth policy which far exceeded even the most cynical imagination.
The report blew the lid on the pernicious behaviour of Labour staff members and their deliberate sabotage of the 2017 election. It laid bare the bullying, racism and sexism endured by Corbyn’s team and supportive MPs, and made clear that the abuse was endorsed by those at the very top of the Party machine.
Starmer responded rapidly and an immediate investigation was announced. But both the scope of the investigation and the make-up of the investigative panel have caused hackles to be raised on the left.
Starmer’s inquiry was intended to be swift, the initial aim was to publish by mid-July. The delay in publication, now set for ‘sometime’ next year, is seen by many as an attempt to push the investigation into the long grass - perhaps in the hope that Covid, the summer and Brexit will cause us to forget all about the report? Or perhaps the right believe that by 2021 the Labour left will be so marginalised they will meekly accept the report’s conclusions without a murmur?
The media coverage following initial submissions to the inquiry shows this strategy to have been misjudged. Rather than drawing a veil over Labour’s divisions, the inquiry has ended up highlighting them further, with the left for once pulling no punches.
Corbyn and the 2017 election committee (which includes former shadow ministers John McDonnell, Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery, and senior aides Karie Murphy, Seumas Milne, Andrew Fisher, Andrew Murray and Steve Howell) made their submission to the investigation public.
The submission makes it painfully clear that had it not been for the sabotage of a small cabal of paid officials, Labour might have won the 2017 general election. The dream of a Corbyn Prime Minister could have been realised but for a “shadow operation” established to conduct a parallel election campaign - a campaign designed to lose.
The authors of the offensive WhatsApp messages have also submitted a statement. They claim their comments were taken out of context in the report and confirm their intention to sue Labour for libel and data protection breaches. Given the lurid language of the messages their defence is hard to believe.
The MPs on the receiving end of the abuse agree and are publicly fighting back. Diane Abbot has called for the transcript of the conversations to be published in full, tweeting on 7 August:
Officials at the very top of @UKLabour said stuff like “Abbott is truly repulsive” “Abbott literally makes me sick” and conspired with media against me. Now claiming remarks taken out of context. So let’s have full publication of all communications #LabourLeaks
Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, has condemned what she called a playing down of the content of the WhatsApp messages, saying:
It’s disgraceful that anyone would attempt to justify racism towards black Labour MPs and misogyny towards women employees, which has driven many of our members, particularly BAME members, to leave our party in disgust. If former officials thought quotes in the report – which are clearly copied and pasted from WhatsApp – were misleading, they would welcome the Forde inquiry having the chance to see the full texts. Instead, they seem to want to stop the inquiry from looking at the evidence because they fear it will confirm the accuracy of the WhatsApp messages.
But it’s not just MPs and the Corbyn leadership who have taken up the fight. Daily reports are being posted on Facebook and social media by local party officials and activists about the degree of hostility they faced during the last five years from the party establishment.
The right have responded. In a moment of perfect irony David Miliband on Monday accused Corbyn of employing ‘wrecking’ tactics against Starmer’s leadership, apparently forgetting how he spent the last four and a half years telling us Corbyn’s Labour was unelectable - and not just Corbyn as a leader but his anti-austerity policies and nationalisation programme. In 2016, Miliband wrote in the New Statesman:
The main charge against Jeremy Corbyn is not just that his strategy is undesirable because it makes the party unelectable. That is only half the story. The real issue is that his strategy makes the party unelectable because it is in many aspects undesirable.
It is clear that the Labour right feared the Corbyn project from the outset - not just the loss of control, of the left taking over ‘their’ Party, but also feared that a Corbyn government would be the death knell of neoliberalism and all they have invested in it. As the fear increased their tactics became ever more desperate.
The opportunity to examine how the left lost the battle in Labour is an opportunity to show how close we were to victory. It is an opportunity to remind people how popular Labour’s policies were, how an end to the politics of war and austerity was welcomed and how this vision was viciously undermined in order to preserve a failing system. This is why it is crucial that activists fight the narrative that Corbyn lost because he was unelectable or because his leftist policies were a pipe dream.
Now is the time to expose, explain and defend our legacy. Activists should feel angry but also be proud at what was achieved. With the evidence presented by the leaked report and inquiry submissions we can fight back. Let’s use the knowledge of how this battle was lost to help us win the war.
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