Leave Labour with a plan

With the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, hopes of achieving change through the Labour Party look increasingly remote. But new struggles are emerging in new ways. So, for the thousands leaving Labour, the key is not just to leave, writes Colin Wilson – it’s to leave with a plan to build something different.

The last week has seen two events that sum up the current political situation. On Thursday, Keir Starmer sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey as Education Secretary. On Saturday, meanwhile, some ten thousand people took part in the Black Trans Lives Matter march in central London – a total which would have been, no doubt, higher if not for the pandemic. It’s an important step forward after years of attacks on trans people, mostly from the right, but sometimes involving the left – attacks which have drawn considered responses from organisations like Stonewall and Mermaids, but little in the way of public protest. It’s great to see such lively opposition to transphobia – but this was also a Black Lives Matter demonstration. It’s clear that there’s a substantial number of young people for whom fighting all oppression is taken for granted as part of their politics – and in many cases, climate issues are too. The slogan raised by the anti-capitalist movement almost twenty years ago – that ‘another world is possible’ – seems relevant once again.

Meanwhile, Starmer’s plan for the Labour Party has nothing to do with relating to such people. Instead, his aim is the erasure of almost everything associated with the Corbyn project. Last Tuesday, as Johnson announced the effective end of lockdown with the British death toll the highest in Europe, Starmer commented that: ‘I believe the Government is trying to do the right thing and we will support them.’ This is not about lack of charisma or incompetence on Starmer’s part, it’s a deliberate strategy. It’s no part of that plan for Starmer to act as some good-faith figure who brings different wings of the Labour Party together – as Len McCluskey implied when he tweeted in response to Long-Bailey’s sacking that: ‘Unity is too important to be risked like this.’ Nor is Starmer moving rightwards in the hope of winning votes.

His key goal, rather, is to demonstrate that the Labour Party can be trusted to run the British state – demonstrating this not to voters, but to the ruling class of top industrialists and financiers, senior civil servants, military top brass and so on. These people were of course completely opposed to Corbyn’s policies for redistribution of wealth, such as their paying more taxes. But they were even more concerned about his foreign policy because Corbyn was in many ways a principled internationalist, whose first act as Labour leader was to show solidarity with migrants, who opposed nuclear weapons and who had actively opposed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Starmer wants to show that, unlike Corbyn, he can be trusted to run the British state, including its armed forces. This is the main reason why on Saturday he relaunched Labour Friends of the Forces, declaring ‘I am proud of my country and proud of those who serve it’, and explaining that he wants the military to have a bigger say in Labour.

Reorienting Labour in this way involves driving out the left, and accusations of antisemitism are now being used to achieve this. As Barnaby Raine has written for Novara Media, these accusations have very little to do with the real and increasing oppression of Jews. This use of antisemitism against the Labour left should not come as a surprise. All the Labour leadership contenders accepted the Board of Deputies’ ten pledges – including that Labour give up control over the disciplinary procedure of their party, and that anyone who questioned a person being suspended from the party would be suspended themselves. Any criticism of Israel, however factually accurate, can now be described as harmful to the ‘Jewish community’ – this stereotype of Jews as a monolithic bloc of Zionists, not affected by the variety of political opinion that exists among any group of people, is itself antisemitic. And you don’t even have to have committed the offence yourself – sharing a platform with the accused, or even failing to condemn them, can be used against you.

No wonder many socialists have left the Labour Party in disgust, or because they realise that the party is becoming uninhabitable for them. But this raises the question of what they should do now. Is there another electoral party they should join instead of Labour? Certainly, in England, no such alternative exists. There is no sign of Starmer’s attacks prompting the creation of a new left organisation – what would be, in effect, a Corbynite party outside of Labour. Of course, various left organisations exist. In rs21 we aim to provide a space for debate and coordinated activity among people who agree on the need for revolution – anyone who agrees with our politics is very welcome to join.

The truth is that nothing really can fill the gap left for Labour members by the end of Corbynism – there is no alternative party with half a million members and a principled leader who might become PM in the foreseeable future. Many who have committed to that project will find this deeply painful – and the danger is that people’s understandable current pain and anger will turn into longer-term political demoralisation and inactivity. The way to avoid that is for people to continue political involvement in campaign groups that aren’t directly linked to Labour. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen over 150 Black Lives Matter protests in Britain, for example, including Saturday’s Black Trans Lives Matter march. The NEU, the largest education union, has played a crucial role in pushing back against government plans to reopen schools – and has gained 20 thousand new members and two thousand workplace reps.

Many more campaigns exist, and as the Covid-19 pandemic continues – the greatest social crisis since World War Two, in a Britain where austerity has left millions in insecure jobs or housing – we can expect to see more protests and activism. There is no need to be a Labour member to get involved. In fact, Labour played very little part in the great protest movements of the last fifty years – that against the Vietnam War, the industrial struggles which threw out the Heath government in 1974, the Women’s or Gay Liberation Movements, the Poll Tax movement which helped bring down Thatcher in 1990 or the huge movement against the war in Iraq.

In the short term, the best way forward for former Corbynites seems to be to check out what exists in their area – what campaigns could you get involved in, or continue to be involved in? Of course, you needn’t do this alone – could you persuade other people, formerly or still Labour Party members, to collaborate with you? Or perhaps you aren’t attracted to local campaigns, or you want to clarify your political ideas – maybe through a reading group – rather than developing movement-building skills. Whatever you choose to do, there is every sign that we’ll need every one of you in future.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have left this same comment at the bottom of a similar article with advice about leaving the Labour Party; please excuse the repetition. This was written after Starmer the enabler made his most recent bad faith decision to damage the party with unnecessary self-harm.

    Although I greatly admire Jeremy Corbyn, I always felt there were toxic elements within the Labour Party that did not represent my values. Starmer’s lurch to the right is a prime example. As a former NHS Whistleblower who had my career destroyed for telling the truth, I was sickened by Starmer rewarding those who deliberately lied to smear Corbyn; it is too disgusting for words. I would say to anyone leaving the Labour Party due to such a despicable betrayal of basic justice that you will find a solid socialist home if you join the Green Party. Our solitary MP, Caroline Lucas is one of the most universally well respected MPs in Parliament and we fully uphold all Socialist values.

    All of the New Green Deal policies originated with, you guessed it, the Green Party. But we do not just focus on environmental issues. Many people who tried out the “Vote for Policies” website were surprised to discover that the Green Party ticked most of their boxes. The Green Party is a perfect fit for those who are passionate about the Climate Crisis, Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, CND, Anti-Nukes, Anti-Trident, No Tuition Fees, protecting the NHS, more Social Housing, Ending Homelessness & the need for Food Banks, Workers Rights, Gay Rights, Trans Rights, Migrants Rights, Human Rights, Animal Rights, Basic Income and so much more. If you think that your vote at an election might let in a Tory we will totally understand your decision to vote anything but…

    There are rumours Keir Starmer is about to remove Corbyn from the Labour Party and you should prepare to act in solidarity by leaving if he is forced out. Standing as an Independent is not as effective as joining another Party even a small Party with real integrity. I am sure the Green Party would welcome Labour Left MPs who were either forced out or could not remain under Starmer. Can you imagine the impact if a few dozen Labour Left MPs became Green MPs? It would not compromise their principals and it sure would give Starmer a bloody nose! If a huge number of young people joined on mass defecting from Labour it would demonstrate the true direction the entire country is moving in.

    The first past the post system forces many voters to avoid voting Green as they fear it will let in a Tory candidate, but voting another way at an election to keep out a Tory does not get you removed from the Party. I am lucky that I don’t need to worry about that in my Labour majority city. Personally I believe that that the Covert 2019 Rigged Election was a massive fraud and that Labour actually won last December. Trying to get this investigated is hard as the Electoral Commission is worthless, “A Watchdog that cannot watch is just a dog!” A number of people who feel as strongly as I do, have joined a Discussion Forum on Craig Murrays Blog under the heading of “Elections Aftermath: Was our 2019 Vote & the EU Referendum Rigged?”

    We are working to compile the data that will expose the Industrial scale fraud that Johnson pulled off. I have a Petition calling for a comprehensive investigation into the Covert 2019 Rigged Election. We cannot become more vigilant until we “Rescue our Watchdog,” so Please Visit, Read, Share, Link to and Sign this Petition: https://tinyurl.com/w4u9dwm If the vote was overturned then Labour could call for Corbyn to be reinstated as Labour Leader to take his rightful place as PM. Do not believe it is too late, as to do nothing is to continue on the path to Electoral Dictatorship.

    If the Johnson/Cummings Tory Government are not removed before crash-out Brexit at the end of this year they will solidify their stranglehold on power and we will face several decades of Far-Right Dictatorship. All of the classic warning signs are falling into place at frightening speed. Cummings is the real power behind the clown, but he could lash out if he is betrayed. As mastermind of the fake Tory “Landslide Victory,” he holds all the evidence necessary to bring down this Government. Cummings is the Grenade, oust him ad you pull the pin!

  2. How is this any different to the approach of the SWP that you supposedly turned your back on some years ago comrades (or SWP Mark 2 – Counterfire – for that matter)?

    Does the British left really need SWP Mark 3? Why should they join RS21 instead of the larger advocates of your approach?

    “Is there another electoral party they should join instead of Labour? Certainly, in England, no such alternative exists. ”
    Er … so what about Scotland?

    SWP members joined the Scottish Socialist Party and then left it as cheerleaders for the political suicide of Tommy Sheridan’s path … where did that get you? But you’re not in the SWP Mark 1 any more, thank goodness. Time to think about rejoining the SSP comrades of RS21.

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