The civil war in the Labour Party is continuing apace. This week has already seen multiple suspensions of rank-and-file members, as Starmer and Evans escalate their purge of the left.
First to report is the suspension of Joe Simpson, the Sheffield Hallam CLP chair and a Socialist Appeal supporter. Joe’s suspension follows the events of the CLP’s recent AGM, where Joe stood for the position of chair, in his words, “in order to safeguard party democracy from the threats of Evans and his bureaucrats”.
As newly-elected chair, Joe allowed three motions on Corbyn’s suspension to be heard under AOB at the AGM. Members wanted these motions to be heard at the AGM, fearing that a Special General Meeting planned for the following week (specifically to hear these motions) would be shut down by the regional office, as has happened elsewhere across the country.
Two motions were passed at the AGM, both in solidarity with Corbyn. One of those passed was also in solidarity with all those suspended by the right’s purge. This included an amendment to explicitly voice solidarity with Sheffield Hallam CLP member Lee Rock. Rock was himself recently suspended for proposing this same motion at a branch meeting!
Several days following the AGM, Joe was told of his suspension. Allowing democratic debate, expressing solidarity, and providing basic rights such as freedom of speech are all now apparently crimes under Starmer’s regime.
Threats and fears
Fears that the Special General Meeting would be cancelled were certainly well-founded. Region requested the meeting be cancelled. Socialist vice-chair Joe Ashton, however, refused this request. In his response to their email, Ashton defiantly stated the following:
“The suspension and withdrawal of the whip from Corbyn is seen by members, as shown by the votes at the AGM, as the start of an attack on the left; with many across the country, such as Lee Rock and Joe Simpson in Hallam, being suspended for merely expressing solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn.
“The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party in which the rank and file members form the core of the party and should be the ones democratically making internal party decisions.”
Joe Ashton allowed the meeting to go ahead on Wednesday night (16 December), where it was decided that the motions should be ratified in order to allow members to express their view on them once again. They were ratified overwhelmingly.
These events in Hallam show the way forward for how to resist the threats of the right: get organised; don't be intimidated; and be prepared to defend democracy to the hilt.
This defensive resistance and defiance, in turn, must be linked to a political offensive against the right – to drive the Blairites and bureaucrats out of the party by organising to remove Starmer and Evans, and bringing in mandatory reselection.
Alan Gibbons – a lifelong socialist, dedicated activist, secretary of Liverpool Walton CLP, and member of Momentum’s NCG [Natonal Coordinating Group] – has also been suspended this week. Outrageously, Alan has not been given any reason for his suspension.
In fact, Alan is the second of Momentum’s NCG to have been suspended, following the suspension of Darran McLaughlin in Bristol last week.
Other notable recent suspensions include the chair and secretary of Leeds North East CLP, Kath Owen and Suzi Williams; and also chair of South Thanet CLP Norman Thomas.
Clearly the right wing are stepping up their campaign against the left, unafraid to target leading activists and stalwarts of our movement.
A fightback is starting to emerge however. A grassroots campaign started yesterday called Save Our Socialists has already received endorsements from leading left-wingers such as Richard Burgon MP and John McDonnell MP.
This is a promising development in resisting the purge, and demanding the reinstatement of those suspended. But again, it is vital that campaigns such as this link the current defensive fight to an offensive against the right: demanding mandatory reselection, election of party officials, and the removal of Starmer and Evans.
The right’s audacity and ruthlessness should be a wake up call and a reality check for Momentum and the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) of Labour MPs. These latest events demonstrate categorically what is taking place here: a witch-hunt designed to purge the left from the Labour Party, in the interests of the establishment.
Momentum’s response so far has been fairly muted. The main call coming from the NCG has been for the election of the general secretary position, with a campaign launched to bring in a rule change at next year’s Labour conference.
This is certainly a welcome demand, which would help to extend democracy within the party. However, this does not fundamentally resolve the current battle taking place. In relation to this immediate struggle, the Momentum leaders have so far only proposed petition signing and letter-writing.
The SCG, meanwhile, have released a handful of statements. And some have voiced support for rank-and-file members suspended.
While their rallies and statements are certainly fighting in tone, serious leadership, bold political demands, and militant action are unfortunately lacking. What is needed is a national campaign to go on a political offensive against the right. Otherwise, meekness will only invite further aggression.
Fight the right!
The Blairites are quick to bemoan ‘infighting’ and ‘factionalism’, given the Tories corruption and inept handling of the pandemic. But it is them leading this purge, not the left.
The right wing represent the interests of the same class as the Tories, and are seeking to make Labour a safe pair of hands for capitalism; a reliable reserve team for the bosses, given how discredited Boris Johnson and his ilk are.
It is only by clearing the right out for good, democratising the party, and adopting a radical socialist programme that we can hope to boldly take on the Tories and the capitalist system they represent.
Norwich CLP meeting shut down in attempt to block vote of no confidence
Norwich Socialist Appeal supporters
Last Friday, the chair of Norwich CLP abruptly closed a meeting of around 50 members, without discussing a single agenda item, after he had blocked a motion of no confidence in the party leader and general secretary from being discussed.
A Socialist Appeal activist had submitted the following motion to the meeting:
“This CLP notes with concern the communication issued this week from the general secretary which places further restrictions on what CLP’s can discuss. Due to these actions causing a breakdown in trust between members and leadership, this CLP proposes a vote of no confidence in the party leader and general secretary.”
In recent weeks, Keir Starmer and Labour general secretary David Evans have clamped down on members who have attempted to show solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn, following his suspension from the party and removal of the whip. Inspired by a wave of resistance from other CLPs across the country in recent weeks, left party activists in Norwich have mobilised to stand up too.
The chair blocked the motion immediately, as soon as the meeting began. He claimed that had he allowed it to be discussed, he would have been suspended. He stated that the motion discussed the EHRC report and therefore made Jewish members feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, according to guidance from Eastern Regional Labour Party.
Of course, this appeal to ‘the rules’ was completely unfounded in the first place, as the motion made no reference to the EHRC report, Corbyn, or the issue of antisemitism.
A point of order was then raised, challenging the chair’s decision to not hear the motion. According to Labour Party rules, this should have triggered a vote on whether or not to accept the chair’s decision. If two-thirds of the meeting voted in favour of overturning the chair’s decision, the motion could be heard and discussed.
Unfortunately, the chair refused to allow this vote, repeatedly appealing to the edicts from the general secretary. As the arguments continued over how this was breaching official Labour Party rules, it became clear that those wanting to hear the motion were in the majority. This terrified the chair, causing him to act increasingly out of order, including muting various members as they spoke out.
The constant appeal to the rules made for a flimsy defence. It is precisely these autocratic rules from the Labour HQ that members were opposing!
Norwich South MP – Clive Lewis – suggested the content of the motion be discussed in his Q&A section, rather than being heard as a motion (not in line with procedure). The ‘Love Socialism’ MP attempted to play the role of the ‘voice of reason’, mediating between an increasingly aggressive chair and the members.
Lewis’ initial fence-sitting exercise saw him come in defence of the chair. But he later retreated into silence as the chair’s actions became more and more indefensible.
A minority of the meeting, including the chair, tried simply to move the meeting on, ignoring the point of order and motion. These members used the excuse that we had a speaker from the Labour GRT [Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller] campaign present, and that the meeting should instead hear from this guest.
The meeting was in complete agreement that we should hear from the speaker about this important part of the fight against all forms of racism. But that is no reason to ignore democratically decided procedure. The speaker himself agreed, saying he would be happy for the motion to be heard, discussed, and voted on before giving his talk.
At this point the chair then declared he had two options: move on with the agenda; or close the meeting – ignoring procedure and refusing to take a vote on whether to hear the motion. As members continued to fight for the democratic right to discuss the motion, the chair simply ended the meeting.
The left in Norwich CLP have not been demoralised by these events. We will not be silenced – neither by the chair or by the bureaucratic general secretary. The struggle continues.
It is clear that Keir Starmer and David Evans do not believe in democracy. These right-wingers have a clear contempt for the membership, a large swathe of which still supports Jeremy Corbyn and the fight for socialism.
Grassroots activists, including CLP chairs, should stand strong against the leadership's diktats. Rank-and-file members will back such a defiant stance. Refusing to allow discussion will not wash with the membership.
Members and CLPs should continue moving motions of no confidence in the leadership, as they have been throughout the country. We must fight for a genuine socialist leadership – one that will struggle against austerity, the Tories, and the bosses.