After a slow start, the Labour leadership contest has been blown wide open by Rebecca Long-Bailey’s announcement in support of open selection.
This bold pledge has certainly thrown a cat amongst the pigeons, putting the Labour right wing on the back foot. It could prove to be a game changer.
The task now is to drive forwards and mobilise grassroots members around a clear socialist programme in order to secure a left victory.
Rebecca Long-Bailey (‘RLB’) declared her support for open selection whilst speaking at a packed campaign rally in Hackney, London, last night. The promise was part of a range of policy announcements, in which the left leadership candidate called for a ‘democratic revolution’ in British politics.
“We need a democratic revolution – both in the country and in our party,” declared the Salford and Eccles MP to a large audience of Labour activists. “Our party must lead by shining example. If we can’t democratise our own party, we will never be trusted to democratise workplaces, our economy and the country.”
This is 100% correct. Without democracy in our party, how can we hold MPs to account and ensure that we have class fighters in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) who will fight for the radical policies put forward by RLB, and previously by Corbyn?
The demand for the open selection of Labour MPs (also known as mandatory reselection) goes hand-in-hand with Long-Bailey’s other key demands for the abolition of the House of Lords and democratic (public) ownership in the economy.
Currently Britain’s Upper Chamber in Westminster is entirely composed of 800 unelected peers, all with their snouts firmly in the trough. And our economy is run by an unaccountable elite of CEOs and bankers.
How can we seriously campaign against these injustices whilst our party is represented in Parliament by a cabal of Blairite gangsters who consider their position to be a job for life?
I support open selections for parliamentary candidates. Here’s why: https://t.co/0VMlpN9Tsq— Rebecca Long-Bailey (@RLong_Bailey) January 21, 2020
Rip up the rule book
The call for open selection is exactly the kind of bold demand that is needed to invigorate Long-Bailey’s campaign and energise activists.
The demand clearly has enthusiastic support amongst the rank-and-file of Labour’s mass membership. This was seen at the 2018 Labour conference, when motions calling for ‘mandatory reselection’ gained the support of over 90% of local Labour parties delegates.
In the end, these motions were pushed off the table by a conservative layer of the trade unions. The Momentum leadership also played a regrettable role in withdrawing their support for open selection at the 11th hour, agreeing instead to the watered down compromise for the current ‘trigger ballot’ process.
Open selection / mandatory reselection is far more democratic, however. It would mean that any sitting MPs would have to earn their right to represent Labour before each general election. Importantly, new candidates would be able to challenge incumbents, with local members put in the driving seat and given the final say.
As Long-Bailey herself correctly stated last night, this is our long-overdue opportunity to “rip up our outdated rule book that has held back our members for too long and throw open the door to a new generation of MPs and candidates”.
Ball in the other court
RLB’s bold announcement has now put the ball firmly in the court of the Labour right wing. Previously it was Long-Bailey who was on the defensive, following her unfortunate acceptance of the Jewish Board of Deputies ‘10 pledges’ on antisemitism.
These pledges were nothing less than a charter for a witch-hunt. They would have opened the door to a McCarthyite purge of the left: denying any criticism of the Israeli state; handing over disciplinary procedures to a completely unaccountable ‘independent’ body; allowing members to be deemed guilty by association.
But now Long-Bailey has correctly thrown caution to the wind and gone on the offensive. No doubt this will have been against the advice of her campaign manager, Jon Lansman. Reports indicate that the self-appointed Momentum chief has played a pernicious role thus far, moderating RLB’s programme, removing more radical demands, and insisting on backwards slogans such as “progressive patriotism”.
The call for open selection is a welcome breath of fresh air in this respect. Most importantly, it will now force the hand of Long-Bailey’s challengers, all of whom have thus far sat on the fence and made nothing more than woolly ambiguous statements, in an effort not to offend the overwhelming left-wing membership.
Due to illusions sown from the top (in particular, by bureaucratic union leaders), for example, some people on the left have been taken in by Keir Starmer. But this knight of the realm is clearly a Trojan horse for the right wing. He was nominated by a swathe of consistent Corbyn critics. He is backed by outright Blairite factions such as Labour First and Progress. And even his own local Momentum group have urged members not to vote for the Holborn and St Pancras MP, warning of his “opportunistic tilt to the left”.
As socialist Labour MP Ian Lavery told the crowd in London last night: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts; beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing - because they’re all saying they’re socialists and they’re all saying I told you so.”
Now RLB has thrown down the gauntlet to Starmer and the rest. All Starmer’s spokesperson could say in response to Long-Bailey’s open selection pledge, after all, was a mealy-mouthed response of: “Keir will be setting out his plans to democratise the Labour Party in the coming weeks.”
Earlier in the day, the leadership race thinned as Jess Phillips announced that she was pulling out of the contest.
This highlights the real weakness of the Blairites, who have no support amongst grassroots members. Like Chuka Umunna and the rest of the ‘Change UK’ turncoats before her, Phillips has found that there is no appetite amongst workers and youth for the reheated Blairism that she is offering.
Instead, therefore, the establishment and their agents inside the Labour Party have been forced to rally around Starmer as their champion.
Now the left must go on the offensive. Over 100,000 new members are reported to have joined the Labour Party since the election defeat. A fraction of these might be liberal entryists looking to return the party to Blairism. But the majority will likely be radicalised workers and youth who are looking to get organised in the fight against Boris and the billionaires.
RLB’s call for open selection is key in winning over these new members, as well as the support of the existing mass of left-wing members - most whom have joined the party since 2015 due to Corbyn’s leadership and radical manifesto.
Above all, the demand for open selection draws a clear line in the sand between the radical aspirations of rank-and-file activists, on one side, and the self-serving careerists in the PLP, on the other.
Grassroots activists must exploit this opening, driving forwards and mobilising members for a left victory. Richard Burgon, the left-wing MP for Leeds East, should similarly utilise the call for open selection to expose the limits of his deputy leadership rival, Angela Rayner.
Complete the Corbyn revolution
On the basis of bold demands such as this, combined with an arsenal of strong socialist policies - nationalising the banks, land, and big monopolies; fighting council cuts; reversing all privatisation and outsourcing - Long-Bailey and Burgon can inspire members and secure a win for the Corbyn movement.
Most importantly, if RLB wins the leadership position on the basis of such a programme, it will embolden grassroots Labour activists in the fight against the right, giving them the confidence to kick out the Blairite saboteurs in the PLP.
This is a cause worth fighting for. The battle is on. There can be no standing on the sidelines. It is the duty of all socialists to join this fight and help complete the ‘Corbyn revolution’.