The Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) met yesterday in the face of a systemic crisis that is enveloping the party.
On the agenda was the question of whether to call an emergency recall conference – a means for the membership, not unelected bureaucrats, to decide the fate and future of the party. This is the only way of resolving this crisis: by putting power in the hands of members.
The right-wing dominated NEC, however, refused to even debate the matter. This is despite dozens of local Labour parties voting in support of a recall conference; with dozens more attempting to follow suit, but finding themselves bureaucratically blocked from doing so.
Contempt for democracy
Scared of even allowing a discussion on this question, right-wingers on the NEC dismissed the call for a recall Labour conference, simply ‘noting’ the correspondence. But this flies in the face of the party’s own rule book, which (under Chapter 1, Clause VI:1) gives the NEC the power to call an emergency conference.
When challenged on this by Laura Pidcock and other left NEC members, the chair – arch-Blairite Margaret Beckett – scandalously rebuffed Pidcock by calling her a “silly cow”.
Of all of the Labour NECs I have attended today’s was the most depressing.— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) March 11, 2021
The motion to recall conference was refused, no vote taken.
When @LauraPidcock questioned how this could be explained to members Margaret Beckett called her a “silly cow”.
Of course, while countless grassroots members have been suspended simply for attempting to exercise their democratic rights, Beckett will no doubt receive protection from general secretary David Evans and the rest of the party’s right wing for her disgusting remarks.
These outrageous events demonstrate the utter contempt that the right wing has towards the left, towards the membership, and towards the whole idea of party democracy.
These ladies and gentlemen are right-wing bureaucrats and careerists, whose only aim is to return Labour to the dark days of Blairism.
In the wake of yesterday’s disgraceful decision, therefore, we must redouble our efforts, and organise our forces to clear these saboteurs out of the PLP and from Labour HQ.
As mentioned above, the demand for a recall conference has found a strong echo across the labour movement in recent months. Dozens of local parties and affiliated organisations have passed resolutions calling for such a move.
Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) across the country – from Berwick-on-Tweed to Sedgefield; from Wallasey to Islington (North and South); from Aberconwy to Wakefield; from Blyth Valley to Sutton and Cheam – have passed these emergency motions.
Even last night, as the results of the NEC meeting were emerging, three more CLPs – in Camberwell & Peckham, Ealing North, and Hexham – voted to demand an immediate recall conference.
It is no accident that six local parties in Merseyside have passed motions in support of a recall conference. After all, rank-and-file members in Liverpool have experienced first hand the right wing’s clampdown on democracy, during the recent selection stitch-up for the mayoral elections.
Scandalously, many other parties have been blocked and gagged from passing similar motions, following the bureaucratic intervention of regional Labour Party offices, and because of the undemocratic actions of local party chairs.
But as already emphasised, the Labour Party’s own rule book states that the NEC has the power to call an emergency conference, if it so wishes, to take place within ten days. And ordinary members up-and-down the country have been demanding that this clause now be invoked, in order to reverse the right wing’s attacks on democracy.
Locally, regionally, and now nationally, however, this democratic right – to put members in control by organising an emergency recall conference – has been denied.
Alongside passing motions in the CLPs, in the run-up to yesterday’s NEC meeting, supporters of the recall conference campaign organised a series of online events across the country, as part of the Reclaim Democracy Roadshow.
From London to Liverpool; Sheffield to Bristol; West Yorkshire to the North East: These meetings brought together hundreds of grassroots activists looking to fight back against the right wing and their attacks.
These culminated in an inspiring rally on Saturday 6 March, with leading figures from across the labour movement speaking about why we must organise to take back control of our party.
“The members should decide, not leaders or fixers or head office,” asserted Richard Burgon MP, opening the rally. Richard was followed by Howard Beckett, assistant general secretary of Unite the Union, who stated that: “It is time to reclaim democracy – to reclaim our Labour Party!”
Sarah Woolley, general secretary of the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) chaired the rally, which saw over 400 people watching live at its peak. Almost one week later, and over 5,000 have viewed the rally online.
Other speakers included Labour councillor Pamela Fitzpatrick, Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, and Socialist Appeal editor Rob Sewell. Rob closed the rally with a rousing call to arms, urging comrades to get organised and fight to transform the Labour Party into a vehicle for socialism.
The right wing have hypocritically claimed that they have opposed the idea of a recall conference in order that the party and its members can focus on the upcoming May elections. But if this is really the aim, it flies in the face of their actions!
Thanks to the antics of Starmer and the right wing, Labour is heading for a disaster in these elections. The party now languishes 13 percentage points behind the Tories in opinion polls. This is precisely because the right-wing leadership have focussed all their energies not on attacking the Tory government, but on attacking the Labour left.
Our latest Westminster voting intention has the Conservatives taking a 13 point lead:— YouGov (@YouGov) March 4, 2021
Con: 45% (+4 from 25-26 Feb)
Lab: 32% (-4)
Green: 7% (n/c)
Lib Dem: 6% (+1)
SNP: 5% (n/c)
Reform UK: 3% (n/c)https://t.co/PozyxdVkyY pic.twitter.com/si2JNwN4HZ
Furthermore, the party’s ability to win elections is hardly made stronger by purging it of some of its most dedicated activists; nor by pushing out thousands (possibly tens of thousands) more through demoralisation and disgust.
If we want to beat the Tories, and be in a position to make a real material change to ordinary people’s lives, then we need a genuinely united party. But it is clear that there can be no unity with these right-wing saboteurs and bureaucrats, who are intent on liquidating the left.
The ‘unity’ we must fight for, therefore, is a unity of the left-wing membership around bold working-class socialist policies. This means removing the right-wingers in the PLP through open selection, and replacing them with genuine class fighters. This – more than ever – remains the pressing task in front of us.
The Labour Party is facing a deep crisis – possibly the deepest crisis in its history.
Months on, and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn remains suspended as a Labour MP. In turn, hundreds of grassroots members have been suspended for defending Corbyn and demanding his reinstatement. And local parties have been ‘taken over’ by regional officials, in order to prevent activists from discussing and organising.
The Labour Party under Sir Keir Starmer and David Evans has become an authoritarian cesspit— Socialist Voice (@SocialistVoice) November 28, 2020
Left-wing members are suspended for defending Jeremy Corbyn - an anti-racist - by Blairites who continue to defend human rights violations committed by Israel and Saudi Arabia https://t.co/ZO1j36hsVl
Reminiscent of a McCarthyite witch-hunt or Stalinist purge, comrades are even found to be ‘guilty by association’. The mere mention of Corbyn’s name is enough to see discussion shutdown, motions ruled out of order, and members thrown out. Such a situation is intolerable.
Step up the struggle
As things stand, Keir Starmer and the right wing currently have a majority on a rigged NEC. This is largely thanks to overblown representation from the PLP and councillors, and from large right-wing trade unions such as Unison and GMB – showing the importance of fighting to transform the unions also. And this is how the right wing were able to get away with their contemptuous actions yesterday.
They have spent the last year riding roughshod over the rule book, ruthlessly repressing members, and curtailing their democratic rights. We have no reason to expect a Damascene conversion any time soon.
If the right wing thinks that this is the end of the matter, however, they are sadly mistaken. We are not going to roll over. We intend to step up this fight to a much higher level. We intend to widen the struggle, and to increase more local parties, more affiliated organisations, more trade unions, and more grassroots members in this campaign to reclaim democracy.
In the coming weeks, local Labour parties will be shut down due to the pre-election purdah period. But this should not inhibit the left’s efforts to organise and mobilise at a grassroots level. After all, it is not like democratic discussion in CLPs has been possible over the past year anyways!
We must use the period immediately ahead of us to reflect on recent events; to learn the lessons of the struggle so far; and to organise our forces for the battles ahead.
Instead of retreat, we must inspire members to fight, and put out a clarion call for left-wing activists everywhere. Don’t mourn – organise! Now is the time to rally to reclaim democracy; to reclaim our party!
Conference of the left
Whilst local parties cannot officially meet, there is nothing stopping trade union branches and grassroots left organisations from meeting. Local meetings of the Labour left should therefore be called as soon as possible. And the Reclaim Democracy Roadshow should be continued, with events organised for activists up and down the country.
Importantly, the idea has been raised of organising a conference of the Labour left. We very much support this proposal, which should involve representatives and elected delegates from left-wing trade unions, organisations, and local groups coming together to discuss and draw up a fighting strategy for the left.
This will allow us to agitate all the way up until the national conference in September – and beyond – if necessary.
The aim should be clear: We need to remove this whole rotten right-wing leadership – a cabal that has seized power under false pretences. That means conducting a no-holds barred struggle, mobilising all our strength to carry through votes of no confidence in the leadership, Starmer and Evans included.
The right wing has thrown down the gauntlet. The gloves are off. We will not give in until we have fully won back the Labour Party for the membership and restored our socialist principles.
Fight for socialism
At the end of the day, that is what these attacks on democracy are all about. The right wing are attempting to purge the left from the party, in order to return Labour to Blairism; to make the Labour Party a ‘safe pair of hands’ for capitalism.
The struggle to reclaim party democracy must therefore be a political struggle – a struggle for bold socialist policies. This means organising to transform the party from top-to-bottom: bringing in open selection; calling for workers’ MPs on a worker’s wage; and restoring Clause IV, the party’s socialist birthright.
Like the Labour Party, capitalism is also facing its deepest ever crisis. Starmer’s tepid opposition and promise of ‘British Recovery Bonds’ is no solution. The system cannot be patched up – it must be done away with.
Our programme must therefore be one of bold socialist policies, with the aim of planning the economy democratically and rationally, on the basis of public ownership and workers’ control.
Despite yesterday’s NEC decision, we will continue this campaign until we achieve our just objectives. We urge you to join us in this struggle. Join the campaign! Join the Marxist tendency! Join the fight for socialism!
Statement from Reclaim Democracy, Recall Conference campaign
The National Executive Committee has dismissed the call for an emergency recall Labour Party conference.
We thank all those NEC members who supported the motion and who wanted to heed our call to restore democracy in our party.
Faced with an endemic crisis within the Labour Party, local parties and affiliated organisations have passed dozens of emergency resolutions calling for an immediate recall conference as a way forward.
Labour Parties from Berwick on Tweed to Sedgefield, from Islington North to Wallasey, from Aberconwy to Wakefield, from Blyth Valley to Sutton and Cheam, and many many more, have passed these motions.
It is no accident that six local parties in Merseyside passed the recall motion. Scandalously, many other parties have been blocked and gagged from passing such a motion after bureaucratic instructions from the regional offices.
The Labour Party’s own constitution states that in an event of a crisis, the NEC can call an emergency conference within ten days. But shamefully this has been refused.
The Labour Party is facing a deep crisis, possibly the deepest crisis in its history.
Unprecedentedly, the former leader of the party still remains suspended as a Labour MP. Hundreds more, who simply protested have in turn been suspended. Local parties have been “taken over” by regional officials. This is nothing more than authoritarianism. Tens of thousands have left the party, and thousands more are thinking of leaving in disgust.
By refusing even to debate these motions the NEC have failed the membership. They have failed to listen to the vast swathes of the rank and file who want to see democracy in the party restored.
This situation is intolerable. The membership has no confidence in the upholding of democracy in our party structures, the acting general secretary, nor the current leadership that stands behind them.
The membership is not going to roll over. We intend to step up this fight to a much higher level. We intend to widen the struggle and to increase the involvement of more constituency labour parties, more affiliated organisations, including our trade union brothers and sisters.
We urge the grassroots membership to support the campaign. Let’s fight to reclaim democracy in our party. #ReclaimDemocracy