It is recognisable by its need to purge, by the strategies it uses to purge and by its terror of truly democratic agendas. It is recognisable by its determination to convert all public services to private entrepeneurship, all non-profit organisations to profit-making ones – so that the narrow but protective chasm between governance and business disappears. It changes citizens into taxpayers – so individuals become angry at even the notion of public good … so that we vote against the interests of our own children; against their healthcare, their education, their safety from weapons … we will find ourselves living not in a nation but in a consortium of industries, and wholly unintelligible to ourselves except for what we see as through a screen darkly …fascism talks ideology but is really just marketing – marketing for power.
[Toni Morrison, Mouth Full of Blood, Vintage 2019 – essay on Racism and Fascism,1995]
The British art of governance is noted for its ploy of releasing social pressure from below while applying brute force from above: transporting dissidents to the colonies while allowing people to let off steam at Speakers’ Corner; a facade of press freedom while maintaining tight controls on the media by means of ‘D’ notices and ownership of the means of megaphony; and, above all, by deploying Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to provide the cover of bourgois democracy for business as usual. Over decades, the Labour Party has loyally supported the dismemberment of whole countries, nations and peoples. It has both enacted racist immigration laws and taken credit for grassroots campaigns that succeeded in ameliorating the effects of them.
A clear line of racism and hypocrisy runs through the entire history of the party from its inception, reaching its peak with the election of the Blair government in 1993. Stuart Hall’s brilliant essay New Labour’s Double Shuffle describes the phenomenon as a double-headed hybrid:
The fact is that New Labour is a hybrid regime composed of two strands. However one strand, the neo-liberal is in a dominant position. The other strand – the social democratic – is subordinate … the confusion which its double-headed strategy sows in its own ranks obscures the long term objective and prevents a coherent and organised opposition from emerging.[Soundings, Lawrence and Wishart, Summer 2003]
Lynsey Hanley challenges the party to ‘learn from history’ in her piece published in The Guardian on March 7, 2020:
Labour also built Brook House and Colnbrook immigration removal centres, near Gatwick and Heathrow and turned Dungavel open prison in Scotland into a detention centre for the incarceration of people refused asylum. Labour revoked the asylum claim of Jimmy Mubenga who was suffocated to death in October 2010 by immigration officers as they attempted to deport him to Angola. Passing HMP Oakwood on regular train journeys, one of the largest prisons in the country, commissioned and built by a Labour government, Hanley observes: ‘I pass that prison – so close to the railway you can clearly see the cell windows – every couple of weeks and remember that the attitude of Priti Patel didn’t come from nowhere.’
‘Yet liberal and left wing journalists ridicule the idea that Labour might win on a platform that doesn’t pre-emptively include hanging and flogging, just in case. A sort of belt-and-braces approach: we’ll accept the green new deal as long as you promise to press the nuclear button the first chance you get. That’ll show’ em!’[iii]
In the summer of 2003, Stuart Hall dissected New Labour’s hybrid nature in a manner that intersects with Toni Morrison’s description of racism and fascism. Hall notes that it only took a few weeks in 1997 for the basic direction to become clear: adopting Tory spending priorities, a ‘sneering renunciation’ of redistribution, demonising its critics as ‘old Labour’ and the introduction of ‘managerial authoritarianism’ and ‘reversal of the historic commitment to equality, universality and collective social provision.’ He is scathing about ‘New Labour’s reasoned critics’ – Roy Hattersley Bill Morris, Polly Toynbee, et al – who kept looking hopefully for signs that if only Labour was given another term in office it might refashion itself into something more progressive rather than clinging to the gospel of ‘market fundamentalism.’
Working globally and domestically through the IMF, the WTO the World Bank etc. the party ‘renounced attempts to graft wider social goals onto the corporate world.’
As Michael Meacher pointed out after the New Labour project had entrenched itself: ‘The rich now have a bigger share of the nation’s post-tax income than at any time under Thatcher.’ [Worse than under Thatcher, The Guardian, 15th July, 2003]
New Labour had declared the whole concept of ‘the public interest’ and ‘the public good’ obsolete.
In New Labour’s Double Shuffle Hall gives details of how the embedded ‘Blairite’ orthodoxy plays out in practice: that only the private sector is ‘efficient’ in a measurable way. The public sector is by definition ‘inefficient’ and ‘out of date’, partly because it has social objectives beyond economic efficiency and value-for-money. It can only save itself by becoming more like the market. This is the true meaning of ‘modernisation.’ Blair advised public sector workers to think of themselves as ‘social entrepreneurs’ despite being grossly under-rewarded in relation to the private sector. Professional judgement was replaced by an army of managers who knew little about the content of the field they were entering into but everything about ‘strategies of managerial control …’
Private corporations and advisers on loan from business were implanted into the public sector so the ‘corporate enterprise’ itself became progressively ‘the new model of the state.’ This ‘silent revolution in governance’ seamlessly connected Thatcherism to New Labour, asserts Hall.
Those individuals able to help themselves by providing for all their own social needs – health, education, environmental, travel, housing, parenting, security in employment, pensions in old age etc. – must do so. The rest of us must be ‘targeted, means-tested, and kept to a minimum of provision lest the burden threaten wealth creation.’
In its heyday British imperialism could afford to make concessions to a privileged section of the working class – Engels coined the phrase ‘Labour aristocracy’ – in return for social peace (the social contract).
Robert Clough borrows Engels’ term to explain the Labour Party’s beginnings and provides a bracing antidote to the widespread myth that Labour once had socialist roots to which it must return.
‘Throughout Labour’s existence Britain has been a major imperialist power, and this has been decisive in shaping Labour’s political development. The narrow stratum of the working class that formed the Labour Party, an aristocracy of labour made up overwhelmingly of skilled craftsmen, arose during the period of Britain’s world industrial monopoly … as Britain’s ascendancy was steadily eroded by US and German competition, the privileged position of the labour aristocracy depended more and more on crumbs it received from Britain’s colonial 6poly … To defend its interests in these conditions, it needed separate (from the Liberal Party, DL) parliamentary representation, and to obtain it, it founded the Labour Party in alliance with a section of the radical middle class. Since the privileged conditions of these better-off sections of the population depended on the maintenance of the British Empire, Labour could not defend the one without supporting the other. It was from the outset an imperialist party.’[iv]
More recently, Chris Rossdale wrote:
‘ … it’s an empty fight and a cruel victory if we win better conditions off the back of Britain’s martial, imperial economy. Indeed, it retreads the racist settlements through which British social democracy emerged off the profits of colonial extraction.’[v]
Clough is of the opinion that the political rights and privileges of the labour aristocracy ‘depended on the denial of those self-same rights to hundreds and millions of others.’ He reminds us that in 1916 when news reached parliament of the death by execution of James Connolly, Arthur Henderson led other Labour MPs in a spontaneous round of applause. It is striking that a hundred years later in order to do the decent, honourable thing, oppose a racist war for oil, for example, parliamentarians like Robin Cook have to resign from Labour governments.
Sidney and Beatrice Webb, firm believers in ‘socialist colonialism’, founded The Fabian Society, one of the organisations that formed the Labour Representation Committee in 1900. Sidney authored the 1918 party constitution Labour and the New Social Order that included Clause 4:
‘To secure for the producers by hand or brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the Common Ownership of Means of Production, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.’
Millions of workers and super-exploited colonised people were excluded from this noble aim, though they were the producers of super-profits by the fruits of their industry and the plunder of their land’s resources. The extreme racism of the Webbs was displayed in a New Statesman article in 1913, worrying about the decline in the birth rate of white people in Britain:
‘Into the scarcity thus created in particular districts, in particular sections of the labour market, or in particular social strata, there rush the offspring of the less thrifty, the less intellectual, the less foreseeing of races and classes – the unskilled casual labourers of our great cities, the races of Eastern or Southern Europe, the negroes, the Chinese – possibly resulting as already in parts of the USA, in such a heterogeneous and mongrel population that democratic self-government, or even the effective application of the policy of a national minimum of civilized life will become increasingly unattainable.’
While the Labour Party was at one moment obsessed with the birth rate of white people and an influx of ‘non-adult races’ (to use Webb’s description) at other times it was equally focused on ‘over-population’ and was a spreader of Malthusian propaganda, according to R. Palme Dutt:
‘The old ignorant Malthusian notions of absolute “over-population”, or the modern lugubrious chants of birth-control as the necessary solution of poverty, are thus abundantly exploded by facts. It is worth noting that this reactionary propaganda is still maintained, not only in clerical and conservative quarters, but also by the would-be “progressive” (actually, as we shall have occasion to see, one of the real bulwarks of conservatism in England) Labour Party.’ [vi]
The Times wrote glowingly of the Labour Government’s management of Britain’s colonial possessions:
‘Every far-sighted view of our imperial interests, and of the hope of removing them altogether from party controversy, goes to show how important it is that a Labour government, and no other, should have the handling of the great external problems which are crowding upon us this year – the Naval Conference, the Imperial Conference, Egypt; above all, India.’ [15th April, 1930]
‘It took a Labour Government to re-establish British control over India,’ observes Clough.[vii] Under Labour the Indian independence struggle of 1928-31 was brutally crushed. The neo-colonial partition of 1947 had its origins in this crucial phase when imperialism, represented by a Labour Government, recognised that it had to look to Gandhi to safeguard its interests in an independent India.
‘For if we do not, we have to face the alternative to Gandhi, and that is organised violence and revolutionary effort.’ [Clemens Dutt, Labour Monthly, June 1930].
In Palestine an uprising and strike during August 1929 against Zionist expropriation was ruthlessly suppressed on the direct orders of the Labour Government. Two hundred people were killed by British troops, nine Palestinians were hanged and hundreds were sentenced to long prison terms. Draconian legislation was passed some aspects of which are still in use by the occupier today. Ramsay MacDonald wrote to Chaim Weizmann who boasted that the letter ‘enabled us to make the magnificent gains of ensuring years. It was under MacDonald’s letter that Jewish immigration into Palestine was permitted to reach figures undreamed of in 1930.’
In Kenya The Kipande pass system, similar to the Pass Laws in apartheid South Africa was introduced by Colonial Secretary, Churchill, in 1921 and required all African males over 16 in Kenya to carry a document around their necks, with their fingerprints and the name of their employer. Although they had been opposed since their introduction, the abolition of the kipande was one of the main political demands that emerged in the anti-colonial struggle in Kenya post-1945. The following is an extract from Makhan Singh’s History of Kenya’s Trade Union Movement to 1952 where he describes the development of kipande abolition as a formal demand of the Kenya African Union (KAU). The post-1945 Labour Government ignored the call for abolition.
Following the 1947 Mombasa General Strike, and while the British Labour Party was sending trade union officials to try to tame Kenya’s nascent trade union movement and bring it into line with a ‘labour relations’ framework. A statement from the Labour advisor to the colonial government is very explicit about restricting unions to workers of one trade, emphasising strict bargaining frameworks, and that unions would regulate relations between workers and employers and increase productivity.
In Malaysia too, the British tried to influence trade unions during the State of Emergency declared in 1948 to suppress an uprising in the colony. John Alfred Brazier, a trade unionist was appointed by the government as Trade Union Adviser. English-educated, middle class locals were groomed and trained to replace the progressive, worker-led leadership of the plantation worker unions.
In 1953 Churchill’s government launched an all-out invasion of Guyana to remove its democratically-elected PPP government, labelled ‘communist’ for its proposed mild economic reforms. An outraged Cheddi Jagan appealed by telegram to Britain’s opposition Labour party for help. Leader Clement Attlee replied curtly: ‘Regret impossible to intervene.’
Contempt for and oppression of people of colour in the colonies was mirrored in the continuing failure of the Labour Party to nominate black candidates for Parliament.
This eventually led to the demand by black members for special ‘Black Sections’. The suggestion was denounced as ‘repellent’ by the Labour leadership, and as ‘divisive of the class’ by a section of the Left. On the eve of the 1985 Labour Party Conference, the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism asked A. Sivanandan for a race/class perspective on the subject. His response was published in the collection Communities of Resistance, writings on black struggles for socialism:
‘Black sections belong in the Labour Party, not to the black movement … the labour movement had failed first to support the struggle of working class, black people and then to incorporate the history of that struggle within their own history and traditions. Black Sections were thrown up by a response to that failure … ‘Black sections’ is not a radical demand it is Kinnock’s refusal to entertain the notion that gives it an aura of radicalism.’ [Verso, 1990]
From 2010 – 2015 Labour embraced austerity at home and racist aggression and apartheid abroad. There were racist anti-immigration mugs, the unedifying spectacle of Harriet Harman welcoming obnoxious, right wing women into parliament on the basis of 50:50 gender balance, while touring the country atop a cringe-making pink bus to promote corporate feminism on the election trail. PFI, Blair’s brainchild, continued apace under the Tories to allow wealth extraction by privatised utilities ‘morally indistinguishable from theft.’[viii]
In their bid to challenge Corbyn for leadership of the party, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall had all emphasised their support for Israel. Cooper stated: ‘It’s hugely important that Labour continues to be a friend of Israel.’ She said, ‘Labour must oppose the ‘counter-productive’ BDS movement and the Balfour Declaration 100thanniversary must be celebrated to mark the pioneering role Britain played in (promoting) the rights of Jewish people to a homeland.’
Kendall said a resolution passed in the Commons to recognise the State of Palestine on 1967 borders was ‘irresponsible’ while Burnham declared the BDS movement ‘spiteful’ and that if elected Leader his first overseas port of call would be Israel. He said the Balfour Declaration represented ‘the example of British values in action’.
An assistant to Rosie Duffield MP replied on her behalf to a letter from a constituent thus: ‘Rosie believes it is right to commemorate this historic anniversary and recognise the relationship that we have with the State of Israel … the legacy of Balfour reminds us that the words and actions of politicians can make a difference, and she hopes politicians on all sides will use the time that they have to take decisive action in the Middle East – to advance the cause of stability, security and peace.’
Despite being one of the most persistent voices in support of the Jewish Labour Movement, London branch of the far right Israeli Labour Party, Duffield’s knowledge of the Middle East is woefully lacking. On another occasion she raised a question in parliament concerning the ‘Great March of Return’ requesting that the UK take in a few Palestinian refugees. While more knowledgeable MPs demanded a halt to the targeted killing of peaceful protesters on the Gaza border, Ms Duffield failed to notice that the clue was in the name ‘Great March of Return’ and ignored the call of Palestinian civil society groups for an end to the siege, massacres and apartheid system.
Emily Thornberry attended events to celebrate 100 years since Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to the Zionist Federation promising to invade Palestine and hand it over to Zionism’s emerging settler-colonial movement. She proclaimed that ‘Israel is a beacon of freedom’ and joined a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) propaganda trip led by Joan Ryan to meet Israeli Labour party MPs. On the same trip she had meetings with Medical Aid to Palestinians and Breaking the Silence. Again, the ‘double-shuffle’ described by Stuart Hall is being deployed. Several Labour MPs are both members of LFI and Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, as if it would have been perfectly OK to belong to an anti-apartheid organisation and simultaneously promote a white South African group that was perpetuating racial oppression.
No double-shuffle though for Toby Perkins MP who, at the 2019 election, running as a Labour hopeful in Chesterfield, produced an election leaflet that contained the following: ‘I was disgusted that Travellers were extorting thousands of pounds to leave illegal camps. Now I’ve won cross party support for legislation to end this vile practice that robs business and land owners.’
Gypsy, Roma and Travellers’ Labour Group tweeted ‘Stoking the flames of racism for votes. Picking on a group that has nowhere else to go precisely because of people like him.’ And ‘We are not a campaigning chip to be used in elections.’
After the election when Boris Johnson responded to Corbyn at the dispatch box over alleged bullying by Priti Patel (Prime Minister’s Questions, March 4, 2020) he was able to make jibes about Labour’s ‘bullying’ of Zionist women and paraded his own identification with the State of Israel. The guardians of Labour’s role as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, soon to be headed by a Knight of the Realm, had assiduously prepared the ground for an extremist Tory government rather than enable a socialist government led by Corbyn.
Omar Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian BDS Movement, comments on the peculiar prioritisation of Johnson’s newly-elected government to undermine the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights. This policy is supported by the Labour right – Rosie Duffield, Luke Akehurst et al – following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher who banned local councils from boycotting South Africa in 1988.
‘Johnson’s anti-Palestinian position also fits a seemingly paradoxical global trend: profoundly anti-semitic white supremacist groups’ rising influence in mainstream politics is intersecting with the interests of Israel’s far-right regime on the question of Palestine and the rights of the indigenous Palestinians. Both have the BDS movement in their sights.’ – Omar Barghouti, Red Pepper, Spring edition 2020
Given the party’s history Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader can be seen as something of a miracle. Corbyn’s brave attempt to break with the past revitalised the Labour left and raised hopes that an ossified, institutionalised party might soon become the conduit of change. Thousands flocked into Labour’s arms, expecting to find the truly democratic socialist organisation they’d imagined and as described on our newly minted party cards. Some were shocked that not everybody in their CLP was like Jeremy Corbyn. More worryingly, not everybody even liked Jeremy or what he stood for. CLP meetings were baffling, bureaucratic, unwelcoming and boring. Those who have stayed inside and painstakingly jumped through all the hoops required to get a hearing or send a Motion to the annual conference deserve our support and gratitude. Socialism needs to be defended at every level, including in the parliamentary arena. On the plus side, the House of Commons is now graced by the arrival of refreshing new voices, including Zarah Sultana MP, Bell Rebeiro-Addy MP and others.
After the conference of 2019 these potentially transformative words were temporarily inserted into the on-line Rule Book as an appendix (after Chapter 7, Constituency Labour Parties, Statement of the NEC on the Importance of our Members).
Labour is a democratic socialist Party which believes that social change comes from a combination of progressive government at the centre and community action. We do not believe that social change can be delivered solely by a top-down approach. That means that we value the role of our members and our affiliated members and progressive campaigners, community activists and social entrepreneurs who forge positive change in their own neighbourhoods as well as shaping and promoting national policy.
Unfortunately, these sentiments do not reflect reality on the ground. Furthermore, they are rigorously quashed at CLP meetings with the help of regional and national bureaucrats while community action is non-existent, unless somebody else has done some and there is an opportunity for a CLP to claim the success for themselves, for example grassroots action to block NHS, Post Office, library, nursery or other public services closures.
In reality, for many grassroots activists the fight was taken off the streets, out of communities and into the back rooms of pubs, halls and Labour Clubs – to be played out in the strait jacket of Labour procedures. Even left wing groups of Labour Party members that formed to support the party leadership under Corbyn are regularly tied up with discussing internal party manoeuvres, not organising in communities to save public services, not on the streets stopping deportations, not protesting against cuts to public services, not fighting homelessness, not demanding freedom of movement. Instead, socialists are being told, ‘This country is not ready for socialism.’
Of course, many, many Labour Party members have actively supported Freedom of Movement, have campaigned against racism, have supported refugees, have taken part in anti-fracking and climate change activism, have steadfastly refused to abandon the Palestinian people and, as I write, are attempting to develop a community response to Covid-19. More power to them. However, they are impeded, not helped by those who adhere to ‘cross party working’ and the rigid enforcement of unthinking alliegance to the idea of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Solidarity with those on the receiving end of Labour’s witch hunt against socialists such as Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson produced an authoritarian and punitive response and a climate of fear in CLPs. If more party members had stood up to this bullying initially then the witch hunt itself would not have been able to gain the traction that it has. Many were duped by promises such as ‘everything is being sorted out and Jackie will be reinstated in a matter of weeks.’
The sheer ignorance of many in the party and particularly the Parliamentary Labour Party, especially about international affairs and Britain’s role in the world currently and historically, has debased discourse, is an impediment to progress and feeds the witch hunt currently being used to cull the left.
The circumstances that led to Labour’s stunning surge in 2017 and subsequent defeat at the December polls have been interpreted in myriad ways. The party’s place in the constitutional set-up and role as an arm of the British State has not been given nearly enough scrutiny.
Labour’s sclerotic structures are there for a reason, to ensure that the party fulfils its legal, constitutional role as an arm of the state, Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. ‘Jeremy Corbyn cannot fulfil his constitutional role as Leader of the Opposition’ wrote Peter Harris, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Colorado State University, (London School of Economics blog, February 5th, 2016). ‘So that the UK might have a functioning Official Opposition once more, he should resign.’
Palme Dutt, in Fascism and Social Revolution – How and Why Fascism Came to Power in Europe [Proletarian Publishers, Chicago 1974] warns of the role of the social democratic parties as enablers of the far right:
When Hitler came to power in 1934 the Social Democratic leadership declared that he had been elected ‘constitutionally’ and ‘legally’ and the only course was to await further elections. Even after Hitler armed the Storm Troopers, incorporated them into the State as auxiliary police with special control of the policing of elections, gagged the press, banned working class meetings, arrested all militants and let loose the terror, then held his elections, the Social Democrats still insisted that Hitler now had a ‘democratic mandate’ and it would be indefensible to oppose him save as a ‘loyal parliamentary opposition.’
Palme-Dutt lamented the refusal of the British Labour Party and other social democratic parties to support a united working class front and a general popular opposition to fascism. According to his account, the British Labour Party even developed ‘extended disciplinary measures to prevent its realisation.’ Labour adopted the slogan, ‘To defeat fascism, root out communism,’ using identical language to the Conservative Party, leaving the working class with no defence against fascism.
Jeremy Corbyn was watched like a hawk for the slightest body language that could be construed as evidence of disrespect of the monarchy and the armed ‘services.’ His refusal to bend the knee or push the nuclear button was emblazoned on front pages, fetishizing deference.
Shocking footage of soldiers belonging to the Parachute Regiment using a picture of him for target practice while on deployment in Afghanistan was a horrible reminder of the omnipresent institutions of state – monarchy, judiciary, civil service, security and intelligence services, army, membership of alliances under US hegemony – the Atlantic Alliance, NATO, the close alliance and venal arms trade agreements with Saudi Arabia and Israel – all of which brings to mind the ‘Spycatcher’ plot to remove Harold Wilson in the mid 70s.
Of late, the Labour Party has fulfilled its function as an arm of the state to perfection, tying up hundreds of thousands of socialists and grassroots activists in its labyrinthine, authoritarian bureaucracy. The party deliberately sabotaged its own election chances by embracing right wing campaigns against itself that accused hopeful socialists who had newly joined of being racists and bringers of Labour into disrepute.
In response to a Guardian article asking, ‘Immigration attitudes have barely changed – so why is far right on rise?’ Michael Rosen tweeted this answer :
‘… (because of) the role of centrists’ constant denunciations of the left as the problem and giving a free pass to the Right.’
Denunciations of Trump by right wing Labour MPs such as Yvette Cooper for his racism and misogyny rang hollow and masked an underlying acceptance of the ‘American miracle’ that harks back to the 1920s when social democracy was promoted by the Labour as the answer to socialism – Ford versus Marx. Labour’s muted opposition to Trump’s Middle East plans reveal another facet of the party’s desperation to rid itself of ‘Corbynism.’
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, established in 1982 following the Sabra and Shatilla atrocities, has developed a sophisticated, knowledge-based, antenna for identifying anti-Semites who occasionally try to infiltrate meetings and are dealt with summarily – unlike the Labour Party whose shaky understanding of how racism works ends in decisions that defy logic or justice. For example, a member who was given a formal warning for ‘minimising anti-Semitism and reposting posts that minimise antisemitism’ was astounded that given that the Labour Party considered him/her to be anti-Semitic and yet did not expel him/her as would happen if he/she had joined the PSC and was then proven to be an antisemite. Yet the PSC is placed on the list of extremists and terrorists compiled by the Prevent programme. No justice. No logic.
The Transnational Institute has produced an analysis of Labour’s involvement in paving the way for Prevent and posits an alternative to the ineffective counter terrorism policies of successive governments.
Just over two decades ago, the Irish and UK governments signed the Good Friday Agreement, the culmination of a negotiated peace process involving Republican and Loyalist armed groups in Northern Ireland. Principles of human rights, community consent and peace were key to achieving a dramatic reduction in lives lost to political violence. Indeed, by that measure, the Good Friday Agreement was the most successful instrument of counter-terrorism policy-making in recent history.
But the lessons of this success were not registered. The year after the Agreement was signed, Tony Blair’s government introduced the first of the fifteen new Terrorism Acts that have been passed since then in what has become a near-annual parliamentary ritual. Each Act ratcheted up the powers available to the police and intelligence agencies, creating a shadow criminal justice system in which legal principles applicable in other spheres were dispensed with. Alongside this legislative agenda, norms shifted in other ways: the use of surveillance and propaganda was expanded and deepened; military force and extra-judicial killing as counter-terrorist methods became routine; and complicity with torturers was normalised. Intelligence agencies, police forces and the military doubled or tripled their counter-terrorism budgets and held onto this funding even as other sectors were ravaged by austerity measures. The logic of counter-terrorism was spread into every sphere of public life in Britain as workers across government services were expected to become the eyes and ears of national security surveillance. The definition of the threat was itself transformed: no longer simply a matter of individual acts of violence but a much broader danger, understood in terms of clashes of culture, ideology and values, and informed by the Islamophobic principle that Muslim political organisation and dissent should be cast as forms of extremism.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Chatham House speech on the War on Terror in the 2017 general election campaign was the first sign of a crack in that consensus. In the days after the killing of twenty-two concert-goers at the Manchester Arena, Corbyn argued that “the war on terror is simply not working” and opinion polls suggested a majority agreed.
Leaving the war on Terror- A progressive Alternative to Counter-Terrorism policy,Transnational Institute, Amsterdam, July 2019. http://www.tni.org
Labour Party structures, at parliamentary, municipal, national, constituency and regional level have evolved in a manner that enables Her Majesty’s Opposition to retain a vice-like grip, preserving the status quo in aspic. Organising Labour left groups to support a community campaign or build one of their own is inconceivable as there has never existed any organic connection between the party and community in terms of grass roots activity. The party structures do not allow for it. The right turn up to vote at crucial moments and then disappear till next time. The left try to encourage everybody who is not on the right to turn up and vote when required but new members quickly lose interest in these arcane processes and drift away.
Labour councils are perceived as responsible for cuts to public services and employ Blairite tactics and neo-liberal language to spin cuts to public services as ‘reforms’ and ‘fiscal prudence.’
David Ridley, convenor of Coventry New Green Deal, writes in Red Pepper, Spring 2020:
‘ … Labour councils operating under Tory austerity have over the last decade overseen closure of crucial public services. They have dismissed calls to use reserves to keep these services open or take a stand against the government. Labour councils have instead put their faith in neoliberal economics, offering lucrative tax rates and entering into public-private partnerships to tempt business into their towns (and boroughs) hoping that wealth will eventually trickle down.’
In the Labour-run London Borough of Camden, as the 50th anniversary of 1971’s Women’s Liberation Conference at Ruskin College (where amongst the demands formulated had been the call for free 24-hour nurseries) was being celebrated – childcare provision was under the axe spearheaded by Councillor Angela Mason, a former Chair of the Fawcett Society.
Writing in The Guardian, Wednesday February 12, 2020, Local Government correspondent, Owen Hatherley commented:
‘Though the “Preston model” has much to teach depressed northern and Midlands towns, London councils instead face an enormous resource curse, with local authorities subsidising new council housing by building towers for millionaires. Even supposedly leftwing councils such as Momentum-controlled Haringey are funding themselves by selling off land to a giant developer.’
Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, has already expressed the hope that a new generation of Labour councillors may start to repeat the slogan of the Poplar councillors in the 1920s: “better to break the law than to break the poor”. Will the party leadership be supporting them?
The hollowing out of the NHS by means of introducing outsourcing, an internal market and an influx of bean-counting managers and consultants, was dreamed up by the Blair team. It wasn’t as if Labour Ministers and social entrepreneurs did not profit from the ‘reforms’ – ‘reform’ had now come to denote cuts, outsourcing and privatisation – and, in a letter to the Guardian David Murray, 2nd February 2015, duly blew the whistle on Alan Milburn, Labour’s health secretary from 1999 to 2003:
Alan Milburn should not only be rebuked (Labour MPs berate party’s ‘top-down thinking’, 30 January), he should come with this health warning. He profits directly from the private healthcare industry – not only from consultancy to private healthcare through AM Strategy, but as chair of Price Waterhouse Cooper’s health industry oversight board. Commenting on his appointment, Milburn claimed that there were “strong opportunities for growth” in the private healthcare sector, which he would help PwC to exploit. He also sits on the strategic advisory board for WellDoc, has been a vice-chairman of the Lloyds Pharmacy advisory board and chairs iWantGreatCare.
His infatuation with US-style private healthcare dates from at least 2002 after a BMJ article claiming that California-based Kaiser Permanente achieved higher levels of performance at roughly the same cost as the NHS – a claim later shown to be false – prompted him to visit California. But the US healthcare model he espouses puts profits before patients, evidenced by the Commonwealth Fund finding US market-led healthcare worst and most expensive of the 11 prosperous countries. Stopping the privatisation he intervenes on behalf of would not only save money but improve the NHS. His shenanigans when in power even provoked the Treasury to issue a discussion document to explain why markets do not produce good healthcare for all (Public Services: meeting the productivity challenge, April 2003).
In an interview for the BBC’s World At One, Milburn warned the Corbyn leadership against making a ‘fatal mistake’ by rolling back New Labour’s market reforms to the health service.
Milburn’s intervention echoed a 2011 speech in which he attacked members of the shadow cabinet for opposing competition in the NHS. As chairman of Bridgepoint’s advisory board, Milburn advises the company on its investments which include Care UK.
Care UK’s nationwide portfolio includes hospitals, GP surgeries and mental health centres, as well as £104m in NHS contracts since 2013.
‘Company owned by Alan Milburn had £663,000 profit increase in 2013-14, Guardian, 29 January 2015.
Canterbury and Whitstable M.P., Rosie Duffield, announced she would work with neighbouring Tory, Helen Whateley, to save the cash-starved Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Whateley, a Trump devotee, supports a scheme mooted by a Tory donor who happens to be a property developer to build a shell hospital in return for being gifted public land by Kent County Council on and around the site of the existing hospital. The developer proposes to build 2000 unaffordable homes. Out of pique at being sidelined by her Tory partner, Ms Duffield abandoned this particular example of ‘cross party working’ and is now in alliance with local Lib Dems who also favour the developer’s scheme. During the 2019 election campaign the constituency was puzzled by the appearance of people wearing buttons reading ‘Tories for Rosie’ and ‘Lib Dems for Rosie.’ Instead of working with grassroots campaigners calling for three excellent hospitals to serve the most deprived parts of East Kent, Ms Duffield has attempted to break the unity of the community campaign to fight the closure of stroke units and to ensure all parts of East Kent are equally well-served by the NHS and properly funded by central government.
When Boris Johnson prorogued parliament to avoid Brexit votes, Labour Party members were instructed by Ms Duffield not to attend a pro-democracy community rally outside a Conservative Party building in Canterbury.
Left wing Labour CLP members across the country are familiar with Blairites in their CLPs who have privileged access to right-wing regional and NEC representatives whose actions are coordinated by Progress, Labour First and various pro-Israel groups.
Miriam Rice a Labour Councillor in Ealing last month posted an article on Twitter published by the notorious anti-Muslim think tank the Gatestone Institute. The headline of the article claimed that “Arabs in Israel do not want to live in ‘Palestine”.
After several Labour members in Rice’s local constituency complained to party officials about Rice’s tweet linking to the extremist site, the councillor deleted it. But Rice has so far not apologized and remains administrator of the Ealing Labour Twitter account.
Rosie Duffield persuaded her CLP to support Maggie Cosin’s election to the NEC, though members were hesitant as Cosin had not bothered to supply a candidate statement for their consideration. Cosin, a prominent member of Labour First, was duly elected and became a member of the secretive, three-person, National Constitutional Committee, earning the title ‘witch-finder general’ for her hard-line pursuit of perceived supporters of Palestinian human rights, such as former (thanks to Cosin) M.P., Chris Williamson.
But if you were looking for someone to personify the historical right of the party, Luke Akehurst is your man. As Secretary of Labour First, he is known for setting up organisations such as Save Labour, designed to scupper Corbyn’s leadership bid. He launched Stand with Israel and We Believe in Israel to bolster the relaunched Jewish Labour Movement, previously known as Poale Zion. His extraordinary espousal of empire loyalism came to light in a series of tweets defending Britain’s colonial policy under Attlee.
An article by Graham Stevenson in The Morning Star, on July 30, 2019, ‘explodes some of the lies used by RW Labour figures to support Britain’s bloody oppression of Malaya’s freedom struggle.’
He cites myths circulated by Akehurst on social media and tackles the issue squarely, ‘Labour’s colonial minister, justifying the banning of the Malayan Communist Party in July 1948, claimed it to be “the nerve centre of the whole subversive movement.”’
‘… Malaya, as the world’s greatest exporter of rubber and tin, provided the bulk of tax revenues from the colonies. The US got about half of its rubber from Malaya and nearly all its tin.’
Stevenson points out: ‘During the “dollar gap” crisis of 1947, Britain went from being the world’s greatest creditor to the world’s greatest debtor … Attlee’s government was broke and needed dollars to pay debts to the United States. Parliament was not told that colonial exports accounted for about a third of Britain’s dollar earnings and Malaya was the single most important source.’
The Labour left, including Nye Bevan, opposed a Labour government using military force to suppress the struggles for independence in places such as the Gold Coast (Ghana), Nigeria and Iran. But economic exploitation of the colonies intensified. Akehurst makes explicit the continued lust for empire behind the Labour right’s support of racist wars, even though such ambitions can only be partially satiated in the role of Trump’s junior partner.
Jeremy Corbyn, with his long history of anticolonial campaigning, his support of the LGBTQ community, his stand against racist wars, his longstanding involvement with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, his determination to democratise the party and his sheer decency, was anathema to Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Socialists who remain inside the Labour Party will have a tough job ahead to try to salvage the project started by Corbyn.
Philip Collins, writing in Murdoch’s London mouthpieceThe Times has already demanded that ‘Keir Starmer’s first task is to purge the Corbynistas’ [March 12, 2020].
And so it goes …