MOST socialists and Labour members will have welcomed the end of Chris Williamson’s suspension from the party, and his call for unity behind its transformational vision should inform our movement’s strategy in the months ahead.
The usual suspects have lined up behind deputy leader Tom Watson to condemn the disciplinary hearing’s decision. Their self-contradictory letter both attacks the disciplinary process for “the appearance of political interference” and then demands that leader Jeremy Corbyn politically interfere by overruling it.
This is not surprising. Corbyn’s enemies in the parliamentary party have made it clear repeatedly that they will not accept any process that does not give them victory.
Stephen Kinnock, one of the signatories to today’s disgraceful letter, previously called on Labour’s general secretary to ban constituency parties from expressing views on Williamson’s suspension because “political interference in political disputes [sic] is not allowed,” yet has no hesitation in politically interfering himself.
This is not intended as an endorsement of Labour’s disciplinary processes more generally. The fact that Williamson was suspended in the first place shows that innocent members of the party can be put through hell because of a pile-on by a mob of neoliberal bullies.
It is an experience familiar to many Labour members less prominent than the MP for Derby North.
Williamson’s remarks in Sheffield last year were essentially correct: Labour has done more than other parliamentary parties to fight anti-semitism.
The Conservative Party, with its links to far-right groups across Europe, has a far worse record of tolerating anti-semitism than Labour, and polls show anti-semitic attitudes in Labour have become less common since Jeremy Corbyn became party leader.
None of that makes the battle against anti-semitism in Labour unimportant — this pernicious and enduring form of racism does exist on the left, and where it does it must be dealt with.
But that cannot justify sloppiness over what constitutes anti-semitism and it certainly does not justify taking at face value accusations emanating from MPs and organisations fundamentally hostile to Corbyn’s socialist project.
Like Corbyn, Williamson has a decades-long association with the anti-racist and anti-fascist left and a demonstrable commitment to these causes which the MPs denouncing him have not shown.
His voice for peace and socialism in Parliament is needed because, as he told this newspaper today, the labour movement is actually in a position to radically change Britain for the better if we can overcome the Establishment forces ranged against us.
It is the only major party in Britain with serious plans to address climate change, to raise wages both by legislative action and by unshackling trade unions and enforcing the right to sectoral collective bargaining across the economy, to reduce yawning inequality by taxing the richest and delivering planned and sustainable regional development financed by publicly owned banks.
It would end the privatisation rip-off by taking water, energy and transport back into public hands. These policies will make a huge and rapid difference to millions of people currently living on the edge.
They are not — as another signatory to today’s letter, Margaret Hodge, patronisingly claims — a “bribe” to the electorate but form a realistic and achievable strategy for advancing socialism, equality and justice.
Realising this vision depends on discipline and solidarity across our movement. Some on the left see every political disagreement as an opportunity for virtue-signalling that too often takes the form of denouncing other socialists for perceived or imagined heresies.
This approach is unlikely to sweep Labour to power and emboldens those who are actively hostile to our project.
It also seriously underestimates the strength and ruthlessness of an Establishment determined to ensure we never have a socialist Britain and assists it in its effort to isolate Labour’s leader and break the movement he leads.
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