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Editorial The NEC left were right to walk out on Starmer

Resisting the Labour right is not a distraction from fighting the Tories, but essential to doing so effectively

RISHI SUNAK’S plan to punish the very workers who have held society together throughout the pandemic must be resisted by a united labour movement prepared to exert political and industrial pressure.

A pity then that Labour’s leadership is engaged in a savage battle against its own members.

Sir Keir Starmer’s manoeuvres on the national executive committee (NEC) to deny the chair to Ian Murray of the Fire Brigades Union — because Murray was among those who protested over his removal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn — provoked a walkout by the entire left group.

Is it an overreaction? Former NEC member Jon Lansman thinks so, implying that Starmer’s pick Dame Margaret Beckett isn’t so bad and we should “get over it.” Others will question whether who chairs the NEC is our top priority when the Tory Chancellor is preparing to shaft the worst-paid workers in the country.

These attitudes are mistaken because the left’s fightback in Labour is not a distraction from the labour movement’s ability to resist the Tory government. Too often the left has been lulled by the attraction of “unity against the Tories” with a right that never observes the truce; in the process it weakens the very forces that we must look to to fight for jobs and pay.

The NEC bust-up cannot be considered in isolation. It comes just after Labour threatened its own youth wing for having published a democratically agreed statement opposing the removal of the whip from Corbyn, reportedly accusing it of misusing “Labour branding” in issuing its statement.

Indeed, it comes amid a no-holds-barred war by the Labour leadership against the left, from the initial suspension of Corbyn to the refusal to restore the whip following his reinstatement to the party, through the extraordinary threats, suspensions and expulsions being used to stop Labour members discussing these issues.

The choice of Beckett to preside over the NEC at this juncture is oddly appropriate. She nominated Corbyn for the leadership in 2015 to “broaden the debate” but later described herself as a “moron” for doing so, since allowing the left a platform led to its victory — something she hadn’t anticipated.

Having learned the hard way, Beckett will presumably be on board with Starmer’s determination to ensure the left is never allowed space to argue its case again.

This destructive internal war is haemorrhaging members and has reversed progress the party was making in the polls courtesy of a Tory government of unparalleled corruption and incompetence.

So some appeal to Starmer to see that Labour is less likely to win without the left.

This is to misunderstand the motives of the leadership. Everyone who remembers Labour’s leaked report will recall the horror of senior staff at the party headquarters when they realised how well it had done at the 2017 election with the biggest vote increase in 70 years: “They [Corbyn’s team] are cheering and we are silent and grey faced,” a top official lamented.

For a Labour right primarily loyal to the existing social order, Corbynism is terrifying not because it was an electoral disaster but because it wasn’t — because it came frighteningly close to marshalling a majority for socialism.

In their eyes the comprehensive defeat of that movement is therefore a higher priority than the electoral defeat of the Conservatives, and we have five years of parliamentary and bureaucratic treachery to demonstrate that.

But the focus of Corbynism at its best — on public ownership and economic planning, on democratising state institutions and on building a genuinely mass movement rooted in communities and workplaces — is exactly where our attention needs to be if we are to muster an anti-Tory fightback on the scale required.

Every retreat by the left in Labour undermines that fightback. The left bloc on the NEC were right to walk out rather than acquiesce in another attack on us all.

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