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Tough times for the left in Labour

When a centrist calls for ‘unity,’ the real message is that the left should not be seen or heard, but simply support the party leader, says RICHARD RUDKIN

FOR those of us of a certain age, the events of the Labour leadership in respect of their treatment of the left is a little like Groundhog Day. 

The centrists apportion blame to the left for the election defeat, while completely ignoring their own role. 

And now, once again, the left is tasked with trying to restore socialism to the Labour Party. However, I would suggest this time the task is much harder than before.

In 1995 when Labour agreed to remove Clause IV, Gordon Brown announced: “The Labour Party has set down its commitment to a market economy. No-one can ever again question our commitment to a healthy and successful private sector.”

The illusion of New Labour being a socialist party was still being sold when two years later Tony Blair won his first general election. 

However, by the time Margaret Thatcher declared that “leaving the people New Labour” was one of her greatest legacies, Blair and New Labour’s credentials had been well and truly rumbled.

Following Brown’s resignation after the 2010 election defeat, a glimmer of hope of Labour returning to its socialist roots emerged when Ed Miliband defeated the Blairite favourite, his brother David, to win the leadership contest. 

Here was a guy who had a Marxist academic, Ralph Miliband, as his father. While no-one expected Miliband to try to sell a Marxist policy to the Labour Party, there was an expectation that at least it would be a socialist one. 

Sensing that Miliband might try to move the party to the left, the mainstream media tagged him “Red Ed.” 

Unfortunately, the red that was anticipated turned out to be nothing more than a tinge of pink.  

In the run-up to the 2015 general election, with a grin of smug self-assurance that a seasoned Tory would be proud of, then Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls threw down the gauntlet to his opposite number George Osborne by announcing that if Labour were to win the election, they would freeze benefits — a clear demonstration that Labour could be just as tough on the poorest in society as the Tory Party.

Fast forward to the present day and what is the state of play? After winning the Labour leadership in 2020, Keir Starmer called for party unity. 

The left is well aware when a centrist calls for “unity” that the real message is that the left should not be seen or heard, but simply support the party leader. 

Therefore it came as no surprise when the shadow cabinet was announced that the majority of MPs who had been loyal to Corbyn were removed, with only Rebecca Long Bailey and Andy McDonald escaping the cull. 

That was until Long Bailey was sacked in June 2020 for sharing a tweet which Starmer believed contained an anti-Israel conspiracy theory.

The school of thought on social media suggests the left is back to pre-Corbyn days, but they are wrong. The left is much further back than that. 

Before Corbyn’s leadership, the left was a constant voice in support for those who had suffered injustice, no matter where it occurred. 

Under this new leadership, this is no longer the case.

For example, take Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a member of Jewish Voice for Labour, suspended for saying she was “uncomfortable” with seeing Labour members suspended over accusations of anti-semitism. 

Wimborne-Idrissi’s comments were made at a meeting where she was also critical of the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn.  

However, her suspension complied with one of the 10 pledges of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) that Labour agreed to abide by.

As many of us predicted, the BoD 10 pledges are being used to not only prevent party members from voicing concerns of comrades who have been suspended, in their view unjustly, but to prevent members criticising the Israeli government – under threat of suspension. 

Yet while preventing criticism of injustice of one government, it is acceptable for Labour members to hold the Russian and Chinese government to account? Indeed Starmer and Angela Rayner had no problem (rightly so) in “taking the knee” in support of Black Lives Matter and voicing criticism of agencies of the US government.

Shouldn’t all injustice be challenged? Isn’t it right to condemn the Israeli government when justified over its treatment of the Palestinian people, without the threat of disciplinary action, as Labour members did over the US treatment of peaceful protesters? 

Besides, shouldn’t members have a right to voice an opinion on a suspended comrade who they believe has been unjustly suspended, or are these rights a sacrifice the left would compromise on to get a socialist Labour leader?

I pose these questions because to restore these rights of criticism, the commitment to honour the 10 pledges would have to be rescinded — and this is where I see a major obstacle.

For although we can all name Labour MPs that we would welcome as party leader, after witnessing what Corbyn endured, is it likely that any MP would run for the leadership on the promise to scrap Labour’s commitment to the BoD?  

Moreover, after making that promise, and having witnessed the attacks that would surely follow from the mainstream media and politicians from all parties, it is unlikely they would receive the required nominations from other Labour MPs, who too would be targeted for the same reason.

Of course the answer may well be that the left would prefer to retain the 10 pledges in an attempt to restore a left MP as the leader. 

In which case even if the fight to have a left MP as the leader was successful, then I would suggest while the red flag of socialism might well be flying, underneath but not out of sight would be the white flag of surrender. 

For the sake of the Palestinian people, I truly hope that will never be the case.

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