Socialist Worker

Inside the 'Moderates' meetup': Vows to keep fighting to oust Corbyn

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2521

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a rally in Featherstone last week

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a rally in Featherstone last week (Pic: Neil Terry)


Right wing Labour MPs have insisted they will keep trying to force party leader Jeremy Corbyn out—even if he wins next week’s leadership election.

Party activists were told that “nothing changes” if Corbyn wins the election on 24 September, at a meeting with several Labour MPs on Monday.

MPs Alison McGovern, Jamie Reed, Siobhain McDonagh, Mike Gapes and Wes Streeting all spoke at the Road to Conference “moderate meetup” in parliament. It was hosted by right wing factions Progress and Labour First.

Each spoke of how they would keep undermining Corbyn despite the fact that Labour members are likely to overwhelmingly elect him as leader for the second time.

They took their cue from Labour First secretary Luke Akehurst, who told the meeting that, “Nothing fundamental changes if Jeremy is re-elected.

Responding to a question from the floor about what the right’s “gameplan” after the election is, Akehurst said, “We will just have another leadership election again and we will carry on having leadership elections until we get a sensible result.”

Gapes agreed with Akehurst, telling the audience again, “Nothing changes. I have no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as leader today, I will have no confidence tomorrow. I will have no confidence next month, next week, next year—and that cannot change.”

He emphasised the point with his own clear contempt for Labour Party members.

“The Labour Party membership has elected somebody who is incapable of being a leader of a political party,” he said.

“This is our party. We’re not giving it up to some people who think they can capture it, take the name and then maybe split it and build a revolutionary movement.”

Undermining

Playing to the gallery, Streeting attacked Corbyn—calling him a “total catastrophe”, adding that “Jeremy has set a new low”.

An apparent joke suggesting that Corbyn could lose his seat due to boundary changes went down well with the packed room of right wing activists.

To laughter, cheering and applause Streeting told the meeting, “Sadly Jeremy doesn’t have a seat anymore.

“I’m suggesting that Jeremy goes to fight a Conservative seat with a majority of five and a half thousand and see how he gets on there”.

Streeting and Gapes both suggested they were against Labour MPs serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet after his re-election.

It followed reports last week that some former shadow cabinet ministers who resigned in July were considering returning to the fold.

Describing the decision as a “genuine dilemma” Streeting said, “The effective opposition is on the back benches, and we have a judgement about whether we want to be on the front benches.

“Until things change I’ve got a majority of 589, I’m enjoying myself in the treasury committee—that’s my priority so I’ve got the excuse”.

An apparent joke suggesting that Corbyn could lose his seat due to boundary changes went down well with the packed room of right wing activists.

Meanwhile Reed and McGovern said they planned to defy Corbyn more openly.

Reed said, “Come 2020 I’m standing pro-Trident, I’m standing pro-Nato. And I’ll do that under a Labour banner irrespective of what party members might have to say about it.”

McGovern agreed, adding, “I will do as Jamie has described and follow the inspiration of our leader who voted against the Labour Party whip.”

Yet Reed also ruled out a right wing split from Labour. “Let’s not talk of this ridiculous notion of a split,” he said.

Gapes added that “There is a lot of comradeship and solidarity amongst the MPs,” who he suggested are still united in wanting to get rid of Corbyn.

Corbyn will be under pressure to compromise with the right after he wins the election to try and placate them.

The unity of the Labour MPs in their desire to get rid of Corbyn—and their determination to keep trying—shows this is impossible except on the right’s own rotten terms.


The right want to squeeze out democracy, and use union leaders

The Labour right are also preparing for battles with the left at party conference, which starts on Sunday of next week.

Labour First secretary Luke Akehurst told the meeting that one of the key battles is to stop what has been termed the “McDonnell amendment”.

The amendment would make it easier for leadership challengers to be nominated as candidates, reducing the required percentage of MP and MEP nominations from 15 to five.

Akehurst warned that the change would make it easier for left wing MP and Corbyn ally John McDonnell to stand for election if Corbyn resigns.

He said, “This is because secretly they want to change leader before the general election. And they are only clinging on, protecting Jeremy at the moment because they haven’t managed the rule change that will enable John McDonnell.”

Akehurst also said he hopes Labour’s national executive committee would allow a vote on whether to reintroduce elections to the shadow cabinet.

He said, “I think it’s the only way to enable people to go back and serve on the front benches and restore some degree of functional unity.”

And he wants to change the way the party’s leader is elected, including scrapping registered supporters and the one member one vote system.

He said, “I would like us to reconsider the election system for leaders and to look again at getting rid of registered supporter category.

“And I would like the unions and MPs to have a say in that as well, bringing balance and stability back to it”.

The right hope the changes will allow hostile MPs to pack the shadow cabinet with people who will undermine him.

Rules

And they want to change the leadership election rules in order to take power away from Corbyn’s supporters—many of whom are new members or registered supporters.

Yet it was the right who backed the current voting system, introduced under Ed Miliband. They thought it would help the Parliamentary Labour Party to consolidate its power.

It was a similar story when Miliband abolished the shadow cabinet elections.

But their plans clearly backfired.

The right are hopeful of using union leaders against Corbyn

Akehurst now hopes that giving power back to the union leaders will help them to beat Corbyn and the left—particularly at conference where affiliated unions have a powerful vote.

He said, “What we’re seeing on the affiliate side is the sound of political chickens coming home to roost.

“If you are Jeremy Corbyn and the people around him and you pick a massive series of industrial battles with the GMB union—over scrapping Trident, over nuclear energy, over fracking, over Heathrow third runway, over boycotting G4S because it does work in Israel—it is understandable the GMB is no longer a reliable vote for camp Corbyn.

“That is why Tim Roache as general secretary of the GMB has a mandate from his members to try and remove Jeremy as party leader and replace him with Owen Smith”.

Akehurst also cited the Unison union elections last year as a reason for current general secretary Dave Prentis to withdraw his support.

Prentis had faced a challenge from left rank and file candidate John Burgess, who featured a quote from McDonnell in his election literature. The election was also marred by allegations of malpractice against Prentis’s supporters.

Akehurst said, “If you are Unison and your general secretary was undermined when he was up for re-election by interference by people in the leader’s office backing the candidate against him, giving quotes from John McDonnell to appear on that candidate’s leaflet, that probably means Unison are having a little think about where they stand on this stuff as well.”

He finished by insisting that if the Labour right “stays firm” at conference, “we can actually have a surprisingly good conference for the forces of rightness, decency and justice in the Labour Party.”


Corbyn cheered in Barnsley

The Yorkshire Miners’ Hall in Barnsley was packed last Saturday. Over 500 people came to hear Jeremy Corbyn and others speak.

Corbyn stressed he was proud to have stood on miners’ picket lines in 1984-5 and though the Tories may have closed every pit, “they haven’t taken away the fighting spirit of the coal mining communities”.

To loud applause he called on people to “stand up for a public inquiry” into the police brutality at Orgreave. Corbyn also supported resistance to austerity.

He praised the South Yorkshire Freedom Riders, pensioners campaigning to win back free local train travel for older people.

Speaking later, Aslef union president Tosh McDonald said, “I support the direct action against austerity that the Freedom Riders have taken.

“Where are the local Labour councillors fighting alongside the Freedom Riders?”

Dave Gibson


Who is to blame for poor polls?

Monday marked a year since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. The anniversary was marred by polls that put Labour 11 points behind the Tories—the worst rating it has ever had in opposition.

It came after Labour lost a council by-election to the Liberal Democrats in Mosborough, Sheffield, last Thursday.

The Lib Dems increased their vote share by almost 32 percent.

The Labour right wanted to pin the blame for the poor results on Corbyn’s leadership.

Angela Smith, the Labour MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, near Sheffield, was “clear” that the loss was because “traditional Labour voters refused to vote for Jeremy Corbyn”.

These included the “former steel worker who’d voted Labour all his life,” who allegedly told her, “Sorry love, I just can’t vote Labour with that man in charge.”

The poor polling can’t be ignored—but it’s not down to Corbyn’s leadership.

Closer

Labour was much closer to the Tories in the polls in May this year and the beginning of June.  That was just before Labour MPs attempted to force Corbyn out.

And some people have suggested that Labour could have lost in Sheffield because their candidate lived miles away from the area.

Others said they didn’t vote Labour because they are fed up with the Labour council.

One said, “My reason for not voting Labour had nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn.

“It had everything to do with the current Labour Council in Sheffield not listening to Sheffield folk.”

Another said, “Labour MPs are really out of touch with the traditional Labour people—the result was nothing to do with Corbyn.

“They will be saying losing the last two general elections and the EU referendum was all Corbyn’s fault. They ought to try looking in a mirror.”


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