Socialist Worker

Labour’s right wing MPs won’t be beaten at their own game

Issue No. 2546

Labours deputy leader Tom Watson and leader Jeremy Corbyn

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson and leader Jeremy Corbyn (Pic: Wikimedia Commons/Rwendland)


So much has changed inside the Labour Party, and yet so little.

A new, mass membership flooded into the party in 2015, reversing a decline that had seemed terminal.

They installed a left wing leader by a massive majority and against the wishes of most Labour MPs—and kept him there.

This terrifies and outrages MPs used to controlling the party without having to pay too much attention to what members think.

That’s why when Labour MPs really want to go for Corbyn, they go for his supporters.

This week the Observer newspaper revealed “A hard-left plot by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to seize permanent control of the Labour party.”

It claimed a “secret tape” from an open public meeting exposed plans for the Unite union to affiliate to left wing Labour group Momentum. Activists discussed how to get left supporters elected to Labour’s conference and national executive committee.

Nothing on the tape was the smoking gun promised by the headline.

But it was enough to ignite the fury of Labour MPs. For deputy leader Tom Watson, the tape was evidence of “entryism”.

Others piled in behind him. It was reminiscent of smears against Corbyn supporters during the two recent leadership elections.

Yet though the membership has grown larger and louder, MPs and the right still hold the whip hand.

Punished

Watson can clearly get away with saying whatever he likes. Corbyn tried to tell him off on Monday afternoon—and was punished for it at a Parliamentary Labour Party meeting that evening.

And the right still control Labour’s bureaucratic structures, out of reach of ordinary members.

So internal battles are stacked against the left. Corbyn was not even able to get his preferred candidate onto Labour’s shortlist for a coming by-election in the Manchester Gorton safe seat.

The “revelations” about Momentum were timed to interfere with Unite’s current leadership election.

Unite is Britain’s largest union and Labour’s biggest funder, making its leader Len McCluskey a powerful figure in Labour.

His backing has helped Corbyn weather the right’s attacks, so the right want rid of him.

Yet McCluskey is not a reliable ally. He has already hinted that he could abandon Corbyn if Labour’s poor performance in opinion polls doesn’t improve.

Left and right in Labour are now in a stalemate—but Corbyn and the left weaken as it goes on.

Corbyn has already made too many concessions, and the left can’t win by fighting over Labour’s internal structures where the right is naturally strongest.

The alternative is fighting where our side gets its power—by building a broader movement in the streets and workplaces to not simply change Labour, but change society too.


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