Socialist Worker

John McDonnell’s challenge from the left

Issue No. 2021

John McDonnell spoke strongly at conference fringe meetings promoting policies against war and privatisation, and for workers’ rights.  He was not called to speak from the conference floor.

John says he was lifted by the support he got from delegates at Manchester and by the defeats for government policies in areas he is focusing on. 

Socialist Worker wishes him good luck in his campaign and applauds his efforts to get debate going by means of a campaign from the bottom up.

But it remains very doubtful whether he will get the nominations from 44 MPs necessary to get on the ballot paper. There are 24 MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group, but not all of them are happy with McDonnell as the left candidate.

Only one MP outside the Campaign Group, David Drew, has come out in support of McDonnell. 

The notion that pressure from rank and file trade unionists and Labour members will be enough to get their MPs to nominate McDonnell seems extremely unlikely.

John is doing meetings across Britain to raise support. But only 30 people turned out in Hull and 50 in Liverpool - a meeting from which Socialist Worker supporters were excluded, despite appeals from many Labour Party members in the audience.

John’s strongest support in the unions comes from members of the RMT, FBU and PCS unions - all admirable, but none of them affiliated to Labour.

And the left is also divided. Michael Meacher put forward what looked like an alternative left bid for the leadership in the Guardian last week.

Delegates to Labour’s conference who spoke to Socialist Worker said that Meacher is seen by some as more likely to get close to the 44 signatures required.

Others said that John Denham, who resigned as a minister over Iraq, but loyally follows the government on pretty well everything else, should be the left’s standard bearer.

John McDonnell may not make it to the ballot paper, but his campaign can play a part in the much bigger debate about how the left regroups, and what sort of political representation workers and anti-war activists need.

The Organising for Fighting Unions conference is the key focus for that debate. But there are other initiatives union activists can take.

The CWU union conference this year passed a motion that it will only support candidates in a Labour leadership election that support the principles of workers’ rights set out in the proposed Trade Union Freedom Bill, and who are committed to keeping the Post Office in 100 percent public ownership.

Tailored as appropriate for a particular union, this would be good to raise elsewhere.

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