By Nick Clark
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Corbyn caves in to pressure as ally Chris Williamson goes

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Issue 2587
Corbyn has effectively sacked one of his most steadfast supporters
Corbyn has effectively sacked one of his most steadfast supporters (Pic: Johnwhitby/WikiCommons)

The Labour Party’s left wing leadership has shown serious signs of accommodating to the right and big business in a bid to appear respectable.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn effectively sacked left wing MP Chris Williamson—one of his strongest supporters—from his post as shadow fire minister last Thursday.

Clive Lewis—who resigned as shadow business secretary to rebel against Corbyn last year—was promoted back to the shadow cabinet the following day.

Williamson resigned after saying that councils should be able to double council tax on the most valuable homes—something that is not Labour Party policy. He was reported to have quit rather than agree to back down.


In an article for the LabourList website, Williamson claimed, “My idea for a progressive council tax referendum wasn’t the cause of my departure”. But he did say it was “one idea I wanted to champion from the backbenches”.

“I decided to stand down to give me that freedom to feed the fire which keeps the establishment on their toes,” he wrote—indicating that being in the shadow cabinet had held him back.

Many commentators and MPs from Labour’s “moderate” right wing welcomed the sacking as a sign that Corbyn’s Labour is preparing for government.

Stephen Bush of the New Statesman magazine wrote that Labour has “the air of a government-in-waiting.

“That means that shadow ministers can no longer go ‘off piste’ without making news or being dismissed as cranks.”

Right wing Labour MPs are anxious not to scare off support from the voters that they claim are opposed to left wing policies.

But more importantly big company bosses, bankers and shares fund managers are seriously worried about what a left wing Labour government could mean for them. Many are threatening economic sabotage.


Appeasing them means that the pressure to appear responsible is especially sharp over economic policies.

That’s why Williamson can make “controversial” statements such as support for the government in Venezuela or defending Palestine solidarity activists and get away with it.

But demands for higher taxes on the rich get him sacked.

It’s also why left wing shadow chancellor John McDonnell is preparing to visit the World Economic Conference in Switzerland this month to “explain Labour’s vision” to the world’s most powerful bosses.

Corbyn and McDonnell hope they can convince bosses to allow a Labour government to end austerity and renationalise industries.

But the concessions they make now will only leave a Labour government weaker in the face of the coming onslaught.

Movement is the key

The sense of a mass movement around Corbyn has been key to his success as Labour Party leader.

Corbyn’s Labour still pays lip service to campaigning outside parliament.

For instance last week the Labour Party sent an “urgent” email to its supporters on the crisis in the NHS. It said, “Our people powered party will spring into action whenever it needs us”. Yet its only call for action was for people to add their names to a statement.

It made no mention of the demonstration in defence of the NHS on 3 February—even though it’s backed by the two biggest Labour-supporting unions Unite and Unison.

Labour also launched a “campaigns unit” earlier this month. Yet its focus appears to be solely electoral work for Labour. A mass movement of protests, strikes and occupations is the only thing that could fend off a bosses’ onslaught on a left wing government. Building that movement means building that resistance now.

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