By Charlie Kimber
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Owen Jones leaves Labour to back Green and independent candidates

Jones is now pushing a new initiative—We Deserve Better—to support individual candidates
Issue 2897
Owen Jones

Owen Jones has left the Labour Party (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Columnist Owen Jones announced on Thursday that he had left the Labour Party and is supporting Green or independent candidates at the next election.

“Under every Labour leader in my 21 years of adult life, I’ve plumped for the party’s candidates at local, national and European level, and campaigned for them to boot,” he wrote. “And yet, after a uniquely calamitous 14-year stretch of Tory rule, just as Labour looks set to reconquer No 10 by a landslide, I’ve just emailed the party cancelling my membership.”

His decision underlines the scale of the bitterness against Keir Starmer over his support for Israel.

But his decision is not just about Palestine. He said it has “ been a gradual, painful process of realising the party won’t even do the bare minimum to improve people’s lives, or to tackle the crises that have led Britain to catastrophe. 

“It will, in fact, wage war on anyone who wants to do either—making anyone with politics to the left of Peter Mandelson feel like a pariah on borrowed time”.

Jones shows which way the wind is blowing among substantial sections of Labour activists. Let’s hope he encourages many more people to leave Labour and start debating a socialist alternative.

The great movement for Palestine demands nothing less. Labour must pay the full price for its support for genocide. 

And, as Jones says, Keir Starmer’s “leadership style is crude in opposition—with an overwhelming majority, it will be chilling”.  Where will the opposition come from? Jones says, “If the left doesn’t band together, the only pressure on Labour will come from the migrant-bashing, rich-worshipping right”.

In the last few months, Jones has strongly criticised Israel’s genocidal assault and he has relentlessly criticised Starmer’s broken promises and concessions to Tory ideas.

But he has made his own compromises with Labour right ideas before. In March 2017, in an article in The Guardian newspaper headlined, “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s staying. That’s not good enough,” Jones attacked the left leadership.

“Corbyn’s first impression was disastrous,” Jones wrote. “A coherent strategy, a coherent vision and a clear message never emerged. Various terrible missteps played directly into the Tory narrative.” He denounced Corbyn’s “lack of strategy and basic competence”.

Three months later at the general election, Corbyn outperformed almost all predictions. He did so well that the Tories had to make a deal with the bigots of the DUP to survive.

Around the same time, Jones gave a memorial lecture on behalf of the Jewish Labour Movement, a group seeking to damage Corbyn with confected allegations of antisemitism.

Later Jones described Zionism as “fundamentally different from those projects of European settler-colonialism” such as Algeria.

His recent shift to attack Israel is welcome. It shows the strength of the Palestine movement on the streets. 

There are specific issues about the Owen Jones initiative. But our central argument is that the Palestine movement must not shift its militancy and energy into elections.

Elections matter. As the Rochdale by-election showed, they can become a focus to express rage against the politicians and their support for imperial slaughter.

But struggle outside parliament is far more important. The source of a genuine political break from Labour is the great movement for Palestine, and action in the streets remains crucial. It is possible to speak of genuine electoral challenges only because of the movement.

This is a tipping point politically. There is repression, racism and capitalist class war from the Tories—much of it supported by Labour. But there are also many defiant and determined people who are fighting back and asking big political questions, including about anti-imperialism and socialism.

Instead of supporting one of the existing formations,  Jones is now pushing a “new initiative—We Deserve Better.” It is raising money to support candidates “judged on whether they believe in, say, taxing the well-off to invest, or public ownership, or opposing war crimes, even if they differ on this or that”.

But this is completely inadequate to grasp the opportunities and the challenges today. The Greens have some better policies than Labour but have been, for example, been virtually absent as a national force from the Palestine movement. 

When they have influence in local councils they vote for cuts and are a mainstream force, not a disruptive anti-system booster of struggle. They are another version of a tame opposition. 

Neither the Greens nor nostalgia for Corbyn is enough. We need a political break from Labourism—a politics centred on parliament, looking to change within the system and giving priority to electoral calculation.

We don’t need Labour under Starmer, and we don’t need a Labour Party mark II under Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Jones.

The Labourist tradition always puts parliament first—whether the left or right is in the leadership. Strikers are told not to rock the boat because an election is coming. Militant protesters are told to tone down their rage because it might “put voters off”.

Palestine protesters are told to be peaceful and direct their anger to parliament and councils.

There are now new possibilities to grasp. Some of that will be reflected in elections, and electoral campaigns can be a focus for people’s anger. But it’s time for a complete break to revolutionary politics.

Who’s breaking from Labour? 

Before Owen Jones’ move, there were already six initiatives—and really seven—seeking to run or support left candidates outside Labour at the next general election. They will confront Tory and Labour support for Israel over Gaza and raise other issues.

No Ceasefire No Vote (NCNV): It brings together independent socialist councillors, general election candidates and activists who are committed to justice for the Palestinians. Its recent conference included some who had broken recently with Labour plus Liverpool Community Independent councillor Alan Gibbons, speakers from Newham Independents, the Independent Socialist Group on Haringey Council, Hastings Independents and others.

Its next national conference is set for 13 April in Blackburn..

Andrew Feinstein and Collective: Feinstein, a former South African ANC MP, says he is ready to stand against Keir Starmer in Holborn & St Pancras. He spoke at the NCNV conference. He is involved with the Collective group which says it will provide a guide to independent candidates and “at the same time, we are laying the foundations of a mass movement that will eventually transform into a new political party”.

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition: Centred on the Socialist Party, this group aims to run around 100 general election candidates. This would qualify for a party political broadcast. The SWP was once part of TUSC but withdrew in 2017.

George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain: Fresh from the victory in Rochdale and a rise in membership, the party has announced it hopes to stand at least 50 candidates at the next general election.

Last week it issued a bad-tempered statement about other groups. It said, “The Workers Party has never been contacted by Andrew Feinstein, Collective or No Ceasefire–No Vote, and we’ve given no endorsement to any of these campaigns or candidates.

“Our party welcomes independent challenges that on balance contribute to the weakening of the Labour Party. Those that may serve to strengthen the Labour vote or undermine a realistic challenge will not be supported.

“The Workers Party is committed to avoiding unnecessary electoral clashes, but having received over 450 applications to stand such an approach has to be two-way. The only group to consult with the Workers Party on this principled basis is the TUSC.”

The WPB has rotten politics over migration, climate change and trans rights. It cannot be the basis for building a new left.

Transform Politics: It says, “Over recent months, organisations and individuals from the labour and trade union movement have come together to discuss a way forward. These include existing left parties Breakthrough, Left Unity and the Liverpool Community Independents, together with others who were in the Labour Party and more from across the left.

“Now we’ve taken the next step: founding a new party of the left.”

Muslim Vote: A loose coordination of 25 Muslim groups including the Muslim Association of Britain, Mend, Prevent Watch and Palestinian Forum in Britain. 

It says it will recommend candidates at the election based on local grassroots decisions and the application of its “three principles”. 

It backs peace in Palestine including sanctions against Israel and rooting out Islamophobia and discrimination. And it calls for a substantial increase in funding and investment for the NHS, local businesses, home building and home ownership in the 10 percent of poorest constituencies. 

Corbyn? The most high-profile initiative is the one that has not yet declared—Jeremy Corbyn. Starmer has blocked Corbyn from being a Labour MP or candidate so Corbyn must stand as an independent in his Islington North constituency, launch a new party—or leave parliament.

He ought to stand and fight against Labour. His Peace & Justice Project is holding a conference on 13 April, the same day as the NCNV one.

Corbyn’s reluctance openly to declare his candidacy has damaged him. If he’d announced his campaign at one of the mass Palestine demonstrations in London, he would have put himself at the head of a mass movement. Instead, he hesitated and has not confronted Labourism at all. 

Socialist Worker will support credible left candidates at the next election. By this, we mean those who help build the confidence and fighting spirit of the movement and put forward a clear socialist position against exploitation and oppression.

Michael Lavalette standing as independent in Preston

Around 130 people attended a hustings in Preston last Sunday, where a majority chose Michael Lavelette to stand in the general election. Some 124 people voted for him to be the Preston Independents candidate.

In a statement released on Twitter, he says, “I’m very proud to have been selected to stand as the candidate for Preston Independents at the general election. We have always said that Palestine and Gaza need to be on the ballot paper and now we guarantee that they will be.

“But our campaign will be ‘Palestine plus’ because we need to talk about the cost of living crisis, the destruction of our welfare state, defence of the NHS and the atrocious pensions we give to our older people.

“I also want to be clear what we mean by ‘independent’. We are independent of the main political parties and the political establishment—but I go forward as a representative of our movement and together, if we all work hard we have an opportunity to give the political establishment a bloody nose.”

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