Labour’s right are trying to discredit supporters of party leader Jeremy Corbyn by labelling them “extremists” and “entryists”.
Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson used a Guardian newspaper interview last week to claim that Corbyn supporters were being controlled by “Trotsky entryists”.
The term refers to the practice of left groups entering Labour to recruit members or take over the party’s structures.
Watson claimed that entryists were “caucusing and factionalising” inside Labour following Corbyn’s election as leader last year.
Corbyn has dismissed the scaremongering claims as “nonsense”.
But Watson released a “dossier” of evidence aiming to prove that entryism was a real problem.
His claims were based mainly on the fact that some members and former members of groups outside Labour have recently joined the party.
Yet Watson’s real target is ordinary Corbyn supporters and Labour members. Corbyn still has overwhelming support, despite attempts by Labour MPs to get rid of him.
Some 84 percent of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) nominated Corbyn. He won 285 nominations compared to rival Owen Smith’s 53.
Several of those nominating Corbyn backed one of his opponents during last year’s contest, when Corbyn won 152 nominations. This suggests that new Corbyn-supporting members have become active in their CLPs.
Yet Watson insinuated that entryists, facilitated by the formation of Labour left group Momentum, were responsible for the strength of Corbyn’s support.
He claimed, “I don’t think the vast majority of people that have joined the Labour Party and have been mobilised by the people that are in Momentum are all Trots and Bolsheviks.
“But there are some old hands twisting young arms in this process, and I’m under no illusions about what’s going on.”
Corbyn’s strength relies on the fact he has mobilised his support at large meetings and rallies.
Now the right claim this has opened the door to entryists out to “destroy” Labour’s “vulnerable” institutions. The idea is to discredit mass mobilisation—pressuring some on Labour’s left to drop it.
Corbyn hit back. He pointed out that more than 300,000 people had joined Labour because “they want a different kind of society”.
His ally shadow health secretary Diane Abbott also hit back. “The Westminster elite refuses to accept that ordinary people are coming back to Labour in their tens of thousands because they actually believe in what Jeremy is saying,” she said.
Corbyn’s supporters inside and outside the Labour Party have to keep defying the right wing’s attempts to undermine them.
The best way to do that is keep mobilising on the streets.
Britain’s three biggest trade unions—Unite, Unison and the GMB—have all announced which candidate they will support in the Labour leadership contest.
Unite and Unison both nominated Jeremy Corbyn last week. But the GMB plumped for his rival Owen Smith.
A ballot of GMB members returned 60 percent in favour Smith. His supporters tried to use the ballot to show that activists who support Corbyn are out of touch with ordinary workers.
But the GMB leadership had not engaged most of its membership with the question at all, with some members saying they didn’t even get a ballot.
Bea, a GMB shop steward in Sheffield, told Socialist Worker, “Most of my members don’t seem to have had a ballot. I did a quick straw poll of members in my office and only me and one other person had got an email.
“When I asked people in my office about it they just looked at me and said, what ballot?”
The way the ballot was presented to members was weighted in favour of Smith. An email from GMB general secretary Tim Roache’s linking to the online vote told them to vote “with your head and not your heart”.
It didn’t ask who members thought their union should back but “who is best placed to win a general election, to unite and lead the Labour Party into government and to put the policies we desperately need into practice”.
And speaking after the vote Roache said he would “proudly campaign” for Smith because “it’s time for us to face up to reality”.
He added, “GMB members cannot afford for Labour to be talking to itself in a bubble for five years.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis also made a veiled attack on Corbyn in an article published in the Mirror newspaper.
Unison had backed Corbyn after a consultation of its membership.
But Prentis wrote that “chasing ideological purity is a dead end for Labour”. He also said he was against “witch hunts”—something that may come as a surprise to some Unison activists.
Prentis and Roache’s attacks on Corbyn show that union leaders’ support for him is not always guaranteed.
Union activists need to organise in their workplaces and branches to stop their leaders backsliding.
The Labour right was jubilant last week after a Court of Appeal ruling allowed it to stop some Labour members voting in the leadership election.
Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) decided last month that members who had joined after 12 January—some 130,000—were not eligible to take part.
A judge had originally ruled that the NEC’s decision was wrong after five members took a case to the High Court.
But Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol appealed the decision and got it overturned.
He argued that the NEC should be able to set whatever rules they like during elections.
The case has exposed the lengths that leading figures at the top of Labour will go to wage war on their own members.
Most of the 130,000 members excluded from the vote were expected to vote for Corbyn.
The right often talk of the need for Labour to turn outwards and oppose the Tories.
But they are prepared to spend tens of thousands of pounds of the party’s money to stop members from getting involved.
To their delight the court also ruled that the five new members, including one teenager, should pay the party’s legal fees—around £80,000.
Yet the move has outraged Labour’s members and supporters.
A poll carried out by the Labour List website showed 75 percent of its readers thought the party should not have appealed the original decision.
And supporters donated at least £93,000 to the five members to help them cover the legal costs.
The five have decided not to take the case to the Supreme Court.
But one of the five, Hannah Fordham, said the case had exposed “facts which have spurred important conversations about the role of the Labour party membership and the NEC”.
Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith held their second hustings in Gateshead on Thursday of last week.
Smith continued with his plan of mimicking Corbyn’s left wing politics in a bid to peel away some Corbyn supporters.
But he also attacked Corbyn’s campaign rallies, telling the audience that Labour shouldn’t be “a protest movement talking to itself”.
He added, “It’s not about the T-shirt you wear or the badge on your lapel—it’s about power.”
Corbyn argued that Labour had lost the general election last year because “we were not offering something totally different to the Conservatives”—something Owen Smith claims to agree with.
But Smith also claims to be the more “credible” alternative.
He gave a hint of what this might mean during the leadership hustings when he backed the Prevent strategy, which singles Muslims out as “extremists”
The Labour Party last week announced its candidates for the “metro mayor” elections next year.
These mayor positions will chair new combined authorities set up under the Tories’ new devolution deals.
Shadow cabinet minister Andy Burnham was selected as the candidate for Greater Manchester.
Current MEP Sion Simon was chosen for the West Midlands.
Corbyn supporter Steve Rotheram won the selection in Liverpool City Region, where support for Corbyn is strong.
It’s good that he beat current right wing Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson and MP Luciana Berger, who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in June.
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