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From: Article posted to home page Notebook, 17 March 2014: Brief articles and notes on the Socialist Party website

Search site for keywords: Labour - Socialist - Labour Party - Tony Benn - Militant - Hannah Sell

'Poisonous infiltrators' in Labour Party were from the Right

A letter sent to the Observer on 17 March 2014:

Dear Editor

Andrew Rawnsley begins his piece on Tony Benn, as many have done, by referring to Benn's latter day status as 'national treasure'. This does not prevent Rawnsley, along with other New Labour sympathisers, using Benn's death as an opportunity to once more attack him for his trenchant opposition to the Blairisation of the Labour Party ('Tony Benn: a charismatic leader of the left damned by warm Tory praises', 16 March 2014).

Rawnsley states that: "for a nice man he kept some nasty company. He never disowned and stood in the way of dealing with, the Militant Tendency and other far-left entryists who were poisoning Labour from within."

I was, and am, one of the supposedly 'nasty people'. At seventeen years old I was the democratically elected representative of Labour's youth section on the Labour Party NEC, and also a supporter of the Militant Tendency. Tony Benn and I, along with Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner, were by then a small socialist minority on the NEC. Nonetheless, the ascending right wing were determined to further strengthen their iron grip on the party, going so far as to close down their own youth section in order to prevent further Militant supporters being democratically elected to the NEC.

The 'poisonous infiltrators' were not the Militant supporters - who argued along with others for the Labour Party to be democratised and for it to adopt a socialist programme - but those who wanted to turn Labour into one more party representing the interests of big business and the City of London. We warned at the time that the expulsion of Militant supporters was the thin end of the wedge and would lead to the expulsion of socialism. Sadly we have been proven correct.

Today we have a Labour Party that, as Tony Benn put it, represents the interests of 'Great Britain PLC', not the interested of the majority who are suffering austerity, and being promised more of the same under a future Labour government.

The Observer's editorial on Tony Benn (16 March 2014) correctly finished by stating: "at a time when capitalism is again revealing its profound flaws and inequalities, what Benn had to say has resonance and meaning for many that will be much missed." Despite all the attacks heaped on democratic socialism, and those like Benn who are fearless advocates for it, socialist ideas are regaining support, not within the Labour Party, but within society as a whole.

In our view what is needed is a new party that stands for the millions, rather than the millionaires. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - which will be standing in hundreds of seats in the local elections and is supported by the RMT, the Socialist Party and others - is a first step in this direction.

Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary, Labour Party NEC 1988-89

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