Editorial of the Socialist
Corbyn must lead a fight against the right and for an anti-austerity programme
The Tory press is stoutly defending the ‘principled’ Labour right-wingers who resigned in protest from Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. Kevan Jones, Jonathan Reynolds and Stephen Doughty left their positions over the sacking of Pat McFadden and the moving of Maria Eagle from Defence to be replaced by anti-Trident Emily Thornberry. The Financial Times even calls for so-called ‘moderates’ to “withdraw their labour.”
Shadow Attorney General Catherine McKinnell later resigned citing ‘concerns over the direction and internal conflict’ under Corbyn. Others have raised threats to resign if Corbyn is successful in changing the party’s policy on Trident.
The general secretary of the party has spoken out against Corbyn’s plans to involve the Labour membership in decision making over the issue. He said that any change in how decisions are made must first be passed through the Autumn conference – too late to impact the position taken at the vote expected in Spring on whether to replace Trident nuclear submarines.
While many on the left will welcome the removal or resignation of right wingers, there will also be frustration that the re-shuffle didn’t go much further in striking against the right.
Correctly, after the treachery of the right wing around the Syria vote there was a groundswell in favour of getting rid of the Blairites from the shadow cabinet. This was linked with a mood to fight for mandatory reselection to take them out of Parliament altogether and replace them with Labour candidates who agree with the anti-austerity anti-war agenda that saw Corbyn thrust into the leadership.
Shadow cabinet resignations
In particular, there will be anger that Hilary Benn wasn’t removed. It seems that this change was well trailed by members of Jeremy’s team but ultimately it appears that they balked at this step under yet another threat from ten or eleven right-wing shadow cabinet members that there would be a ‘walkout’ if they had pressed ahead.
Allegedly, a deal was done with Benn that he wouldn’t publically criticise the leadership’s policy positions but he was quick to pronounce that he wouldn’t be muzzled!
The right wing have denounced Jeremy Corbyn as a hypocrite for expecting shadow ministers to vote with him, pointing to his voting record from the backbenches. But this isn’t an issue about ‘loyalty to the leader’ or individual ‘dissent’ but loyalty to the interests of the working class and ever-growing sections of the middle class too.
Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the small number of principled lefts rightly opposed the pro-market policies of Blair, Brown and Miliband over the last two decades. In contrast, the Blairite rebels have openly collaborated with the Tory class enemies. Benn will never be forgiven after his Syria speech was applauded and cheered by the Tory benches.
Stephen Doughty resigned live on the BBC’s Daily Politics conveniently just minutes before Prime Minister’s Question Time, where Cameron ridiculed the reshuffle.
Yet once again there is a refusal to take decisive action against the right wing. It is becoming a trend that the new leadership sets out on a decision but prevaricates and doesn’t fully follow through.
The result is that they antagonise and then embolden the Labour right and their big business backers but frustrate their own supporters. At root it is an unwillingness to face the reality of the situation and draw the necessary conclusions politically and organisationally.
As we have stated in previous articles and is now increasingly being accepted within much of the press, there are two parties fighting within Labour. But while the right wing seems to be doing the fighting, much of Corbyn’s team are reluctant to accept the reality. On Newsnight, Dianne Abbott denied that there was a “left-right dichotomy” in the party.
While the major differences at this stage have been on foreign policy, the underlying cleavage is over austerity. That is why Corbyn and McDonnell should lead the charge over opposition to the cuts as a means to mobilise their support to defeat the Labour right and transform Labour into an anti-austerity force.
A clear position of calling on Labour councils to refuse to pass on any more Tory cuts (particularly as Osborne’s new £20 billion wave of local authority austerity is cranked up) would mark a real line in the sand. It would be possible to build a mass movement with local communities and council workforces being devastated by the cuts. It would also give a boost to any Labour councillors who are considering voting against the cuts.
This is what is necessary to break the deadlock in Labour. The right have the overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and will never be reconciled to a Corbyn and McDonnell-led Labour Party. But their policies are at odds with the outlook of growing sections of the working and middle classes.
Some historical pillars of Tory rule in the past, such as the legal and medical professions, are being eroded by the economic crisis and austerity. Even in the recent past, the idea of unofficial stoppages by solicitors and even barristers and strikes by doctors would have seemed impossible.
These are groups that can and are being won over to the labour and trade union movement and are some of the basis for the anti-austerity mood behind the Corbyn surge.
Desperately, some of the Blairite MPs in seats outside London and the South East are trying to contrast themselves with the ‘North London elite’ of Corbyn. Yet their pro-austerity ideology has nothing in common with the catastrophe facing working-class people north, south, east or west and can deliver only further misery!
Only by fully adopting a clear anti-cuts programme as the basis for a mass anti-austerity movement can Jeremy Corbyn put clear red water between his leadership and the Labour right.