As events of recent weeks have made clear, the right-wing Blairite side of the Labour Party remains unreconciled to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party. They are using every opportunity they can find to attempt to undermine and discredit Corbyn, while trying to push the Labour Party decisively back towards the pro-capitalist, warmongering policies of the Blair era.
They are aided in this by the Labour Party’s current structures – which remain in the undemocratic state that was inherited from the Blairites. While the left has been able to make some gains on the national executive committee (NEC) and in the appointment of Jennie Formby as general secretary, much of the party machine – and a majority of Labour MPs and councillors – remain as bulwarks of the right wing.
A democracy review has been established to look at measures to renew Labour’s structures. This is potentially positive but unfortunately the review has ruled out considering mandatory reselection of MPs – a vital measure to allow the workers’ movement to choose MPs who act in its interests.
The Socialist Party argues for the democracy review to put forward a proposal to completely transform the Labour Party. Some of the key measures that are needed are the re-introduction of mandatory reselection of MPs, and the democratisation of the selection of Labour councillors, with local wards able to choose their own candidates.
The restoration of trade union rights within the Labour Party, under the democratic control of trade union members, is vital. It would be part of returning the Labour Party to a modern version of its founding federal structures. This would enable all socialist and working class forces to come together to build a powerful, 100% anti-austerity party.
If the democracy review doesn’t put forward the measures needed Jeremy Corbyn should present his own proposals directly to trade unionists, members, and registered supporters.
The Socialist Party has written to Jennie Formby, the new left Labour Party general secretary, to discuss the Socialist Party’s right to affiliate to Labour, as part of a root and branch transformation of the party. Below it are extracts from a submission to the democracy review by Dave Nellist, former Labour MP and now a member of the Socialist Party national committee, developing the arguments for a federal structure.
I am writing to you on behalf of the Socialist Party (previously the Militant). We would like to meet with you to discuss the possibility of our becoming an affiliate of the Labour Party.
From the beginning we have enthusiastically supported Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, which has offered the possibility of transforming Labour into a clear anti-austerity party, based on the trade unions and the working class. Clearly, your appointment as general secretary, replacing Iain McNicol, is an important step towards the renewal of the party along these lines.
Nonetheless, as is shown by the recently renewed baseless attacks by Labour MPs on Jeremy Corbyn, Labour still remains two parties in one; with one section doing all it can to undermine the Labour leadership. Without doubt, if it is able to, this wing of the Labour Party would act to try and sabotage a democratically-elected Labour government attempts to implement radical policies.
As we are sure you will agree, measures to democratise Labour’s structures are therefore urgent. We would argue this should include the re-admittance of all those socialists, including ourselves, who were expelled in the past as the pro-capitalist wing of the party – epitomised by Tony Blair – consolidated its grip on power.
Another aspect of democratising the party could be to restore the federal structure on which Labour was founded. Above all this would mean full rights for the trade unions within the party, but it could also mean allowing other parties and organisations to affiliate, provided they had a clear anti-austerity programme.
As you will know remnants of this structure still exist today, particularly with the Co-operative Party. When we previously raised this example with Iain McNicol he recognised the comparison, but went on to dismiss it, saying the Co-operative’s affiliation was, ‘a historic link with a sister party agreed and endorsed by our annual conference’. We see no reason that the party couldn’t decide to make new links in the future, in order to strengthen the anti-austerity movement that has been inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Yours in solidarity,
Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary
Addressed to Katy Clark, chair, Labour Party democracy review, 23 March 2018
I am writing to you as chair of the Labour Party democracy review, in particular about ‘phase 2’ and your consideration of the role of affiliated socialist societies.
The Socialist Party warmly welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s two election victories as Labour leader in 2015 and 2016, and the glimpse of a socialist alternative which has enthused so many new members of the party and begun to regain millions of votes lost, particularly in the previous 20 years.
But I believe there would be positive benefits for Labour in developing an alliance of anti-austerity, anti-racist, socialist feminist and green campaigners and organisations. In particular such a wider, federal arrangement could create an even more effective electoral umbrella, potentially reaching out further to parts of the working class.
This is not, in fact, the first time I and other Socialist Party members have made this approach.
You may be aware that in November 2016, 75 expelled and excluded socialists, including myself, general secretary of the Socialist Party Peter Taaffe, PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh, and former Liverpool Labour councillors such as Tony Mulhearn, applied for readmittance to the party. Our approach was backed by hundreds of signatures of trade unionists and community organisations. The application was rejected by the (then) general secretary Iain McNicol.
We also wrote to Iain McNicol to ask the NEC to consider affiliation of a wider range of socialist and campaigning organisations, including the Socialist Party itself.
One of the objections to our approach may be that the Socialist Party is in fact a separate party, with members, branches, its own policies, structure and programme. But Labour has always had affiliations from organisations with separate structures.
Indeed, Labour itself was founded in 1900 as a federal organisation of affiliated trade unions and socialist organisations, of women’s suffrage campaigns and indeed individual socialist parties such as the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society. The Fabian Society remains affiliated to Labour today – it still has membership, branches, structure, and separate policies for which it campaigns.
Perhaps an even closer analogy would be the Co-operative Party, which also has an independent structure, maintains its own membership, branches, staff, national executive committee, and policies, all of which are independent of, though clearly complementary to, Labour. Since the general election of 2017, there are 38 MPs who are elected, and sit in parliament, as joint members of both Labour and the Co-op parties.
In addition to their separate identities, therefore, this joint work shows it is possible to be a Labour Party member at the same time as being a member of a different party, with a separate programme, constitution and membership structure. It should therefore be possible to construct a similar relationship with members of the Socialist Party or, for that matter, the Green Party. Others have made a similar point.
Jon Lansman suggested in September 2016 that the Greens should stand joint candidates on a joint ticket with Labour, as Labour does with the Co-op. In a recent Guardian article, journalist Owen Jones also raised the possibility of a similar relationship between Labour and the Green Party.
At the 2015 general election TUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, co-founded Bob Crow in 2010 with the Socialist Party and others) stood 135 parliamentary candidates and over 600 local council candidates becoming the sixth largest party at that election.
However, TUSC has recognised that with Jeremy’s election there was a new national anti-austerity message coming from Labour and, following a wide-ranging debate, stood down all its parliamentary candidates in the 2017 general election and instead campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn. This showed our serious approach to elections, taking account of new, changed circumstances.
But this wasn’t a blank cheque – TUSC has continued to selectively stand against austerity candidates, of whatever party, in order to try and save essential local services (libraries, youth clubs, children centres, etc) under threat from councillors carrying out Tory cuts.
But in the local elections, particularly since May 2016, no TUSC candidates were even considered to be run without local TUSC groups seeking a dialogue with the sitting Labour councillor or prospective candidate on the critical issue of their preparedness to resist cuts to local council jobs and services.
TUSC supporters have played an important role in winning backing for a fighting strategy to oppose cuts to local public services in the main local government unions and worked with anti-austerity councillors in several cities to prepare legally compliant, no-cuts budgets.
But having been excluded from the internal debate within Labour on how to resist austerity, we feel working people have been left little option but to stand against pro-austerity Labour candidates. That is not because we are implacably a hostile body to Labour.
In fact, it could be argued that we have better represented and campaigned for many of the anti-austerity positions which Jeremy Corbyn has brought to be policy of the Labour Party than a significant proportion of Labour local candidates. In particular: a £10 an hour minimum wage; an end to tuition fees and loans and the restoration of student grants; public ownership of rail, post and water; and a refusal to accept that working people should pay the price for the gambling and speculation of the banking system which triggered the recession of the last 10 years.
A discussion around the ‘Co-op affiliation route’ could provide a different path. Socialists could strengthen support, particularly locally, for a fighting opposition to Tory austerity. And if some of them were selected as joint Labour-Socialist candidates that also wouldn’t be new. After all, joint Labour-Socialist candidates predated the 1927 Co-op agreement by almost a decade.
For example John Maclean, the celebrated Scottish Marxist, became a Labour candidate at the 1918 general election, following the affiliation of the British Socialist Party the previous year. 24 other British Socialist Party members were also selected as Labour parliamentary candidates in 1918.
We look forward to participating in discussions on how those currently outside the Labour Party could join together in building a wider, stronger, working class and socialist mass movement.