Labour must discipline Livingstone

by Rob Marchant

Last week, a member of the party’s governing body, the NEC, encouraged a crowd of people to go round to the homes of public servants (£) and “peacefully” demonstrate outside.

Presumably as Unite “peacefully” demonstrated at the homes of Grangemouth oil refinery managers, during last summer’s botched industrial dispute. It is a technique latterly championed by the union, known as “leveraging” (in fact, so excited is it by its novel idea that the union now has created a merged Organising and Leverage Department, to help promote it further).

The reality: when someone’s child dare not go outside to play, or has to ask its parents who the angry crowd of people shouting outside their garden gate are, or it is an unacceptable crossing of the line between legitimate and non-legitimate targets.

It is, needless to say, intimidation, by any other name. It is bullying.

The point is not the unpleasant practice itself: the point is that a member of the party’s NEC should be openly inciting this kind of behaviour. Morally, it would be equally bad if the victims were private sector managers, who are entitled to their privacy like anyone else; but this was worse: it was politically stupid as well.

It was against, let us not forget, public servants doing their duty; the kind of people, in fact, one might traditionally expect to support the Labour Party.

We might also note that the demonstration was in support of a political independent, currently undergoing numerous separate investigations, including by the police. A politician whom this NEC member has repeatedly supported, in opposition to the ranks of his own party’s councillors, including during an election: a clear suspension offence in the party rule-book.

Or his disingenuous backing of the Mayor of Tower Hamlets’ wearily predictable cries of “Islamophobia”, having being investigated himself for improper allocation of public funds and his election still being investigated for alleged electoral fraud.

The saddest thing is that this does not surprise us. That NEC member, we need not explain, has long demonstrated that he can do whatever he likes without any kind of meaningful sanction from his party.

Now logic would dictate that, the higher up one goes in an organisation dedicated to improving standards in public service, the greater the pressure to display unimpeachable levels of behaviour. And certainly to avoid bringing the party into disrepute.

But no: it is in fact quite the reverse. If a councillor or a lowly parliamentary candidate does something considered unacceptable, they may at least be disciplined or even suspended, as happened with Vicki Kirby McCluskey earlier this year.

It can even happen to a peer, as the unloved-and-unmissed Lord Ahmed showed, although he did need to be caught on camera blaming “the Jews” for his ills in order for this to come about.

For MPs, it seems that pretty much anything is ok, or at least so we have seen since 2010. Unless you are found guilty of criminal behaviour – something of a low bar – you are pretty much guaranteed leniency. And if you are a former Mayor of London, you can do anything you like because…well, last time the party took on Ken Livingstone, around fifteen years ago, it lost.

Result: no leader since has dared confront the man. In the absence of normal checks and balances, of course, his behaviour has continued to drift from the erratic towards the unpardonable.

The embrace with hate preacher Al-Qaradawi; the Venezuelan “oil deal” which turned out not to be one; the support for this and other unpleasant regimes; and, last of all, the hypocrisy and half-information which ran through his 2012 story about tax avoidance, the one that helped finally finish off his hopes of a mayoral comeback. There is a fuller list here.

But we are not talking about discipline in the sense of general disorder in the ranks of the PLP: in fact, it has largely behaved surprisingly well over recent years (at least, that is, until the last few weeks’ wobbles over poor polling).

Neither is it about control-freakery over political adherence to “the line”; long may healthy debate flourish in our party. Besides, common decency and the power of patronage are quite enough to keep unity and reasonable behaviour the norm amongst most of our parliamentarians.

No, we mean discipline in the sense of dealing with the small number of our representatives who utter words or do deeds that much of the electorate would find repugnant (if, that is, they knew about them: in many cases, they don’t ever find out).

We have a rule-book for a reason and perhaps it needs strengthening. But, in the absence of a major push by the leadership, as happened over the Falkirk-inspired party reform last year, the chances of getting such changes through the NEC’s constitutional process are vanishingly small.

It is symptomatic of the current state of the Labour party that inviting hate preachers to speak in the Houses of Parliament, making disparaging comments about “white people” or implying that a Jewish diplomat cannot be trusted to look after Britain’s interests with Israel, are not “hanging offences” for MPs.

It is not just because we look like an unelectable rabble whenever the latest wrist-slapping is given. It is the problem of precedent.

As even President Obama is finding in his dealings with Iran and Russia, a lack of proper checks and balances causes serial offenders to become ever more audacious, until they stop having any inhibitions at all.

It is high time that situation changed, before some clown pulls us into a major scandal, which our fragile polling would be unlikely to survive.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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26 Responses to “Labour must discipline Livingstone”

  1. swatantra says:

    Not just to discipline him but defrock him from the NEC and expel him from the Party.You cannot go around agitating people to harass govt Inspectors who are only doing their job at their private residences. If anyone knows the location of Kens humble abode, do feel free to borioadcast it on twitter and lets see how he likes it up hims. The man is a disgrace. He lost us the last election.

  2. Tafia says:

    I reckon Rob Marchant is Simon Heffer in disguise.

    If the bosses can take legal actions against unions, legal actions against union ballots, get workplace piquets constrained and restricted as to what they can do, how, when and where, place workers and their families under immense pressure by threatening job losses, reduced hours and redundancies then it is only fair that the unions deliver some of that to their doorstep.

    Why not make a deal – the bosses agree not to do anything that workers and their families find intimidatory or pressuring and the unions will do likewise for the bosses and their families. The unions would agree to that – but I guarentee you 100% the bosses won’t.

  3. wg says:

    I’m sorry but where has the author been for the last few years.

    In my home city UKIP have had their windows smashed and had posters/boardings vandalised, and in other parts of the country old people attending a UKIP meeting have had to run a gauntlet of hate – intimidation is what Labour and its members do.

    The only difference here is that Livingstone has supported a group who have seized power from Labour; if UkIP had won this election, fraudulently or otherwise, the author would have been totally unconcerned about Livingstone and his army intimidating residents in their homes.

    Prove me wrong Mr Marchant – condemn people who attack posters and smash windows.

  4. Tafia says:

    Latest Polling
    OPINIUM: CON 34%, LAB 33%, LDEM 5%, UKIP 18%, GRN 4%
    ASHCROFT: CON 29%, LAB 30%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 16%, GRN 7%
    POPULUS: CON 35%, LAB 36%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 11%, GRN 5%
    YOUGOV(1): CON 32%, LAB 35%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%
    YOUGOV(2): CON 33%, LAB 32%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 8%
    YOUGOV(3): CON 31%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 18%, GRN 5%
    COMRES: CON 30%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 19%, GRN 3%
    IPSOS MORI: CON 32%, LAB 29%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14%, GRN 7%
    ave: con 32, lab 33, ld 7, ukip 16, grn 6, other 6)

    R & S by-election
    CON 32%, LAB 17%, LDEM 2%, UKIP 44%, Others 5%
    (Tory down 17%, Labour down 11%, LD down 14%)

    OPINIUM: CON 17%, LAB 24%, LDEM 6%, SNP 46%, UKIP 5%
    (Labour to lose between 28 & 35 seats)

  5. JohnP Reid says:

    The party machine, that has been so desperate to attract, non member with left views, were prepared to see Dan Hodges silenced, as his association with us, would have seen aupporters of Owen Jones and Mwdhi Hasan walk, then there was there Israel potential candidate hounded out by socialist unitys Andy newman, because she dare say that Tommy arobinson of the EDL, had dared stand upto the child grooming Scandal in Rotherham.

    Previously I’ve tolerated livingstone, because the party felt losing his membership would lose us supporters and votes, I dint think anyone would even care now if we have to get rus of him.

    I don’t feel his large fall in NEC votes was due to lef wingers backing the 5 CLPD candidates and maybe Ellie, or Johanna Baxter.

  6. Dan says:

    Livngstone reminds me of the quote about Tony Benn “the man immatures with age”.

    I’m not into Labour Party kreminology, so I don’t know why the dreadful old git seems to get a pass on this kind of thing. He should have got the boot after endorsing the awful Rahman instead of the official Labour candidate.

    That’d require some balls from Miliband though. And that isn’t going to happen.

  7. Useful Idiots says:

    Sadly it won’t happen, a lack of political will and resolve to tackle this and similar issues.

  8. steve says:

    Quite right, Rob, Livingstone must go.

    Let’s replace him with an Oxbridge educated, never-had-a-proper-job, metropolitan, Establishment clone.

  9. Damien McKee says:

    Rob would you not agree that the fact that some of the same people who believe Simon Danczuk should be expelled from the party for “undermining” Ed Milliband and that the anonymous grumblers should come forward or put up and shut up are distinctly silent over Ken’s continued and wilful disloyalty?

  10. Rob Marchant says:

    @Tafia: I’m not sure if you actually read the piece, but the “leveraging” in question here was being directed at public servants, not “bosses”.

    @wg: I condemn people who attack posters and smash windows. There. Now, where is your evidence that these people are Labour?

  11. Andy says:

    um, not sure I want to be sent off to a site inviting me to subscribe to a Murdock paper thanks. At least it wasn’t the daily fascist but there are limits thanks

  12. John R Peid says:

    Steve, and livingstone had proper jobs before politics, he was an assistant in a universities path lab.
    Tania, Whatever the unions laws we have, allow bosses to do this,it’s because the way the unions behaved, labour couldn’t oppose the tories and expect to win an election, if livingstone has encouraged intimidation, then that’s not democratic socialism,

    Damien, undermining Miliband by pointing out,one disagrees with his views, is different than backing non labour candidates at elections,

    Eg,if this is true, we must be told, but livingstone hasnt seized control of the party his NEC vote has been going down the last 8 years.

  13. Tafia says:

    @rob marchant, commissioners dispatched by a Secretary of State are management – ie bosses. For you to try to make out that they are merely ‘public servants’ is disgusting. They are not dinner ladies, they are not council office workers, they are not teaching assistants – they are senior management – they possess more authority than an MP.

    Remember, 3 commissioners ran an entire county council in Wales a couple of years ago, replacing an entire elected council and with far more and absolute executive power.

  14. Mike Stallard says:

    The point is this: If it is OK to go round and terrify the wife and children of someone you dislike,
    then why should not people who dislike, say, Mr McCluskey, go round to his house and accord him the same privilege?
    Once we start this kind of thing, it escalates – often very fast and sooner or later the Fascists arrive to restore order.

  15. Rob Marchant says:

    @Andy: So don’t click on the link.

    @Tafia: Dearie me. You really believe in this “bosses” and “workers” class war stuff from the 1970s, don’t you?

  16. Tafia says:

    The Labour party is supposed to be the political wing of the trades union movement. It’s because it no longer is and has become obsessed with home owners and the middle classes and metropolitan south east England that it’s core vote is (quite rightly) giving it two fingers. It is rapidly reaching a position where it has no relevance to the workers or the unions.

  17. Landless Peasant says:

    Bollocks. “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live”. Class War.

  18. swatantra says:

    Have to disagree with Tafia … ‘is supposed to be the political wing of the TUs’…
    Its rather like saying the tail wagging the dog. The TU has its own ‘political wing’ these days, to do its business. The Labour Party is more like a machine, and the TUs are mere cogs. But if the TUs don’t want to play the game, then the machine could just as well do with ball bearings instead of cogs.

  19. Tafia says:

    On the back of the GMB – along with Unite, now supporting Findlay for the scottish leader position comes this little gem.

    Labour block SNP move to pay apprentices a living wage.

    Inverclyde SNP’s local council group leader has today spoke of his hurt and disappointment as Labour blocked a move to pay apprentices working for the council a “living wage”.

    Councillors were debating a motion to continue paying council staff the living wage by increasing the rate to that which was recently announced by the living wage foundation.

    Commenting the Local SNP Group Leader said:

    ” as a time served apprentice and the former convener of Unite the Union young members in Scotland the rights of apprentices have always been close to my heart. Therefore today I decided that it was time to end this pay inequality in the council. Apprentices are paid as low as £2.73 in the council. That is simply unacceptable. When I put forward the proposal that the living wage should be paid to all council employees including apprentices I assumed it would receive cross party support. I was therefore hurt and disappointed that the local Labour Party sided with the Tories and the Lib Dems in the council to block our apprentices getting a living wage. Young people in Inverclyde deserve more, they don’t deserve a continued refusal to pay them a living wage based on their age.

    The referendum is over but it seems that Labour are still happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to oppose anything proposed by the SNP – even if it is enhanced terms and conditions for young workers in Inverclyde.”

    Coupled with Labour in Wales siding with the Tories to block Plaid’s motion to end zero hours contracts you have to ask yourself just who’s side Labour are really on.

  20. Tafia says:

    Quote of the millenium:-

    “You have to hand it to Miliband – no-one but he could manage to lose a Shadow Cabinet Minister (Thornberry) over a by-election forced by a Tory defecting to UKIP.

  21. Henrik says:

    @Tafia: if Labour were to revert to being the party purely of the “workers” – incidentally, does that include me, I have a job and a salary and everything? – and the unions, it might well be ideologically pure, but it’d never win power ever again, as the centre ground is where political conflict takes place nowadays – as that’s where most of the electorate are, wobbling slightly to the right or the left of the middle.

    I don’t sense any particular enthusiasm in the country for full-throated Socialism, any more than I do for the extreme Right. What I do sense is a country full of people who’ve pretty much tuned out of politics altogether as they don’t see what goes on in the parties or at Westminster as either interesting, or useful, or in any way relevant to them.

    I’m glad that there are still old-school Labour Party members around, in the same way I’m glad the SWP is still around (except for the rape stuff, of course), or the BNP or even the National Front. I’m glad that all shades of opinion have a voice and I’m even quite glad that they can now be heard – attempting to shut down an argument on account of it’s so compelling and dangerous that a normal, civilian, voter hearing it will promptly embrace it is both incredibly offensive to the normal voter and manifest nonsense. This is all healthy, but let’s not kid ourselves that any of this wild-eyed stuff is ever going to gain a mass following, unless it somehow, magically, becomes compelling, convincing and attractive.

    And that’s where Labour is. The old Labour soul would love to drag the Party to the Left, to the sunlit uplands of true Socialism and away from the vile sloughs of Social Democracy and liberalism. It still might happen, of course, but, if it does, that’s going to leave a vacancy for an alternative party of government – and for an Opposition, because Labour on that day will cease being a party and turn into a sect. Again.

  22. Tafia says:

    as the centre ground is where political conflict takes place nowadays – as that’s where most of the electorate are, wobbling slightly to the right or the left of the middle.

    a country full of people who’ve pretty much tuned out of politics altogether as they don’t see what goes on in the parties or at Westminster as either interesting, or useful, or in any way relevant to them.

    Good going that. Made a position then promptly negated it.

  23. John,Reid says:

    Landless peasant are you aware the Green Party are full of Middle class liberals, the sort that share the views of the working class as Emily Thornberry.,

  24. Henrik says:

    @Tafia: don’t think I contradicted myself – apathetic, disconnected folk tend to the centre ground, which is the point I think I was trying to make. Reading back, I should probably have inserted the telling adjective “key” before electorate, to stress the point that the fight isn’t just for the centre ground, it’s only really serious in marginal constituencies.

  25. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Reid

    The Green Party are also full of radical socialists and anarchists too!

  26. TNL says:

    “And if you are a former Mayor of London, you can do anything you like because…well, last time the party took on Ken Livingstone, around fifteen years ago, it lost.”

    And therein lies the problem; the Labour party are afraid of this terrible man. Yet he has been defeated by the Tories’ circus clown, Boris Johnson, not just once, but twice. He’s a cliche, he’s an eighties throwback, and he should be ignored.

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