Activist or MP, it’s time to take a stand

by Jonathan Todd

“Criminals were victims of the capitalist system. The police were agents of repression. Riots were popular uprisings against capitalist injustice.” These, according to Peter Mandelson’s autobiography, were commonplace views in the early 1980s vintage of London Labour.

“The three hate-ideas of the idiot savant left are capitalism, imperialism and America, or CIA for short,” Phil Collins wrote recently. The CIA are now as acceptable in Labour as they were in the 1980s.

Then Mandelson, “was part of Ted Knight’s increasingly Soviet-style Labour group on the (Lambeth) council”. He recalls making the case for moderation to the Labour group. “Ted would invariably open the next meeting by glaring in turn at me and other recalcitrants, and saying: ‘Certain comrades are misperceiving the situation…’ The atmosphere was very intimidating.”

Having experienced the Knight glower, I have some sense of the mood described. On a GC that was fiercely loyal to our MP, Tessa Jowell, Knight would sit at the back. The comrade who put the loony into Lambeth remained resolute, 30 years on. If you said something that he disagreed with, you knew about it. He was an imposing figure, even when much of the room was against him.

“The past isn’t dead,” as William Faulkner famously put it. “It isn’t even past.” The party still trawls through the bowels of the 1980s. We are re-infused with CIA thinking, as Knight, I am told (I moved away from the CLP earlier this year), has picked up his GC participation since Corbyn’s election.

“Such is their sectarianism that the Hard Left seem to be running full slates for every position in CLPs,” reports the latest Labour First email update, “including positions like fundraising officer that are utterly irrelevant to factional politics, and without any regard to the track record and hard work of incumbents.” News also reaches me of “one re-emerged dinosaur” making wild allegations of corruption at a GC against someone who has been known to me as diligent party servant.

The mood at CLP meetings appears confrontational and highly charged. As it was at last week’s meeting of the PLP. From meetings of Labour activists to those of Labour MPs, the “new politics” does not seem awash with peace, love and understanding, which is no way to have fun or to change the world.

Many have better things to do. “One senior MP,” observes George Eaton, “estimated that for every 75 members who joined (over recent months), around 25 left.” It is the left who are enlivened by the new politics and who are joining or rejoining the party. It is the right who are going in the other direction – rediscovering their families, careers, and the many ways to make a positive difference in the world without the headaches of Labour activism.

The right also seems keen to avoid confrontation in the PLP. “A whipped vote with regard to any potential British involvement in Syria,” Jamie Reed has written to Jeremy Corbyn, “looks like a deliberate and calculated attempt to engineer a damaging and avoidable conflict within the PLP.”

Those MPs who would defy a Corbyn whip on Syria are worried about the likes of Knight making their lives difficult at their next GC – and crucially, when they seek to be reselected as general election candidates. But will the presence or absence of a Corbyn whip really make much difference to this? CIA afflicted members will be angry with MPs who vote for intervention in Syria, irrespective of whether these votes are cast in a free vote.

We cannot be a government in waiting if we do not have a party position on matters, such as intervention in Syria, that a government would be expected to have a position on.

What moderate MPs are worried about is that a party led by Corbyn will come to a position with which they disagree, forcing them to not vote with this whip, and increasing the risk that they get a rough ride from their CLPs. But none of this absolves either the party of its responsibility to have a position on key national issues or MPs to vote as their interpretations of their consciences and loyalties to their constituents and country demands.

One of Liz Kendall’s best moments in the leadership election was when she insisted that the interests of the country come before those of the party. Similarly, if Labour MPs conclude that the national interest requires them to not follow a Corbyn whip, they should do so.

Politics is about persuasion. If MPs cannot vote with a Corbyn whip, they should persuade members and the wider public that they were right to do so. Conflict is also a political inevitability. MPs shouldn’t seek to duck this by demanding free votes on issues upon which governmental parties – i.e. parties that either form or aspire to form governments – must have positions.

I never looked for Knight’s ire but it found me. The UK has shied from Syrian intervention but it looks for us. Moderate MPs wish to avoid “damaging and avoidable conflict within the PLP” but it may be unavoidable.

All of us – whether MPs or activists – must now decide where we stand and stand firmly with those who share our beliefs.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut


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20 Responses to “Activist or MP, it’s time to take a stand”

  1. Ryland1 says:

    Morning..

    RE people being challenged for GC positions – well, comerades, that is democracy.. people are free to challenge incumbents and the incumbents can argue why they should continue in the Posts and continue to occupy those posts if they can win the arguments and peoples votes

    Hard to see how anyone can argue that a CLP officer post should be a sinecure for life, never open to challenge

  2. Surely MPs should always be building their support and relationship with their CLP. Surely they don’t just get selected and then ignore the local members. Surely not! Then again if they have done that they could be in trouble. No more safe seats colleagues.

  3. Mike Stallard says:

    Tory Troll Alert!
    One thing which I find very disappointing among left wingers is the way they, imbued with a lot of self confidence – or self righteousness? – easily slip into not listening. This is a case in point.
    It is terribly dangerous. That is exactly why Mr Corbyn and his henchmen dominate the Labour Party. In the rest of the country and, I understand several parts of the Labour Party, it just ain’t going to work.
    It is not just in the Labour Party either. When I stood as a LibDem Councillor, it was exactly the same. I was not even allowed to read the articles for the leaflet which I handed round! We sat in meetings, listening to a dictator who also glowered. The best thing in my life was when I was not elected!
    Courtesy and care will get the Labour Party re-elected. Dictatorship just won’t – except in Tower Hamlets and even that failed.

  4. james says:

    He’s not saying that – he’s saying that there are `slates` where people are vying for posts not based on merit but on which side they are on in the Labour party.

    I’m not a member of the Labour Party but even I can see that. Never mind – keep on going it’ll end up destroyed and thus my excellent Lib Dem cllrs will keep being reelected.

    Hopefully they’ll attack the hard left even harder – it seemed to work at last year’s locals.

  5. Jonathan da Silva says:

    Cameron/Govt was not apparently coming back to the Commons on Syria as he would lose as he could not enunciate a strategy which he was asked for. Nothing has actually changed in terms of he still does not have a strategy. In addition quite whether crushing Jihadis in Iraq/Syria improves safety in Europe no one seems able to explain how that works – see Gordon Brown and Afghanistan.

    Practically our 8 obsolete Tornadoes in Cyprus have achieved so little bombing Iraq that the media does not even cover it (contrast with the coverage of 1 day of Russian bombing). We are at best a cheerleader for people doing the real work – Kurds and Septics maybe the French now and Assad Russians Iran axis.

    It is in the national interest we have a plan here. Bombing as the last year has shown is an unconvincing case. People voting in the national interest frankly should explain what that is with cause and effect.

    I am all for us intervening if it will do some good. This is a political vote which Govt will win. An effective strategy and set of goals would be nice – we do not have one as a country.

    To declare I am not a Labour supporter and never will be again whichever of your factions is in charge. Not a Tory either. Nor a Liberal. Nor left. Nor right.

  6. John P Reid says:

    Ryland1′ if local mm ears are eke ex to Gac positions promising the earth, unlimited supplies of money and leaflets, then get the lsbour party in debt,when they oust moderates,it’s all well and good, but then the moderates have to come in clear up the state, and get us out of debt again, it happened in a Barking and Dagenham and liverpool more then once

    Danny speight, I’m sure many CLPs have had open meeting socially to welcome the £3 supporters, unless there are labour MPs there, the members won’t attend, look at Dagenham the hard left trying to oust Jon Cruddas

  7. Tony says:

    “A whipped vote with regard to any potential British involvement in Syria”

    ‘Involvement’ that’s a good word, isn’t it?

    It suddenly sounds a lot better than an accurate word like ‘bombing’.

  8. ad says:

    I’ve always thought it foolish, if not dangerous, for any political party to give power to its activists/base/grassroots. Such people are not a fair sampling of the electorate, nor elected. They are in no sense representative of The People.

    Giving them power is both damaging to the partys electoral prospects, because they want different things to the voters, and undemocratic, because it leads to the party paying more attention to its owm members, and less to the voters.

  9. historyintime says:

    “Surely MPs should always be building their support and relationship with their CLP. Surely they don’t just get selected and then ignore the local members. Surely not! Then again if they have done that they could be in trouble. No more safe seats colleagues.”

    Well put. Just because an MP is a ‘moderate’ does not give them a seat for life with no work required. Entitlement is a strong problem for the Right MPs. Indeed it was writ large in the leadership election with disastrous results. I’ve got no problem with MPs facing reselection every term provided the process is rational and fair. Its just the same as having a general election every five years.

  10. Madasafish says:

    The latest YouGov poll says 60% of Labour members think Corbyn is doing a super job..

    Which proves’s ad’s point
    “Giving them power is both damaging to the partys electoral prospects, because they want different things to the voters, and undemocratic, because it leads to the party paying more attention to its owm members, and less to the voters.”

  11. If it’s anything like my experience from university in the early 80s, for a few people, it’s probably worse than Jonathan describes. I’ll never forget when a hard left Labour member grabbed me by the throat. I was never injured by the hard left, but others were.

  12. Mike Homfray says:

    George – but the Labour Club at Lancaster at that time was hardly rabidly left wing! Most of its leading lights became moderate MP’s (Gill Merron) or chief execs of local authorities (Kevan Collins)

  13. Chris says:

    @John P Reid

    Nope, you’ve gone again. What are you trying to say in the first sentence/paragraph?

    “’I’m sure many CLPs have had open meeting socially to welcome the £3 supporters, unless there are labour MPs there, the members won’t attend, look at Dagenham the hard left trying to oust Jon Cruddas”

    Are the reds under the bed gunning for Cruddas? I can’t find anything about it and the Progress mob would be quick to spread that one. See the attempt in the Evening Standard to spin the AGM in Stella Creasy’s constituency as a “crunch meeting”.

  14. John P Reid says:

    Chris,wait till the deed is done before Progress , Try to highlight the Cruddas situation

    Should have read if members are elected to Gc’s promosing this earth

  15. Hi Mike,

    As I say in my LDV article, “Few Labour members in the 1980s were violent, and nor are the vast majority of Corbyn supporters”.

    The guy who grabbed my throat wasn’t typical. And when it happened another Labour Club member said how appalled he was. But it did happen, and it wasn’t isolated.

    Once, at a party in London, I was standing near a group of Labour activists who were praising the Liverpool Militant Tendency. They had no idea a member of the SDP was standing near when one of them said something like, “It’s a shame, of course, when SDP canvassers get beaten up, but that’s an inevitable side effect of a revolution.”

    I’m sure Eric Heffer would have condemned beating up SDP canvassers, but it wouldn’t have stopped it happening.

    Who is betting similar things won’t happen over the next few years?

    twitter.com/georgetsk

  16. Rallan says:

    Jeremy Corbyn is BACKED by two-thirds of Labour activists. John McDonnell quotes from Mao’s Communist Little Red Book during Autumn Statement speech.

    Wow.

    I actually feel genuinely sorry for Labour Uncut and its supporters. I think the Corbyn/Momentum Labour Party is going to turn on you.

  17. Anne says:

    I would hope that the majority of Labour supporters are starting to see sense. George Osborn is a clever operator- certainly improving in the job – it will take an exceptional shadow chancellor to out smart him. We are certainly a long way from having that, and until we start to replace our senior shadow cabinet with able people, starting with our leader we will remain a very ineffectual opposition party for a very long time.

  18. John P Reid says:

    Rallan , if militan..momentum turns on labour uncut, half its adders aren’t likely to vote labour at the next election anyway, I’m not sure two thirds of labour supporters will be king thrm when we spend a year on twenty percent in the polls

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