Letters & debates: Tories, the fightback, and Corbyn and the EHRC

Unfair on vultures?

In the December-January issue of the Socialist Party journal, Socialism Today, No.244, one of the article headlines describes the Tories as vultures (Tory Austerity Vultures Regroup).

This is a little unfair. Vultures provide an invaluable service to the ecosystem and to people by removing carcasses from the environment before they decay, thereby reducing the spread of disease.

Tories, on the other hand, do not prevent the spread of disease.

G Rueppelli, London

Year of the fightback?

I was most impressed with the article in the December-January edition of Socialism Today, No.244, Workers Fightback After Covid, by Jim Horton. Could an abridged version be published in The Socialist newspaper? Workers need to know the facts and start with action in 2021.

My friends and I have debated why workers have not kicked-off to date, and we have come to conclusion that they have been concentrating upon getting to Christmas. But we trust that 2021 will be the year of the workers fightback!

Adrian B Rimington, Chesterfield

EHRC editorial: too soft on Corbyn?

The second editorial in Socialism Today No.244 on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into antisemitism in the Labour Party, The Establishment HRC Does The Job, begins with a surprising omission and ends with a surprising assertion.

At the outset it offers no opinion on the extent of antisemitism in the Labour Party during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The scale of its existence is important. If we accept the estimate provided by the March 2020 unpublished Labour Party report into antisemitism (The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism 2014-2019), it was no more than expected in a political party of over 500,000 members, but that prompts a question: why did a modest incidence of antisemitism pervade the party for over four years?

I remember as a trade union rep attending a health and safety meeting addressed by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) official who stated that most organisations investigated over accidents or safety incidents claimed the main cause to be individual (employee) error. The HSE representative contended that the primary cause was systemic: lack of appropriate procedures and safeguards, inadequate training and oversight.

Judged in that context let us consider Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the EHRC report. “As leader of the Labour Party I was always determined to eliminate all forms of racism and root out the cancer of antisemitism”, he said. “The EHRC’s report shows that when I became Labour leader in 2015 the party’s processes for handling complaints were not fit for purpose. Reform was then stalled by an obstructive party bureaucracy. But from 2018, Jennie Formby and a new NEC that supported my leadership made substantial improvements making it easier and swifter to remove anti-Semites”.

Jeremy did act promptly in commissioning the Chakrabarti Report in 2016 which proposed the appropriate procedures, training and guidance to deal with complaints of antisemitism. The report was passed to Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) to be acted upon, but it wasn’t. Jeremy knew it wasn’t and chose to take no direct action. The report was eventually implemented two years later after Jennie Formby became general secretary. That totally unacceptable delay of remedy contradicts the first sentence of Jeremy’s response to the EHRC report.

It was in 2019, when Jeremy’s approved procedures were in place, that Chris Williamson MP was suspended, had his suspension lifted by the NEC on 26 June with a formal warning given, and then, as the EHRC report notes, after this “prompted an outcry”, two days later was re-suspended. These were the actions of a NEC which Jeremy described in his response to the EHRC report as one “that supported my leadership”. Yet it clearly did not adhere to Jeremy’s approved procedures, thereby ‘undermining fair process’ (EHRC).

We know politically why Jeremy did not take action against Labour’s GLU regarding its non-implementation of the Chakrabarti Report, and why his ‘supportive’ NEC overturned its own decision to lift Chris Williamson’s suspension – as stated in the first editorial in Socialism Today No.244, it was his determination to conciliate rather than break with the pro-capitalist right. Yet the second editorial, surprisingly, seems to give Jeremy a ‘free pass’ when it ends by saying that “no matter what the Labour Party had done under his leadership, the EHRC had a job to do on him for the capitalist establishment” (p7).

On the basis of the above examples alone I am not prepared to condone the EHRC report. But neither am I prepared to condone Jeremy’s refusal to deal with “an obstructive party bureaucracy” in 2016 which allowed the right wing to blow out of all proportion their claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

This is the first year of my annual subscription to Socialism Today and I have really appreciated its stimulating and educative provision.

John Merrell, Leicester

The editor responds:

John’s letter is very welcome, posing as it does important questions arising from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party.

The publication of the EHRC report and the subsequent withdrawal of the Labour parliamentary whip from Jeremy Corbyn is a turning point in Keir Starmer’s deepening counter-revolution in the Labour Party on behalf of the capitalist class.

The possibilities for establishing independent working class socialist political representation through the Labour framework that were opened up under Corbyn’s leadership are being systematically destroyed. And the great antisemitism smear campaign against Corbyn – and socialists more generally – which culminated in the EHRC investigation and report, has been and will remain an important component of this.

John’s main argument, that Corbyn’s refusal to deal with “an obstructive party bureaucracy” reflected a determination to conciliate rather than break with the pro-capitalist right, is absolutely accurate. He acknowledges that this point is developed in the main editorial in Socialism Today No.244, How far can Starmer go?

The stakes for the entire capitalist establishment were high and, from the very first day of Corbyn’s leadership victory in 2015, we warned that they were going to ferociously defend their interests by every possible means.

That would include the old and trusted methods of divide and conquer, playing off different identities within the working class and wider society with the goal of securing the capitalists’ continued rule. And achieving this by using every instrument of established society at their disposal, including the media – and the EHRC.

In this case that meant, as John correctly says, blowing “out of all proportion” claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party, to destabilise Corbyn’s leadership.

We gave no opinion on the arithmetical extent of antisemitism within the Labour Party. But the editorial did point to the significant fact that, despite taking seventeen months to complete and with full legal powers to pursue evidence, the EHRC inquiry “produced nothing that contradicts” the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism in 2016.

This report, from a committee that included the future Blairite defector to the ‘Independent Group’, Chuka Umunna MP, explicitly stated that “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”.

And yet it was the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership that the EHRC chose to investigate, announcing their inquiry when Theresa May’s premiership looked set to fall and there was a real prospect of a Corbyn-led government.

In this context it is mistaken to think that if Corbyn had driven through different disciplinary procedures to deal with the infinitesimal minority of Labour Party members who displayed anti-Semitic prejudice that he could have averted the smear campaign – and the EHRC hatchet job.

The example of ‘political interference in complaints as unlawful discrimination’ cited by the EHRC of the suspension, readmission and re-suspension of the left-wing MP Chris Williamson in 2019 is a case in point.

This is given by the EHRC as the only example of how “the substantive approach” of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) “had been influenced by external events”, which it clearly was. ‘Substantive approach’, of course, means actual decisions taken, as opposed to the examples of ‘apparent’ influence or ‘suggestions’ of ‘unfair process’ in the report.

Chris Williamson had his suspension, imposed in February 2019, lifted by the NEC on 26 June. But this act prompted “an outcry”, as the EHRC notes.

Immediately, over 80 Blairite Labour MPs and peers signed a statement decrying “political interference” in a disciplinary process. A Jewish Leadership Council spokesperson said the decision “lends credence as to why the EHRC is investigating whether the Labour Party discriminates against Jewish people”, while the Board of Deputies of British Jews vice president called it “yet more damning evidence for the EHRC’s inquiry”.

Is there any doubt that if the NEC had stood firm on reinstating Chris Williamson that that decision would not have been prime evidence for the EHRC of ‘political interference’?

As it was a member of the NEC panel, Keith Vaz, buckled under the pressure from the Blairites and Chris Williamson was re-suspended.

One of the more belligerent denunciations of Chris Williamson’s reinstatement came from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

An affiliated society of the Labour Party dominated by the Blairites, 92% of the JLM membership had voted for Owen Smith in the 2016 leadership coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn.

At its annual general meeting in April 2019, at which Gordon Brown and Sadiq Khan joined as non-Jewish affinity members, the JLM passed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn. The new chair told Corbyn-backing MPs “you are absolutely not going to get our support” at the general election.

How could it have been more obvious that antisemitism allegations were being weaponised as part of the struggle between the two-parties-in-one that the Labour Party had become under Corbyn’s leadership?

But the EHRC report does not even mention the ‘tiny detail’ of this raging battle. Instead they endorse as good coin, for example, the claim that the Blairite Labour MPs who resigned, including those who formed the ‘Independents for Change’ group in 2019, did so because of “a failure to tackle antisemitism”.

That, of course, is a political stance serving a political goal.

In the same way that the 1936 Public Order Act introduced to allegedly curb the British Union of Fascists was used most extensively against the labour movement, so the EHRC, incorporating the Commission for Racial Equality established to combat racism, has made its biggest mark in providing cover for the capitalists’ assault against Corbynism.

So could nothing have been done to more effectively combat the great antisemitism smear?

Our editorial did point to the consequences of the programmatic weakness of Jeremy Corbyn and others on the left who seek a solution to the bitter conflict of national rights in Israel-Palestine on the basis of capitalism, despite the repeated historical failures of such an approach.

The resulting impasse does create conditions internationally, as we said, “for prejudices to surface even amongst labour movement activists, enraged at the long and brutal oppression of the Palestinians”.

Two states are possible on a socialist basis, with the enormous wealth and potential of the region taken out of the control of the capitalist elites in both Israel and the Arab capitalist regimes, providing the basis for workers’ unity and a class appeal to Jewish-Israeli workers, essential to defeat the Israeli capitalist ruling class.

But such a class approach would not have appeased the EHRC, who are insisting that all Labour Party education and training programmes on antisemitism be approved by “Jewish community stakeholders, especially the Jewish Labour Movement”!

But it would have raised the consciousness of the workers’ movement in Britain and internationally and helped expose the real class agenda of the Blairites behind the great antisemitism smear – and the role of capitalist state institutions like the EHRC.

It would have been an important part of the struggle to achieve the transformation of the Labour Party into an instrument of workers’ socialist political representation, the possibility of which, after the vanquishing of Corbynism, is now gone.