Open Letter to Jennie Formby

By admin | February 27, 2020

Dear Jennie,

It will not have escaped your attention that many members of the Labour Party are currently reconsidering their position. I confess that I am among them and I am writing this open letter to explain why this is so.

I rejoined the Labour Party on the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership.  It was disconcerting to find such opposition to his leadership from within the PLP, and no less disturbing to find a strong echo of this discontent when I attended my local CLP and Branch meetings. I spoke out locally to no avail and after a year or so ceased to attend meetings. My wife stopped attending too after the CLP chair yelled ‘Corbynista entryism’ at her and the CLP secretary promptly abandoned a meeting when she raised issues of representation and accountability.

When a second leadership ballot was forced upon us, I again voted for Jeremy. But I soon after received a letter from the Labour Party to say that I had been suspended and that my vote for Jeremy had been cancelled. To say that I was not alone would be a gross understatement: apparently thousands – and possibly tens of thousands – of members had the same experience, and for some longstanding members among them it was traumatic indeed. I had to use the Freedom of Information Act to discover why I had been suspended. Apparently it was because I had used the word ‘Blairite’ in a tweet. In other words, this was a blatant attempt to rig the leadership election by disenfranchising Corbyn supporters. My suspension was later lifted, that is, after it had served its purpose, although I was informed that I was on a ‘final warning’. I presume I still am, although I demanded at the time that this threat be lifted.

The initial attempted ‘coup’ against Jeremy, which included present leadership contenders Kier Starmer and Lisa Nandy, failed; but in my view, and in that of many others, the Labour Party might well have won the 2017 general election had there not been a continuous and determined effort from within the PLP to oppose him and the policies he and the members commended.

In many ways it is surprising that Labour did as well as it did in the 2019 general election given the vociferous internal opposition and the unprecedented campaign of smears and misinformation on the part of the mainstream media. This is how power works of course: anyone promoting policies that constitute a tangible threat to vested interests must be stopped by any means. That is how class-based power operates. The slogan that proved pivotal in the election was the Tory’s ‘Let’s get Brexit done’. Starmer’s rear-guard action on behalf of Remain did Labour no favours. Now we move on.

When Iain McNicol’s tenure ended I am sure I was not alone in anticipating a shift of orientation and practice in the NEC and kindred bodies. I welcomed your appointment as general secretary. But I have to say that I am beyond disappointed. I suspect that I speak for a number of members when I emphasize the following:

  • It remains that case that Labour MPs and its members are judged by quite different criteria. Members are still liable to suspension, even expulsion, on the flimsiest of pretexts while MPs are still immune to censure, some of their number being free to openly obstruct Labour’s bid for government and to volunteer a stream of personal and fictitious abuse against Jeremy.

  • Locally, many CLP members are extremely angry that our newly elected, pro-Corbyn CLP secretary, an exemplary activist who stood as Labour’s candidate in the 2017 general election, failed ‘due diligence’ and was barred from standing again in 2019. Even now, and in defiance of the law, he has not been told of his putative offence. Guilty until proven innocent. Job done. An unknown candidate was parachuted in from outside the constituency. This has happened far too often up and down the country. What price local democracy? By this stage a vice-chair of our rejuvenated CLP, I resigned in protest.

  • The one MP the Labour Party acted against, suspending him and effectively terminating his career, was of course Chris Williamson. His offence was to point out that the Party had been overly and imprudently defensive when confronted with repeated charges of tolerating, even fostering, antisemitism. He was absolutely right, as many members thought and think. It has long been clear that an organised but unrepresentative segment of the Jewish community, epitomised by the Board of Deputies, and finding resonance in Labour Friends of Israel, opposed Jeremy’s election as PM because of his pro-Palestinian sympathies and policies. The ‘weaponising of antisemitism’ was and is a calculated strategy. Like many members, I’m totally with Chris Williamson. It is a matter of extreme disappointment that the Labour Party is even now not fighting back against politically motivated smears of racism that defy the empirical evidence (racism, incorporating antisemitism, is far more prevalent on the right of the political spectrum than on the left).

  • Following on, it is thoroughly bemusing to many members that the Board of Deputies tail continues to wag the Labour Party dog, to the extent that all candidates to replace Jeremy as leader have signed up to its ludicrous ‘ten pledges’. Well done to Richard Burgon, candidate for the deputy leadership, for refusing to sign. The Labour Party should, and must, continue to oppose racism IN ALL ITS FORMS.

I shall vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon. If one or both lose out, then I shall accept that democratic decision, although with regret. It will mean to my mind that the Labour Party is compromising and heading back to the centre ground inhabited by Blair and Brown. New Labour was Thatcher’s achievement, its gains far too modest. But if RLB, with or without RB, is elected, then expect the same vicious smears and attacks – internal to the Party as well as external – that Jeremy experienced. This is how class-driven power functions (capital buys power to make policy in its interests). As Ralph Miliband long ago argued, it will take a strong extra-parliamentary movement to effectively combat deeply embedded transnational vested interests.

The point I want to highlight is that there is too much wrong with the internal machinations of the Labour Party, and that this is continuing on your watch. I suspect you do not want to be remembered as the new McNicol, purger-in-chief on behalf of a PLP fixated on personal careers and benign pro-capitalist policies. What kind of role models are Blair and Brown, architects of an illegal war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and poured fuel on the fires in the middle east, who deregulated the city and worshipped PFIs. It’s time to move on.

Like many others, I do not want to be part of a political party on the retreat whenever it encounters opposition from ‘the very very few’; when it regards its members as disposable electioneering fodder whilst protecting careerist MPs set to preserve a personally rewarding status quo; and when it has no intention of replacing top-down policy and practice by bottom-up innovation.

This is a critical juncture for many of us. The Labour Party either builds on Corbyn/McDonnell gains or it holds up a white flag. If it does the latter, some members will remain and fight on, others will leave in disgust, possibly in droves. I will decide my own position after the results of the leadership/deputy leadership elections are known.

Yours hopefully,

Graham Scambler.