Diary of an ex-Corbyn foot soldier

 

Dictionary definition of “foot soldier”: “…a dedicated low level follower…” 

Michael Murray: murraymicha@gmail.com; FaceBook: Michael Murray London

Contents:

(1) How did  it get like this in the Labour Party ?”

(2)  Labour Party an “unincorporated association”: its relevance.

(1) “How did it get like this in the Labour Party ?”

The April “Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier,” dealt with Labour’s disciplinary procedures, focusing on “Rule 2, 1.8.” This was re-printed in the influential Dublin-based “Cedar Lounge Revolution” site, and a certain “Phil,” unknown to me, commented: 

Murray (Corbyn foot soldier) only briefly touches on one of the most disgraceful elements (in the Disciplinary procedure) : the use of ‘fishing’ letters, passing on the evidence against the member (usually ambiguous, circumstantial or both) and asking the member to clarify whether they consider it to be in accordance with the rules. It’s clearly designed to provoke (and/or trap) the addressee into incriminating him/herself. 

“How things got like that in the Labour Party I don’t know, all I can say is Corbyn’s team passed up the opportunity to do some thorough house-cleaning, and we’ll be regretting that for some time.” 

Taking Phil’s last point – his first will be addressed later –  he hits the nail on the head.  As I, too, attempt to make sense of how things got to where they are in the Labour Party I’ve become aware of the lost opportunity due to – let’s call it a leadership deficit – which isn’t down to one person, though one person, Jeremy Corbyn was saddled with the blame.

The lost opportunity began with the Party non-action on the Chakrabarti Report, on the Party’s handling of antisemitism. That was greeted in the Guardian as follows:

“Shami Chakrabarti’s report is sophisticated and empathetic, but whether a divided party can act upon such a nuanced message is debatable. This antisemitism report deserves Labour’s calm, close attention. No Chance.” (Guardian, 20/06/2016)    

The full story of “what went wrong” for Labour, I believe, begins and ends with the fact that Jeremy Corbyn, with his long held and enunciated anti-imperialist Defence and Foreign Policy views was never going to be allowed to get anywhere near Downing Street.  

The dramatic turn-around in the Corbyn-led Labour 2017 General Election results, the impact of the radical, by recent British standards,  2017 Manifesto on voter opinion, that raised so many expectations and hopes, frightened the shit out of the ruling classes. He had to be stopped by all means possible. 

The most dramatic foreshadowing of this was published in two main British papers, The Times and The Guardian: US Secretary of State, Pompeo’s visit to London in June 2019. Here is what they published:

“In a recording leaked to the Washington Post the US Secretary of State was asked (at a meeting with British Jewish leaders) what he would do if Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Prime Minister: 

“‘Would you be willing to work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the UK?” Pompeo’s, recorded response: 

“It could be that Mr Corbyn runs the gauntlet and manages to get elected … You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. 

“It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.” (Guardian 9/06/2019) 

The Guardian article also noted that Trump had just previously turned down Corbyn’s request for a meeting with the US President saying Corbyn was “somewhat of a negative force.” 

For the record, the Labour Party – correct –  response was to say: “President Trump and his officials’ attempt to decide who will be Britain’s next prime minister are an entirely unacceptable interference in the UK’s democracy.” (ibid)

But it had nothing to say about the alarming  request made by British citizens to a leader of a foreign power to: “… work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the UK?” (my emphasis, MM). Neither did the Tory Government.

Knocking on doors in the 2019 General Election, it was clear that the response to Labour was, overtly, less influenced by the Trump/Pompeo intervention in British politics than to three predominant interlocking factors. These were: an exaggerated perception of Labour as being antisemitic; Brexit – and what can only be described as an all-out, highly orchestrated character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn personally. 

All that served as an impenetrable shield against the landmark 2019 Manifesto, hailed in the run-up to the election, by the world’s leading economists, as the only solution on offer to the UK’s economic, social and environmental challenges, as reported in this diary at the time. 

 The full extent of the demonisation of Corbyn, and its unfairness,  is only now, in his ‘retirement’ beginning to surface in the public consciousness as the perceived “threat” of him becoming Prime Minister has gone and the relentless main stream media pressure on him has been eased. 

Of course, the political leadership, in Government and in the Loyal Opposition, dealing with Brexit and Covid has also made him look good. But he’s still outside the door, a poll-topping, life-long Labour MP and former Party Leader, exiled from the Parliamentary Labour Party, to the shame of  “new management” and all his former comrades and parliamentary colleagues who condone his treatment by their silence. 

That his Labour Party future hangs on the outcome of a pending court case takes us back to the starting point of this article: “Phil’s” mention of the Labour Party’s abuse of the “investigation” stage of disciplinary issues which can’t be challenged within the Party rules. This has led to a greatly expanded role for the courts in the life of the Labour Party – at great expense of money and time to individual members and the Party itself; to the heightening of party divisions and  the utter waste of time and energy badly needed to get beyond Brexit and Covid – and a huge Tory majority which allows it to run riot with its rapacious crony capitalism, asset-stripping and attacks on public services.  

(2)  Labour Party an “unincorporated association”  

I’ve heard it argued that quoting best practice in employing organisations regarding Disciplinary and Grievance Handling procedures is irrelevant – because the Labour Party (regarding its members) is an “unincorporated association” not an employing organisation. That, I would dismiss with the time honoured legal term “argumentum ad ignorantiam” (which I choose to translate as “bullshit baffles brains,” or playing on people’s ignorance.) 

This is what I found out when I looked into the term “unincorporated.”

In 2015, in response to the internal Labour Party row about Jeremy Corbyn’s right to be on the leadership ballot,  A. Aamodt examined the circumstances in which the courts might get involved in the affairs of a political party. He began by pointing out that the Labour Party, by its own admission is an “unincorporated association … a … creature of contract” that is separate from a company, partnership or a trust. “Unincorporated associations are not legal entities that are distinct from the members that comprise it.”  (Local Government Lawyer, September 2015: The LGA (the publisher of the newsletter will be known to Labour councillors for its Councillor Guidelines on the many legal challenges they face in their onerous work.)

I’ve had the term  explained to me at zoom meetings and briefings by those great people – the barristers and  QCs (Queen’s Counsel) – who have, literally, “come to the aid of the party” in this time of unprecedented legalistic turmoil. They work with the plethora of new organisations set up to support and protect democratically elected Labour activists from unjust attacks, like SOS (Save our Socialists) and LA4J (Labour Activists for Justice) offering their legal knowledge and expertise, sometimes “pro bono” other times, when we get into the (more expensive) heavy shit for modest payments raised through “crowd funding” and, to their credit,  some trade union legal funds.  

I’m not going to pretend I’ve got my head around all of what they say, but a trade union background in Employment law helps.  Apart from anything else, familiarising oneself with the massive case law, arising from previous court cases around this area of law would be a full time job in itself. And you’d want to be in the whole of your health.  

But, I get it when Duncan Shipley Dalton, one of these legal eagles with vast experience of defending suspended Labour members, says the General Secretary was acting “ultra vires” (outside the powers given him in the Rule book) in demanding from CLP voluntary, elected Officers compliance with his “guidance” as if he were the manager of a commercial organisation. 

“There is a de facto hierarchical relationship between the NEC and the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) but not one of complete subordination and control.” He continues: “If this approach combined with the General Secretary directing CLPs and the officers to do whatever he instructs without question and on pain of punishment for breaching Rule 2.1.8. then it is the end of any semblance of local democracy in the Party.” (Interview on Socialist Telly, 08/02/2021, still up on its site – which incidentally, recently passed 2.5 million viewers while still in its infancy, a sign of the times.) 

Duncan is right that it should be challenged. Not challenging it would be to gift another hostage to fortune – as if we’ve not seen enough of that already.  

At this point, it might be useful to throw in a reminder that the authority of the employer, exercised through management, is based on the ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange that does have a legally enforceable demand on its employees’ loyalties in some circumstances – even when they’ve moved on from their employments.  

Only in recent times has labour been acceded the right to see its labour power as a property right of the worker. Statutory Redundancy entitlement is, perhaps, the greatest example of that: the employee deprived of the right to work is entitled to be compensated. Unfair Dismissal remedies (Reinstatement, Reengagement  or Compensation) is another. ESOPs (Employee Share Ownership Schemes) – sharing in ownership and control – another. 

(I’ll resist segueing into discussing the “50+1” German football fans club ownership and control model – an offshoot of the German worker-management Codetermination. Or “Works Council” system. But I’ll sneak in a mention anyway.)

The way in which the self-styled “New Management” of the Labour Party is operating vis-à-vis the members is gravely misplaced. It is not in conformance with what the Rules say is the relationship between our elected general Officers and the members. 

For example, the General Secretary according to the Rule book, if appointed between Annual Conferences (the Rule making body of the Party) must be ratified at the next Conference by a majority vote of the membership delegates (Chapter 4, II 4 A). 

Some see this as one motive for a perceived purge of left wing activists: to dilute the number of left delegates getting to Conference, and, perhaps, voting against the GS’s appointment, as would be their right under Rule 4.II.4A – if so delegated by their CLPs. 

The same rule, bluntly states what the actual power relationship is according to the Rule book:     “S/he shall remain in office so long as her/his work gives satisfaction to the NEC and Party Conference.” (my emphasis, MM) 

The General Secretary is there at the pleasure of the membership, not the other way round, as his bombastic rhetoric in recent correspondence with members might suggest. 

To fully participate in their “unincorporated association” – that is, in their avowedly democratic socialist Labour Party – members will have to assertively challenge any misinterpretation of their rights as expressed in the Rule book – including re-evaluating whether it is fit for purpose at all in its present form. And find out what to do about it when they decide that it isn’t. 

Later diary entries will comprise a survey of the numerous organisations, such as SOS and LA4J, mentioned already, that have sprung up to defend activist and member rights against unfair application of Labour’s rules.  

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