“Whenever there has been a struggle, no matter how difficult, & no matter how at times it has been politically dangerous to even be associated with it, if its right, Jeremy has been there.”John McDonnell.
By the Arise events Volunteers Team
On Saturday thousands of people tuned in to the ‘Restore the Whip to Jeremy Corbyn’ rally, organised by Arise Festival and Momentum. The rally, chaired by Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the co-chair of the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) of MPs, brought together MPs, trade unionists and party activists to call for Jeremy Corbyn to be readmitted into the Parliamentary Labour Party.
The first speaker, Jon Trickett MP said ‘an attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us and therefore we’re duty bound to act in solidarity’.
He was followed by Apsana Begum, one of the 2019 intake of new Labour MPs, who said ‘I was inspired to get more involved in politics because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership… I felt for the first time that a member of the Labour Party from a BAME background I could final be treated equally as a member – that’s what Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership did for me’.
The rally comes after the website, Stats for Lefties, reported that 61 CLPs have passed motions of solidarity with the former Labour leader, alongside statements of support from 4 trade unions – representing 1.5 million workers –, Young Labour and 28 Labour MPs – even with people trying to stop discussion on the issue this number is rising, and approaching 45,000 people have signed this petition.
In the light of growing concerns regarding attempts to stop discussion of these motions, Richard Burgon MP, the secretary of the SCG comments were particularly relevant when he said ‘Labour Party members are the lifeblood of our movement – volunteers who give up their free time to try to build a better world. Labour members need to be – and deserve to be – treated with respect. The absolute most basic of members’ democratic rights is that they get to decide what they discuss’.
He continued, ‘a hearing took place, it listened to the evidence, it took on board Jeremy’s clarification, it made a decision to lift the suspension. Some may like that decision, others may not, but it must be respected and implemented across the Labour Party. That means Jeremy should immediately have the whip restored’.
Like Burgon, the next speaker, Kate Osborne MP emphasised the need for unity, saying ‘we need to come together to unite as a movement and a party to oppose this awful Tory government. During the leadership campaign Keir Starmer said factionalism has to go. We cannot fight the Tories if we are fighting each other’.
Sian Errington, a volunteer with Arise Festival, similarly highlighted the need for unity, pointing toward the government’s dismal record: ‘we need to be taking the fight to the Tories. They failed us during the pandemic and as we saw yet again on Wednesday [during the Comprehensive Spending Review], they’re doing nothing or nowhere near enough to protect our jobs, incomes or public services… Divisive actions such as not restoring the whip to Jeremy hinder that fight against the Tories’.
She was joined by Ian Byrne MP who said ‘on Wednesday, I stood on the Rolls Royce picket line with striking members of Unite the Union locked out of their factory at Barnoldswick – proud sisters and brothers battling to save the factory which has saved Rolls Royce and forged the excellence it’s become synonymous with. They need a united movement to win this absolutely pivotal dispute for this country and our regions’.
‘Now more than ever we need to be acting in the interest of the millions who need our socialist vision, painted in the manifestos of 2017 and 2019, taking the fight to the Tories, not fighting each other, tearing ourselves apart, and completely losing sight of the direction and purpose our communities need’.
Jess Barnard, the chair of Young Labour, said ‘our Labour leader is choosing to define the start of his leadership term to threaten democracy in our party for members and to drive out Jeremy Corbyn who inspired so many young people across the UK.
‘Keir was elected on a platform that promised us unity and integrity and instead is choosing now to attack democracy in our party and leave us more divided than ever. How can we be trusted to lead a government if we can’t uphold democracy in our own party? We must reinstate Jeremy Corbyn and Keir must take up the responsibility he was given, which is fighting the Tories on behalf of millions of people for change and for justice’.
Andrew Scattergood, co-chair of Momentum, also highlighted that ‘Keir Starmer won on the basis of party unity and socialist policies. The reality is now very different… He’s retreating from the popular policy platform that we all helped to build over the last five years – breaking the promises on which he was elected. But members are fighting back. We must keep passing these motions wherever we can’.
Ian Lavery MP emphasised the importance of people staying in the Labour Party, insisting that ‘the answer isn’t to leave the Labour Party. If anything, we need to strengthen the numbers in the Labour Party, because we need the numbers in order to take up the challenge… need the support of ordinary thoroughly decent people up and down this country and every single CLP so we can fight the challenges’.
Sarah Woolley, the General secretary of the Baker’s and Allied Food Workers Union, added that ‘the decision to remove the whip from Jeremy which went against the NEC decision to reinstate him, and the ban on CLPs discussing it or showing support for Jeremy should really have us all asking what the hell is going on – where has our democracy gone? One person cannot and should not unilaterally decide to overturn an executive’s decision for their own purpose or for perceived political gain’.
Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, argued that solidarity with the former Labour leader was vital because, after the FBU disaffiliated in 2004, ‘what brought us back was the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader because we saw that as an opportunity to pursue our agenda in the Labour Party’.
‘We were now able to debate issues of war, of austerity, or trade union rights. We were now able to debate seriously the growing climate crisis. We were able to debate issues of civil rights’.
The next speaker, John McDonnell MP, said ‘whenever there has been a struggle, no matter how difficult, no matter how at times it has been politically dangerous to even be associated with it, if its right, Jeremy has been there.’
‘I want the whip restored immediately because we need Jeremy as part of the Parliamentary Labour Party in that Commons Chamber, speaking on behalf of Labour’.
Like Lavery, he said that ‘the key issue here is stay and fight’ but said ‘let’s not just have a defensive campaign around democracy in our party – let us now agree a manifesto for democracy in our party that we campaign for in these coming months in the run-up to the next Labour party conference’.
The final speaker, Diane Abbott MP, pointed to the double standards of shutting down debate in the party. She said ‘the media is discussing it, the commentators are discussing it, right wing MPs are discussing it. The only people who are not supposed to discuss it are ordinary Labour Party members. Well, I think we need to stand up for democracy and I think we need to remind our bureaucrats at headquarters that party members don’t work for headquarters bureaucrats; headquarters bureaucrats work for party members’.
She continued, ‘our government turned a public health crisis into an economic crisis. And it will be ordinary working people, both black and white, who will suffer the most, both from the continuing public health crisis and from the economic crisis, so this country has never needed a Labour government more; it’s never needed a unified Labour party more; and one of the important things to do to secure that unity is to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn’.