“The Labour leadership is seeking to turn what should be the home of socialist and progressives in this country into a very narrow political machine. We need to be clear: this will produce a Labour Party that will not be able to meet the challenges that people face”Jess Barnard, Members Representative on Labour’s NEC
By Matt Willgress
Thousands tuned into the event ‘Let the Members Decide – for Labour Party Democracy,’ called in response to growing concerns about the erosion of democracy in the Labour Party.
As Chair of the meeting it was important to set out that we must stand up for Labour Party democracy and that the attack on Jeremy Corbyn is part of a wider assault on democracy within Labour.
“On the left we need to work together much more consciously, pro-actively and cooperatively to present a unified response – and put forward a different vision of what a democratic party and movement could look like, and why this would help Labour win, including through the development and promotion of popular policies.”
After noting the opposition to the NEC motion from trade unions such as CWU, ASLEF, Unite, and FBU, and the petition to return the whip to Jeremy Corbyn, signed by nearly 70,000 people, we heard from the first speaker, the Chair of Young Labour, Nabeela Mowlana.
She said, “Jeremy Corbyn reminded people that a world that worked for the many was possible if only we were brave enough to fight for it. If he had spent decades fighting for what was right, then surely so could I.
“They can try to shun Jeremy from public life but he inspired a generation.
“Islington North should be free to choose Jeremy as their representative just as they have for the last 40 years. No matter what happens in the coming weeks, we should remember this basic truth: they can try to cut all the flowers but they can’t stop the Spring from coming.”
Next to speak was Neil Findlay, a former Labour MSP, supporter of the Campaign for Socialism in Scotland, and longstanding fighter for working people. He said “Whether it’s the Girl Guides, the RSPB or the Labour Party, we join an organisation because we share its values and its objectives and we deserve a say in how it’s run.”
Responding to an interview in which Keir Starmer said he had made ‘ruthless decisions’ in order to remove the former Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, after being instructed to do so from wealthy donors in the House of Lords, Findlay said “we’ve had cash for questions; this was cash for sackings.”
“The attack on our members is an attack on democracy and on all of us. Our membership cards say Labour is a democratic socialist party. These attacks are neither socialist or democratic, and they are electorally stupid.”
Rachel Garnham from the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) said “when you let members decide, you get candidates that are genuinely rooted in their communities, their trade unions, their social movements – who will bring the voice of the community into parliament. You get candidates who won’t be controlled.”
“When Jeremy was first suspended there was an enormous outcry and Secretaries and Chairs were suspended for even allowing discussion of the issue. They are terrified of letting members decide.”
She highlighted how the Labour leadership had ‘strangled at birth’ structures in the party for representing women, BAME and disabled members, and insisted on the importance of these structures having their own decision making processes and policy power as part of Labour developing popular solutions to the crises we face.
Martin Abrams of Momentum’s National Coordinating Group spoke next, saying “the bizarre NEC motion that was brought was because Keir Starmer knew Jeremy Corbyn would wipe the floor with any other candidate because Jeremy is an excellent constituency MP.”
Highlighting that Starmer did not run for leadership on this platform, he said “this is part of a wider attack on democracy in the party and a coup against the membership… There is no constituency for this elite project beyond the CBI and the press. The reason Starmer won’t put this to a vote of the membership because nobody wants reheated Blairism…it will not solve the problems people are facing.”
Jess Barnard, a Labour CLP NEC member who opposed the motion, added “they want to remove Jeremy Corbyn as an MP, but not only that, they want to remove socialism and socialist voices from mainstream politics.”
“keir says his laser focus is on winning the next election. That’s a good thing but by what means do we do this? Keir’s strategy is to attack the left to win approval from a very narrow group of journalists to reassure them that the days of socialism are behind us.
“It’s seeking to turn what should be the home of socialist and progressives in this country into a very narrow political machine. We need to be really clear this will produce a Labour party that will not be able to meet the challenges that people face.”
Jon Trickett MP finished the rally with a call to arms: “it’s only if we decide to be subservient and allow the leadership to get away with this that it will happen.”
He joined Barnard and Abrams in arguing that the assault on democracy and narrowing the party to a right-wing sect would make it unable to make the change we need in the world – and also highlighted that the attacks on democracy were a repudiation of the historic roots of the party.
“We can choose to leave the field of battle or we can engage – so let’s make the argument and say it’s a revision of everything we stand for. And let’s say it’s a doomed project.
“I know we can win the argument – so let’s get out there and make it.”
- Let the members decide – For Labour Party Democracy was hosted by Arise Festival on April 5th, 2023. You can watch the meeting here; or listen to it on the Arise Festival podcast here or on other major podcast platforms.
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