The long-awaited third coup against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is now well underway. It began with accusations that Labour leader was “weak” on Russia because he was mad enough to ask for evidence linking Russia to the ‘novichok’ poisoning before banging the drum of war.
When this failed, they dredged up a 6-year-old Facebook comment which, they suggest, proves that Corbyn is an anti-Semite. This “news” – in reality, a conveniently timed smear ahead of May’s local elections – led to a farcical demonstration outside Parliament, with the Blairites, who continue to dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour Councils, joining arms with Tories and the reactionary DUP in an anti-Semitism protest.
It is not often that we see Labour right-wingers attending demonstrations. More often they can be found crossing picket lines or condemning strikers. But earlier last week, John Mann, Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, David Lammy and others stood proudly alongside known racists and homophobes such as Norman Tebbit and Ian Paisley Jr. in a united front against Corbyn.
So now we know what sort of protests they are interested in attending, let’s have a look at 8 things that the Blairites didn’t think were worth protesting about:
- The Jobseeker’s Bill, 2013
Perhaps one of the most pernicious attacks on the vulnerable that the Tory-Liberal coalition government (2010-2015) carried out was the introduction of the 2013 Jobseeker’s Bill. After the court of appeal quashed the regulations that underpinned the government’s hated Back to Work programme for “lack of clarity”, the Tories responded by rushing through “emergency” Jobseeker’s legislation to set out the bill in more stark terms.
The Workfare program has been described by Dr Simon Duffy, the Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, as a form of “modern slavery.” Nevertheless, the Labour leadership took the bold move of whipping its MPs into abstaining from the vote – a far cry from the protests we saw earlier this week! Corbyn voted against it. Read more here.
- The Coalition’s Welfare Cap, 2014
The Welfare Cap was introduced by the Tory-Liberal coalition in 2014 as a way of curtailing the amount in state benefits that an individual can claim per year, as well as the amount of overall welfare spending. This policy has since been condemned by The Children’s Society, who describe the cap’s disproportionate effects on the young: “over 140,000 children are hit by the cap compared to only 60,000 adults while children are more than seven times more likely to lose out from its effects.” The cap has also been connected with a spike in the number of suicides among benefit claimants.
Diane Abbot gave a particularly impassioned speech against the bill:
This benefits cap is arbitrary and bears no relationship to need, as our benefits system should. It does not allow for changing circumstances—rents going up and population rising—and will make inequality harder to tackle. There are ways to cut welfare. We could put people back to work, introduce a national living wage, build affordable homes and have our compulsory jobs guarantee.
And yet, under the leadership of Ed Miliband, the majority of the Labour Party voted in favour of the cap. Thirteen Labour backbenchers, including Corbyn, defied the party whip to vote against the cap.
- The Tories’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill, 2015
The Tories’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill was a continuation of the Welfare Cap. Amongst other things, it was committed to reducing the household benefit cap from £26,000 to £20,000 (£23,000 in London); freezing the rate of many major benefits and tax credits for four years; limiting the child element of universal credit to a maximum of two children; and stopping those on certain benefits being able to claim additional help towards their mortgage payments.
Against a backdrop of huge anger, the interim Labour leader Harriet Harman whipped fellow MPs to abstain on the vote in order to show the electorate that Labour “was listening” to their concerns about welfare. Learning all the wrong lessons from the 2015 General Election, Harman argued:
The temptation is always to oppose everything. That does not make sense. We have got to wake up and recognise this is not a blip and we have got to listen to why. No one is going to listen to us if they think we are not to listening to them.
185 Labour MPs abstained on this bill. Corbyn voted against it.
It is widely accepted that the Tories austerity programme, supported by New Labour, played a significant role in ramping up racial and ethnic tensions across communities in Britain. Of course, the Tory press plays an important ideological role making racist ideas available, but the material conditions – of joblessness, deteriorating public services, and poverty – create the basis on which workers can be divided.
Much has been made of the spike in hate crimes committed after the Brexit referendum, but less discussed is the fact that, according to police statistics, hate crimes have seen a year-on-year increase since 2012. The Tories, Lib Dems, and New Labour share blame for this dire situation. If the Blairites are so interested in tackling racism, one has to wonder why they have so consistently refused to oppose welfare cuts.
- Military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen
Back in 2016 Corbyn suffered one the largest back-bench rebellions in his tenure, when the majority of Labour MPs defied a three-line-whip and abstained, or were not present, on a motion calling for support to be withdrawn from the Saudi Coalition until a United Nations investigation could determine whether their bombing campaign in Yemen had breached international humanitarian law.
According to a report by OXFAM, “over four million people [in Yemen] are [now] malnourished, including nearly half a million children who are in a life-threatening condition. Over 14 million people are living without clean water and sanitation facilities. Over 20 million people – that’s 75 per cent of the population – need humanitarian aid.” As of today, the war has resulted in the deaths of more than 5,000 children.
Blairite MPs like John Woodcock claimed that British support was “precisely focused on training Saudis” to improve their targeting, so as to “create fewer civilian casualties”. The reality is much colder.
Roughly half of the jets used by the Saudi Air Force are supplied by the UK – a lucrative, though abhorrent, deal for British arms traders, supported by the Tories and the Blairites – both of whom have strong ties to the arms industry. Liz Kendall’s doomed leadership bid in 2015, for instance, was backed by Lord Hutton, a consultant for Lockheed Martin (the world’s largest arms company). Read more on the Labour right’s close relationship with the arms trade here.
It is also noteworthy that the Saudi regime is one of the most deeply anti-Semitic in the world, “whose mosques and education system have, for decades, spewed anti-Semitic venom of the kind the world has not been subjected to since the Nazis” (The Spectator Magazine). Many Saudi government and state religious leaders actively promote the idea that Jews are taking over the world!
It may seem baffling to many that the Blairites would lambaste Corbyn with accusations of anti-Semitism whilst failing to oppose a government inarguably of this character. Such contradictions can be explained when you realise that principals are not really what is at stake here, but rather corporate profits.
- The Islamophobic PREVENT programme
The Prevent programme (or Preventing Violent Extremism to give it its long name) was launched as a way of “mobilising communities against violent extremists and their messages of hate”. Prevent was introduced by the Blair government in 2007 as a way of managing the consequences of the disastrous war in Iraq. The Tories then rolled out their own version in 2011.
Both have proven exceptionally controversial. Prevent has been used widely in schools and universities to interrogate young Muslims, creating a culture of fear and suspicion. As Professor Arun Kundnani, a terrorism expert, explained in a 2009 report:
What we found was that there are strong reasons for thinking that the Prevent programme, in effect, constructs the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’, fosters social divisions among Muslims themselves and between Muslims and others, encourages tokenism, facilitates violations of privacy and professional norms of confidentiality, discourages local democracy and is counter-productive in reducing the risk of political violence. Moreover, there is evidence that the Prevent programme has been used to establish one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain.
Little wonder that all the major trade unions in schools and universities, the NUT (now the NEU), the UCU, as well as the NUS have all actively campaigned against it. Corbyn has been an outspoken critic of the programme, whilst many Blairites have been amongst its staunchest defenders. Owen Smith, for example, made support for Prevent one of the pillars of his 2016 leadership election bid. For further reading also see Kundnani’s 2014 book, The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism and the Domestic War on Terror.
- Divisive treatment of migrant workers
During the 2009 dispute at Lindsey Oil Refinery, North Lincolnshire, migrant labour was deliberately brought in (under the EU’s Posted Workers Directive) to undercut union negotiated rates. Instead of arguing against appalling race-to-the-bottom employment practices, the response from the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to call for “British jobs for British workers” – a phrase straight out of the British National Party’s manifesto! No cry of protest was heard from the majority of the Blairites.
In fact, far from being anomalous, this rhetoric has formed the backbone of the Labour right’s dog-whistle media strategy. Indeed, Labour’s so-called “progressives” can often be seen tripping over themselves to pledge their commitment to Britain’s “white”, or “traditional”, working class.
Many will also remember Labour’s anti-immigration mug, released in the run up to the 2015 General Election. Or Sadiq Khan’s fawning open letter to the right wing Daily Express appealing for UKIP supporters to return to Labour (for all the wrong reasons) after New Labour’s appalling local election results in 2014. Khan’s words bear repeating:
We know we made mistakes. We’re determined to put them right.
Take immigration. In the past, we were too quick to dismiss concerns about immigration, or even worse – accused people of prejudice.
We all remember Gillian Duffy. We were wrong. We are sorry.
So what are we offering now? Learning the English language will be a priority.
We will change the rules on child benefit – so that it’s no longer paid to children outside of this country.
Truly divisive stuff! Similar dog-whistle views were heard from the Blairite candidate, Liz Kendall, in the 2015 Labour leadership election, where she argued that EU migrants should be stripped of working tax credits.
- The bombing of Syria
Back in December 2015, just three months after Corbyn was elected as Labour leader, the Blairites organised a massive coordinated parliamentary rebellion, backing the Tories’ military adventurism in Syria.
The debate in parliament is probably best remembered through Hilary “bomber” Benn’s war-cry, in which he denounced his own leader and asserted Labour’s claim to be the party of hard-edged internationalism. Towards the end of his speech, he compared the imperative to bomb Isis in Syria to “why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini”. In all, 66 Labour MPs voted for the airstrikes, including John Woodcock, Luciana Berger, and Dan Jarvis. Benn’s speech was greeted enthusiastically by the Tories, with George Osborne boasting perversely that “Britain’s got its mojo back.”
This was not the first time that Hilary Benn and his ilk supported imperialist military action either. Back in 2003, Benn voted in favour of the hugely unpopular War in Iraq — which resulted in the deaths of around a million people — against the backdrop of the biggest demonstration that the country has ever seen.
But Benn is not alone in refusing to learn from his mistakes. Many other Labour MPs who supported the bloodshed in Iraq also supported airstrikes in Syria, including Yvette Cooper, Chris Leslie, Tom Watson, and Angela Eagle. Corbyn, of course, was amongst those principled socialists leading the opposition to the war.
And nor has it been the last time the Labour right supported imperialist foreign policies. In April 2017, the Blairites took the astonishing step of supporting the racist, sexist, billionaire Donald Trump and his opportunistic bombing campaign in Syria!
The War in Syria has now claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people. 5.6million have been forced to flee the country, while 6.1million people have been displaced within the country.
- Tony Blair calling for a vote against Labour
Such a list would not be complete without mention of the man himself, Tony Blair. This is an individual who large swathes of the British public believe should be locked in prison, and yet his shadow continues to loom large over the Labour Party.
The majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, as well as local councils, continue to follow Blair’s pro-business policies. It is perhaps for this reason more than anything else, that Blair has taken on a Teflon-like quality, where he appears to be able to say anything he likes with total impunity. While Corbyn supporters are being expelled by their thousands because of having previously supported other parties, Teflon-Tony has openly called for a vote for the Tories in order to undermine Corbyn! Where is the protest from the Labour right?
As well as being a profound betrayal of the principles of the labour movement, the Conservative Party is also a deeply racist organisation. Calling for support for the Tories should be opposed by anyone who identifies as on the left!
This is, after all, the party which ran its 1964 Smethwick election campaign on the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour.” This is the party of Oliver Letwin, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, who in 1984 described black people as having “bad moral attitudes”. Letwin also went on to say that schemes to help black people would be spent in “the disco and drugs trade” and employment programmes would only see black people “graduate … into unemployment and crime”.
But nor is the Tories’ problem with racism confined to some murky past. In 2002, Boris Johnson, the Tories’ current Foreign Secretary, described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. He has also written that “blacks have lower IQs”. In January 2010, Tory councillor for Colne, Smith Benson, complained that there were “too many Pakis” in his town. In May 2014, David Bishop, a Tory council candidate in Brentwood, Essex, tweeted “it’s good to be anti-Islam” and called Islam “the religion of peace & rape”. In October 2014, Maidenhead Tory councillor Alan Mellins complained about Travellers and said the solution was to “execute them.” In May 2015, Tory councillor for Leicestershire Bob Fahey referred to a fellow councillor as a “chink”.
The list is endless! One thing that it is important to note is that in almost all of these cases no disciplinary actions were carried out against the perpetrators. The Tories are unapologetic in their racism!
Even on the issue of anti-Semitism itself, “data curated by YouGov actually shows that since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party in 2015, anti-Semitic views amongst Labour party voters have actually reduced substantially.” By contrast, the data shows that “anti-Semitic views amongst Conservative voters [are] significantly higher than Labour voters in general.”
Any genuine protest against anti-Semitism must, therefore, include opposition to Tony Blair and the Tories.
So why only 8? The truth is that there could be many more instances of the Blairites being happy to support openly racist policies, or policies which provide the ground for the growth of racist ideas. This article has not even mentioned their ongoing attempts to conflate opposition to the Israeli government with anti-Semitism, their support for wars in Afghanistan and Libya, or their support for NHS privatisation.
Of course, the Labour right, whilst sharing certain core beliefs, is a heterogeneous group. Not every one of the criticisms laid out in this article will apply to every single Blairite MP… but I would be willing to bet that more than half apply to all! (This is just to say, check before you apply).
But with their recent and ongoing manoeuvres against Corbyn and his supporters, it is clear that Labour cannot go on as it is. The Labour right will never be reconciled to a left-wing leadership and would act to sabotage it at every opportunity! As stated by the Labour Representation Committee, of which John McDonnell is current President:
The Parliamentary Labour Party and the Party bureaucracy remain firmly in the hands of the right wing. They seem determined to rule or ruin. Dirty tricks, sabotage and witch-hunts are their stock in trade.
The Labour Party must be democratised! Critical in this respect will be the reintroduction of mandatory reselection – i.e. local selection contests for the party’s parliamentary candidates.