The issue with the suspended Labour MP Chris Williamson is not, as some in the Labour Party think, one off-beam remark in a Sheffield Momentum meeting, or a few incautious tweets.
Detailed web postings by RS21 member Dave Renton and socialist blogger “Bob from Brockley” have shown that Williamson has used his position as a prominent Corbyn-supporting MP to give the ideas of a segment of the far right a channel into the labour movement.
Williamson’s support for Vanessa Beeley, who makes an industry of supporting Syrian dictator Assad and his allies, came to prominence in August 2018 after he tweeted that it was a great honour to meet her. He has gone on to question whether Assad committed the chemical weapon attacks in Douma and badmouth the White Helmets.
Another fan of Beeley and her output is former leader and MEP for the British National Party, Nick Griffin. That fact does not seem to have given Williamson pause for thought.
Williamson has continued to promote conspiracy theories and fake news from far-right thinkers and journalists. He has supported notorious antisemite Gilad Atzmon, and an antisemitic right wing Spanish colonel, Pedro Banos, around a pro-Russian conspiracy regarding a UK based charity. He has repeatedly tried to rehabilitate antisemitic and far-right figures — not people who make casual blunders, but systematic propagandists — often under the guise of attacking biased media or supporting the Palestinians.
Despite what Williamson’s supporters believe, he has shown little evidence of actually supporting the Palestinians.
Support for Chris Williamson among active pro-Corbyn Labour Party members is not surprising. He is one of the few MPs to actively back mandatory reselection and to have spoken at lots of meetings of Momentum and other Labour left groups.
And much of the Labour left which backs Williamson is mired in conspiracy theories and left antisemitism.
To build a healthy, vibrant and democratic left, we need to rid ourselves of charlatans like Williamson.
Williamson has no record on the left. A former Derby Council leader who jointly governed with the Tories, he supported PFI and drove a Merc with a customised CCCP number plate, something his supporters thinks denotes him as being both funny and on the left. In the long-running Derby teaching assistants’ dispute, he was publicly silent.
Procedurally, in this case, the Labour Party has set itself up to fail. Williamson’s suspension, readmission and suspension again was a mess. The impact of negative media coverage and the uproar from many MPs clearly led to a reversal of the verdict, which is no sort of due process.
Despite everything about Williamson, we must highlight the problems of these procedures and call for open justice.
Yet a long and systematic political record makes the case for Williamson to be expelled. If even this flawed process results in that happening, the left should accept it.
Most importantly, we must continue to push for discussion and education on the underlying issues that have allowed these ideas to fester in the movement.