The ballot papers for Labour leader

Submitted by AWL on 19 February, 2020 - 11:14 Author: Martin Thomas
Rebecca Long-Bailey

Many of us are minded to vote for Rebecca Long Bailey for Labour leader when balloting opens on 24 February.

In the nominations stage we backed none of the candidates.

We used that stage to challenge them on a charter of labour movement democracy, and on the need to get Labour on the streets to combat the Tories in the next months and years.

We supported interrogations put to them by groups like Free Our Unions, Labour Campaign for Free Movement, and Labour for a Socialist Europe, to back Labour conference policy for scrapping all anti-union laws and for defending and extending free movement.

None responded positively. All three leader candidates signal, in different blurred ways, that they will seek to tone down Labour’s politics, but gradually.

How far they can do that — or whether, on the contrary, Boris Johnson’s buffoonery spurs the labour movement to get on the streets in a way it has not done since 2015 — remains to be seen.

The leadership ballot papers will arrive from 24 February. Now it is a matter less of challenges in meetings, more of conversations among Labour members and trade unionists about which box to tick.

Lisa Nandy’s derision of “placard-waving”, of “picking a side and shouting”, and of “nationalising everything”, has flagged her up as the candidate to rally the Labour right.

Keir Starmer’s most telling comment has been his refusal to say he’d give Long Bailey and Nandy jobs in his Shadow Cabinet: Translate: there may be no job left that Long Bailey will accept after Starmer has allotted key posts to Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves, Hilary Benn, etc.

Asked to praise a Labour leader of the last 50 years, Starmer chose Harold Wilson as one who “united the party”.

In 1956, Wilson sketched his approach in a private comment on then Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan: “You know, the man’s a genius. He’s holding up the banner of Suez [the failed British imperialist invasion of Egypt to stop Egypt taking over the Suez Canal] for the [Tory] party to follow, and he’s leading the party away from Suez.

“That’s what I’d like to do with the Labour Party over nationalisation” [the key Labour-left demand of the day].

Long Bailey was set up well in advance as the “continuity candidate”. The downside is the connections to the circles round Seumas Milne’s “Leader’s Office”, and its Stalinistic and manipulative methods which blighted the last years of Corbyn, especially over Brexit and antisemitism.

Whether from conviction or from prudence, she has distanced herself a bit from that axis. She did that most clearly in her 13 February declaration that she supports Israel’s right to exist alongside a Palestinian state, and in that sense is a “Zionist”.

Although Long Bailey does not have the same record as Nandy or Emily Thornberry of activity for Palestinian rights, she plainly doesn’t mean a wish to support Israeli-Jewish rights above or against other rights.

Now, on 17 February Nandy was the only one of the three to say she’d vote to abolish the monarchy. Long Bailey and Starmer said they wouldn’t. Nandy is still the only one to defend free movement between Britain and the EU. Long Bailey’s campaign runs limp.

But, broadly, Long Bailey has a more leftish record than the others. On the whole a stronger vote for her — if accompanied by continued criticism and campaigning on the issues — will increase the chances of a real fight against Tory cuts and a continued relative opening-up of the Labour Party.

The deputy leadership is even more blurred. Some of us are minded to vote for Dawn Butler. She has been the most leftish of the deputy candidates, with warmer words on trade union rights.

The most leftish, that is, other than Richard Burgon. Burgon has been good on some issues. But he writes frequently for the Morning Star, and describes Seumas Milne and Karie Murphy as “great people”. He has been not at all left-wing as shadow Justice Secretary. A vote for him is a vote for continuity with the bad record on Brexit and antisemitism.

Others point to Butler’s record as a loyalist under Brown and Blair, and doubt whether we can back anyone for deputy.

We’ll be discussing in Workers’ Liberty meetings, and deciding a majority view.

Everyone, I think, is agreed on voting for Lauren Townsend and Cecile Wright for the CLP places on the National Executive.

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