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The great Labour Party voting trick

HOT’s Sean O’ Shea reflects on an exceptional week in politics including the mass disenfranchisement of members of the Labour Party, and the newly appointed Prime Minister, Theresa May’s apparent attempt to assume the disarrayed opposition’s clothes with her pledge to fight the ‘burning injustice’ of inequality.

Labour Party members who have recently joined the organisation were outraged this week when it was revealed that a sub-committee of the National Executive Committee (NEC) decided that members who submitted their applications after January 2016 would not be able to vote in the coming leadership election.

Lately people had been receiving strong encouragement from both wings of the Labour Party to register as members. The implicit message, communicated to some via emails, was that they would be entitled to vote and have their voices heard in any future leadership election.

One dismayed member who had recently re-joined the party informed me that as part of the application process she was asked to record her reason for joining. “I naively disclosed that I was a Jeremy Corbyn (JC) supporter”, she said. “Presumably when they found out that most new members were pro-Corbyn they must have decided to disenfranchise them.”

People were informed that they could still sign up as registered supporters, pay twenty five pounds for the privilege and secure a vote. It was then announced that this would only be possible from Monday 18 July to Wed 20th July. There is widespread belief that this was a stitch up, which had been designed to fail in order to prevent JC from winning.

There followed a spate of information in the papers and on social media on alleged ways to avoid this restriction, which included joining a union or affiliated group. However members who tried this route by, for example, attempting to join BAME groups, were informed that new applications were no longer being processed. The six month rule apparently applied across the board.

Noticing the absurdly tight time restriction for signing on as a ‘registered supporter’, a computer savvy Labour Party member commented on Facebook that “If during that three day period all of the 300,000 new members tried to buy associated membership, they would have to sign up at a rate of 12,500 per hour! For three days solid. The web site would never cope with that traffic. Even if only 30% of the new members attempted to sign up, that would require 4,166 per hour, 24 hours a day, for 3 days. Again, the website would not cope with this traffic.”

Some members speculated that this ploy could be regarded as a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act and could be potentially challenged through the courts. This flight to the lawyers to resolve disputes is yet another symptom of the depth of mistrust, anger and desperation that now afflicts the Labour Party.

There is an increasing sense that any celebrations of JC’s achievement of a place on the leadership ballot, and the belief that the coup undertaken by his parliamentary colleagues had failed, are entirely premature.

It is being argued by some that the prospect of JC being re-elected in September is far from certain. A significant proportion of constituency members, as well as some union members who originally voted for him, may be influenced by the character assassination  to which he has been subjected repeatedly over the past ten months both in the media and by his own colleagues.

Furthermore the media has tended to neglect detailed reportage on the positive and intensive work schedule that JC undertook , communicating with grass roots members, increasing the membership beyond all expectations and receiving enthusiastic receptions the length and breadth of the country. This wasn’t the performance of a man lacking the capacity to inspire and to lead. Yet he has hardly been given credit for these quite extraordinary achievements even by his own side.

Freedom of assembly denied

The right to vote was not the only right being denied to Labour Party members in the week that was. The NEC also ruled that all constituency meetings were to be suspended till after the leadership election. This decision was reportedly made because the NEC recognised ‘a duty of care’ towards its members and needed to protect them from the risk of being bullied or abused by their own comrades. This compounded the rage felt by constituency party members, who insisted that they remained adults, were perfectly capable of organising meetings, running them responsibly and treating each other with respect – without interference from a Big Brother.

Freedom of assembly i.e. the right to meet with others or to join or leave groups at one’s own choosing, is guaranteed in all modern democratic systems and enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in conventions 87 and 88 of The International Labour Organisation.

Some lawyers may argue that if sufficient attention was paid to rule books and small print, comrades might discover that while recently announced restrictions on voting and assembly can seem unfair, manipulative and/or downright dishonest – they may still in fact be legal!

These and associated issues are currently being hotly contested; but whatever the outcome, they do raise serious questions about the validity of an election conducted in such a confusing, toxic, apparently unsafe and disputatious atmosphere. The legal profession may end up the primary, if not exclusive, beneficiaries of this sorry state of affairs.

This surreal drama, which for some seemed to demonstrate the PLP’s growing contempt for democracy as well as their contravention of basic civil liberties, was overshadowed however by contemporaneous events including the carnage in Nice, the Turkish coup attempt and the launch of a re-branded Tory Party.

Advent of mother Theresa

Sensitive to the nation’s frayed nerves, the newly appointed Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May, gave an oration at the front of 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, 13th July that was emollient and generally well received.

She presented herself as a one-nation Tory, solidly placed on the somewhat mythical centre-ground of British politics and concerned to do something about inequality and social injustice. She spared us any reference to St Francis, but her moral tone, as might be fit a clergy man’s daughter, had a distinctly compassionate New Testament resonance.

She didn’t however show her more steely Old Testament side by mentioning her belief in quickly replacing Trident and being ever ready to make war in the interest of peace.

Her target audience at first glance appeared universalist: she spoke of her concern for the poor, people of colour, women, the young, people with mental health problems (the poor in spirit, I suppose!). She assured us that she would be driven by the interests of the little people rather than by the interests of the wealthy.

I’m sure that Mrs. May’s intentions were honourable and sincere. However promises are easy to make, and there was little mention of how she intended to actually achieve these laudable and challenging aims.

Moreover it was noted by a number of commentators that her focus narrowed when her speeches were seen in the round and closely analysed. When she speaks of ‘ordinary working class families’, she is primarily concerned with aspirational, employed home-owners or ‘strivers’. She understands that this group votes, has felt tightly squeezed in the last decade, and are fearful of a potential descent into the dreaded ‘precariat’ – the limbo land all those ‘others’ not quite like them, who may occasionally have to be given a helping hand-up an ever lengthening slippery pole – but otherwise need to be kept at a distance.

It was commonly acknowledged that her speech could have been made by former Labour Party Leader, Ed Miliband, except he might not have had the courage to make it, lest it be deemed too ‘socialist’ in tone, or worry ‘the market.’

There is a core social democratic belief underpinning all this rhetoric which assumes that it is possible within the constraints of the prevailing system (slightly tweaked) that if people work hard enough the majority can achieve at least a comfortable and secure status in the social pyramid – if not become millionaires.

This belief is shared by the bulk of the PLP, which raises the question as to why Theresa’s newly branded Humanitarian Tory Party and terminally depressed opposition can’t be honest, share a massive group-hug and merge.

Mother Theresa with her slender majority of twelve and her ever so slightly seductive leopard skin shoes would surely welcome the prodigal children.

For most democratic socialists, mother Theresa’s ambitions remain just an unimaginative reiteration of all too familiar homilies which don’t effectively address the ‘inherent contradictions’ of capitalism, seem detached from the real world of economic and social policy, and fail to meet the transformational challenges confronting contemporary society.

Although at present very much a minority in parliament, democratic socialists under JC’s leadership have been reinvigorating and developing their connection with the grass roots and staking out a quite plausible claim to being the more authentic, and in terms of recruitment, more effective bearers of the Labour Party mantle. If they abandon any remnants of tribalism and have the imagination and discipline to work towards a progressive alliance with other like minded parties, nationally and internationally, they have every chance of forming a distinctive, creative and effective opposition in parliament backed by an ever growing mass movement in the country.

Symbolic weapons

Meantime it’s anticipated that on Monday 18th July, parliament will vote to replace Trident with the support of Angela Eagle MP and other Labour parliamentarians, even though our so called closest ally, the US, considers this weapon of ‘no more than symbolic value’.

Our representatives will presumably make this choice on the grounds that Trident is necessary to defend jobs and maintain national security in an increasingly uncertain and dangerous world.

They could of course consult us on this major and deeply contentious decision that is likely to cost two hundred billion of taxpayer’s money over the coming years. This is a lot of your cash to spend on a ‘symbol,’ and many argue that it could be better spent on houses, hospitals and urgently needed conventional armed forces. But our political representatives have a ‘duty of care’ towards us ‘little people’ and as we have hardly begun to recover from the EU referendum, they assume that we wouldn’t really want to have another such consultation foisted upon us.

This denouement is a fitting conclusion to a period which will surely go down in history as having been one of the most dispiriting weeks for democracy, socialism and civil freedoms.

SOS 17/07/2016

End note

One of the most famous ‘tricks’ in socialist discourse is ‘The great money trick’ as described in Robert Tressell’s, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, in which the author demonstrates how capitalism works and how working-people allegedly acquiesce in their own exploitation.


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Posted 05:50 Monday, Jul 18, 2016 In: SOS

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