The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 22nd September 2017

Battle lines drawn in Brighton

by Daphne Liddle

LABOUR conference begins this Sunday in Brighton — and is set for some crucial debates over proposed rule changes and issues such as Brexit.

The front-line of the class struggle is inside the organised labour movement — the party and the trade unions — and this conference will see history being made as the left-wing Corbyn supporters are set to assert their growing strength and make some important changes to the party structure. Meanwhile the right-wing Blairites are digging their heels in, refusing to budge an inch and finding new underhand ways to weaken the left.

The powerful National Executive Committee (NEC), which rules on what issues will and will not be debated, is no longer totally dominated by the right but nor is the left-wing majority totally consolidated.

One vital amendment passed by the NEC to be debated, proposed by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, will change the leadership selection process by reducing the power of MPs to exclude candidates from a leadership challenge.

if accepted

If the change is accepted by conference candidates will only need the support of 10 per cent of Labour’s MPs compared with the current 15 per cent — making it much more likely that Jeremy Corbyn’s successor could be a left-winger. McDonnell wanted to reduce this to five per cent but a heated NEC debate resulted in a compromise 10 per cent. This move will give the membership greater control in the selection process.

Another very contentious issue is an amendment put forward by Jeremy Newmark of the Zionist ‘Jewish Labour Movement’ (JLM), which could leave Labour members who support Palestinian rights and who are critical of Israeli state policies open to damning charges of anti-Semitism and expulsion from the party.

This attitude has already seen some left-wing anti-fascist activists accused of anti-Semitism and suspended from party membership, including members who are Jewish, such as Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein.

The matter has been investigated by Shami Chakrabarti, who used to head the civil liberties pressure group Liberty, who concluded that anti-Zionism did not equate to anti-Semitism — but the suspended members are still in limbo.

Tony Greenstein has pointed out many times that Zionism itself was originally a form of anti-Semitism — founded and supported by anti-Semitic Christians who wanted the Jews resident in their own countries to move to the place that was then Palestine.

The NEC passed a slightly weakened version of Newark’s amendment, that would require those accusing others of anti-Semitism to furnish evidence of motivation, but the issue it is likely to generate a lot of heat in debate.

Brexit will also be a contentious issue because support for staying in the European Union is high amongst Labour activists, especially in the south of England, whereas most Labour voters, especially in the north, voted for Brexit.

Corbyn has promised to honour the result of last year’s referendum but is under pressure to work for a ‘soft Brexit’ that would leave Britain still tied to the single market — which is the core and essence of the EU. If he does not honour his pledge he may lose a lot of his support outside the conference hall.

It would be a tragedy if the debate was confined only to the issue of immigration, especially when the ‘Fortress Europe’ regulations are more restrictive on immigration from outside the EU, or to confusing ‘freedom of movement’ with economic coercion on low-paid workers to force them from their homes in search of a living wage and render them vulnerable pawns in a bosses’ strategy to cut wages and working conditions throughout Europe.

Veteran campaigner Dennis Skinner set an example of principle and an understanding of the real issues by voting in favour of the latest Brexit Bill in Parliament last week, and was shamefully attacked for doing so.

A vote for the EU would be a vote for a Europe controlled by capitalism, where the peoples of Greece, Italy and Spain are being ground down and our own workers are not far behind. It would be a vote for more and more privatisation of our precious services, especially the NHS.