Thursday, May 20, 2010

John McDonnell the only serious socialist candidate

WITH the workers. Diane Abbott says other candidates "look the same", but these women in John McDonnell's constituency know the difference.

LAST weekend I was in Blackpool, attending the annual conference of trades union councils. As you might expect our agenda was much taken up with the fight against anti-union laws, cuts and privatisation. Motions had been prepared well in advance, but trades unionists knew what we faced whoever won the general election, and the Tory-Lib Dem government's formation only added edge to it.

On the Friday evening, we had a reception and rally at the Blackpool Trades and Labour Club. The excellent nosh laid on by our hosts, and washed down with a pint or two, made for a congenial atmosphere, but we still had a serious albeit good-natured debate on the election result and the opening contest for leadership of the Labour Party. Disagreeing with the brother who argued from the poor showing of left-wingers outside Labour that workers had rallied to defend "our party", but also with those who argued that we should turn our backs on Labour, I said the damage done by New Labour under Blair and Brown had left many people confused as to what was our class, let alone party, but workers who nevertheless turned out this time to vote Labour did so to stop the BNP and Tories.

Criticising union leaders who remained loyal to the Blair-Brown leadership despite the blows and insults we had experienced, I also noted how left-wingers like John McDonnell, who tried to introduce a Trade Union Freedom Bill, had done quite well in the elections, increasing their majorities. There was applause when I expressed the hope that John McDonnell would make another challenge for the Labour leadership. I added that we need to build a socialist alternative both inside and outside the Labour Party.

While I was away in Blackpool, members of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) were holding a one-day conference in London on the Saturday, together with the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the National Union of Journalists, Labour Briefing, Right to Work Campaign and others, on the theme "Join the Resistance!". Resistance that is to privatisation, job losses and cuts. This too had been prepared before the election, but in the knowledge that working people were facing a fight whichever of the main parties got in. And the following day, the LRC met and issued a statement urging John McDonnell to renew his challenge for the Labour Party.

With past experience, and the knowledge that Labour fixers had given limited time to get the necessary nominations from Labour MPs, John McDonnell had no illusions that this would be easy, but his supporters' enthusiasm overcame any reluctance, and he announced he would be standing. Yesterday, LRC supporters and friends were mobilising to raise support from trades unionists and write letters to MPs, asking them to nominate John even if they would not be voting for him, so he could get his name on the ballot paper. As he says, the important thing is to have a variety of candidates, and raise discussion on the political issues.

A letter supporting John McDonnell's nomination is going to the press, and having added my name as a union member, I am pleased to say that a quick consultation among my fellow members of Brent Trades Union Council produced agreement that not only should my colleague Pete Firmin, a post office worker, sign as Brent TUC president, but that we are adding our name as a trades council.

I know, incidentally, that Pete will be counting on our support -and that of MPs like John McDonnell - against the Con-Dem coalition's plans for Royal Mail privatisation. We would not take it from Major, or Mandelson, so why should we take it from Vince Cable? But looking at it another way, how can unions like mine, which have put millions into Labour coffers, seriously fight Tory-Lib.Dem policies, while leaving undisturbed those leaders who have been identified with the same kind of policies in the Labour Party?

Last time round, while John McDonnell was addressing enthusiastic meetings of trades unionists up and down the country, our union leaders largely connived at Gordon Brown's coronation. After Brown led Labour to defeat while McDonnell, openly opposed to official Labour, increased his majority, it would be harder for union leaders to justify their so-called realism. The announcement by John Cruddas MP, the supposedly union-trusted "centre-Left", that he was not standing, made the choices clearer still.

At which point, who steps forward to confuse the issues, but Diane Abbott, MP (Hackney North), a member of the "left" MPs Campaign Group which failed to support John McDonnell's previous attempt to challenge Gordon Brown. Announcing that she is standing, Abbott plays on her identity as a black woman (the first elected to the British parliament), remarking that the other candidates "look the same". She appears to have support and encouragement from the faceless, secretive Socialist Action group, previously best- known for surrounding Ken Livingstone with highly-paid advisers when he was mayor of London. I remember a friend of mine in Hackney Labour Party telling me that Socialist Action were very angry with him for moving a resolution criticising Diane Abbott's decision to send her child to a private school. I wonder how many working-class black women in Hackney, one of the country's poorest boroughs, can identify with that, or with the Ms.Abbott seen on TV staying pally with Tory Michael Portillo?

So far, the people I've seen saying they will support Diane Abbott on Facebook seem to be white students, and fairly new to Labour politics. I'm sure they mean well, but maybe they have been to sociology lectures and "awareness" classes, and are confusing "representation" in the political sense with that in social samples.
"Political correctness" may be over-used as a sneer from racialists and reactionaries, but it is still not the same as correct politics.

John McDonnell, incidentally, has graciously welcomed Abbott's candidature, as broadening the contest, in effect saying the more the merrier. But conceding that of course she has the right to stand, we are entitled to our opinion of whether she should have done, and whether she deserves support or not.

Sophie's Choice

And, here reaching me courtesy of Labour Representation Committee stalwart Marsha Jane, who is of course championing John McDonnell, is what another blogger, and leading member of the National Union of Students, Sophie Buckland, has to say:

This morning Diane Abbott declared her candidacy for the Labour leadership election. The talk across the net now is that John McDonnell ought to withdraw to ensure Abbott gets the 33 nominations needed to get on the ballot paper. I think that’s wrong, and here’s why. First off, to deal with the politics of representation. Of course, were there to be two genuine left candidates with similar politics, you’d argue for the white man to step down in favour of the black woman. But we’re not in this situation.

It makes me spittingly angry that Abbott is using claims about ‘representation’ across the media to back up her campaign. She said twice on BBC News that the problem with the current candidates is ‘they all look the same’, and made claims that she could re-energise women workers and ethnic minority workers, bringing them back to Labour. But representation is about so much more than not ‘looking the same’ (remember Thatcher?).

Much will be made by the media of Abbott’s decision to send her child to private
school, especially after she publicly castigated those in the Blairite elite who did the same. Quite aside from the headlines (Politician Is Hypocrite Shocker!), this matters. Abbott claims to represent Hackney, to be a class fighter interested in “women and ethnic minority workers’” struggles. Yet she effectively condemned all those working and fighting in Hackney’s schools, by very publicly judging them not good enough for her son. This is a workers’ wage issue: very much like the principle that parliamentary representatives should only take an average workers’ salary, they ought to share the living standards and service provision of those they claim to represent. Abbott doesn’t do this, and she didn’t launch a fight to level-up schooling for all. Instead, she participated in the system of educational privilege that churns out the bosses, bankers and top politicians of tomorrow, effectively shouting a big ‘fuck you’ at Hackney’s teachers, education workers and the vast majority of its populace who have no such choice to opt-out. (Interestingly, while we’re on the subject of privilege, John McDonnell is the only candidate to have declared who wasn’t educated at Oxford or Cambridge).

Of course, Abbott also isn’t great on the other aspects of real representation. She appears to be rather too interested in being a celebrity, raking in thousands of pounds a month for appearances on the This Week, cosied up to Portillo. Meanwhile John McDonnell visited Climate Camp, supported scores of striking workers and has consistently fought against cuts and privatisation, voting against every Blairite attack on the working class and getting stuck in to organising too. Where was Abbott? Not doing a great job of backing workers by all accounts. Abbott supported the privatisation of the East London Line despite being in the Parliamentary group of the RMT union. While rail workers in Hackney and beyond organised against this attack on their conditions and our public services, Abbott failed even to sign their Early Day Motion opposing the privatisation. Nice left-wing credentials there.

Checking what issues she has supported is difficult, given how much is a mixture
of two sides. Look at the record here: - moderately against an investigation into the Iraq War - a mixture of for and against allow ministers to intervene in inquests - a mixture of for and against introducing ID cards - moderately for equal gay rights - moderately against introducing student top-up fees Now go look at John McDonnell’s record. ‘Moderately’ isn’t left. I’m not saying that Abbott isn’t preferable to the Milibands or Balls; on many measures she probably is. But socialists cannot let the politics of representation be used as a figleaf for a poor political record, or, worse, be used to draw support away from a genuine left candidate. And the fact remains that Abbott has come out gunning for McDonnell, declaring on the BBC that he has ‘conceded’ he can’t get the nominations (a correction had to be broadcast later) – why, if she’s not a spoiler candidate, did she choose to stand against a ‘fellow’ socialist, denigrate his chances publicly and not get involved earlier to organise a candidacy both camps could support? That’s pretty suspicious whatever your politics. Continue to support McDonnell. On Abbott, I call fake left.

Originally posted over at Sophie's blog:

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At 10:01 PM, Blogger Sofie B said...

Hi, thanks for reposting, sorry to be pedantic but I'm no longer a 'leading member of the NUS' I'm afraid - I left the NEC in 2008.




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