I’ve watched the four Al Jazeera films exposing the political culture within key parts of the Labour Party (link here). It’s shocking, if not surprising, to see evidence of Watergate-like dirty tricks. It’s equally unsurprising that the issue is passing virtually without comment in the mainstream media, particularly the BBC, because it was an active accomplice in the conspiracy to silence.
This all matters for at least three reasons. First, the investigation documents, with multiple sources, a concerted effort to discredit and destroy a hugely popular, democratically mandated political movement that could have led to the election of a genuinely socialist government. Second, this movement attracted a significant number of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, who subsequently found the racism they hoped Corbynism would confront, was alive and well within elements of the Labour Party hierarchy. Third, the appalling use of anti-Semitism as the pretext for a witch-hunt of left-wing Labour Party members, many of them Jewish, has significantly – and deliberately – weakened the campaign to demand justice for the people of Palestine.
I joined the Labour Party (LP) when I was 16, with the transformational intent of Clause IV proudly displayed on my membership card. I stuck around for about a decade. But under Neil “The Baron” Kinnock, it became increasingly clear that any vestige of Labour as a socialist party was disappearing. The writing was on the wall and it wasn’t red! Like many others, I’ve continued to campaign alongside LP members and – in the absence of a credible socialist alternative – to vote Labour. Again, like many, I was very heartened by Corbyn’s election as leader and considered re-joining the party (although I was led to understand that my application was unlikely to be successful).
I’m glad I didn’t. The Al Jazeera programmes exposes behaviour that not only fails the test of socialism, but also a more general level of human decency. There is a view, also held in some parts of the left, that personal conduct is unrelated to politics. To use the Mafioso cliché, “it’s nothing personal”. I strongly disagree. Of course, noone’s perfect. But if you want to build a society where everyone is treated with more fairness, integrity and respect, you need to start with yourself.
This is the most grotesque feature of how Corbyn and other socialists have been treated by the LP: people who have long campaigned for social justice and against racism, born from their fundamental humanity, have been vilified and falsely accused of the most disgusting prejudices. The Labour Files shows this was the product of a cynical, orchestrated campaign, by malevolent people whose personal values are completely at odds with those of the labour movement. Lessons need to be learned by the left from this experience, particularly in terms of how it relates to the nature of the capitalist State. But the programmes also illustrate how the suppression of political ideas in one place, directly damages the demand for freedom and equality in another.
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