Monday’s outstanding result for the grassroots-left ‘slate’ of candidates – a clean sweep of all nine positions – in the elections for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) was a huge boost for the morale and plans of Labour’s huge pro-Corbyn majority and the Labour leadership.
Conversely, it was a massive blow to the Labour right and its media allies, who reacted – with utter predictability – by focusing on the success of Peter Willsman and treating the illicit recording of his outburst during a July NEC meeting as if narratives that it was antisemitic were not false, when the reality showed the opposite.
But apart from the smears, the anguish and frustration of Labour’s right-wing factions was too great to be hidden – but they also contained a lesson for Momentum and the section of the left-wing commentariat who took a similar line to it during the election campaign.
Labour First secretary Akehurst’s angst was so overwhelming that he even let it spill over into an angry, expletive-including outburst at fellow centrist Lucy Powell:
Luke’s critical faculties appeared to be a little impaired by his frustration. Eddie Izzard self-identifies as a Blairite, while Akehurst has described himself as ‘old Labour right’ and the two outlooks are allied along the lines of ‘the enemy of the enemy is my friend’ more than in twinned ideology – unless of course he meant the ‘shared values’ of wanting rid of Jeremy Corbyn, which again is not entirely clear in Izzard’s case.
Akehurst is a self-described zionist and he proved Jeremy Corbyn right by failing the irony test. His attack on “bullshit about “independence”” ignored the fact that Labour First was calling the right-wing slate ‘independent’ before Izzard was an ‘independent’ separate from it.
Akehurst seemed unhappy – to say the least – about the idea of a popular candidate not being part of his (and Progress’) slate, but the error was that of the right-wing factions, who still put up a full slate of nine candidates instead of one of eight, leaving their supporters free to vote for Izzard rather than a ninth loser. Such a move might – in the convoluted circumstances around this particular election – have given Izzard enough votes to clinch a position.
Instead, with the rules about how the seats of resigning members are filled almost certainly about to change to a by-election system rather than the current ‘highest loser’ succession that saw Izzard promoted to the NEC when Christine Shawcroft stepped down, he will be as far from an NEC position after conference as if he had come last.
Akehurst got the point, at the latest by Monday evening, when he tweeted the obvious:
He only needed another 3k votes. We had 35k who just voted out slate line. So unless Eddie would have lost 32k by being associated with us, he would have won with our support
— Luke Akehurst (@lukeakehurst) September 3, 2018
He went further in the early hours of this morning in an exchange with an Open Labour commenter:
The Labour right will keep on losing, according to Akehurst, until it unites with discipline around a single purpose – in this case that of defeating [what he calls] ‘the hard left’.
Progress director Angell kept it simple, going straight for regurgitating the antisemitism smear against Willsman – a smear that resulted in at least one death threat against Willsman – and claiming his election meant that Labour is antisemitic. He said it more than once. Lots and lots of times, in fact – here are just the tweets with pictures:
Angell, like the ‘MSM’, pushed the idea that Willsman’s illicitly-recorded comments contained other than condemnation of individuals and a desire to see evidence to back up accusations.
But he also attacked Momentum for supposed inauthenticity in its treatment of Willsman – an attack made possible by Momentum’s decision to withdraw support for Willsman’s candidacy, which nearly cost the whole left movement dear. Willsman only beat Izzard – to Akehurst’s chagrin – by around 2,500 votes.
LFI went straight for the low road, repeating the antisemitism smear – and suggesting a certain desperation by claiming that Jeremy Corbyn should ‘call up him not to take his seat’:
Under Labour’s rules, Corbyn has no authority to do any such thing – and Willsman’s comments might have been crass but were not ‘shameful’ – but facts aren’t necessarily relevant when someone’s disappointed.
But LFI’s tweet drew comment about a facet that had nothing to do with its accuracy or lack of it. Respondents queried LFI’s failure to say anything about Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent comments, which were widely condemned by numerous Jewish commentators as shockingly fascistic:
Since shame tainting reputations was mentioned, respondents might also have legitimately asked about LFI’s shameful decision to blame Palestinians for their own deaths back in May, when Israeli troops killed around sixty unarmed protesters and maimed thousands more. The comments were rightly and widely condemned, forcing LFI and others into a hasty retreat. Shame indeed.
So what are the lessons for Momentum? The first is the one that Akehurst bitterly acknowledged: that victory requires discipline and cohesion around a single purpose – and intelligent handling of the ‘slate’ of candidates.
The right’s error was to pack their slate full, prompting their supporters – far less numerous in the party but likely to have a high turn-out – to vote for all nine, depriving ‘independent’ Izzard of the votes that might have taken him over the line.
Momentum’s was the opposite. Having started with a slate of nine strong candidates, it allowed itself to be swayed by outrage whipped up around the false presentation of Willsman’s words and chose to withdraw support – leaving the slate one short and very nearly opening the door for Izzard.
At the time the decision was announced, the SKWAWKBOX condemned it as idiotic and reckless – and it was. It was also very nearly disastrous for the forward momentum (no pun intended) of the left’s project to turn Labour into a genuinely member-led movement and an alternative that will sweep into government.
The second lesson is related to the first: solidarity, solidarity, solidarity.
To abandon a comrade of decades’ standing because he was the target of a right-wing attack was a betrayal of the principles of the movement and Momentum lost a huge amount of support because of it.
Momentum insiders acknowledged that the organisation’s leadership was worried about its image – but they damaged its image far worse by failing to show the solidarity and moral courage its members and supporters expected.
The error was understandable, though not excusable, in the pressurised context that existed – but it was one which must not be repeated.
Labour members’ and supporters’ instinctive understanding of the importance of solidarity and loyalty is stronger now than ever, after years of watching disloyalty rampant as Labour MPs and others have undermined the party they’re supposed to be helping into government.
Momentum’s leadership – and the left commentators who took the same line – must demonstrate that they’ve learned that lesson or they risk haemorrhaging support. There is no room for egos or weak wills in what is literally a life or death situation for huge numbers of people desperately waiting for Labour to take Downing Street.
If those lessons are learned, the huge success achieved in Monday’s NEC result in spite of the errors can be the foundation for the next phase of the ‘Left Project’ – for the good of the country. If they are not, that project will be impeded to the detriment of the millions of people whose wellbeing and even lives are dependent on the soonest possible Labour government.
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