Right’s latest attack on Williamson is a naked attempt to divide the movement


Derby North MP Chris Williamson and this blog stand on opposite sides of the ‘open selection’ debate. Williamson has pressed vocally for open selection – a policy of automatically having a selection process to determine the Labour candidate in every seat, every time there is an election.

The SKWAWKBOX originally welcomed the idea but saw its flaws – not only in the way it might honour less the vital contribution the union movement makes to the wider Labour movement, but in the drain on resources in seats where there might be no appetite among members for a change. It’s this blog’s opinion that the new ‘affirmative ballot’ system adopted by the party – and supported by its leader – is better.

But that difference of opinion has not the remotest effect on – or even relevance for – the far more fundamental fact of solidarity.

This blog stands shoulder to shoulder with Chris Williamson and those who share his opinion, regardless of any disagreement about the best way to conduct Labour’s internal democracy – because on the most essential points about the changes needed to our society and the desperate need of those the party and movement exist to serve, there isn’t enough room between us to ‘slip a fag-paper’.

From that viewpoint, today’s attack on Williamson is as obvious and unsubtle in what drives it as a truck with its bonnet missing.

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The Huffington Post reports a number of – naturally – unnamed Labour or ‘union’ figures  claiming that ‘union anger’ against Williamson has made him a prime target for deselection.

But the motives of the ‘one fellow MP‘, of the ‘source at one of the big trade union‘ [sic] and of the ‘key figure in another major union, who preferred not to be named‘ couldn’t be much clearer if they hired a billboard.

They’re driven, transparently, by a desire to pay Williamson back for unsettling their preferred, cossetted right-wing MPs and a hope to leverage that into a larger-scale division – and not by any concern for the movement and the people who need Labour government.

The article basically even says so:

Another source said that Williamson’s decision to hold his roadshow in the seats of some strongly union-backed MPs was another factor.

But the MPs in whose constituencies Williamson has held his roadshow are not those who are behind Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for the Labour Party, nor are they backed by the party members and unions who support it.

In other words, right-wing MPs and a handful of right-wing union officials who support them – the HuffPost article carefully does not say its quotes are from senior union figures – are trying some stirring in an attempt to combine pay-back with a bit of the time-honoured right-wing tactic: divide and conquer.

A close reading of the article and a bit of background soon expose the ‘right on left’ nature of the attack. The article mentions one regional GMB official ‘letting rip’ at Williamson. But a glance at that regional officer’s Twitter feed shows many indications that open selection would be far from his only area of disagreement with the Derby North left-winger.

Retweets of former Blair spin-doctor Alastair Campbell and Labour First front-man Luke Akehurst are quickly found aplenty, alongside an attack on Labour’s perfectly reasonable decision not to continue pouring money into a legal case that a Blairite former Scottish leader is fighting because of an article that she wrote, for money, with neither the involvement nor approval of the Labour Party and numerous other ‘RTs’ of right-wing Labour figures.

The official in question is perfectly entitled to his opinion and it’s not his fault the Huffington Post chose to quote comments he had made elsewhere – but it speaks volumes of the pond from which the publication fished its material.

By contrast, the article makes much of a spat over the issue between Williamson and Unite head Len McCluskey – but it’s a cast-iron certainty that Unite will not be trying to deselect Williamson over a difference of opinion about a non-core issue. McCluskey and his team ‘get’ solidarity.

In an extreme irony, the right-wing MPs and union officials who are attacking Williamson accuse him of wanting to sever the Labour-union link to the detriment of the movement – but in seeking to sow and ‘talk up’ division, that’s exactly the fire they’re fanning.

By contrast, those who have the real Labour movement at heart – and the good of the people who need it to be running the country – recognise that solidarity is far more than a virtue. It’s absolutely fundamental, because in any meaningful sense it is the vital strength we have.

It’s the very foundation of ‘For the many‘. It’s the heart of ‘Rise like lions‘ – of ‘we are many and they are few‘. Of ‘united we stand‘. And those whose hearts and minds are genuinely in the movement have learned through reason and hard experience that ‘divided we fall‘.

And that conviction means that solidarity is strong enough to withstand a disagreement over which particular process our internal democracy follows – it has to be, because those who want the movement to fail will always be trying to sow division.

The age-old tactic: ‘Divide and conquer’

The practical irony – and beauty – of the situation is that under Labour’s new rules, for right-wingers to trigger a selection contest in the hope of removing Williamson or other left-wing MPs, let alone win one, they have to pass the same bar that supporters of open selection dislike. For right-wingers to initiate a selection, they have to win the same 33% of branches – union or member – and as the right is not ‘the many’ in the Labour Party, that may be hard for them to achieve.

And of course, even if they do they still have to persuade 50%+1 of local party members to agree with their candidate choice in an OMOV vote, which will be far harder. The wisdom of the new system in preventing needless or vindictive contests is already starting to show, even while some practical details are still being worked out.

But the far more important reality – as Chris Williamson would agree – is that the solidarity of the movement is more important. Those who oppose it won’t stop attacking it – and those who believe in it must never fall for the tactics and ruses of those who want to see it fail.

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  1. Is there any reason why MPs should not request re-selection from their CLPs?
    By the way does anyone else automatically think of the late Bernard Levin when Huffington Post comes up?

  2. As a result of the soft right pushing the button first, we now have Open Selection by default!

  3. To anyone at the conference it was obvious that CLP delegates wanted O/S and most of the Union delegates didn’t.

    The first point is why was the NEC modified trigger ballot the first on the order paper, was it union pressure on the NEC? Secondly, because of the 50/50 vote allocation, if all the CLP delegates had voted to refer the NEC option, O/S would have been discussed the following day with a chance it could have been carried. It appears therefore that there was Union solidarity but not CLP solidarity.

    This does not signify a split between the CLPs and the Unions but what it does show is that a few Union delegates can wield a hell of a lot of power. The question is, are they wielding it with the approval of their members by ballot on a particular issue or are they exercising it on behalf of a few right wing Union leaders?

    Democracy is slowly being restored to the LP, Union members deserve and must also have the same and if this is what Chris Williamson is calling for, it’s certainly NOT a split, it is a campaign for democracy for EVERYONE.

  4. I don’t know how far back the 50/50 CLP/Union vote allocation for conferences goes back but it was certainly in force in 2013 when LP membership was only about 190k.

    Now that LP membership has more than doubled and Union membership has decreased, isn’t it time to reconsider the vote allocation?

    1. Jack. I get the point being made here that it’s not just the bare figures that are the only consideration it also how things look and are perceived.

      On the actual figures two points. The % 50/50 card vote split means in practice that no matter how many card votes the union affiliates have compared to the CLP’s it does not affect the result in that way. What swung that issue this year was the % difference between for and against on each of the two sections of the movement. The %gap of the union affiliates was wider than the CLP % gap. Which meant that when the respective % were halved, for 50/50 the added up % for and against was against Lab International’s reference back.

      The fact that in terms of floor delegates the show hands vote made it appear to many inexperienced CLP delegates that something did not feel quite right is unfortunate. As you say, there exists a difference in organisational experience.

      Where there is an issue which needs addressing is that CLP members who are also a member of a union paying the political levy will inevitably have had a vote re order on both sides.Whereas those CLP members not in a u ion, for a variety of reasons, will only have had a vote re order on one side of that card vote.

      In addition, there is also the unfortunate fact that a significant proportion of the affiliate votes will have been non party members paying the political levy.

      Where that will start to become problematic in the future is the likely impact on Union membership from the coming process of AI automation. Union membership has already decreased in terms of the card votes at Conference from previous rounds of technological substitution of labour from automation.

      As previously mentioned on an earlier thread the other week, some of us can recall the T&GWU alone used to be able to put a card vote in the ball park of 1.5 million on the floor of Conference. Now the entire movement can only muster around 1.8m votes on a card vote. Should Party membership continue to grow at the same time there will at some point come a cross over in terms of numbers.

      That’s why both sections need to be working together rather than apart.

  5. The Huff Post is such a toxic piece of steaming sh**. I avoid reading it and cannot take anything connected to it seriously.

    The Huff Post is a neoliberal megaphone.

  6. Huff&Puff Post hahahahaha roflmao !!! picks self off floor and goes off to bog to metaphorically wipe arse on said Huffpuff post ,,, Fake News shite.
    We’re coming for your RWingers the ones you love to support HP and you’d better be more worried about them than CW in Derby .

  7. By using affiliated organisations to trigger a selection on Chris Williamson all talk of a purge of the soft right is now moot!

    We now have Open Selection by default.

  8. It’s utterly contemptible. If Huffington Post can use this story to rattle Chris then it should have the bottle to name MPs & Union people. If the HP has no intention of doing so then it should bugger off.

  9. CORRECTION Skwawbox. Chris WIlliamson went where he was invited. He was invited to Northumberland – Blyth in particular – two neighbouring constituencies where both MPs are on the Left and both JC supporters.Ian Lavery and Ronnie Campbell. If gerrymandering goes through only one of those will have a seat.

  10. Beware the so called ‘Liberal left’ Media; the wolves in sheep’s clothing with their own agenda. The BBC; Channel 4; The Huffington Post & The Guardian, all share one thing, their hatred of the working class & its ‘Socialist’ roots. It is so important for the bourgeoisie to maintain pay differentials & the low wage ‘gig’ economy, while ‘screwing the poor’ & preaching the complete opposite. The Tories now see themselves (see David Cameron) as Liberal & Socialism to be attacked @ every opportunity, including AS. “The class war is over”, isn’t it Tony Blair?

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