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.
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 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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