Paul Mason has been prominent figure in the left Labour movement, but post-election attack on Labour Party chair and staff condemned – and Mason lashing out with accusations matching his own behaviour
Such is the amount – even pared down to a minimum – of information in this article, it is split into two sections. The first reports facts, while the second contains analysis and commentary on the first.
Senior union figures and a north-east MP have criticised journalist Paul Mason’s attack on Labour employees in Jeremy Corbyn’s office and on Labour Party chair and north-eastern MP Ian Lavery.
Mason wrote a lengthy piece in the Guardian in which he called for a full switch to backing a referendum by the Labour leadership, with a commitment to campaign in it for remain. That call was no surprise – Mason announced last September that he was backing another referendum and felt that Corbyn should do the same.
But Mason did not stop there. He also called for a purge of key Labour staff in Corbyn’s office – and for the resignation of party chair Ian Lavery for voting against a new referendum:
the officials who designed this fiasco, and ignored all evidence that it would lead to disaster, must be removed from positions of influence.
They include Seumas Milne, director of strategy, and Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s chief of staff. With an electoral fiasco like this, the buck has to stop somewhere, and it must stop with them – together with Ian Lavery MP, the party chair, who twice broke the whip to oppose the second referendum.
Mason also demanded that Corbyn show ‘contrition’ – for what has been an attempt to avoid abandoning either leavers or remainers and to bring both together in the best interests of the people.
Lavery tweeted his disappointment in Mason’s conduct toward Labour staff – and Mason lashed out:
Aaron Bastani of Novara Media – for which Mason also writes – was one of hundreds to add their criticism on the Twitter social media platform [full disclosure, so was the SKWAWKBOX]:
Now Mason’s behaviour and conclusions have been heavily attacked by senior union figures, as well as by one of Lavery’s fellow north-east MPs.
“A downright disgrace“
Howard Beckett is Unite’s Assistant General Secretary for politics and for legal affairs – and led the successful legal fight to defend Corbyn’s place on the ballot in the 2016 Labour leadership contest, against Michael Foster’s court attempt to bar Corbyn from the election. He pulled no punches in his assessment of Mason’s behaviour, telling the SKWAWKBOX:
The Paul Mason article (and his various Tweets) play directly into the hands of those seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and prevent the election of a truly socialist Labour Government.
Paul clearly holds strongly held believes about Europe. Those are legitimate views.
It is not though legitimate for him to forget the Labour manifesto of 2017, how those policies (created a year after the 2016 referendum) gave hope to the youth of our nations and the left behind communities (formerly industrial heartlands) long forgotten by the neoliberal elite.
It is sadly ironic that Paul should now adopt a cloak of elitism with his claim that any working class voter who believes in Brexit is somehow not entitled to be considered progressive.
But what is downright disgraceful is the divisive call for the dismissal of Ian Lavery, Seamus Milne and Karie Murphy. All good left socialist comrades.
The narrative wrongly assumes Jeremy Corbyn to be a puppet to the whims of staff. This is plainly false. The narrative disgracefully characterises those who were in large part responsible for the 2017 manifesto as negative hindrances to progressive politics. In the case of Murphy and Milne it is an outrageous attack on those who, as staff in the leaders office, have no right of reply. All justified by making the case for remain, really?!
Paul would do well to remember the strength of individuals who stood with Corbyn in the most difficult of times, he would do well to remember who stood firmly with Corbyn when the right wing coups came and most of all he would do well to respect the magnitude of the efforts of all those in the leaders office when it came to the creation of the 2017 manifesto.
Many of us will be sad to see Paul so enveloped by Brexit to have attacked left comrades, but nevertheless the attacks must be condemned, ridiculed even, and shown up to bring shame upon Paul only.
CWU union head Dave Ward thought Mason’s conclusions were ‘completely wrong’, when approached for comment about them:
I think early indications are people are making the completely wrong analysis of the result.
Grahame Morris, the Labour MP for Easington in the north-east, was harsher – dismissing Mason as a member of a ‘metropolitan elite’ engaged in ‘spin’:
How anyone can spin the North East results and those in many parts of the country to interpret that Labour needs to be unequivocally Remain is beyond my understanding.
Adding up the votes of other parties and discounting Labour ones then claiming this means we need a 2nd referendum ignores the fact that Labour voters are both leavers and remainers. The only clear and unambiguous fact is that the Brexit Party won the largest share of the vote.
This isn’t just about narrow electoral advantage at this point in time and making a play for LibDem ChangeUK votes in London and Metropolitan constituencies today.
Labour are trying to pull the country together North and South, Leave and Remain to create a fairer more just society that works for the majority including those who voted Leave in the old industrial areas. In my view if we are serious about winning parliamentary seats and forming a government at the next General Election whenever it comes, we cannot just be an echo chamber for those who many ordinary voters outside of London consider to be part of the metropolitan elite (like Paul Mason).
The Gardiner misrepresentation
Mason’s article also took aim at Labour’s star media performer Barry Gardiner:
We who have accepted the label of Corbynism also need to face facts. If the term “Corbynism” now includes a human rights lawyer such as Keir Starmer, together with a figure such as Barry Gardiner, who turns out to be a fan of the Hindu chauvinist Narendra Modi, plus the neo-Stalinists and social conservatives who supported the Full Brexit campaign, it is not really an “ism” at all.
But Gardiner had not ‘turn[ed] out to be a fan’. The MP had tweeted a welcome earlier in the week for the newly re-elected Modi’s statement committing to diversity and progress:
But when Gardiner’s comment was misrepresented in the media, he made his intent absolutely clear:
However, when a university academic failed to quote Mason’s words exactly in criticising him, he attacked her for misrepresenting him:
Mason’s words in the article were:
If we do that, the voters of Mansfield, Walsall, Merthyr Tydfil and Hull will at least know where we stand. They may decide, as some on the doorstep say, that they “don’t care if the economy collapses as long as the migrants go away”.
On Monday evening, the SKWAWKBOX sent Paul Mason the exact words of Beckett, Ward and Morris shown above and invited him to comment, in accordance with proper journalistic practice.
Mason’s response, quoted verbatim and in full:
On the record: Squawkbox is a propaganda site for crazy paranoid Stalinists – it should be derecognised by Impress. Every Labour member is entitled to ask on whose orders these hit-pieces are being written against myself, Keir Starmer, Clive Lewis and the rest. I would seriously request any Labour movement body funding this outlet to reconsider.
This reaction mirrored Mason’s response to an earlier SKWAWKBOX tweet criticising his conduct:
The answers to Mason’s comment are simple. Nobody ‘ordered these hit-pieces’, nor even requested that this article be written; the SKWAWKBOX runs entirely on goodwill donations from supporters.
Section 2 – comment and analysis
The SKWAWKBOX used to have a great deal of respect for Paul Mason. Tragically, he appears to be imploding.
When criticised by the university academic, he attacked what he regarded as the misrepresentation of his comment about voters in working-class towns. Yet Mason misrepresented Barry Gardiner’s comments about Narendra Modi, days after Gardiner himself had made perfectly clear what he was praising and what his intent was.
When criticised by this blog – and when invited formally to comment for this article – Mason launched into a rant about ‘Stalinism’ – a theme he has visited before in his social media output.
According to dictionary.com, ‘Stalinism’ is,
characterized especially by the extreme suppression of dissident political or ideological views
Yet it is Paul Mason who is calling for the sacking of Corbyn staffers who [he says] disagree with Mason’s view – and Mason who is calling for the resignation of party chair Ian Lavery for the ‘crime’ of voting against the ‘second referendum’ Mason wants.
Similarly, when his latest stance was criticised he attacked the SKWAWKBOX as a “nutty conspiracy” site – and when invited to comment, as a site for “crazy paranoid[s]”.
Yet when contacted, he immediately assumed that someone was ‘ordering’ “hit-pieces” against him and his like-minded remain ultras. Nobody ordered or requested them, but Mason’s mind leapt immediately to the assumption that there was a ‘Stalinist’ conspiracy against him.
Mason appears to be at odds with himself. He has felt entitled to ‘dish it out’, but when criticised he has reacted with a level of affront and prickliness that suggests he is aware of his own dissonance – lashing out when confronted and accusing others of the behaviour he is demonstrating.
Double-speak and ‘wagons’
But that is not the only contradiction. Mason claims in his article that he would ‘enthusiastically circle the wagons around Corbyn’. Yet in the very next paragraph, he calls for the removal of a number of Corbyn’s closest and most loyal supporters, for the crime of disagreeing with Mason.
Such a move, if successful, would strip Corbyn of many of his most steadfast protectors – the very ‘wagons’ that shield him now. The same ‘wagons’ that – as Beckett pointed out – stood solidly with Corbyn during the toughest of times in the first years of his leadership and ever since.
Not only that, but – as Lavery and Beckett observed – such a call goes against the very principles of the movement Mason claims he wants to protect. Solidarity, unity, loyalty are the very essence of the ‘Corbyn project’ – yet Mason cast them aside without hesitation and even with relish.
And his ire is misplaced. Numerous Labour insiders agree with Beckett that Corbyn’s ‘LOTO’ (leader of the opposition) team very much carry out his wishes, executing his instructions rather than manipulating him as [the still conspiracy-obsessed] Mason seems to assume.
Mason’s delusion about the Corbyn project is clearly demonstrated in the same paragraph in which he smeared Gardiner as a ‘fan’ of Modi:
If the term “Corbynism” now includes a human rights lawyer such as Keir Starmer, together with a figure such as Barry Gardiner…it is not really an “ism” at all.
Nobody with a decent knowledge of the dynamics of the Shadow Cabinet would, in a million years, consider Keir Starmer a Corbynite. So to include him to construct an attack on ‘Corbynism’ is delusional – and as Mason cannot plead ignorance, that delusion appears wilful.
Starmer was also one of the names included by Mason, in his response to a request for comment shown above, in his outrage about ‘hit-pieces’ supposedly ordered by nebulous figures.
Starmer was seen in an ‘off-book’ meeting with Tom Watson and the two were recently accused by senior Labour insiders of mounting an attempted coup when they appeared to coordinate damaging media comments misrepresenting Labour’s policy on a new referendum.
‘Corbynism without Corbyn’
Tom Watson’s closeness to the anti-Corbyn “people’s vote” campaign was exposed at the weekend when key phrases from the campaign’s leaked briefing notes were found to be reproduced in Watson’s Observer article published on Sunday.
Labour insiders up and down the country have for months reported that regular discussions were taking place among soft-left and liberal left figures under the slogan ‘Corbynism without Corbyn’.
Not ‘Corbynism after Corbyn’ – the Labour leader is not immortal and succession planning is merely sensible – but ‘without’, leading Labour insiders to conclude that the aim of the discussions was ultimately Corbyn’s removal and the hijacking of the movement.
That phrase popped up in Mason’s article. It was softened by preceding it with ‘one day, many years in the future’, but it’s an interesting coincidence:
Sad and shameful
For years, the SKWAWKBOX and most supporters of Jeremy Corbyn regarded Paul Mason with huge respect. Judging by many of the responses to his article and subsequent tweets, that has changed – probably beyond repair.
It is a sad development. A writer and activist that could have continued to be such a force for the movement has squandered his position and become a shell of his former stature.
Howard Beckett said that Paul Mason has brought ‘shame upon Paul only’. But how much damage Mason has done the movement he claims to want to protect remains to be seen.