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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 September 2016

Should socialists give electoral support to the Labour right?

London's new Blairite mayor Sadiq Khan, photo Policy Exchange/Creative Commons, photo Policy Exchange/Creative Commons

London's new Blairite mayor Sadiq Khan, photo Policy Exchange/Creative Commons, photo Policy Exchange/Creative Commons   (Click to enlarge)

Is backing Blairites at elections necessary to defeat the right's lie that Corbyn's Labour is 'unelectable'? A reader wrote a letter to the Socialist's editors raising this important question. The editors respond.


I fully endorse the 'What we think' editorial in issue 913 of the Socialist (see 'Answer right's attacks with firm socialist programme') - with the exception of your comments regarding Momentum.

"Our objections [to Sadiq Khan's selection] were pushed aside by ... the leadership of pro-Corbyn group Momentum." Khan was selected as Labour's candidate for the London mayoral election at the same time as Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader, last September.

Corbyn and Momentum's support for Sadiq Khan during his election campaign was not simply because a Labour victory is better than a Labour defeat, but also because Khan's defeat would have been an 'endorsement' of the Blairite claim of Labour's unelectability with Corbyn as leader.

Objections

Also, Sadiq Khan would have preferred not to have had the full support of Corbyn and Momentum, because he wanted to claim his victory was in spite of Corbyn's leadership. On the other hand, if Momentum had chosen not to fully support Khan's election campaign and he had lost, then Corbyn and Momentum would have been blamed for his defeat because of their lack of support!

If Corbyn and Momentum had raised objections to Sadiq Khan's selection, that could have provided Khan with the opportunity to refuse their active support - a decision that would have been 'erased' in the aftermath of his defeat and the Blairite outrage against Corbyn's leadership.

Consequently I believe Corbyn and Momentum chose to keep quiet about their objections to Sadiq Khan's election and fully support his election campaign.

Therein lies the compromise which deserves to be reported and commented upon. Bearing in mind your issue 907 'What we think' editorial comment on the Tooting byelection: "Labour more than doubled its majority, in what was the fourth byelection it has held comfortably. This again disproves the lie that Labour is unelectable with an anti-austerity leadership" (see 'Left alternative needed to counter austerity, racism and the far right').

John Merrell, Leicester

We welcome John Merrell's letter, because criticism and debate of our ideas in the Socialist hopefully helps to clarify the understanding of our readers and working people generally.

We criticise the leadership of Momentum not for their general support for Khan against the racist Tory Goldsmith in the London mayoral election, but for its uncritical character.

No warnings were issued which even hinted at criticisms of Khan's political position on the right of the Labour Party. On the contrary, Momentum stoked illusions in him by declaring: "Jez we Khan"!

Jeremy Corbyn at Durham Miners' Gala July 2016, photo Paul Mattsson

Jeremy Corbyn at Durham Miners' Gala July 2016, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

This is despite the fact, as we pointed out in advance of his election, that "he would use his position not as a political victory for Labour [and Corbyn] but as a personal victory in opposition to the anti-austerity message of Jeremy Corbyn" (editorial, issue 913).

The anti-Corbyn forces sought to use Khan as a rallying point against the left leadership of Labour. And Khan duly obliged - with his denunciation of Corbyn as an electoral liability, as opposed to himself, while at the same time endorsing Owen Smith.

As John points out, Momentum chose "to keep quiet about their objections to Sadiq Khan's election and fully support his election campaign."

The task of socialists, and particularly Marxists, is "to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done, come what may".

And this applies not just to Momentum - but also, when required, to the trade union and Labour Party leadership. While generally supportive, we would have some criticisms, which we put forward in a comradely and friendly way.

Betrayals

If this is not done, as was the case of Momentum in relation to Khan, then the labour movement and working class would, in our opinion, be unprepared. We must tell the truth about the inevitable betrayals of the Blairites and pro-capitalist career politicians who seek to shelter under Labour's ideological blanket, which Sadiq Khan clearly does.

When the heroic Butterfields tenants in Waltham Forest, east London, desperately appealed for Khan's help to prevent their eviction by greedy landlords, his office wrote back and said he could not intervene. This despite the fact that in the election campaign he promised to come to the assistance of all those harassed by grasping landlords.

We stand by our comments on the Tooting byelection, which John also quotes. However, we made the same point as we had done in the mayoral election. The victory was primarily the result of the new anti-austerity stance of the Labour leadership and movement around Jeremy Corbyn, but the task of dealing with the right-wing Labour opponents of socialist policies remains.

The editors

editors@socialistparty.org.uk


Following on from my letter and the editors' response:

I'm now retired, but in my 30 years of advocating the policies of Militant and then the Socialist Party in the labour movement, there were occasions when others on the left would approach me and say: "Privately I agree with you but at this time we have to support this (non-left) candidate or policy."

My letter sought to identify this dichotomy in Momentum's approach to parliamentary byelections and mayoral elections - rather than just "Momentum's uncritical support for Blairite candidates".

This compromise, even if successful, would cause confusion in the ranks of Momentum and miseducate its thousands of new activists.

In this way my letter is not counterposed to the editors' response, which states: "The task of socialists, and particularly Marxists, is 'to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done, come what may.'" A statement I fully agree with.

I just thought we could have said more about the defensive nature of left reformism, which leads to this dichotomy.

John Merrell

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In The Socialist 7 September 2016:


#KeepCorbyn

#KeepCorbyn: build the movement against austerity

Break with Blairites essential to defeat split Tories

Should socialists give electoral support to Labour right?

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