Britain: Corbyn’s ban ‘a disgraceful attack on democracy’

April 5, 2023
Jeremy Corbyn

In a move that has been condemmed as deceitful and undemocratic, the British Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) voted on March 29 to bar former leader and left-wing parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate in the 2024 general election.

Corbyn is the sitting MP for the London constituency of Islington North and led the party from 2015‒20.

The motion, moved by Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, cited the 2019 general election results as justification for withdrawing Corbyn’s endorsement. This move represents the culmination of an all-out attack on the left of the party by Starmer since winning the leadership, and breaks his promise to maintain the left-wing platform of his predecessor.

First elected as the MP for North Islington in 1983, Corbyn has consistently been on the left of the party. He has consistently supported progressive and anti-racist causes, such as the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s, and opposed the United States and British-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, speaking out against then-Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Up until 2015 Corbyn remained a backbencher, however in the wake of Labour’s defeat at that year’s election, was nominated for the leadership of the party. He won the contest convincingly, with 59.5% of the vote, higher than Blair’s result in the 1994 leadership contest (57%).

During the 2015 leadership campaign, thousands of new members were inspired to join the party, especially as Corbyn offered a left-wing social democratic alternative to the dominant neoliberal austerity politics that has ruled over Britain since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government was elected in 1979.

2017 — ‘For the Many, Not the Few’

However, Corbyn’s leadership represented a threat to the British establishment and its supporters within Labour’s right wing. Using Corbyn’s handling of Labour’s response to the 2016 Brexit referendum as a trigger, the right challenged Corbyn for the leadership. However, it failed and Corbyn was re-elected with an increased majority of 61.8%.

Hoping to destroy Corbyn politically, the Conservative government of Theresa May called a snap general election in 2017. Despite unrelenting hostility from the ruling class and corporate media, the Corbyn-led opposition, campaigning on the left-wing manifesto, “For the Many, Not the Few”, managed to win Labour’s largest vote share since 1945.

Labour managed to deny the May government its majority and the resulting hung Parliament meant the Conservative government had to rely on Northern Ireland’s conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to hang onto power. Labour also came very close to being able to form government, according to some analysts.

The 2017 general election result is something that Labour right-wingers would rather people forget because it busts the myth that Corbyn was “unelectable”. The right would also prefer people forget the allegations that right-wing factional leaders were sabotaging Corbyn’s leadership and diverting resources away from Corbyn’s campaign to shore up their own seats.

The allegations of sabotage were confirmed in 2020, when leaked documents from a WhatsApp chat were exposed. This was followed by the 2022 Al Jazeera documentary, The Labour Files, and the 2023 Forde Report, which provided damming evidence of officials engaging in bullying and rigging of democratic processes against left-wing activists in the party.

Moreover, while using the claims of antisemitism to smear Corbyn and any activist who supported Palestine, the party bureaucracy ignored Islamophobia and racism against Black MPs such as Diane Abbott.

After having deposed May as Conservative leader in July, 2019, PM Boris Johnson called a snap election for December, and with the promise to “get Brexit done” secured a more-than 160-seat majority. In the aftermath of this defeat, Corbyn stepped down from the leadership in April 2020.

Starmer won the Labour leadership pledging to maintain the promises of the 2017 and 2019 election manifestos and to campaign on a left-wing platform of commitment to public ownership and anti-austerity policies. He even called Corbyn his friend. However, he soon reneged on those promises, moved rightwards and purged left-wing party activists who supported Corbyn.

Starmer suspended Corbyn from the party in late 2020, and withdrew the whip. This latest move has also involved purging thousands of left-wing activists from the party — including Jewish activists such as Jackie Walker who support Palestine — using the smear of antisemitism.

Jess Barnard, outgoing chair of Young Labour and member of the NEC, condemned Starmer’s move in a March 31 Tribune article as “deeply undemocratic” and posing “a serious threat to the future of all socialist members and MPs in the party”. Barnard wrote that the decision was not made “with the intention of attracting the approval of Labour members, or in the interests of Labour’s electoral chances, as was claimed, but for the approval of a narrow audience of assorted right-wing journalists, CEOs, lobbyists and media barons who want constant reassurance that His Majesty’s Opposition no longer poses a threat to their interests”.

What next?

Corbyn denounced the decision against him as “disgraceful attack on democracy” and told the Islington Tribune it was “a flagrant denial of natural justice and a shameful attack on the democratic rights of Islington North Labour Party members. It is up to them — not party leaders — to decide who their candidate should be”.

Moreover, the Islington North Constituency Labour Party (CLP) have denounced the NEC’s decision, stating: “We reject the NEC’s undue interference in Islington North, which undermines our goal of defeating the Conservatives and working with our communities for social justice.”

Although it is unclear whether Corbyn is going challenge the NEC ban or stand as an independent candidate at the next general election, many CLP activists, socialists and trade unionists are demanding that he be reinstated, and an online petition has already gathered more than 67,000 signatures.

With polls indicating a likely Labour victory at the next election and Starmer becoming the next prime minister, Barnard wrote: “The behaviour of the party’s leadership towards its own members and MPs should not only concern socialists; it matters to everyone who recognises the importance of pluralism to a healthy democracy.”

[Find out more about the Reinstate Jeremy Corbyn campaign here.]

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