Barnet left activist targeted

Veronica Fagan from Socialist Resistance talked to Fred Leplat about his political history and his recent exclusion from the Labour Party

VF: Tell us something about your history of political activity in Barnet?

I got involved in the Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) in 2010, to do exactly what its name says. The Tories had won in 2002 Barnet back from from a period that was formally “no overall control” but which was in fact a Labour / Liberal coalition. The Tory victory in the 2010 general election gave confidence to the local Tories to unleash a massive programme of privatisation. Nothing was safe from closure, cuts and privatisation: meals on wheels, day centres, libraries, and much more.

Tory Barnet encouraged a programme of “regeneration” of council housing estates, which brought about demographic changes.

BAPS, in conjunction with Barnet UNISON, helped organise local community campaigns to defend services with lobbies of council meetings and several big demonstrations, in particular around libraries. The Barnet Labour Group and CLPs did not participate in BAPS, but individual councillors and party members joined in the campaign to defend libraries.

For a while, I was also a member of Barnet Left Unity, which folded as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. Many local members of Left Unity, as well as supporters of BAPS joined the Labour Party at that time.

VF: When and why did you join the Labour Party

On many issues, the politics of Jeremy Corbyn are close to those that Left Unity was arguing for. Left Unity was set up in 2013 when it was clear that Ed Miliband was not going to move the Labour Party away from the neoliberalism that Blair had stamped on it. It was a modest and necessary attempt at the time to rebuild a socialist political voice at a mass level. It was inspired by Syriza in Greece, before Tsipras sold out to the European Central Bank.

The election of Corbyn as Labour leader confirmed that there was a thirst for a left political alternative to neo-liberalism, austerity and war, but that this was being expressed through a growth in the left of the Labour Party – and particularly massive support from young people.

After the general election of 2017, I resigned from Left Unity and subsequently joined the Labour Party. I did that to do exactly what the other community activists and socialists in Barnet and in many other places were doing; that is to transform the Party into something which really makes a difference now to the lives of ordinary working class people who have suffered from austerity since 2008.

To make this difference, we desperately need to elect a Labour government “for the many – not the few”, as well as develop mass campaigns for public services, proper jobs and pay.

And we need to do that a local level as well as at a national level. Barnet Momentum, of which I am a member, is working to support local campaigns, and also to change the local party so it provides a real alternative to the Tories. This is an urgent task. Although the Labour manifesto for the recent council elections did state that failing services, many now run by Capita, should be brought back in house, It was not a major or the central focus of the campaign. This is something which is being argued by Labour at a national level for rail and the utilities, and is popular with voters.

Had Labour made the Capita a major focus in the election campaign, it might have been much closer to winning the council. The Tories, having been re-elected, are now considering bringing back in-house some services albeit those that Capita are having problems with, a bit like the government taking back for the third time the east coast rail line. Many in the local Labour Parties understand the weakness of the Labour Group. Two of the CLPs, Hendon and Chipping Barnet, agreed to support Barnet Unison’s programme For a Better Barnet which included developing a plan to bring services back in-house. There is a much more support for Corbyn in those two CLPs, unlike Finchley & Golders Green CLP which does not back UNISON’s programme and works closely with the Jewish Labour Movement.

VF: I understand you were involved in writing a letter which  was the subject of much subsequent debate. How did that come about and why was it controversial with some?

During the recent council election campaign, there were accusations in public from the right of the local Labour Party that antisemitism was extensive in the Party, and was not being dealt with by Jeremy Corbyn. Local Momentum supporters decided to send a letter to the local press and the Jewish Chronicle to offer a different view.

As the then Barnet Momentum secretary, I collected the names sent by email and forwarded the letter which was signed by 33 local party members. It argued that anti-zionism should not be conflated with antisemitism, which should be vigorously combated, and that it was being used to attack Corbyn’s politics in general.

This probably upset many in the Barnet Labour Group which has been engaging with the more conservative Jewish organisations. For example it endorsed the Board of Jewish Deputies Manifesto for Local Government and backed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and its controversial examples.

Immediately the letter was published, an accusation was made that I had added two of the signatories without their consent. The false accusation of forgery was followed by a formal complaint against me. The nature of the complaint and the identity of the party member making the complaint was not made known. I suspect that as it was soon realised that as there was evidence that I had not forged any names, another route was chosen to attack me, and that was by ending my membership of the Labour Party

I received a letter from the LP on 30 April informing me that under rule 2.4.1.B, I was ineligible to remain a party member as it was believed that I was still a member of Left Unity and that I was also a member of Socialist Resistance. I wrote back on the 10 May with evidence to demonstrate that I had resigned from Left Unity before joining the Labour Party. With regards to Socialist Resistance, it is not a registered political party and does not stand in elections.

Rule 2.4.1.B is very wide ranging at it states that “a member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the Party …. shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member”.  I argued that in applying rule 2.4.1.B, there is no suggestion that the Labour Party can be inconsistent with how it treats all the political organisations which are not official Labour Groups or Units of the Party. For example, Progress has a membership structure and there is a leadership with its Team, which includes a Director, and a Strategy Board.

VF: What communication have you had with the LP nationally and locally about your status? How did you respond? What’s the current situation?

I have informed some NEC members of my situation, and have received supportive messages from two of them. However, since responding to the Legal & Compliance Unit challenging my removal from membership, and I have not yet had an acknowledgment from them that my correspondence has been received and that my case is being reviewed. I have also written to Jennie Formby, the General Secretary asking that the Unit acknowledges my correspondence. I have had great support for local community activists and members of Momentum in Barnet. They understand that my removal from membership is politically motivated, is totally unjust and should be reversed. I will continue to press for a reply from the Legal & Compliance Unit.

VF: How would you describe your relationship with Socialist Resistance?

I am a member of Socialist Resistance. It is a political network like Momentum, Labour CND, or Progress and Compass on the right of the Labour Party. These and many others are not “official Labour Groups or Units of the Party”, and most have a membership structure with some sort of leadership arrangement. Socialist Resistance supports the new direction of the Labour Party and wants to see Labour elected everywhere.

It draws its political philosophy from Marxism, and argues for internationalism, ecosocialism and feminism. The ideas of Karl Marx, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, are still relevant today. Although more globalised, Marx would recognise capitalist society today. The Communist Manifesto is still an accurate description of class society and a necessary passionate call to “turn the world upside down”. That’s why socialists should still be inspired by Marxism.

VF: there seems to be continued attacks by the right in the LP against Corbyn and his supporters, often with allegations of antisemitism more or less part of the narrative. How do you see your situation in relation to those others?

The accusation of antisemitism is, as Len McCluskey put it, a smear against Corbyn. There is racism in Britain today, and it would be surprising that in an organisation which has over 500,00 members, there are none who are racist or antisemitic. But I don’t believe that the party itself is institutionally racist or that Corbyn has been tolerating racism. It is totally ridiculous, for example, the call by defeated Barnet Labour Councillor Adam Langleben that Corbyn comes to the borough to apologise for Labour failing to win the council.

We need to combat racism vigorously through argument and education of members. There should be an investigation against any member accused of racism, followed by  appropriate disciplinary action or education if they are found to have acted wrongly. The party also needs to mobilise vigorously its members to protest at Trump’s visit and against the resurgent far right in Britain who have been unashamedly racist through their Islamophobia.

But I believe that for the right in the Labour Party, antisemitism is a convenient cover to attack Corbyn’s left wing politics. If another issue had come up, e.g. financial or sexual misconduct, then that is what would have been used. But the accusation of forging names on an open letter and my subsequent removal from the Party are an attempt to get at Corbyn indirectly. The right wing in the party, which still exists and is powerful, wants discredit, isolate and get rid of Corbyn and his supporters on the left. This tactic will rebound on them as Corbyn supporters will become more determined to transform the Labour Party into a much more democratic and campaigning party which provides a real alternative to neoliberalism.

 

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