First they tried to bore us out, then they tried to bully us out … now they try to shame us out. It will not work, writes Progress director Richard Angell
Labour’s new establishment is learning from and emulating the old establishment fast. The hard-left believes its own rhetoric about New Labour’s media manipulation and conference floor organising and uses it as an alibi for both like never before. It is all very Animal Farm – ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ and truly become ‘four legs good, two legs better’.
Watching the Momentum leadership explain away how they manipulated the good will of their delegates to keep a vote on Brexit off conference floor and save Corbyn’s blushes was a sight to behold. When Jon Lansman told me ‘Momentum is not a faction’ and that it has ‘no policy positions’, I could not help but laugh. Keep it credible, Jon. Momentum literally had an app telling people how to vote – and on Brexit, against their own interests.
I have written before about Michael Crick’s book on the Militant Tendency. How it reveals the three stages the 1980s hard-left used to take over local constituency Labour parties: make them boring, make them bullish and – when the moderates are out of the room – pass motion after motion ‘unaminously’ and by acclaim.
Since Jeremy Corbyn came to power this process has repeated itself, and in the most intense way. The older recruits – what I would call ‘returners from the 1980s’ – in the new membership are the ones who make Labour meetings unpleasant. They love procedure, minutes of the last meeting and making complaints – before, after and during the meeting, hoping to drive hardworking CLP officers from their post because they cannot take the grief.
In lots of places this has turned to all-out bullying. Either, a relentless attempt to induce fear when approaching your email inbox, dreading yet another near legalese letter with eight to 12 laborious points to refute. Or, a level of unpleasantness that has become the norm for people like Jess Philips.
Corbyn has offered courageous and inspiring words of solidarity for Diane Abbott regarding the awful abuse she receives. Every member would want to associate themselves with those words and stand with the shadow home secretary. But he casts the abusers as the other, those outside the room, outside the Corbynite tent, and for the most part outside Labour. It, rightly, received rapturous applause. But what about the abuse inside the tent? Philips and many more get abuse from party members – many of whom are his supporters. All it would take is one line from the leader and the Corbot trolls would clean up their act. Momentum could take a lead and set up a Twitter account ‘Corbyn Against Hate’ and tweet just one simple line at those who say they are on Corbyn’s wing but abuse Labour MPs: ‘Delete your tweet or delete your Twibbon: abuse against fellow Labour members is not tolerated, nor in our name.’ I have recommended this before – but for some reason it just does not happen.
The abuse at this year’s conference was not just coming from inside the tent, but inside the conference hall. A 17-year-old first time delegate and first time speaker had members approaching retirement age get to their feet to heckle and throw abuse. A number of delegates received calls or texts from the balcony informing them they were ‘being watched’. One delegate had their conference credentials pulled from around their neck because they refused to sit with their fellow CLP delegates, but their friends instead. I cannot think why.
These tactics will not work. Boredom will not pressure people out and neither will the bullying. Labour modernisers and moderates are made of stronger stuff.
But there is one more string to their bow that has been proving effective. Bringing shame and embarrassment onto Labour and being associated with it. The out and out antisemitism on conference floor was a disgrace. The fact Shami Chakrabarti was on the platform and it made no difference is more worrying. The fact the chair – CLP representative on the NEC, Claudia Webbe – turned a blind eye and refused to take Chakrabarti’s advice to not take one of the offending speakers, speaks volumes. The standing ovation by some to words of hate made me sick.
I came out of the conference hall to see a Jewish friend holding back their tears. It nearly broke me. But it won’t. If Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman and Ruth Smeeth are staying in Labour, I am damn sure I am staying too. I am not Jewish, but I want to have their back. Even better I want Labour at every level to turn its back on this kind of behaviour. The rule change that provoked this kind of hate speech is a good start. Maggie Cosin becoming chair of the National Constitutional Committee is another. Stay, comrades, and help make it happen.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell