Silence is as good as compliance
Iain McNicol has banned discussion of Zionism, anti-Semitism and the internal witch-hunt, reports Tony Greenstein
Ever since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the leadership election, the right in the Parliamentary Labour Party has been somewhat chastened. Putting up Owen Smith to challenge for the leadership was a bad mistake, which strengthened Corbyn.
It should not be forgotten that beneath the deviousness and duplicity of people like Tom Watson there is a healthy dose of stupidity. An example in the current period was the mass abstention of Labour MPs over Britain providing weaponry to Saudi Arabia. This was perhaps not the best issue to challenge Corbyn on, since Saudi Arabia is not known as the world’s most democratic state. It also managed to split the right (Jess Phillips, Hilary Benn, Chuka Ummuna and John Mann, amongst others, voted with Corbyn).
Unfortunately Corbyn, instead of taking advantage of the right’s tactical and political blunders, has sought to appease his critics and it would appear he genuinely believes that Labour’s right will now give up its fight. He is going to pay a heavy price for this folly, since the right is waiting for its next opportunity - likely to be the local elections next May or possibly a deterioration in Labour’s poll standings.
But if the right at the moment is contemplating its next move in sullen silence, then Labour’s civil service, under general secretary Iain McNicol, is continuing the attack on the left. In what was an act of crass stupidity, which he will live to regret, at the national executive committee meeting following his victory, the Labour leader reassured McNicol that he had never challenged him or the Labour Party staff who had been so active in suspending anyone thought likely to vote for Corbyn. The fact that the task of disqualifying enough of his voters to allow Owen Smith to triumph was too much even for McNicol is no excuse for Corbyn’s timidity.
He has no excuse. He was the closest of friends and comrades with Tony Benn, who was very clear during his period in government that the first thing a Labour cabinet member must do was to gain control over his civil servants. It was a lesson Thatcher too took to heart when faced with the Sir Humphrey Applebys of her time. But it is a lesson that Corbyn shows no sign of learning or indeed understanding.
It was precisely in the aftermath of his victory that Corbyn should have confronted McNicol, making it clear that he had no confidence in him and that he had to go. If Corbyn had stated that the leader of the party had to have confidence in the most senior party official, then there is, in my opinion, no doubt that the pressure would have been such that the NEC would have had no alternative but to remove McNicol if he failed to fall on his sword.
For all his sins, Michael Foot had a decent Tribunite as general secretary in the form of Jim Mortimer. Corbyn has a snake in the grass in the shape not only of McNicol, but people like John Stolliday, the head of the witch-hunting compliance unit. Corbyn should have learnt his lesson from McNicol’s attempts to keep him off the ballot for the Labour leadership.
If we cast our minds back to last summer, then it will be recalled that at the fateful NEC meeting on July 12 which was called to discuss whether Corbyn’s name should even appear on the ballot paper - the same meeting that Corbyn left early, thus allowing the right to prevent 120,000 new members from even voting - Jim Kennedy of Unite had obtained a legal opinion which was sent to McNicol.
The Guardian reported that solicitors Howe & Co had written to McNicol accusing him of “having gone to great lengths to conceal your intentions from the leader and the shadow chancellor of the exchequer” in respect of the date of holding an NEC meeting.1
On July 25 The Daily Telegraph’s political correspondent, Ben Riley Smith, reported that “Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have accused the head of the Labour Party of ‘subverting’ internal rules and keeping legal advice ‘hidden’ to effectively block him running for the leadership.”2 The Telegraph spoke of “the total breakdown of trust between Mr Corbyn’s allies and Mr McNicol, the most senior official in the Labour Party”. It added:
The criticism also calls into question whether Mr McNicol can retain his post should Mr Corbyn win re-election this summer, as the bookmakers have suggested ... such is the level of distrust between the two camps that Mr Corbyn has insisted he is placed as a co-defendant in the case to ensure the claims are robustly challenged ...
Corbyn feared, almost certainly correctly, that if he was not a co-defendant in the case that Michael Foster brought and lost at the high court to keep him off the ballot paper, then McNicol was likely to do a deal with Foster to concede the case. That is why Corbyn’s statement to the NEC that he had had no problem with McNicol is a staggering misjudgement.
Although most of the thousands who were suspended in the summer in order to prevent them voting have been reinstated with a warning as to future behaviour, others - such as myself - continue to be suspended. Jackie Walker has been resuspended and we are now seeing attacks on the right of constituent organisations of the Labour Party to even discuss forbidden topics.
In one constituency Labour Party - Eltham, south London - a motion for discussion at its October general meeting was ruled out of order because it condemned the thousands of suspensions and the lack of any genuine or fair process of investigation, as well as calling for an inquiry into the conduct of Labour Party officials. The branch moving the motion, Kidbrooke and Hornfair, was given no reason to justify the ruling and the membership as a whole was not even informed that the motion had been received. The reasons eventually given at the following meeting of the general committee were that it referred to “thousands” of members who had been suspended, when no figures had been officially provided! The sentence criticising the behaviour of “officials” was also objected to.
It is not known whether the branch was specifically instructed by McNicol’s office to bar the motion, but Eltham is dominated by the right and will not willingly provide such information. Its MP, Clive Efford, was the main mover behind the recent reconstitution of the Tribune group of Labour MPs, which, unlike the original version, is not a leftwing grouping, but aims to “unite the party” through compromise. Apparently 70 MPs have signed up to it.
Nor is Eltham the only example. In what is, even for Labour’s Blairite civil service, quite an unbelievable decision, an instruction has been issued that a motion on the ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt cannot be discussed at a local branch in Hammersmith CLP (see opposite). According to Ben Westerman of the “governance and legal unit”, the motion was “objectionable on almost every level”. Objectionable to whom he did not say, but I think we can guess!
No doubt at the urging of the Israel/Zionist lobby, in what is a new and quite novel pretext, the reasoning given was that the motion might give the “wrong impression” to new members. It probably did not occur to Westerman that forbidding free speech and treating members as children who are too precocious to debate and discuss what is happening in the Labour Party might also give the wrong impression. But that, of course, is not the real reason why this pettifogging bureaucrat has stepped in. It is because the Labour Party bureaucracy wishes to prevent what it sees as a political critique of its actions over the past months. Like all bureaucracies what it is best at is imposing bans and restrictions.
There is nothing in the least objectionable about discussing where the ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt has come from or rejecting the concept of ‘new anti-Semitism’, which holds that criticising Israel is a form of anti-Jewish racism. If it is forbidden to mention the word ‘Zionism’, as some would like, then maybe those same people can explain why the term is in common parlance in Israel. Zionism, in short, today means Jewish supremacy and domination in the Israeli state. The World Zionist Organisation, which is a living and breathing organisation, funding the West Bank settlements and settlement expansion, was the founder of the Israeli state.
What is involved is an attack on the free speech of anti-imperialists using the pretext of ‘anti-Semitism’. It is sad, to say the least, that Jeremy Corbyn, given his own record of support for the Palestinians, is now so cowed that he does not face down those who have done their best to remove him. Caving in to the right wing like this only emboldens Corbyn’s enemies. It is a stupid and counterproductive behaviour, which should be reversed without delay.
Even in the bad old days of the right’s dominance this level of attack on free speech did not occur. Even worse, Westerman has claimed that the leader’s office was complicit in this attack on free speech. If true, then the fear of doing anything to antagonise the Zionist lobby has reached new heights. Does Seamus Milne or Corbyn himself really believe that attacks on free speech in the Labour Party are going to shore up his position? It is the height of stupidity. McNicol might be lying low for the moment, but when the chance to wield the assassin’s knife comes round again he will not be found wanting. What the leader’s office should be doing is encouraging the maximum debate on these topics.
This has been the problem all along. Instead of facing down the ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations, Corbyn has continued to retreat. When the issue first surfaced it was levelled against Corbyn himself. It was alleged, by the Daily Mail and Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian, that Corbyn had associated with a holocaust denier, Paul Eisen.3
And the witch-hunt is actually continuing. While Wallasey CLP - which refused to support the leadership bid of its MP, Angela Eagle - has been falsely accused of homophobia and suspended since the summer.4 the case of Brighton is even more outrageous. On July 9 over 600 people attended the AGM of Brighton and Hove District Labour Party (BHDLP). Momentum-backed candidates won by a margin of two to one. Immediately, false allegations surfaced - of spitting at a caretaker at the venue, of voting irregularities and of uncomradely behaviour. On July 12 a “notice of administrative suspension” was emailed to the newly elected secretary, Greg Hadfield, overturning the election results and reinstating the old executive. The letter of suspension expressed the hope that “the local party will return to comradely conduct”. Having reached their conclusions, it was then decided in the best Kafkaesque traditions, two weeks later, that the head of Disputes, Karen Buckingham should hold an inquiry!
Comrade Hadfield did a superb job in gathering the evidence comprehensively establishing that there had been no “uncomradely behaviour” or “spitting”. Some 100 statements from those in attendance were taken, testifying to the good-natured behaviour of those present. Greg even managed to get hold of a video of people coming into the building where the spitting incident, according to the councillors from whom the allegations originated, had allegedly occurred.
The video showed that there was no such incident. Karen Buckingham, in the best traditions of a fair and searching investigation, refused to look at the video, using the Data Protection Act as her excuse! Even more absurdly, having issued a notice of “administrative suspension”, her inquiry report stated that “BHDLP was not suspended”.5 Part of the problem when you lie so often is that it becomes difficult to keep track of your dishonesty.
Then there is the case of Leeds Central CLP, Hilary Benn’s constituency, where Momentum candidates have gained control of the executive, and Riverside CLP, where the local Zionist MP, Louise Ellman, has been responsible for drawing up a false and malicious dossier on left activists. There are reports that they are the next to be targeted for suspension.
However, instead of drawing the appropriate conclusion from history that appeasement only encourages the aggressor, Corbyn has continuously given ground. It would not be difficult to call out his critics, such as Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Only this week, when Donald Trump was being criticised by all around him because of his appointment as strategic advisor of the former chief executive officer of the ‘alt-right’ Breitbart site, Steve Bannon, an open anti-Semite,6 Arkush was praising Trump to high heavens.7
Indeed we have seen the Zionists come out in their true colours. Whilst American Jewry has been appalled and frightened by the level of open anti-Semitism in the new Trump administration, the Israeli government and the Zionists have been falling over themselves to praise him. Not only Likud but the ‘left Zionist’ leader of the Israeli Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, who not so long ago was lecturing Jeremy Corbyn about anti-Semitism,8 issued a warm statement welcoming Trump’s election victory. Herzog gushed:
Today American democracy chose … an American leader who showed the commentators and the sceptics that we are in a new era of change and replacing the old elitist regimes! You did the unthinkable, against all the odds, polls, research and the prophets of the old era. I’m convinced that the defence and financial alliance with our strongest and most powerful ally will continue with a vengeance under your presidency.9
An iron law of history is once again repeating itself. When genuine Jew-hatred resurfaces, you can rely on the Zionist movement to be at the forefront in welcoming it.