Disarray in the Blairite ranks as Labour meets in Liverpool
I attended every Labour Party conference from 1974 until Tony Blair expelled me from the party over the Iraq war in 2003. Over 30 years, I was present as a delegate or a full-time Labour Party official and a participant in the short-sword fighting at many crucial events.
I saw Harold Wilson – who was then PM again for the fourth time – appeal from the platform to the dictator General Franco for the lives of the Spanish democrats about to be garroted in the dying days of that phase of Iberian fascism, alas in vain.
I saw the leaders of the Portuguese revolution on stage celebrating the downfall of Franco's twin dictatorship. I saw Luis Corvalan, the newly released Chilean leader, after the grim dictatorship of General Pinochet allowed him free at last. And I met the Algerian revolutionary leader Ben Bella, fresh faced and cheerful after 14 years of house arrest. All roads led to the Labour Party conference, which was then a mighty parliament of the working people where giant trade unions and their equally giant leaders, vibrant constituency activists, clashed with Labour's right-wing leaders over the future course of the movement, at home and abroad.
And that parliament had teeth, regularly able and willing to turn over the parliamentary leadership on policy and constitutional measures.
I was at Tony Benn's side every step of his way when he led the campaign for the whole movement to elect the party leader rather than just the MPs, for all Labour MPs to be subject to open selection before being chosen as candidates at each election, and for the party rather than the leader to draw up the election manifesto. And I literally touched the Labour breakaway and the creation of the SDP when I came to blows with one of its moving spirits on the conference floor, nearly losing my job as a Labour organizer in the process.
But I have never been at a more important Labour Party Conference than the one which convenes in Liverpool this weekend.
Mr Benn never became the leader of the Labour Party but the man he regarded as his son, Jeremy Corbyn, has and is. The leaders we were struggling with were right-wing to be sure, but they were still recognizably Labour – just a different kind of Labour to us. The foes Jeremy Corbyn can defeat this weekend are alien to everything the Labour movement stands for. They are not Labour, they are Tony Blair.
In three years of attrition, Corbyn has suffered the slings and arrows of bitter civil war. He has encountered a critical mass of opposition from the whole political class – almost the whole parliament, and literally all of the mass media. He has been a Soviet agent, a Czech agent, an IRA man, a "friend" of Hamas and Hezbollah, an "anti-Semite and a racist" with a barrow-load of expletives for seasoning. He is a "Putinist," an "Assadist," a "Fidelist," a "Chavista."
And last weekend it was clear that "Russian stooge" was back in vogue.
The Rt Hon Michael Foot PC was a friend of mine for decades, long before he became Labour leader and long after he ceased to be so. He gave evidence for me at my expulsion from the party in 2003. The Times of London led its front page last Saturday with the "news" that Mr Foot had been a paid informant of the KGB. I put the word news in inverted comas because the same newspaper – in fact, the same editor of the same newspaper – had published the identical story decades before when Foot was alive and suing. The paper then admitted the story was a lie and paid Foot substantial damages for having run it. Some wondered why they had dug it up from the grave, but not many. Most knew the story wasn't really about Foot but about Corbyn.
Starting on Sunday, the Labour Party conference will finally implement the open selection of MPs, striking fear and perhaps the decision to exit Labour in the hearts of scores of Labour MPs who have sought every opportunity to topple Corbyn for the last three years. The conference will radically pull party decision-making into the 21st century – a digital democracy where the members are regularly polled on policy and organizational matters. The first casualty of that will be the extant Labour support for the Trident nuclear weapons system and maybe membership of NATO itself. For sure, Labour will never support another invasion of the Middle East! It will be a defeat for the Blairites, and may turn into a rout.
There are signs of division and disarray now appearing in the ranks of the Blairites and even in the mind of Blair himself. Will they go or will they stay? Is Britain's political architecture about to be demolished and reconfigured for the first time since my fisticuffs in Blackpool nearly 40 years ago? One thing is for sure, get as close to the ringside as you can, because it is going to be a hell of a fight.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.