Following the withdrawal of John McDonnell as a candidate for election as Labour leader, it has now been confirmed that Diane Abbott has now secured enough nominations to get on the ballot. She will be up against the two Milibands, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham. Although Abbott had only 8 nominations as of last night, her total was boosted both by those who had nominated McDonnell and by the support of a number of other Labour MPs.
The reason for this is clear. It had become quite obvious that the movement was not going to accept a variation on what happened in the last Labour leadership election. After Blair quit, Brown was manoeuvred through to be the only named candidate in a virtual coronation, such was the fear on the party leadership’s part of any opposition in a ballot. This time it was increasingly looking like members would be stuck with a selection of identical clones all from the same (right) wing of the party. Party rank and file voices were joined by union conference after union conference in calling for all the candidates to be on the ballot paper. Considerable anger was rightly expressed over the use of a threshold level on MP nominations to keep candidates whose faces didn’t fit off the ballot even when – as was the case with John McDonnell – there was sizeable support for such names from the movement at large.
As a result even sections of the bourgeoisie, such as the Guardian, started warning that Labour would need to have a “proper spread” of candidates to ensure that the election had some validity. They warned that Brown was damaged by having avoided any election, although we would add that the real damage to Brown was done by the policies and actions of New Labour in undermining working class support for Labour.
However the pressure started to tell and as a result they have had to make a concession in putting Abbott on the ballot, an act which was achieved by a number of right wing Labour MPs nominating her to ensure that she hit the target.
Undoubtedly they did not wish to be put in the position of having to let John McDonnell onto the ballot. In that sense, the right wing of the party see Abbott as a safer option in the coming contest. She is there to act as a safety valve to offset pressure from the rank and file – pressure that the right wing does not feel confident about ignoring as they have in the past. In the Brown non-election, huge pressure was put on MPs by the party officials to stop others being nominated. This time it has been reported that, over the last few days, MPs came under huge pressure this time to ensure that everybody got on – bar John McDonnell that is!
Much has been made of the fact that Diane Abbott has earned her place on the ballot due to the fact that she is both black and a woman. However, we would argue that the question of having ethnic and gender based diversity on the ballot is nowhere near as important as having a proper political choice. In that sense we regret that John McDonnell was not able to get on the ballot and was clearly pressurised to stand aside in favour of Diane Abbott. Party members clearly want the opportunity to vote for real change in the party, not the continuation of Blair/Brownism under a new logo.
Abbott has been indentified as a candidate of the Left, although she has seemingly done little to promote Left ideas in recent years. Instead, she has based her entire campaign on the sole fact that the ballot paper needed someone on it who was black and/or a woman i.e. her!
In giving critical support to her stand in the election, we now call upon her to raise socialist ideas in her campaign which represent a real break with the old policies of so-called New Labour. If she is serious about standing as a candidate for leader and giving members real choice, rather than just using the campaign to kick start her career in the party hierarchy as some have speculated, then she must bring forward a programme which is clearly differentiated from that of the old leadership. We believe such demands should include a programme based around the next Labour government taking power from big business and the City of London, nationalising the monopolies, getting rid of the anti-trade union laws, establishing real public services, scrapping the House of Lords, getting troops out of Afghanistan and so on. Raising such demands will give members the choice they have been demanding, if they are raised that is.
We have been promised a proper debate over the next few months in the lead up to the Labour conference in September, where the new leader will be unveiled. Fine, let’s hold them to their words. Let’s have a debate where the ideas of socialism can be clearly raised as part of the struggle to arm the movement to face up to the coming attacks from the Con-Dem coalition government. If this does not take place then the election will end up being pretty pointless.
In the next few weeks we will comment both on the progress of the contest and on the various positions being put by the candidates. Above all we will show why we need the Labour Party to break with the policies of big business and stand instead in defence of the working class by mobilising around a clear socialist programme.
This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.
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This post was written by Steve Jones