The last couple of weeks have been tumultuous for the Labour Party, to say the least. Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message has made significant gains at the polls, despite the best efforts of Labour right wingers to smear the left of party with accusations of anti-Semitism.
One of the biggest wins for Labour was the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London.
Khan’s campaign benefitted enormously from the surge of grassroots support for Corbyn, many of whom took to social media and the streets under the slogan “Jez We Khan” – an extension of “Jez We Can”, used to back Corbyn in last year’s leadership race.
Curiously, however, whilst accepting support from these activists, London’s first Muslim Mayor has constantly sought to distance himself from his party’s leader, claiming that he has his “own mandate” and is not beholden to Corbyn.
Although Khan is frequently described as “soft-left” or a “social democrat”, his political record reveals an active hostility toward the principles which saw Corbyn elected as Labour leader last year.
During his election campaign, Khan vowed to be “the most pro-business Mayor London has ever had”; stated his opposition to the “mansion tax”, the nationalisation of banks, and has pledged to work with the Tory government to defeat Corbyn’s push for a “Robin Hood Tax” – a fee on buying stocks, shares and derivatives publicly backed by the Labour leader last summer; and in recent weeks, Khan has described the fact that there are 140-plus billionaires and 400,000 millionaires in London as “a good thing” – echoing the haughty words of Labour’s true blue Tory Peter Mandelson,
Khan has also come out in opposition to Corbyn on the issue of defence, in particular the renewal of Britain’s nuclear “deterrent” Trident – estimated to cost the tax payer a cool £100billion. In an interview with the Telegraph, Khan states unequivocally: “I’m quite clear that I can’t foresee any circumstances in which I would vote to unilaterally end our nuclear capability.”
Since his election, Khan has now expressed support for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who, he states, “is doing interesting stuff with the infrastructure bank in Chicago.”
The Chicago Infrastructure Trust is a project, backed by former President Bill Clinton, to entice private investors to fund public projects – hardly a left wing solution.
Mayor Emanuel, a former investment banker, is himself a controversial figure, and has been implicated in a number of high profile corruption cases and is renowned for his hostility toward the public sector.
It has also been exposed that Khan, the man who has pledged to solve London’s housing crisis, accepted almost £30,000 in donations from parasite landlords during his election campaign. £10,000 came from a Mancunian firm which Magistrates fined £14,000 for breaching tenant safety rules. And £19,900 came from a south London developer which campaigns against landlord licensing.
But perhaps most revealing of all, is Khan’s eagerness to join in the witch-hunt against Labour members who criticise the brutal militarism of the Israeli government, which has been purposefully conflated with anti-Semitism.
Just last week, Khan was one of many Labour MPs calling for the suspension of Corbyn’s close political ally Ken Livingstone over alleged anti-Semitic (in reality anti-Israeli government) statements.
Such scurrilous attacks are intended to discredit the left wing leadership of the Labour Party.
The Labour right, with the full backing of the capitalist class, are cynically and sickeningly using this very real form of discrimination to undermine Corbyn, who has close links with pro-Palestine groups, with an eye, first of all, to isolate him, then eventually to remove him as the party leader.
His high profile mayoral campaign has mean that Khan has played a key role in this process.
But perhaps we should not be surprised. Khan’s association with the Labour right goes back to his election as Labour MP in 2005 – the same year that he became a patron to the Blairite faction of the Labour Party, Progress, the group responsible for organising attacks on Corbyn’s leadership.
Detaining Suspects Without Trial
In February 2005, Tony Blair’s government voted in favour of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill which, amongst other things, legislated to create “control orders”: civil orders made by the Home Secretary against individuals who the intelligence services suspect of “involvement in terrorism-related activity” on a domestic or an international level.
Control orders allow for a range of restrictions from house arrest and electronic tagging to rules on whom the suspect may contact, where they can go and where they may work. The orders also significantly lowered the standard of proof necessary to detain terror suspects (no trial is necessary, for instance).
The legislation was roundly criticised by human rights organisations for providing the Home Secretary, then Charles Clarke, with powers equivalent to that of the judiciary.
Although Khan was not yet an elected MP when this vote was passed, in 2007 and 2010 he voted to renew these highly undemocratic measures… despite being a former human rights lawyer himself and despite being a persistent critic of the War in Iraq!
Corbyn consistently voted against control orders.
In 2006, Blair’s government voted on the Education and Inspections Bill. The bill served as an important step toward expanding the academisation (i.e. privatisation) project, the rotten fruits of which are being reaped today, by encouraging councils to pass schools from the hands of democratically elected Local Authorities into those of private sponsors.
One representative from the National Union of Teachers described Blair’s Education Bill as giving “even greater opportunities to business and religious sponsors to instil their ideas on young people.”
Khan voted in favour of this bill, but the Labour Party faced a major backbench rebellion, with over fifty MPs (including Corbyn) voting against the proposed legislation.
Revealingly, Blair could rely on the full support of the Tory opposition to push through this attack on comprehensive schools, the leader of whom, David Cameron, said that the reforms were in line with Conservative Party policy.
With the Prison Officer Association coordinating a series of strikes at the end of 2007 because of privatisation and cuts to pay, the government responded on January 9 2008 by strengthening the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, section 138 of which prohibits prison workers from taking strike action.
Khan voted in favour of this act, Corbyn against.
Treaty of Lisbon
A few weeks later, the news media was dominated by the issue of the Treaty of Lisbon, which was widely understood as providing an EU-wide legislative basis for the privatisation of public services, as well as facilitating attacks on the wages, conditions, and rights of workers.
Article 188c, for instance, helps to remove the ability of states to veto trade deals involving health and education, opening up the prospect that financial speculators, as a right, could intervene and cherry pick the most profitable aspects of health and education.
The Lisbon Treaty was opposed overwhelmingly by delegates at the Trade Union Congress (TUC). Irish workers rejected the Treaty outright in a referendum.
Whether or not one is in favour of remaining or leaving in the upcoming EU referendum, the decision as to whether or not the Lisbon Treaty should have approved should have been put to the public.
Khan voted in favour of the Treaty, and against a referendum on its imposition. Corbyn voted against the Treaty, and in favour of a referendum.
Khan’s Record on Welfare 1
Perhaps one of the most pernicious attacks on welfare that the Tory-Liberal coalition government (2010-2015) carried out was the introduction of the 2013 Jobseeker’s Bill. After the court of appeal quashed the regulations that underpinned the government’s hated Back to Work programme (introduced in 2011) for “lack of clarity”, the Tories responded by rushing through “emergency” Jobseeker’s legislation to set out the bill in more stark terms.
The Workfare program has been described by Dr Simon Duffy, the Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, as a form of “modern slavery.”
So, what was Labour’s response?
After much debate, discussion, and disputation, the Labour leadership took the bold move of whipping its MPs into abstaining from the vote.
The reason given for this was that by abstaining, and allowing the coalition government to fast-track the workfare scheme through parliament, Labour were able to negotiate concessions, including a full review into the sanctions regime. And yet, just two months prior, the Labour Party described the Work programme as “a worse outcome than no programme at all.”
If this was the case, what would be the purpose of a review?
Khan was one of the many who abstained on the vote. Corbyn voted against it.
Khan’s Record on Welfare 2
Next up is the Welfare Cap which was introduced by the Tory-Liberal coalition in 2014 as a way of curtailing the amount in state benefits that an individual can claim per year, as well as the amount of overall welfare spending.
Diane Abbot gave a particularly impassioned speech against the bill:
This benefits cap is arbitrary and bears no relationship to need, as our benefits system should. It does not allow for changing circumstances—rents going up and population rising—and will make inequality harder to tackle. There are ways to cut welfare. We could put people back to work, introduce a national living wage, build affordable homes and have our compulsory jobs guarantee.
Others read the bill as an attempt to perpetuate a false divide between “strivers” and “scroungers”.
And yet, under the leadership of Ed Miliband, the Labour Party, including Khan, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the cap. Thirteen Labour backbenchers, including Corbyn, defied the party whip to vote against the cap.
Khan’s Record on Welfare 3
More recently we have the controversial Welfare Reform and Work Bill, voted on in the aftermath of the 2015 general elections. The Tories, having narrowly been elected with an outright majority – although with the smallest mandate since Universal Suffrage – took the opportunity to hammer home their cuts agenda against a weak, divided, and (apparently) confused Labour Party.
Amongst other things, the Bill was committed to reducing the household benefit cap from £26,000 to £20,000 (£23,000 in London); freezing the rate of many major benefits and tax credits for four years; limiting the child element of universal credit to a maximum of two children; and stopping those on certain benefits being able to claim additional help towards their mortgage payments.
Against a backdrop of huge anger, the interim Labour leader Harriet Harman whipped fellow MPs to abstain on the vote in order to show the electorate that Labour “was listening” to their concerns about welfare. According to Harman:
The temptation is always to oppose everything. That does not make sense. We have got to wake up and recognise this is not a blip and we have got to listen to why. No one is going to listen to us if they think we are not to listening to them.
Amongst those who absented themselves, many remain in the Labour shadow cabinet: Tom Watson, Angela Eagle, Seema Maholtra, Hilary Benn, Andy Burnham, Heidi Alexander, Rosie Winterton, Lucy Powell, Owen Smith, Jon Trickett, Lisa Nandy, Chris Bryant, Lilian Greenwood, Vernon Coaker, Ian Murray, Nia Griffith, Kerry McCarthy, Kate Green, Maria Eagle, Gloria de Piero, Luciana Berger, Karl Turner, John Ashworth, and John Healey.
That is an astonishing 89% of the current shadow cabinet who refused to oppose the Tories’ Welfare Bill (anyone looking for evidence of Corbyn’s isolation within the Parliamentary Labour Party need look no further than this fact). In fact, only three members of the current shadow cabinet opposed it: Corbyn, McDonnell, and Abbott.
Credit to Khan, however, who, unlike the majority of his right wing colleagues, defied the whip to oppose this bill, but given his background and his planned Mayoral bid it is tempting to speculate that there was no small amount of political opportunism in this vote.
Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election as Labour leader showed the potential for creating a mass anti-capitalist party. Unfortunately, however, the majority of Labour MPs and councillors remain pro-capitalist and pro-austerity. Khan is amongst this group
To defeat the right means starting to mobilise the currently fragmented anti-austerity mood into a mass, democratic movement. This will not succeed if it remains trapped within the current undemocratic structure of the Labour Party, vainly trying to compromise with “the 4.5%” – the Blairite representatives of big business in the Labour Party.
Instead it means building an open, democratic movement – organised on federal lines – that brings together all of those who have been inspired by Corbyn and want to see a determined anti-capitalist party.
By Tom Barker