18 March 2021 | UK NEWS
A group stylising themselves as the “Labour In Exile Network” (LIEN), made up of far-left activists many of whom have been suspended or expelled by the Labour Party, held a founding conference on 27 February to discuss their ‘Plan for Change‘ and terms of reference. Among their plans were to issue their own Labour Party membership cards for expelled former members.
The group is similar to the one that held a rally demanding “free speech” within the party, as we reported last month.
Wolves of Westminster has recently seen footage of this event, which was a public call and streamed to a private Facebook group, along with several of its working documents.
Esther Giles, a suspended member of the party who stood to be Treasurer of Labour’s National Executive Committee last year, chaired the first half of the meeting. She said its aim was to discuss “how we democratise the Labour Party”.
The four amendments discussed for the Plan for Change were firstly to open up membership to all those who pay the membership fee, even those still within the party. The second was to re-affirm the definition of Socialism and democratisation. The third was on the salaries of elected party officials and members, while the fourth was regarding the position of party leader.
Chris Knight, among the first speakers, began by quoting Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, and saying “an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory”. He noted that LIEN were “not the Labour Party”, due to the absence of trade union representation. But he then called for the printing of LIEN membership cards, stylised after those of Labour, as an act of resistance.
Mr Knight closed his remarks with a monologue on the Labour Party leadership: “Keir Starmer, your monarchist, unionist, flag-waving, NATO-backed, Trident-loving, Saudi-backed, Israeli-endorsed, brain-dead bureaucratic regime will surely crumble.
“We don’t recognise your suspensions and expulsions. We’re not going anywhere. We are distributing our new membership cards, printed and published by the Labour Party in thousands, wherever workers are in struggle, wherever people believe Black Lives Matter, wherever we take the knee, wherever we sing the Internationale – not just in Britain, but across the world.
“We’re not going anywhere! In exile for the moment – we’ll be coming home.”
Another speaker was expelled former Labour member Tony Greenstein, who discussed a motion to set up a “non-geographical CLP” for LIEN. He pointed out that the International CLP, for Labour members who no longer live in the UK, is quite active. Labour International was set up in 1997 and, according to its website, has over 2,500 members. Mr Greenstein summarised: “We want to create a place where people can come together, whether they’re inside the Labour Party or outside the Labour Party, or hovering in a kind of purgatory in between where they can discuss strategy and tactics.”
But this could only ever be a gesture, given that an unofficial non-geographical ‘CLP’ could never form part of the party’s structures. This detail was not acknowledged by the group at large, although one person did mention a concern that joining any alternative structures could imperil the party membership of those in LIEN who still retained it.
Graham Bash, understood to be the partner of former Momentum Vice-Chair Jackie Walker, who was expelled from the party in 2019, also addressed the conference. He insisted that Labour was to the right of the Conservative Party on Corporation Tax, claiming that Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, who successfully campaigned for a continuation of free school meals during the pandemic, was a better opposition leader than Sir Keir Starmer.
He also said that the British flag, which now features regularly when Sir Keir Starmer speaks, was a “tainted and reactionary national flag”, emphasising that the Socialist “international flag [was] red”.
He finished his intervention by claiming: “Yes, comrades, it is a fight within the Labour Party, but it is more, much more than this – we have a world to save!”
The next speaker was Norman Thomas, the suspended South Thanet CLP Chair, who noted he was aware of several complaints against the party in membership meetings and said something had to be done about it. His three key demands were about what he defined as democracy, free speech and the natural course of justice: “We have to paralyse the party until a Plan for Change that demands these things is put into action.”
One amendment discussed was about abolishing the position of leader entirely. The argument behind this motion was that, in so doing, the party would move away from leaderships, but speakers noted the need to still have a named leader for formal purposes. In the end, the amendment was voted down, although not due to disagreement on its intent; instead, many attendees simply felt that it would dilute the purpose of the Plan for Change.
A further motion was moved that called for “the temporary rule of the working class, in transition towards a classless, moneyless world based on the principle ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need'”. This was also voted down, though again for the same reason, with Mr Greenstein noting that “we would simply marginalise ourselves”.
Only the first of the four amendments was carried.
Another speaker was Cllr Leah Levane, who represents the Castle ward of Hastings Council, but says she is standing down at the next election. She has also been a Co-Chair of Jewish Voice for Labour. She claimed the Labour Party was “close to achieving” victory at the 2017 and 2019 General Elections, which would have allowed them to implement a government that would promote the interests of the working class.
But in 2017, the party was 60 seats away from a majority and 2.4 percentage points in votes away from the Conservatives. In 2019, it was 124 seats short and 11.4 percentage points behind.
Ms Giles added that people in the group chat had claimed the Councillor had made some “great points”, before a vote on the overall Plan for Change was passed with an overwhelming majority.
Another speaker after the lunch break was Roger Silverman, who noted he had not yet been “exiled” but admitted he was “a little bit perplexed about why that is so”. He said the “purge” and removal of the harder-left members of the party was more extreme than those under Hugh Gaitskell, Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair: “Never before has it been so vast, so sweeping and so dirty”.
Mr Silverman went on to voice support for an emergency recall of Conference in order to allow Socialists in the party to take action against the current leadership, saying that the latter had “thieved it” from the former. He suggested that if the party itself was not willing to organise such a Conference, then its left-wing forces should hold their own instead. The Momentum campaign, which backed Jeremy Corbyn, has also recently campaigned for a recall of Conference to take place.
Such an ultra vires event could not, of course, bring about any actual changes within the party itself.
Ms Walker was next to speak, re-introduced as “needing no introduction”. On the leadership and issue of safe spaces, she claimed “they want to make it a safe space for racists and warmongers”, and then accused the political right of having “taken our vocabulary of liberation, of equality of anti-racism and made it their own, and use it against them”.
She continued: “In part, they did that by emptying out the language of power and the politics of dispossession. And turning into a sort of bottomed-out identity politics. Where evidence is not relevant, history doesn’t really matter, it’s all about how the individual feels and they’re doing exactly the same technique now with freedom of speech. It all comes down to how people feel, but of course, it’s not how everyone feels.”
Ms Walker argued that the tactic had been to find issues that people would be reticent to openly rally against such as anti-Semitism or freedom of speech. She said no-one would want to disagree with a stance that was framed as being against racism or pro-freedom of speech. Ms Walker then argued one might see see young female students who are scared of going outside for fears of having their views challenged as part of this tactic. However, she also claimed that some of these young students were themselves part of movements to shut down speech they did not agree with.
However, figures on the right have been known to make very similar accusations about the way that groups such as Black Lives Matter operate on the left.
A motion was subsequently moved for a vote of no confidence in Sir Keir / Mr Evans, which was overwhelmingly passed. This motion echoed Mr Silverman’s earlier call for the left, either within or outside the party, to hold its own recall Conference, should the mainstream party refuse to do so.
This was followed by an emergency motion on the Liverpool Mayoral elections. Mr Greenstein claimed that Anna Rothery, the sitting Lord Mayor of Liverpool who was removed from the shortlist, was “disqualified by an anonymous tribunal” for being too left-wing, and the group considered whether or not it should back her if she ran independently, as Ken Livingstone did in London in 2000.
But Tina Werkmann, of Labour Party Marxists, said Ms Rothery was “not a consistent lefty”, noting that she had deplatformed Ms Giles from a Stop the Labour Lockout event recently. Ms Giles tweeted last month: “I was contacted and it was explained to me that some speakers had threatened to withdraw from the rally if I was allowed to speak, and asking me to withdraw.”
Other attendees noted that Ms Rothery said nothing when Liverpool Wavertree members had been suspended from the party. The group backed the first part of the motion in protest of what they saw as the leadership’s decision to attack Socialism, but did not back the second part to support Ms Rothery if she stood independently, with members saying they felt she was not democratic or Socialist enough.
The final act of the meeting was a vote to add Mr Knight and one other attendee to the Steering Group. Mr Knight noted that he had been denied entry to Labour Conferences in the past and had been told he was a security threat. He had previously been a supporter of the Militant Tendency and a founder of Labour Briefing.
In a recent development, The Jewish Chronicle has reported that members of LIEN are now being investigated by the police over a proposed ‘Anti-Zionist Action Group’ that was mentioned on this call as a LIEN sub-committee.
LIEN produced the terms of reference for this Action Group during their conference, but it was not in fact formally discussed or adopted at the meeting due to time. The document describes the aims of the group as “to gain knowledge of the identity, location, activities and associations, of individual Zionist trolls” and “to use the knowledge so-gained for the purpose of (i) taking action against the individuals and (ii) warning other members to take care of those individuals”.
It is understood that the Metropolitan Police and Kent Police have been made aware of the events, with a Met spokesman commenting: “Officers are in the early stages of reviewing the circumstances to determine if any offences have been committed.”