There is no doubt that some out on the far left, from the part of the political spectrum so long ago abandoned by mainstream politics, are looking at today’s Labour Party and wondering how they might work their way back into its ranks. That would be the likes of the Militant Tendency, who were famously faced down and kicked out under Neil Kinnock’s leadership in the 1980. And thereby hangs the problem.
That should be borne in mind when reading the Guardian’s report telling “Labour’s civil war entered a bitter new phase with Jeremy Corbyn and his deputy Tom Watson locked in a public spat about whether the party risks being taken over by hard left activists driven out in the 1980s”. The familiar and worrying phrasing. And there was more.
“Watson sent the leader’s office a four-page document, based on publicly available information, detailing what he said was evidence that Trotskyists had been attending meetings of grassroots pro-Corbyn Momentum pressure group and seeking to influence the Labour leadership election … He claimed some of the individuals involved were members of other parties, including the Socialist party, the successor to Militant”.
And more. “Watson’s letter was a riposte to the accusation made on Tuesday by Corbyn’s campaign that he was ‘peddling conspiracy theories’ after he said in a Guardian interview that Labour was at risk from ‘Trotskyist entryists’ … Watson wrote: ‘It’s not a conspiracy theory to say that members of these organisations are joining Labour. It’s a fact’”. But then came the push-back, accusing Watson of recycling old material.
Vox Political has chided Watson, telling him “It turns out you cribbed it all from the right-wing think tank Progress … They, in turn, cribbed it from a book by Michael Crick on 80s Labour infiltrators Militant … everyone can see you’ve taken the information from [the] Progress website. All they have to do is visit the page”. Not surprisingly, this riposte has been well circulated. But then has come the sting in the tail.
Michael Crick, scourge of politicians across the political spectrum (anyone remember his pursuit of seriously dodgy Tory Jeffrey Archer?), has made hay by using the publicity given to his book on how Militant infiltrated the Labour Party and several of its branches. In turn, others have picked up Crick’s book and read through it. And those supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have encountered a significant problem in doing so.
Because, when Labour under Neil Kinnock, assisted by the party’s NEC, moved to expel Militant in the 1980s, there was a counter-campaign which told “We are setting up a defence campaign involving all similarly-threatened left groups within the party to support the MILITANT comrades in this struggle”. And who ran that counter-campaign?
Running that campaign from his home in London was one Jeremy Corbyn. Have a think about that. Tom Watson may have made a rash move. But in tracing the story back through Crick’s book, his opponents have inadvertently asked questions of Corbyn that his opponents will want answering, and in short order.
Not so much “a plague on both their houses” - more like today’s Team Shambles award.