Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party in 2015, and the influx of hundreds of thousands of new members who came with him, the far-left have been pushing for the ‘democratisation’ of the party.
Jon Lansman, owner of Momentum and a long standing critic of the top-down command structures of New Labour, argues that Labour has “been an incredibly centralised party in which there has been no room for debate or dissent and that has led to some bad decisions being made.”
Former BBC journalist, Paul Mason, said upon joining Momentum that he and the far-left want to, “empower masses of people to take their own decisions through direct democracy; respecting diversity, proportionality, restraint and the democratic institutions of the UK.”
While there are suspicions that eventual deselections of centre-left MPs are one motive behind these arguments, there are few members of the Labour Party who are opposed to democracy or open and tolerant debate. Indeed, this ‘new kind of politics’ was a crucial aspect of Corbyn’s popularity.
In its response to the ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ campaign, though, the far-left has revealed the hypocrisy behind this rhetoric.
The anti-Brexit campaign led by students and young people launched in February of this year, and recently attracted attention for unveiling a banner at Labourlive during Jeremy Corbyn’s speech. The activists who held up the banner were then escorted out of the venue.
Following this, and adverts from the organisation aimed at persuading Labour politicians to vote against the Government on several Brexit motions in Parliament, the alt-left media undertook a smear campaign to discredit OFOC.
Skwawkbox, which reportedly receives its stories from the Labour leader’s staff, labelled the protestors at Labourlive ‘vile’ and has published several articles claiming to disprove their version of events. Mason labelled the group “a bunch of privileged, astroturfing Tories using millionaire money to troll the British people”, while Novara Media’s Michael Walker and Aaron Bastani have repeatedly tweeted and produced a video claiming OFOC is “led and funded by elite interests.”
It was Bastani’s appearance on the BBC’s Daily Politics this week which summed up the response to the anti-Brexit campaign. He attacked the 20 year-old student representing OFOC for the group’s central London office space; it’s support from other anti-Brexit groups which are supported from figures from other political parties; and implied, providing no evidence, that she may have lied about having voted for Jeremy Corbyn. For Bastani to say that support in the form of office space from the European Movement compromises OFOC because it is led by a Tory remainer, is as ridiculous as saying Bastani is funded by big banks and hedge funds because that makes up part of his employer’s (IPPR) income.
The fact that the far-left would rather attack the campaign’s motives and build suspicion around who finances them based on spurious links, than challenge and debate them on the issue of Brexit reveals two things. First, they don’t believe they can win Labour Party members around to their Brexit position.
Second, for all their talk of wanting greater democracy with the party, the far-left is fundamentally anti-democratic and anti-pluralist. It’s vision of the Labour Party appears to have no room for dissent, even from young activists who support Labour and Corbyn- they are seen as a threat, not comrades.
If they genuinely want Labour to be a place for discussion and debate, the far-left ought to argue for their own position on Brexit rather than simply attempt to smear those who disagree.