The red-baiting, McCarthyite “Trotskyist infiltration” (non-) story has probably been one of the low points of this leadership election so far, and considering the apparently limitless willingness of our party’s bureaucracy to subvert this contest and exclude as many people as possible, that is saying something. It’s little more than a surprisingly amateurishly executed pound-shop Zinoviev Letter and has also had the unfortunate effect of bringing the lamentable and unendurably smug Michael Crick back into the limelight for another five minutes of fame and a few book sales.
The idea that the Trotskyist left, which I suspect numbers less than a thousand active members in the UK and whose two “largest” groups have publicly refused to join the Labour Party (and the evidence I see before my eyes in Birmingham is that they are keeping that promise, much as they find it enormously frustrating) is patently ludicrous. The party membership has tripled in the last twelve months. It is a conspiracy theory propagated by people who know it to be a lie, and it is all the more loathsome for its brazen dishonesty.
The usually sure-footed Tom Watson, source of this nonsense, has not covered himself in glory at all these last couple of weeks. People will not forget this. He has disgraced himself and his office.
We knew the right would throw everything they could at Corbyn. It was always going to be a dirty election and it has delivered. The stakes are high and we are dealing with people with no scruples.
But rather more surprisingly, former Militant Tendency (now uninspiringly called the Socialist Party, a major drop down in the left group naming stakes) godfather, Peter Taaffe, still going strong at 73, has got himself a few cheap headlines by telling anyone who will listen that he expects to be re-admitted to the party if Corbyn is re-elected.
Normally I would just dismiss this as a bit of mischievous, albeit slightly embarrassing publicity seeking by a man whose best days are long behind him. But there is a serious point here and it does him and his organisation no credit.
He is no fool. He knew the effect that these words would have, the effect it would have on Corbyn and the awkward position it would put the leadership team. It would be yet another round of bad headlines to fend off, would cement in the minds of a few waverers that Corbyn’s leadership would inevitably split the party, and give credence to Watson’s nauseating tosh.
So why do it? Why make the job of a man and movement you claim to support that much harder? Are a couple of days of headlines, a handful of extra recruits, a few more papers sold, website clicks and maybe the chance to relive the glory years, when the Militant actually meant something and was able to impact on British politics, really worth it?
If Corbyn loses, and let’s not pretend this is a done deal, and this story can be in anyway seen as a turning point, would it have been worth it then? And would it help to prove that the hundreds of thousands of people who joined the Labour Party in the hope of a better world were wrong all along and that we could never try and make the Labour Party a mass movement for democratic socialism, and that “comrade” Taaffe was right all along? Was that his goal?
And if not, what on earth was he thinking?