‘Most political memoirs are written by people who are beguiled by Westminster, but I was never so enamoured.’ .(Chris Williamson)
by Mark Andresen
This line from the preface of this political memoir highlights the author’s perspective as a skeptical working-class MP, already usefully embedded by its opening in 2010.
Over the last three months, a much needed two-pronged fightback against the Labour Right’s fake, racist ‘anti-semitism’ smear campaign has been launched; most recently, in September, ‘The Labour Files ‘ – Al-Jazeera’s very welcome 4-part documentary mini-series expose of the Right’s nefarious campaign against its innocent Jewish and non-Jewish members – premiered. A few weeks prior to this had already seen publication of Chris Williamson’s memoir of the growing, intentionally fractious, insurgency conducted by Labour’s Right between 2010 to 2020. (And still ongoing). That both testimonies were roundly ignored by the complicit mainstream media should have come as no surprise. That the smear campaign was roundly destroyed – thanks, especially, to Al-Jazeera’s access to primary evidence – was as inevitable. What matters is that each are now matters of public record, difficult to casually dismiss.
Unwittingly, former Labour MP for Derby North, Chris Williamson has – over the last few years – been perceived as the figurehead victim of the ‘anti-semitism’ smear campaign from Labour’s Right; second only to Corbyn himself. Then again, such a default role has proven vital in the initial pushback against both the Right in the party and neo-liberals in the media generally. Bizarrely, there remain some among the disenfranchised and suspended who still voice doubts about Williamson on social media, as if he somehow deserved even a modicum of the Right’s fake ire; then, this says rather more about their own true allegiances than his. Requests for evidence to justify that ire are rarely, if ever, forthcoming.
Throughout his memoir, Williamson correctly highlights ‘optics’ as the scourge of political principle; how hard policy choices were avoided simply because of how they could be framed by the media, ensuring those cowed and in a position of influence prioritised a gatekeeping career over public service. (Surely, the reason the MPs’ were voted in, in the first place). Meat and drink to hungry neo-liberals. Recall the ghastly sight of Angela Eagle MP, in 2015, wearing too much make-up and pining for the whereabouts of Robert Peston before the cameras like some breathless fan of the latest boy-band; a small, but key, reflection of the Right’s new priorities. Even outside ‘the Westminster bubble,’ professed Socialists who apparently owed nothing to either the NEC, nor the Israeli Government, fell in with the narrative of the Right’s fake anti-semitism smear campaign like good boys and girls. Did they assume – without question – that the Jewish Labour Movement represented all Jews? And who defined this to be the case? Questions which, to this day, remain unanswered.
Williamson recalls when his suspicions were first raised.
‘I can recollect being on a conference call (with Chuka Umunna) in 2013 to discuss tactics with the other MPs’. I urged Umunna to give an unambiguous commitment to renationalising Royal Mail when Labour gets into office. His retort was illuminating; “We can’t do that; the city wouldn’t wear it.”.(p. 26)
‘At the fireside chat with Ed Balls, where I brought up where I brought up the question of public ownership of the railways again, his rejoinder was to ask what the limits of my nationalisation ambitions were. “Would you nationalise BT?” he asked sarcastically. “Yes,” was my reply . . . Balls wasn’t interested. He had no appetite to anything vaguely Socialist, even though the 2008 financial crisis had demonstrated the case for bringing the commanding heights of the economy into democratic public ownership.’.(p. 28-29)
Williamson reflects upon his own naivete at the time; at the concerted bad faith campaign such early glimpses foretold. The swiftly growing number of those turncoating with whom he’d formerly had good relations, however, exposed the awful truth. Following this, the failed appeasement of the Milliband campaign, to appeal to middle-class voters, ahead of the 2015 General Election, emboldened the Left into voting in Jeremy Corbyn as leader. This, in turn, emboldened the insurmountable egos of the Right’s established careerists, knowing they had most of the media and Israeli Government on side. Enter the concerted anti-semitism smear campaign as the intended coup de grace.
The appendix over the last forty pages features the Q & As’ Williamson was subject to from Labour’s NEC, upon his suspension on the 27th February 2019. Reading not unlike a McCarthyite commission or scene from Kafka’s ‘The Trial,’ it proves a drain upon one’s anger, considering the wealth of fake accusation described up to this point.
This memoir is no egocentric tract of self-justification, but merely a much needed work of correction; illuminating inconvenient truths purposely hidden, misinterpreted or misframed by those of bad faith. Just recently, in mid-October, after the book’s release, news broke that the BBC itself was being targeted by The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish Leadership Council, Community Security Trust, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and a group of MPs’ and celebrities for alleged ‘anti-semitism.’ Poetic justice for their silence? There’s certainly a clear and present irony. It would be good if Director-General Tim Davie and the corporation’s Board of Governors might self-reflect on the point of their obedient neoliberal code of omission up to this point; but I doubt it will happen.
In the final analysis, does any of this matter to those of us who have either left, or never been in, the Labour Party? I would argue that it does; as an object lesson in the real danger and consequent effectiveness of corporate-sponsored insurgency. If this can be successfully achieved in a neoliberal party no longer giving even lip-service to ‘leftism,’ then what will they try with more activist Socialists and Revolutionary Communists, in obedient media-silent plain sight? To take nothing away whatsoever from this affair, for ourselves, would be a huge mistake.