by Rob Laurie
LAST Saturday saw the John4Leader campaign hold a large rally in London’s Shaw Theatre. National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear presided over the event as hundreds of people enjoyed a day of speeches and entertainment in support of left Labour MP John McDonnell’s bid for the leadership.
After Jeremy Dear began by taking the Mickey out of Michael Meacher’s belated entry into the Labour leadership contest.
Then veteran left Labour campaigner Tony Benn headed a long list of speakers. He focussed on the likelihood of George Bush launching an attack on Iran in the near future while Tony Blair is still in office.
Benn expressed scepticism about British government claims that the ship on which the 15 Royal Navy sailors were detained was in Iraqi waters. He recalled that in a similar incident the Foreign Office belatedly had to make an apology to Iran for trespassing. “In any case,” asked Benn, “What are we doing in Iraqi waters?”
He concluded by deploring that while in America the Democrats in Congress have demanded that Bush set deadlines for withdrawing the troops, in the British Parliament Labour MPs are making no such demand.
Another former MP, Alice Mahon, made the same point about supine Labour MPs failing to deplore the introduction of super casinos or make any protest over Israel’s bombing of Lebanon.
Leading figures from the more militant trade unions made clear their support for McDonnell. Matt Wrack from the Fire Brigades Union, John Leach from RMT and Andy Reed from ASLEF all pledged their support. Unfortunately neither the FBU nor RMT are presently affiliated to the Labour Party.
The RMT was predictably expelled because some branches had affiliated to the now split Scottish Socialist Party and the FBU broke with Labour in disgust over their pay dispute.
While the leadership of these unions is campaigning actively, their self-imposed isolation does not help matters.
However former Labour Party general secretary Jim Mortimer deplored the failure of many unions, such as Amicus, which formally support McDonnell but do little to support the campaign.
A number of general secretaries imagine that Gordon Brown will be more amenable to trade union concerns than Blair and are anxious not to upset him by allowing anything as vulgar as an election to impede his progress to Number Ten.
Jeremy Corbyn MP urged the audience to tirelessly lobby their own MPs to ensure there is a proper debate about the future direction of the Labour Party.
When John McDonnell himself spoke he claimed to have 25 MPs certain to nominate him, with another 10 not yet ready to go public. It is clear that a great deal of grassroots pressure is needed to reach the figure of 44 nominations from MPs, which will secure him a place on the ballot paper.
Owen Jones of the Socialist Youth Network ridiculed Blair Loyalist Chris Bryant MP, who early in McDonnell’s campaign violently denounced him for being an extremist in advocating re-nationalisation of the railways – a policy supported by the Labour Party Conference. From the other end of the age spectrum Dot Gibson of the National Pensioners’ Convention urged Labour councillors to do more to resist Government policies rather than implement them.