THE JOHN MCDONNELL COLUMN
WHEN ED MILIBAND ANNOUNCED HE WAS RESIGNING AS LEADER OF THE LABOUR PARTY there were calls for the left to stand a candidate. Jeremy Corbyn and I sat down to calculate whether we had the 35 MPs we needed to nominate to secure a left candidate on the ballot paper. We couldn’t get past 22.
At the Left Platform meeting on the Tuesday after the election defeat, I explained that we couldn’t realistically mount a challenge, but we delegated Jeremy and Kelvin Hopkins MP to check again what prospect there was of running a left candidate. The numbers came out the same and there were those in the Campaign Group who thought it would be better to back Andy Burnham in return for policy commitments.
There was also the question of who would be the left candidate. I made it clear that, having run twice, I would not run again. And with a heart attack only two years ago, I promised my family I would not put my health at risk. Many of us thought that Ian Lavery would make a good candidate coming from a solid trade union background – and that would attract trade union support. Ian declined because of family commitments.
The popular clamour from rank and file party members for a left challenge grew and, at a Campaign Group meeting, Jeremy agreed that he would put his name forward. Jeremy is my closest friend in Parliament and we have campaigned together, backed each other up and defended each other against all that has been thrown at us for over 30 years. He is one of the finest socialists I have ever met. At times, and on a number of issues, we have been virtually on our own in campaigning for what we believe to be just. Never has he ever let me down.
That’s why, although I was highly sceptical about whether we could secure a place on the ballot paper and even the strategic wisdom of running a candidate, I backed him 100% and organised the lobbying and cajoling and deal-making to get him on the ballot paper.
With Jon Lansman and Andrew Fisher I put together a small team to secure the nominations. We worked tirelessly, talking to Labour MPs and anyone who had any influence on them. Ben Sellers and numerous comrades ran a social media campaign that threw wave after wave of calls to MPs to nominate.
By the Sunday before the Monday noon deadline we were only up to 18 formal nominations, but had got 26 promises. The Sunday was spent phoning all the MPs who could still nominate and pleading with them to give party members a democratic choice. On Monday morning, along with our team, I stationed myself outside the PLP office, and we started counting our nominators in.
By 11.50, with polls closing in ten minutes, we reached 33 with five MPs standing in the PLP office waiting to see if we reached 34 – and then they might vote to get us on the ballot. They were Ian Murray, Roger Godsiff, Tom Watson, Gordon Marsden and Andrew Smith. Wes Ball, the PLP presiding officer, advised them that as soon as Big Ben chimed the ballot would close. I made a short speech appealing to them to let our members have a democratic say and that party members would not understand or forgive if Jeremy was excluded by just two votes.
With 10 seconds left Andrew Smith and Gordon Marsden swiftly signed and submitted their nominations for Jeremy and we secured the necessary 35 nominations. We owe them and all the MPs who nominated Jeremy a debt of gratitude for their commitment to party democracy.
Having a left candidate on the ballot paper has triggered a massive wave of enthusiasm for engagement in this election. However let’s make two things absolutely clear:
First this is not a tokenistic run just to put the left’s arguments across. Yes, we will use the campaign to get across a socialist analysis of the world and our policies – but we are also in this election to win it.
Secondly this is also a campaign to form the basis of an anti-austerity movement in this country – launched from within the heart of the Labour Party. Of course we need people to throw themselves into recruiting supporters and members to vote for Jeremy in the election – but we also need them to use their talents and creativity to engage in the debate and promotion of our ideas.
Use our websites, facebook and twitter to see how you can contribute and play your part. We are building a mass movement of resistance.
John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and of the Labour Representation Committee.