The Corbyn universe
Who’s who: James Bloodworth profiles the hard-left networks now reaching into the Labour party
John McDonnell The former chair of the Socialist Campaign Group and the Labour Representation Committee, John McDonnell’s appointment to the role of shadow chancellor was seen as Jeremy Corbyn thumbing his nose to Labour moderates by appointing his closest ally in parliament to the most important role after the leadership itself.
Seumas Milne Jeremy Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications Seumas Milne is the son of former BBC director general Alasdair Milne and is widely known on the left as a columnist at the Guardian and author of a book on the 1984 miners’ strike, The Enemy Within. Prior to that Milne worked for Straight Left, the newspaper of a Stalinist faction within the Communist Party of Britain. George Galloway describes Milne as his ‘closest friend’.
Jon Lansman Jon Lansman worked on Tony Benn’s unsuccessful campaign for the deputy leadership in 1981 and directed Jeremy Corbyn’s successful leadership campaign. A supporter of mandatory reselection of members of parliament, the longer Corbyn hangs on the more likely it is that Lansman will be found a formal role. Lansman’s views on most things can be gleaned from Left Futures, the website he founded and edits. He is currently the sole director of Momentum.
Owen Jones Owen Jones rose to prominence in 2011 with his book Chavs, a spirited attack on the last acceptable prejudice – the demonisation of working-class people for being working class. Now a columnist at the Guardian, Jones was Jeremy Corbyn’s most high-profile media cheerleader during the latter’s campaign for the leadership. Alas, Jones, a former employee of John McDonnell, has struck a more critical note of late.
Nancy Platts Former Labour candidate for Brighton Kemptown, Nancy Platts is Jeremy Corbyn’s trade union liaison manager. Part of Platts’ job will involve keeping the trade unions sweet if Labour’s dire poll ratings do not improve. Unison’s Dave Prentis and Unite’s Len McCluskey have already broken rank. Unions such as GMB and Unite will also want regular reassurance on controversial issues such as the renewal of Trident.
Simon Fletcher Ed Miliband’s former trade union liaison officer, Simon Fletcher made his name working as chief of staff for Ken Livingstone when mayor of London. Fletcher is believed to have been a member of Socialist Action, a secretive Stalinist group.
Neale Coleman Neale Coleman is Jeremy Corbyn’s new head of policy and rebuttal, and has in the past worked for both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. An adviser on the Olympics and Paralympics, it is testament to Coleman’s talents that he was one of the few advisers to Livingstone kept on by Johnson when he became mayor.
Ken Livingstone The former Labour mayor of London and leader of the Greater London Council looks to be making another political comeback, this time in the incongruous role of joint chair of Labour’s defence review. Ken Livingstone’s stint in the new role began inauspiciously – on his first day he smeared Labour MP Kevan Jones, who has suffered with depression – as needing ‘psychiatric help’. When mayor of London he employed a number of people involved in Socialist Action. Some of these remain in Labour while others, like Lee Jasper, stand against Labour for Respect.
James Meadway James Meadway was formerly a senior economist for the New Economics Foundation and is said to be an ‘unofficial’ adviser to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. A member of the Trotskyist group Counterfire, a Socialist Workers’ party splinter, Meadway has in the past supported George Galloway’s Respect party as well as Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets.
Andrew Fisher An adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, Andrew Fisher was suspended from the party by Labour’s National Executive Committee for allegedly supporting a candidate from a rival party at the general election. Fisher has apologised ‘unreservedly’ for the Class War tweet. However, he has not apologised for calling Rachel Reeves a ‘w****r’, nor for speaking about how he would like to ‘thump’ James Purnell.
Kat Fletcher Kat Fletcher was president of the National Union of Students between 2004 and 2006 and is a former member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – though she left the AWL prior to her stint as NUS president. After volunteering on Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, in 2013 Fletcher won a byelection in the St George’s ward of Islington. Since then she has acted as an election agent for Jeremy Corbyn and was part of his campaign team for the Labour leadership over the summer.
Carmel Nolan A former journalist and campaigner for the Stop the War Coalition, Carmel Nolan (formerly Carmel Brown) was a press officer for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign. Nolan has described the Corbyn team as ‘Stop the War with bells on’. In 2004, her eight-year-old daughter reportedly came up with the name of George Galloway’s Respect party.
Katy Clark Jeremy Corbyn recently appointed as his political secretary the former North Ayrshire and Arran MP Katy Clark. During her time in parliament, Clark was a member of the Socialist Campaign Group and the Scottish Labour Party Campaign for Socialism. A republican, Clark was a rebellious MP, voting against ID cards, the welfare cap and the renewal of Trident. In 2014 she stood against Kezia Dugdale, the current Scottish Labour leader, to be deputy leader, and lost.
Andrew Murray Andrew Murray is the chief of staff at Unite the union and runs the Stop the War Coalition, formerly a front for the Socialist Workers’ party, along with John Rees and Lindsey German of Counterfire.
Ben Soffa Ben Soffa was Jeremy Corbyn’s tech whiz during his successful leadership campaign. Soffa developed the Canvassing App, which allowed volunteers to set up a phonebank anywhere with an internet connection. Soffa is secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and is rumoured to be a member of Socialist Action, having been a leading member of Student Broad Left.
Alliance for Workers’ Liberty
The AWL’s precursor was the Socialist Organiser, a Trotskyist group proscribed by Labour’s NEC in 1990. The group, which saw several of its members expelled from the party during the leadership contest over the summer, is now seeking control of local Momentum groups. AWL is rumoured to be heavily involved in Momentum.
Socialist Action is a shadowy Stalinist group whose members never publicly acknowledge their membership – though Simon Fletcher and Ben Soffa are thought to be former members. SA’s NUS student faction is Student Broad Left, and SA sees progressive socialist politics as represented by Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and, until he was deposed in 2011, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Momentum is a self-proclaimed ‘grassroots network’ of Jeremy Corbyn supporters set up in the aftermath of his successful campaign for the Labour leadership. Despite plans it says to organise ‘in every town, city and village’, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has described Momentum as a ‘rabble’. However, the group says members of other parties will not be allowed at decision-making meetings.
Today Respect is little more than a vehicle for George Galloway’s Jupiter-sized ego, but the party was originally born out of an amalgamation of the Socialist Workers’ party and the Muslim Association of Britain – a non-violent Islamist group – in response to the Iraq war. Former leader of Respect Salma Yaqoob is reportedly being lined up for a seat, and James Meadway, ‘unofficial’ economic adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, was a member.
Socialist Workers’ party
Since the party was rocked by the ‘Comrade Delta’ rape scandal in 2011, the Socialist Workers’ party is notable more for its former members than its card-carrying members. That said, the SWP has been trying to infiltrate the new Cobynista Momentum organisations. Recent ‘party notes’ from the SWP stated: ‘There are also various initiatives to re-launch the Labour left. Momentum which has the backing of a group of newly elected Corbyn-supporting MPs such as Clive Lewis and Richard Burgon, looks like it might be the most significant to date … We should go along to any local Momentum meetings with the aim of taking part as open SWP members, suggesting joint activity, and sign up to be on the email lists.’
Stop the War Coalition
The Stop the War Coalition was formed in the weeks after 9/11 to campaign against what it called ‘unjust wars’. Initially a front group for the SWP, StWC is today led by John Rees and Lindsey German of Counterfire and Andrew Murray of Unite. The list of controversies the group has found itself embroiled in is long: among other things, StWC was accused by Labour Friends of Iraq of tacitly calling for the murder of Iraqi trade unionists. More recent controversies include blaming November’s Paris attacks on ‘western support for extremist violence in the Middle East’ – the day after the attacks occurred.
Socialist party (England and Wales)
Led by the reclusive Peter Taaffe, the Socialist party is a Trotskyist organisation that adopted current its name in 1997 – it was previously known as the Militant Tendency. Militant heavily infiltrated the Labour party during the 1980s but abandoned entryism in the early 1990s. Since then it has stood for elections under the banner of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, though it appears to be heavily involved in Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots Momentum movement in Lewisham and elsewhere.
Socialist Campaign Group
The Socialist Campaign Group is a group of leftwing Labour members of parliament. Formed in 1982, the ideology of the Campaign Group was broadly Bennite – it was set up in opposition to the ‘soft left’ Tribune group of MPs and the late Tony Benn was a founding member. Jeremy Corbyn resigned from the group when he became Labour leader in August – since the group was founded, members have resigned on getting frontbench jobs.
Campaign for Labour Party Democracy
Founded in 1973, the primary aim of CLPD is to change the constitution of the Labour party in order to make MPs accountable to party members rather than the wider public. In practice this results in CLPD pushing policies such as the mandatory reselection of MPs and the drafting of manifestos by the National Executive Committee rather than the party leadership. The secretary of CLPD is Peter Willsman, who also sits on Labour’s NEC.
James Bloodworth is a contributing editor to Progress
Andrew Fisher, Andrew Murray, Ben Soffa, Carmel Nolan, James Meadway, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Jon Lansman, Kat Fletcher, Katy Clark, Ken Livingstone, Nancy Platts, Neale Coleman, Owen Jones, Seumas Milne, Simon Fletcher