terrorised into silence - Rachael Swindon speaks with chris williamson

This week may be the week that #SwindonOnSunday trends nationally on Twitter! Since the interviewee’s name is literally in the title we won’t bother with the usual teasing… take it home Rachael!

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If you want to throw a hand grenade into any political conversation, or if you want to divide opinion without breaking into a sweat, you only need to mention just one name

Chris Williamson. 

His supporters will defend him until the end of time. His detractors will go for him until the end of time. There is no middle ground with Chris. It would be easy to call him political Marmite, but this goes much further. 

His past is well documented – you certainly don’t need me to run through it all, because you made your mind up a long time ago, right? 

On one hand, you have Guardian columnist Owen Jones saying Labour made the “right decision” to suspend Williamson, which lead to Jones being accused of throwing Williamson under a bus, and simply “virtue signalling”. 

And then, on the other hand, you have the legendary Professor Noam Chomsky saying: 

“The charges against Chris Williamson are a case in point. There is nothing even remotely anti-semitic in his statement that Labour has ‘given too much ground’ and been ‘too apologetic’ in defending its record of addressing ‘the scourge of antisemitism’ beyond that of any other party, as he himself had done, on public platforms and in the streets.”

So you get the idea. Turbocharged Marmite if you like. 

I thought it was a good time to catch up with Mr Williamson, find out what he is up to now, and get his opinions on the Labour Party, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Boris Johnson, Palestine, and where Labour went wrong. 

There have been some dramatic changes in the Labour Party over the last few months, thousands of left-wing members have abandoned the party – Is Labour still the natural home for democratic socialists?

Not in my opinion.  Socialists have never had control of the party, even when Jeremy Corbyn was leader with an overwhelmingly supportive mass membership, the party was still controlled by people hostile to socialism.

The leadership flunked the opportunity to wrest control by not supporting open selections at the 2018 party conference.  That was tantamount to signing the death warrant for the Corbyn project and Len McCluskey delivered the coup de grâce by leading the Unite delegation to vote against the union’s own policy on open selections.

The party leadership made the catastrophic error of not defending the party’s anti-racist credentials by continually apologising for bad faith accusations of antisemitism.  Moreover, neither the leadership, nor a solitary soul, apart from myself, lifted a finger to support Jeremy’s grassroots pretorian guard who were being systematically smeared.  When I was eventually targeted, not one of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs (SCG) spoke out publicly in my defence, and no collective solidarity statement was forthcoming from the Group either.  The failure of the leadership to challenge these politically motivated attacks engendered a climate of fear, and that resulted in otherwise supportive MPs being terrorised into silence.

That was before Starmer assumed the leadership!  Things have gone from bad to worse.  There is now an organised purge going on and any semblance of a socialist programme is being jettisoned.  He is a member of the Trilateral Commission alongside the likes of Henry Kissinger.  This shady organisation was established in 1973 by people who were concerned about what they described as an excess of democracy in the 1960s.  

There is no prospect for grassroots socialists to assume control of the party.  The Parliamentary Labour Party is out of touch and out of control with no realistic means of holding them to account.  The bureaucracy sabotaged the 2017 election and the subsequent Formby regime accelerated the witch hunt against anti-racist pro-Palestinian socialists.  The NEC is not democratically accountable to members.  Even if every seat elected by the membership was filled by a genuine socialist, as opposed to pseudo socialists, that would only represent 25% of the NEC’s membership.  The remaining 75% are appointed by the leader and other party luminaries. 

The Labour Party is no place for socialists.  In my opinion, the focus for socialists should be to create political change through extra-parliamentary activities and nurturing new working-class leaders to ultimately create a new electoral vehicle.  

You gathered a huge and fiercely loyal following during the Corbyn years and are seen by your opponents as one of the most controversial voices on the left of British politics – What do you think it is that makes you so ‘Marmite turbocharged’?

The thing those who opposed me were most concerned about was my advocacy of participatory democracy in the party.  Utilising new technology to put members in charge of developing policy, and making Labour MPs accountable to grassroots members, was unconscionable to most Labour MPs and their establishment backers.

I was targeted because my democracy demands were overwhelmingly popular.  As Tony Benn once said, democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world, as I found out to my cost. 

Rebecca Long-Bailey was recently sacked from the Shadow Cabinet for allegedly sharing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. – Was Sir Keir Starmer right to sack her, or is this a continuation of a purge of left-leaning members and politicians?

Her dismissal was a blatantly factional decision and a clear indication of the direction of travel that Starmer is taking the party.  But she was hoist with her own petard.  

She reportedly said I should not be in the party when I was reinstated last year and didn’t offer any solidarity to grassroots members who were, and still are, being smeared and thrown under the bus.  

Furthermore, she willingly signed up to the Board of Deputies’ outrageous 10 pledges, which have been dubbed as the 10 commandments, that are designed to destroy free speech and smash solidarity.  She also told the so-called Jewish Labour Movement that she was a Zionist and opposed the BDS campaign, even though Zionism is a demonstrably racist, supremacist ideology.

She made the fatal error of trying to appease the unappeasable.  As I repeatedly told the SCG, every concession merely feeds the anti-socialist beast and strengthens those opposed to a genuine ethical foreign policy, because it’s seen as a sign of weakness and therefore only serves to make our opponents stronger.  

The ‘Labour Leaks’ report opened up a huge can of worms. One of the most disgraceful revelations was the shocking racist treatment of long-serving MP, Diane Abbot – Did you witness or hear of any of this abhorrent behaviour towards Labour’s BAME MPs from the former party hierarchy?

Not within my earshot because I would have challenged it in the strongest possible terms, but I did hear anecdotal accounts from others who did.

The last few months have been challenging for all of us. A report in June revealed tens of thousands of lives might’ve been saved had Boris Johnson implemented a lockdown just 1 week earlier, and we have the 3rd highest COVID-19 death toll in the world – Where did Johnson and his government get it so badly wrong?

The ideologically driven laissez-faire policy approach resulted in the catastrophic decisions that have cost the lives of thousands of people.  

Although the Johnson administration exacerbated the problems, the genesis goes back much further, and not just to the coalition government either.  The country was ill-prepared because of four decades of neoliberalism, including the Blair/Brown New Labour years, that prioritised deregulation, privatisation and cuts.  

Consequently, public services were not geared up to deal with this pandemic. This is even more unforgivable, given the advice that was offered to ministers specifically about coronavirus last year and the 2016 exercise to test the capacity to respond to a potential pandemic.

Boris Johnson says he plans to “build, build, build” our way to an economic recovery. This is coming from the same Prime Minister that failed to “test, test, test” and his promised “40 new hospitals” is in fact, just 6 – If you could enact one policy to get the economy moving, and working for everyone, what would you do?

I would ditch the tax and spend deficit myth and use the lens offered by MMT to recognise that as a currency-issuing government, we can never run out of money.  The only constraint is the availability of real resources in the economy.  

I would use this understanding to embark on a major fiscal stimulus to create a people’s economy and eradicate poverty within the lifetime of one parliament.  I would use the taxation regime for its real purpose to bear down on inequality, encourage/discourage certain behaviours such as combating climate change addressing public health etc, and dealing with any emerging inflationary pressures.

Going back to Labour, a huge number of left-leaning former (and current) party members are feeling politically homeless. Starmer’s shift to the right, and back-patting of Boris Johnson is having entirely predictable consequences – As a long-standing Socialist who knows exactly why they call it “the struggle”, what’s the best advice you can offer the many disillusioned lefties?

Join me in helping to build a genuine grassroots social movement!  

Millions of people, particularly in working-class communities have given up on politics in general and the Labour Party in particular.  Our so-called representative democracy has comprehensively failed them, and the Labour Party has failed them too.  The so-called elected ‘representatives’ do not represent the working class.  If they did, we wouldn’t have 14 million people living in poverty, thousands sleeping on the street and millions in precarious employment.  

The truth is, most of our ‘representatives’ in parliament do not represent the interests of the electorate, they prioritise the interests of wealthy elites and the corporate world.  I know from personal experience of working alongside them that most Labour MPs are not interested in socialism for the masses, but they’re quite happy to endorse policies that are tantamount to ‘corporate socialism instead.’  We need to start doing politics with people instead of to people and expose the Westminster bubble for what it really is – a shamocracy.  

If we can do that, we can build a new movement that will make genuine political change possible and bring about an irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in our country.

Palestine is facing an illegal invasion and further annexation of Hebron by the Israeli occupation forces. Activists for global peace and justice stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine – What should the British Prime Minister be saying to his counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu?

He should issue an ultimatum that until Israel complies with international law and gives Palestinians equal rights, including the right of return to Palestinians whose families were ethnically cleansed in the Nakba, and subsequently.  That means until these conditions are met in full, he should:

1. bring forward legislation enshrining the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign in UK law

2. implement an immediate ban on arms sales to Israel

3. break off diplomatic relations with Israel

I say he should, but of course he won’t, do any of those things. 

Finally, what has Chris Williamson been up to during the lockdown months, any immediate plans for the future?

I’ve established a Left Legal Fighting Fund – United for Justice – to support victims of the witch-hunt through the courts if necessary, and to offer legal assistance to activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.

I’m also working with others to build a new grassroots social movement to promote political change through extra-parliamentary activities, and to nurture new working-class leaders.  Progress has inevitably been hampered by the Covid-19 crisis, so we haven’t formally launched yet, but we have recruited thousands of supporters already and established a weekly YouTube TV platform – ‘Resistance TV’.  

The aims for the first 18 months when we do formally launch will be to:

1. build a new kind of participatory democracy that prioritises the accountability of elected representatives to the public not boardrooms, puts people before profit and communities above corporations.

2. support an ambitious green new deal to tackle the biggest challenge facing humanity, the consequences of which will be felt first and hardest by the poorest communities here and around the world.

3. nullify the power of the military-industrial complex by ending imperialist wars, halting arms sales to repressive regimes and reducing the influence of the weapons industry by embracing defence diversification.

4. demand the restructuring of the economy to share the nation’s wealth, utilise the flexibility of the UK’s sovereign currency to provide the resources needed to create a good society and reverse all privatisations of public services and utilities.

5. call for a new definition of economic success based on improving outcomes for people, which should include progress towards poverty elimination, improving public health and enhancing the quality of life for all citizens.  

The objectives in that first 18 months will be to:

1. establish local action groups throughout the country to mobilise communities to campaign for political change and the creation of self-help projects to fill the gaps left by central and local government cuts.

2. rally community activists to organise street protests to:

a. demand local authorities use the powers available to them to end the cuts by shifting the burden onto the wealthiest shoulders in every borough

b. insist on a renaissance in new council housing to tackle the housing crisis now that the cap has been removed from councils’ housing revenue accounts

c. resist any further austerity measures by central government following the Covid-19 emergency

3. work with communities and trade unions to

a. establish workers’ cooperatives to start building a transfer of wealth and industrial power from the bottom up

b. update the Lucas Plan on defence diversification

c. raise awareness on the impact of imperialism to start developing international solidarity with other progressive and liberation movements around the world

4. provide support to local people to establish community arts, radio and culture projects around the country by arranging community arts and media conferences to train volunteers and creating online resources.

5. organise community events aimed at demystifying economics to empower people to challenge the establishment narrative that there is no alternative. 

Here is a link to Chris’ YouTube channel – Resistance TV and here’s more details about The Resistance – ‘fighting back for 21st-century socialism. You can also follow him on Twitter – @DerbyChrisW

Thanks to Chris Williamson for taking the time to share his thoughts with me!

Swindon on Sunday
Swindon on Sunday

We would like to give a massive thanks to Chris Williamson for speaking with Rachael and giving us such a great interview! What do you think? Do you agree with Chris? Do you disagree? Tell us what you think about this by contacting us on Twitter or Facebook, OR by heading off to our new forum’s and tell us what you think there!


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