It was great that Sheffield Labour Left were able to host the meeting with Chris Williamson MP and Stephen Bell from the Stop the War Coalition.
Initially Chris and Stephen were due to speak at a meeting to be hosted by Sheffield Labour Students (SLS) at the University of Sheffield. Following a complaint by the Sheffield Jewish Student Society, which accused Chris of “encouraging a culture of anti-Semitism”, the executive of Sheffield Labour Students came under pressure to cancel or postpone the meeting. Initially the SLS – ostensibly run by a left-wing majority – held firm against these disgraceful attacks. But not for long. The SLS’s event organiser (who is also a member of the steering committee of Sheffield Momentum) resigned from his position, because he had “hoped that the committee would listen to and accommodate the requests of a minority group”.
After the Metropolitan Police announced that it was investigating some Labour Party members over alleged anti-Semitic comments, the majority of the remaining SLS committee met again and decided to “indefinitely postpone” the event “until the current Scotland Yard police investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party has been resolved”. A total of seven members have quit the SLS committee.
Credit must go to those students who had sufficiently firm politics to understand that the attacks upon them and Chris Williamson are part of the witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn and the left in the party.
At very short notice, Sheffield Labour Left decided to launch a petition to SLS (which has been signed by over 80 Sheffield Labour Party members) and to host the meeting instead. This was not without difficulties: For example. after receiving a number of anonymous threats, the Jurys Inn cancelled our booking 24 hours before the event; another venue refused to take our booking. Thanks are due to Sheffield Trades Union Council (STUC), which stepped forward and offered to not only co-sponsor the event, but also to allow use of the Trades & Labour Club premises.
In the end, close to 40 Corbyn supporters attended our excellent event on November 8, entitled ‘Why we need an anti-war government’. Steven Bell gave an in-depth overview of imperialism today, while Chris Williamson reminded the meeting that, “100 years ago, millions of working class lads were sacrificed to supposedly fight a war to end all wars. But we’ve had nothing but wars since.” He spoke about the role of the international working class in bringing World War I to an end and that a Corbyn-led government would not be dragged into war.
A number of speakers pointed out that if people on the left struggle with the pressure now, they will be really struggling as the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership get closer to replacing the Tories with their anti-war government. The whole force of the media and the state will come down on a socialist-led government that tries to transform society. “We ain’t seen nothing yet”, as one comrade put it – who also told the meeting that Sheffield Labour Left will be studying Chris Mullins’ insightful novel A very British Coup for precisely that reason in their new reading group.
The left of the Labour Party has to stop appeasing the right: Every single step back merely leads to another attack.