The Sales of Justice

14 Aug
This post also features on offGuardian – a much needed antidote to the rightward drift of once liberal media.

Tony Blair Justice Philip Sales

NEC – National Executive Committee of the Labour Party …  PLP – Parliamentary Labour Party, i.e. Labour MPs … Members – rank and file Labour Party supporters, at an all time high since Corbyn’s election last September

On Thursday the Court of Appeal, in a ruling the Guardian has called unexpected, overturned Monday’s High Court decision to allow disenfranchised Labour Party members to vote in the leadership election. The wider context of course is the novel situation wherein the leader has unprecedented levels of member support – and PLP antagonism – while rule changes pushed through on Ed Miliband’s watch give those members a decisive say in choosing a leader from any candidate who gains, in the first instance, sufficient PLP support to make it onto the ballot. A now remorseful Margaret Beckett saw to it that for form’s sake the left leaning and seeming hopeless outsider Jeremy Corbyn did  make it onto the ballot – to win by a landslide.

Against that backdrop, let’s briefly retrace the more recent steps that brought us to this point:

June 26. Corbyn sacks Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn for plotting against him. This triggers a wave of frontbench resignations in what many see as a planned coup.

July 10. Angela Eagle announces a leadership bid that hasn’t a prayer unless a crucial NEC vote (next point) goes her way.

July 12a. It doesn’t. The NEC rules that incumbent leaders under challenge need not secure the 20% of PLP nominations their challengers must obtain in order to appear on the ballot. To the chagrin of some, it fails to avoid a conclusion a smart six year old would have come to: that incumbents may not be deemed challengers to their own leadership.

July 12b. At the same meeting, after Corbybn and two supporters have left, a motion not on the agenda is carried by 18:14: those who joined the party after January 12 may not vote in September’s election. It was and is assumed that of the 130,000 disenfranchised that day, most would be pro Corbyn.

July 13. Owen Smith enters the race, potentially splitting the anti-Corbyn vote. (Six days later Eagle will pull out to leave a straight fight between Corbyn and Smith.)

July 14. Millionaire Michael Foster brings a legal appeal against the July 12a decision. (A fortnight later Mr Justice Foskett will kick out that appeal, finding incumbent leaders not subject to a rule clearly framed for challengers.)

July 25. Christine Evangelou and four other post January 12 members launch a legal bid to overturn the January 12 cut-off (see July 12b) as a breach of contract.

August 7. Mr Justice Hickinbottom finds for Evangelou. The 130,000 seem set to benefit.

August 7. The Procedures Committe, an 11 member subset of the 33 strong NEC, decides to appeal. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell calls that a ‘misuse of funds’ but NEC chair Paddy Lillis insists ‘the party has a right to defend its processes’.

August 8. In NEC elections, all six contested posts decided by rank and file members go to the Corbyn supporters recommended by Momentum.

August 11. Lord Justice Beatson, with Lady Justice Macur and Lord Justice Sales, overturns Hickinbottom’s August 7 ruling, saying the matter is for the NEC alone to determine. Ms Evangelou and the others must pay £30k in costs.

Oddly enough the indefatiguably hostile Polly Toynbee, serial tub thumper under such headers as “Dismal, lifeless, spineless Corbyn lets us down again”, lifted the spirits of his support base after the Beatson ruling. In the Guardian next day she correctly argues, in that dull and narrow way of hers, that the August 11 decision could work for a Corbyn unlikely to need those 130,000 votes to see off Eagle Smith next month. Given the pro Corbyn tilt to the NEC conferred by the August 8 results, Polly thinks Beatson has set a case law precedent favourable to Jeremy.

Not that I’m fool enough to set much store by that.  To date the jet sprays of cyanide have come from the PLP and party grandees – and from corporate media whose outpourings of poison are without precedent in respect of a new leader. But the Establishment as a whole has held its fire. Muttered threats aside, the full might of our ruling class* – Bank of England, The City, judiciary, police and armed forces whose sworn fealty is to a monarch constitutionally entitled to dismiss by fiat His/Her Government – has not been needed. That will change should Corbyn win office. For those who put their trust in rule of law and sovereignty of parliament I prescribe the Chris Mullins film, A Very British Coup.

As a taster of what that shadowy matrix can pull off, let’s zoom in on one of the three judges to uphold Thursday’s appeal and disenfranchise the post January 12 members. Philip Sales QC was appointed by Tony Blair on his 1997 victory. (In case you’d forgotten, that was on the back of the first ever Labour manifesto to omit the word socialism.  Many of those who now oppose Corbyn believe the 1997 win – premised on capturing the centre without losing the core vote – can be repeated with a ‘moderate’ leader and manifesto. It can’t when, as Scotland shows, Britain is now a more divided nation following two decades of unbridled neoliberalism. Just as the centre may swing to the Tories or LibDems, so may that once core vote go now to SNP or UKIP.)

But back to Philip Sales, fast-tracked by Blair as described in the Guardian, June 1999:

Tony Blair and his Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine, will be plunged into a fresh row over cronyism as new evidence emerges of how government jobs are handed out.

An industrial tribunal is investigating how a barrister from Irvine’s old chambers – where Tony Blair and Cherie Booth also worked – was appointed to the coveted post of Treasury ‘Devil’ – one of the chief barristers who act for the state in the civil courts.

The 1997 appointment of the 35-year-old Sales caused astonishment among senior lawyers because he was ‘exceptionally young’ for a high-profile job regarded as a near-certain route to becoming a High Court judge. Sales had much less experience in public law than three front-runners who were passed over. One barrister, Josephine Hayes, claims the Government was guilty of sex discrimination in the way it appointed Sales.

Despite fierce opposition from senior judges, Hayes’s lawyers have obtained details of ‘secret soundings’ taken before his appointment. They reveal a ‘network of old boys and cronies’ to show ‘there was no coincidence that the appointment came from Lord Irvine’s and Tony Blair’s old chambers’.

Less charitable souls might ask whether Lord Sales had been granted an opportunity, last Thursday, to show his gratitude to Lady Fortune. We steel city scribblers couldn’t possibly comment.

*  For all the changes capitalism – instable yet extraordinarily adaptive – has undergone since 1867, we find Marx’s definition of a ruling class still the most useful. A ruling class is defined by monopoly ownership of something essential to wealth production: typically land, slaves, irrigation or capital.


2 Replies to “The Sales of Justice

  1. The way in which that ruling class/establishment manifests itself systemically can be seen not just in the still feudal based rentier system of land ownership and narrow privilege structures but also in the way in which what passes for a demos, along with its peddled myths (mother of Parliaments etc), is constructed and the way in which it operates. After centuries of struggle from the Peasant’s Revolt through the English Civil War to the Chartist’s and trades unions we still have no written constitution, unelected feudal institutions such as the monarchy and the HoL, a Party Cartel controlled by vested interests and a City of London which maintains it’s pre Norman influence.

    The last time we were anywhere near close to where we are now (financial meltdown, a failure of what is now termed neoliberalism, stagnating wages, zero hours employment relationships, scapegoating of the “other” , the “loyal” opposition tearing itself apart, withdrawals from and failure of international/ supranational institutions etc) the structure and processes of that system were only patched back together through the post war consensus in which temporary concessions necessary for the survival of feudal privilege were given to the peasantry until it could get back on the saddle and start cracking the whip again. There is no one in the Blair sect of the Labour Party who possess the necessary calibre or the willingness to stitch together anything similar. As a result of this the systemic unravelling this time around is likely to be a lot messier.

    After twelve months or more of public plotting, poison briefings in the fifth column which was once the fourth estate, rolling coups and democratic gerrymandering there is now no possibility of the ruling establishment clique who were given responsibility for the territory known as the Labour Party ever putting together an electoral alliance willing to trust them with the Governance of what passes for democracy in this country. Not after the way in which they have been seen to be so enthusiastic in playing fast and loose with their own democracy. The realisation of this can be seen in the increasingly frantic, screeching hyperbole eminating from within that bunker, which has moved from ‘dogs’ through ‘Trots’, ‘far left’, ‘entryists’, ‘Jihadists’ and now, without a hint of irony, presently sits on ‘Nazi Stormtroopers’ courtesy of Millionaire Labour doner Michael Foster’s raving article in the Daily Heil.

    Not that anyone should be surprised at this given the the Deputy Leader of the Party has reportably been the recipient of a donation from Oswald’s offspring Max. You could’nt really make this stuff up.

  2. As you say, Dave – ya couldn’t make it up!

    You rightly point to the peculiar conditions in which baby boomers (like me) grew up and forged our world views. Those unprecedentedly benign conditions for workers in the west were presented, in an overarchingly idealist narrative that obscured underlying material realities, as the march of civilisation. Bad things in the past were due to primitive thinking but now, we were told – and believed it – society had moved to more humanitarian views. Even at the time this was given the lie in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Southern Europe. But in the OEDC the durability of these benign conditions seemed assured. In fact they were premised on a cold war that obliged western capital to make significant concessions, and the Keynesian driven long boom that gave it the elbow room to do so. To this day, the foolish political commentators of liberal media have failed to grasp the extent to which things have changed fundamentally.

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