Paper that is still home to party's 'scary' hardline past

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The Independent Online
PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

Political Correspondent

The newly renamed Labour Left Briefing, the left-wing monthly that was used to justify Liz Davies' exclusion as a parliamentary candidate, has never been proscribed by the Labour Party. "Perhaps we should have done so," Tony Blair is reported to have told the NEC on Wednesday.

That is in line with his previously stated view that the paper Ms Davies formerly served on as an editorial board member would be regarded by most Labour Party members as "incomprehensible at best and at worst as scary".

Relaunched in its October issue with the participation of the Socialist Campaign Group Supporters Network and promising a wider range of contributors, the previously named London Labour Briefing, which later changed its name to Labour Briefing, reached its heyday as long ago as the time of Ken Livingstone's attempt to take over the now-defunct GLC, when it attempted to unite the left behind him. Once extended nationwide, it became dominated by the Socialist Organiser, another Labour paper. The Socialist Organiser Alliance, a breakaway group from the Tariq Ali-inspired International Marxist Group, was heavily suspected of dominating Briefing during the 1980s.

Mr Blair, Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, and Clare Short, a strong defender of the decision to withhold endorsement as a candidate, have all featured in Briefing's anonymous and discontinued "Class Traitor of the Month" columns But for all the claims of it being "Trotskyist" or "entryist" no-one - not least the four-strong disputes committee majority that recommended Ms Davies' rejection - has been able to supply the supporting evidence.

In fact, the final disputes committee report to Wednesday's NEC conspicuously failed to draw specific conclusions about this and the other two allegations that she failed to disclose a prison committal for not paying her poll tax and that she defied the Labour whip as an Islington councillor on "numerous", albeit mostly unspecified occasions. After rehearsing the arguments for and against, the report said only that "four members of the committee have come to the view that the NEC should be recommended not to endorse Liz Davies".

The lack of reasons, say Davies supporters, is because the case was not to do with proscribed groups like the Communist Party or Militant, nor was it to do with disciplinary proceedings for bringing the party into disrepute - the only grounds for NEC vetoes in the past. Ms Davies's supporters claim the entire business would never have got up a head of steam were it not for the Islington backdrop, which saw the former council leader Margaret Hodge insist in her submission that Ms Davies "voted against the Labour group or abstained on a number of occasions ... Sadly there is no written record of this as our standing orders were so defined that we had to call for a recorded vote if we wanted one."

Not all Islington council right-wingers were prepared to rally behind the party high command, however. Councillor Neil Mercer strongly disagreed with her political views but insisted in his submission that she was the victim of lies maliciously spread by jealous cowards.

"If by entryism it is meant taking part in local affairs and campaigning for the disadvantaged ... then I suppose one could argue that very few Islington councillors qualify, but that nearly all of the Liberal Democrat councillors did," he observed.

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