Eddie Dempsey: A reply to Owen Jones — Keep it comradely.


This comes off the back of a series of slurs against me orchestrated by Clive Lewis, who compared me to the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley (the irony may have been lost on Clive, given Mosley’s well-known support of European unity against ‘dark Africa’), and Novara commentator Ash Sarkar, who withdrew from speaking at a Peoples’ Assembly rally — citing my presence as the sole reason.

Owen’s caricature of me is unfamiliar and unfair. I am an Irish immigrant and a trade unionist. I grew up on the Woodpecker Estate in New Cross, one of the most diverse — and most deprived — estates in Britain. My first political act was to join a demonstration against the Iraq War.

The people I look up to are people like Bob Crow, Jack Dash and Mickey Fenn – Tilbury docker and founder of Anti Fascist Action, who was one of the few dockers to speak out against the 1968 wildcat strike, called in defence of Enoch Powell’s comments on restricting Commonwealth immigration.

I learnt my politics through people I met on picket lines, in union branch meetings, in the homes of veteran comrades in London such as Monty Goldman and Max Levitas who gave me my Marx and my Markievicz. Several years ago, I was elected the London secretary of the Connolly Association, the oldest migrant workers’ organisation in Britain. Inscribed on our banner are the words: “The rights of the Irish in Britain are in no way contrary to our interests as workers.”

The reason given is a speech I gave at a public meeting where I made the socialist case for leaving the European Union. Specifically, Owen is outraged with my statement in a video clip that “whatever you think of people that turn up for those Tommy Robinson demos or any other march like that — the one thing that unites those people, whatever other bigotry is going on, is their hatred of the liberal left and they are right to hate them.”

Owen wasn’t outraged at the time, as he was happy to share a platform with me at the end of July, some months after the offending statement was made. However, he has now decided that I am to be written off. In his Twitter bunker, he is hectically pushing his 800,000 followers to the conclusion that I hold a reactionary, dangerous, and racist position on what constitutes the working class — but without himself explicitly saying so.

Understandably, Owen’s behaviour has caused completely unnecessary rifts across the labour movement. Therefore, I have been heavily encouraged to write a response clarifying my position.

Firstly, did I say that Tommy Robinson supporters were right to hate the ‘liberal left?’ Yes. Clearly, my comments need further explanation. I said these words as a warning against Labour abandoning large sections of the working class in favour of middle-class Remain voters.

Another comment I made in the meeting was that “too many in the Labour Party have made a calculation that there’s a certain section at the top end of the working class, in alliance with people, they calculate, from ethnic minorities and liberals, that’s enough to get them into power.”

I believe the “liberal left” — what I understand to mean the political and media representatives of Blairism, who have socially left-leaning but economically right-leaning views, not “left-Remainers”, many of whom I recognise as solid comrades — have been complicit with aggressive, neoliberal policies, have allowed Labour to abandon its core base and have left millions of people disgruntled and isolated from wider society.

The far-right have sought to take advantage of this — sometimes successfully — by offering horrific alternatives. Most working class people can offer stories or anecdotes of people turning to the far-right for answers. In deindustrialised parts of the country, many people of my generation never experienced the secure employment, meaningful political representation, or the real union power their parents experienced. Without the institutions of the Labour and trades union movement to engage with, and without the stability provided by decent jobs, far too many express their discontent with society at large.

Even in my incredibly diverse community in south London, I personally know people from Irish or black backgrounds joining DFLA, EDL or Free Tommy demonstrations. Owen seems intent on branding these people “textbook fascists” and has been repeatedly doing so on the internet.

When Jones says that Tommy Robinson supporters hate the liberal left because of their perceived anti-racist and anti-Islamophobia politics, this is true, and I agree with Owen. I have never said otherwise.

Instead, I said they are right to hate the liberal left for the liberal left’s abandonment of the working class and their interests. My point is not controversial. Simon Winlow, Steve Hall and James Treadwell’s book, ‘The Rise of the Right: English Nationalism and the Transformation of Working-Class Politics’ (2017), shows how deep the problem of abandonment of working-class communities by the liberal left and political elites is and that working-class resentment has been abused by the far right who try to take advantage of this.

Owen knows this all too — having written an excellent book on the topic. In Chavs, he warned of the “danger” of “a savvy new populist right emerging, one that is comfortable with class and offers reactionary solutions to working class problems… rather than focusing on the deep-seated economic issues that really underpin the grievances of working class people”.

When denouncing me, Owen instead claims that this is a danger that doesn’t exist, except in my “perverse argument” which, he says, “rests on the assumption that Tommy Robinson’s supporters represent a meaningful, if wrongheaded, constituency of working-class Britain.”

Either there is a danger of the populist right winning over sections abandoned by the left as I argue now, and Owen prophesied — or I am over egging it, but both can’t be true.

Indeed, Ash Sarkar appears guilty of holding the same opinions as me. When asked on Novara Media if she thought those on the Free Tommy demonstration could be won over to left-wing politics, she replied that “I am not averse to becoming friends with, becoming comrades with, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who maybe once part of that march.” I hope Owen thinks carefully before rushing to condemn her as being in sympathy with fascists.

We must be certain: the hard-liners of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s mob must be physically opposed wherever they go. People in the DFLA include figures such as Frank Portinari, a UDA paramilitary man. Huge wings of its regional bodies stand proudly in the tradition of British Fascism. But, to me, to characterise anyone who turns out for one of these protests as a fascist is both incorrect and tactically foolish.

Does this mean that I agree with the alternative they have chosen? No, of course not. I do not think they are right to sympathise with Tommy Robinson. The people who attacked Owen are vile. I have been assaulted by their comrades. My family’s home has been attacked. Photographs of me and my family have been circulated on EDL and DFLA websites where we have all been labelled as “fair game” by these people.

Why? Because they know people like me are their enemy. And they are right to think this too.

This isn’t news for anyone who knows me — not least to Owen Jones, who I contacted in January this year to warn him that he had been selected as a major target for violent assault by far-right militants. I contacted him to offer him the protection of militant antifascists on his way to and from demonstrations if he should wish, as well as general advice on keeping safe from these people. I warned him that a pub he regularly frequents after demonstrations is a pub regularly used by fascists, and that he should watch out. He thanked me at the time.

On one of my few appearances on Sky, I condemned his attackers, and repeated his assertion that there is a danger posed by the far-right that is not receiving sufficient political consideration. I contacted him again on the 17th of August — long after I made the comments he now cannot manage to contextualise — to offer him my personal sympathies and again offer support, which he thanked me for.

Despite this, he has chosen to take the least charitable interpretation of my words. Influenced by people such as Clive Lewis, who has a vested interest in discrediting socialist supporters of leaving the EU, he is trying to make me fair game for delegitimization and public stigmatisation because I support Brexit.

He has gone further since tweeting he would be unsafe sharing a platform with me, this strikes me as odd since he had previously organised a platform for the likes of Liberal Democrat Tim Farron when he was their leader, an unrepentant homophobic bigot and a willing participant in the government’s austerity programme that Owen has done so much to criticise.

He seemed cosy in his warm, friendly interview with Alastair Campbell, the architect of misleading this county into the Iraq war which murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

He also feels in good company participating in a destructive campaign to delegitimise me from Clive Lewis, who thinks soldiers who kill civilians should be given the benefit of the doubt — even as the Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy families are still seeking justice to this day.

These individuals get a pass from Owen. Yet in the worst possible bad faith, my words have been taken out of the context in which they were spoken, out of the context of my entire life and years of work I have done in antifascism and in organising working-class people to deliberately attribute the worst possible connotation while ignoring any other shred of evidence that contradicts the sinister portrayal of me as a racist or even a fascist sympathiser for political advantage.

Those of us who make the socialist case against EU membership do so in the interests of the working class and socialism. It is my sincerely held political position that there is not a single socialist advance that could be made by a Labour Party that would not be prevented by membership of the EU. Remainers have to recognise the legitimacy of our place within our movement and be prepared to engage us in political debate rather than resorting to character assassination.

There will be a labour and trades union movement after Brexit — and Owen and his friends could do worse than to remember that when they move against people for these destructive purposes.

– Eddie Dempsey

Backlinks to this story ‘Eddie Dempsey calls for unity against Boris Johnson after ‘no-platform’ bid by Owen Jones and Ash Sarkar

Owen Jones The British working class is a rainbow of diversity: to claim otherwise is dangerous and wrong

This is the speech that cause offence to Ash and Jones

Support Labour Heartlands



This is a "Pay as You Feel" website.
This blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.
You can have access to all of our online work for free. However if you want to support what we do, you could make a small donation to help us keep writing and staying ad-free.
The choice is entirely yours.