Latest post on Left Futures

Elections to Labour’s national executive: do you want a member-led party or don’t you?

When I’ve finished writing this blog post, I’ll be heading over to my inbox to send my National Executive Committee votes off for Yasmine Dar, Rachel Garnham and Jon Lansman. For obvious reasons this internal contest has been portrayed as pro-Jez or anti-Jez; you’re either for him or against him. Yet it’s worth remembering this isn’t a case of Corbyn supporters motivated by the Labour leader’s celebrity or unassuming style. It’s about politics, and the Labour right, who don’t really have any politics beyond hating the Labour left, would do well to remember the appeal of Corbynism is explicitly political. If you happen to be reading this and haven’t made your mind up, these words might be of some use.

Let’s begin with what sort of party Labour should be. Is it right and proper for people to be arbitrarily excluded without recourse? Should its apparatus have contempt for its voluntary membership, and routinely use officials to squash local parties, fix votes to regional boards, tip off favoured folk about upcoming juicy selections, and instruct delegates which way to vote at annual conference? Should the stacking of and nobbling of selection panels go unchallenged? Must parties meekly accept the “autonomy” MPs have of them, which too frequently leads to absurd situations and bad behaviour. Such as the honourable member who tells their CLP they’re too busy in London to do campaigning, and at the same time tells the whip’s office they’re too crammed in their constituency to do national things? Should the party machine be the servant of the interests it was set up to represent, or its master?

This grim picture might sound like something out of Uncle John Golding’s Hammer of the Left. That was then, surely? The early 1980s. The period of pitched battles between the apparatus and the left, namely the Bennites and Militant. But no. This was entirely routine under Ed Miliband’s leadership, which you may recall lies but two-and-a-half years in the past. For all of his wonkery and well meaning politics, the party was rotten. These practices were so normal and normalised that when the apparatus in conjunction with the parliamentary party tried ousting Jeremy, the shenanigans, the fixing, the lying, the bad faith, the old establishment exposed the lot without any sense of shame to full public view. I don’t know about you, but this shambles shouldn’t be how a democratic political party should conduct itself. Party representatives should face mandatory reselection, party structures should be as straightforward as possible, party workers should ultimately be accountable to the membership, conference should be the sovereign decision-making body and constituency parties the crucible for forging new policy. The party is a voluntary organisation, and therefore should encourage that participation and deepen politicisation. The first question asked of new members should never be “do you want to be a councillor?” and more “how do you want to be involved?”.

Party democracy is not a luxury. A more participatory, accountable culture is not an end in itself. The labour movement set up the party to prosecute the interests of our people, of the immense majority who have to sell our capacity to labour in return for a wage or a salary. As the labour movement declined, as per the last four decades so the party was hollowed out and became a plaything for careerists and ladder climbers. The sudden emergence of Corbynism has changed all this, with an influx of hundreds of thousands of new members and millions of voters bypassing the traditional organisations of our class and participating in the party directly. The task remains to carry that revolution within the party into the wider movement, but that’s for another post. Corbyn and Corbynism struck a chord because Jeremy spoke to and for people locked out of the system. Not only did it intersect with a bunch of interests circulating around but not finding an expression in established politics (with the exception of the Yes movement and the SNP), Jeremy stood for hope, of doing things differently and better.

What’s this got to do with democracy? Corbynism was an unexpected eruption from within left Labourism, but to succeed it must go beyond that. Corbynism is a class movement of large numbers of people coming into politics and using the Labour Party as their lever. They are typical of the rising constituency of networked/socialised workers, the people who are the rebooted proletariat for the 21st century. A transparent, democratic party is essential because it offers a means to articulate the mass interest and, crucially, constitute themselves as increasingly conscious class collectives. Through the party, our rising class starts to recognise itself as such, and pull the rest along with it.

As 2016’s leadership contest climaxed, I pointed out how under these circumstances the only possibility of Labour doing well and winning a general election lay not in clever, clever triangulation but transforming the party into an electoral factor in and of itself beyond the usual rounds of door knocking and campaigning. Thanks to the mushrooming of the membership, thanks to the networks they bring, whether digital or face-to-face, Labour used its social weight to power its general election vote. There are very few people now left in the country who don’t have a Labour Party member among their friends or acquaintances. The party has gone from being an out-of-touch outfit beholden to council chamber or Parliamentary elites to something with a tangible, and in many cases an enthusiastic presence in the everyday lives of millions.

This was accomplished in spite of and not because of the obstructionism of established right wing cliques and obsolescent structures. A democratic Labour Party can more effectively harness the strength of our class, be enriched by the diversity of their experience, and draw down their collective wisdom to ensure our party’s politics never lose touch with our people. A rotten party marked by chicanery and arbitrary power, nor an authoritarian fan club run by a distant, shiny figure can do this for us. A party inseparable from its class can.

A long-winded way then of saying vote for the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance, but that is the decision in front of members. A left victory allows for a consolidation of Corbynism at the top of the party, an irresistible pressure from above to bear down on the right’s remaining fiefdoms. A victory for the so-called independents, backed enthusiastically (some might say desperately) by Progress and Labour First is a blow against Labour becoming fighting fit and drawing the correct lessons from the election. It’s a recipe for more paralysis and more infighting, and an endorsement for all the shitty, banana republic practices that have gone on in the party under the Labour right’s watch. Yes, I know some people don’t like binary choices but sometimes that’s how things turn out. Politics is about interests, after all, and it’s our job to make sure that the shared interests of the overwhelming majority triumph in the end. Vote left.

5 Comments

  1. Ray says:

    Excellent post Phill. I’ve voted for the left slate. I agree 100% with your views on the democratisation of the Party.

  2. Stephen Bellamy says:

    This is a bit something or other. Lansman has played a key role in facilitating exclusion without recourse.

    At the same time Corbyn has quietly gone along with it all. #wimp

  3. Sue says:

    I’ve voted for the left slate. Good article.

  4. Mervyn Hyde says:

    I voted for the left slate.

    Tories who become disenchanted for one reason or other always stand as independents. In this case those on the right don’t openly admit they are supported progress or Labour first.

    Funny how they always want a united party but do everything in their power to thwart the majority.

  5. Tony says:

    Under Corbyn, the Labour Party now probably has more money than it could possibly know what to do with.

    This was certainly not a problem in the past.

Leave a Reply





© 2017 Left Futures | Powered by WordPress | theme originated from PrimePress by Ravi Varma