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We need a united conference of the Labour Left….

Events at Millbank should make us realise the shortcomings of the Labour Party. Currently it is failing in its duty as an opposition to present a clear alternative to the government. It’s failing on the economy to move beyond soundbites and is hamstrung by its swallowing whole of the ‘debt crisis’ moral panic. It’s failing on the welfare state to adequately defend it and the people who so badly depend on it. On political democracy we are left fighting desperate defensive battles against the governments ’stich-up and scarper’ program. For students its failing to make a credible case that it has learned the importance of education following the introduction of tuition fees by a Labour government.

On-top of all this there is the movement outside the Party, as we saw on Wednesday, to consider. However, the Labour left is divided, scattered and therefore ineffectual. Inside the Party we are failing to exert nearly enough pressure on the leadership to pull it in our direction and on party democracy we have yet to make any substantial gains.

So, to coin a phrase, ‘what is to be done’? Firstly, we desperately need a conference of all concerned parties with the aim of constructing a united platform both of policy aspirations and campaigning objectives. We need to consider how we work in the anti-cuts movement in a pluralistic and supportive way, reach out to that movement, and even more crucially how we strengthen the links between the trade unions and Labour by bringing committed trade unionists into the Party.

The leadership election is over but that was the beginning of a process of change which if we rise to the occasion we can take the lead in shaping. This is not just a question of abstract realisation of our political objectives but an urgent one of making Labour into the opposition it needs to be to protect societies most vulnerable. It is therefore, as well as being a political question, a moral imperative. We can make the difference; we can be the difference between Labour languishing in the wilderness and returning to govern in the interests of the people it serves but we can only do this if we stand united, as comrades, marching under the same banner.

6 Comments

  1. LRCer says:

    The LRC conference is on January 15th. All welcome.

  2. Tim Pendry says:

    The movement outside the Party is unfinished business from the coup d’etat engineered within the Party at the 1996 Conference when senior Left figures, desperate for office, and trades unionists, desperate for special interest employment-related legislation, sold out the nation as one cohesive interest.

    The movement in the street simply no longer finds the Labour Party credible. It is not at this moment in time. The fact that internal Labour loyalists of the Left are pleased with ‘Ed’ only means that they have still not ‘got’ it.

    To be pleased with the best option of a series of bad ones derived from the last gasp of an administration that was war-mongering, in bed with finance capital, economically incompetent and culturally authoritarian shows just how unimportant the Labour Party has become in the coming struggle.

    Let us remember that every half-educated student and parent knows that it was New Labour that brought in tuition fees and would probably retain them now if it got into office.

    It is not just about ‘cuts’ and preserving public sector jobs (that is ‘old socialism for the benefit of just one albeit large section of society), it is about the State and about freedom and about democracy and about self-determination and about the failures of a whole elite that includes the Labour elite.

    There will be no identity of interest between workers protesting their jobs as non-unionised familes start to go under and the new libertarian and social democratic revolt (the one that knew Labour got it wrong over tuition fees) until the Labour Left loses its authoritarian habits, reforms its own undemocratic and special interest habits and builds an alliance with libertarian socialists (now wholly disillusioned with the Liberal Democrats), the anarcho-Left which is doing all the fighting you should be doing and the Jeffersonian private sector who are about to be crushed not by cuts but by a massive European-wide economic failure.

    The horror of it is that Labour behaves like the Social Democrats under Weimar and, if it does not get its act together, it will be by-passed by history. The hero of the street is an ambiguous figure – V – not Attlee or Hardie or Bevan or Bevin – and this V can be anarcho-socialist or national socialist depending on the way the wind blows.

    If the soi-disant Left expects to lead this ‘revolution’ then it has to jettison the liberal progressivism of the last decade – the whining about identity politics, bourgeois scrabbling for place and patronage and internationalism – and get to grip with what the people want NOW: competence in their interest and freedom from a State that has lost its way under the current elite.

    Otherwise, you guys are just peeing in the wind … and, in your heart of hearts, you know it …

  3. Darrell says:

    @LRCer,

    Thanks for that. Am well aware of that though. At that conference incidentally there will be a motion calling for exactly what I have above submitted from the Leeds branch.

  4. Darrell says:

    @Tim,

    I agree there is a creditability gap that Labour needs to be addressed. However, its worth noting that the left outside Labour isnt exactly in a position to preach.

    The best option amoung bad ones is often the only option that exists sadly, that is politics and life. Having said that I do not advocate resting on our laurels at all or settling for that. At the very least, Eds election has opened up space within the Party for a serious debate and for us to push our ideas and ideals forward.

    I agree about the centrality of democracy and that it should be at the heart of what we do as progressives. I am willing to work with the people you list but not without a critique of their shortcomings as well as our own past ones.

    Dont agree with all that you say there, for example, am a committed internationalist but think that is a different discussion. Where we do agree I think is a central place for democracy in our politics and your right; until we get that back we will be marginal….

  5. Tim Pendry says:

    @Darrell

    It depends what you mean by ‘Left’ because the Marxist Left outside the Party is a joke. This, I more than concede. But there are other Lefts and other traditions and other protests in the street that are not run by ambitious student politicians, political nerds or post-marxist ideologues but are coming from direct street concerns and these need an over-arching ideology to encompass them which New Labour cannot provide because it is a ‘fix’ between interests like the American Democrat Party.

    This ideology has to be democratic, left-nationalist, libertarian, decentralist and socialist in a sense that would have been understood by Lansbury and Hardie. Anything else is just a bad joke by the elite at the expense of the population.

    In building a coalition, New Labour appears to have sought alliances with a series of special interests that have dragged it towards internal authoritarianism and an internationalist progressivism that has nothing to offer the general public – and I am not convinced that these dark forces do not still run the Party.

    The internationalism of the nineteenth century has degenerated into a progressivist attempt to ride the tiger of global finance capital and only a fool believes that the next economic cycle is going to result in any form of world government that is not a ‘fix’ between competing economic blocs dominated by either finance capital or communist party cliques.

    There is a reality that the UK is a trading economy but the last Government did not manage the Thatcher-Reagan ‘reforms’, it accentuated their bad aspects in terms of free capital and labour flows, embedding finance capital into our system and systematically selling out the population to the ‘competitiveness agenda’.

    Internal party and improved (not liberal) representative democracy are critical because they would give a voice to the communities affected by the plans of the elites and draw them back into line with local, regional and national aspirations. Even the Chinese are moving towards such consultative forms just as we have been moving away from them!

    I am not convinced. Labour loyalists sat there and backed one of those dangerous and malign Governments in British history and cannot be trusted because, to be blunt, their ‘realism’ consists of nothing better than the loyalty of a man to his football team.

  6. Darrell says:

    @Tim,

    I think those other lefts while I agree they exist are also weak and divided. What needs to happen is there needs to be some thrashing out of the different issues you raise while at the same time some united action where we agree.

    I dont agree for example about left-nationalism. World government is inherent in the logic of things as they stand and from my point of view that is a good, progressive thing.

    I am not sure New Labour do still run the Party to be honest. Only possibly undemocratically through the dictate of the PLP. On the centrality of democracy I agree with you and also agree there needs to be new forms of that.

    If you want a broad coalition you cannot start the process of arbitrary exclusion…

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