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Labour can be a home for this new movement….

We can say with about 95% confidence that the government will win the vote to abolish the cap on tuition fees on Thursday. The Liberal Democrats will split three ways with some supporting, some abstaining and some opposing. However, those Lib Dems who oppose will be few in number and possibly even totally offset by the likes of Alan Johnson from the Labour benches who are likely to support the government.

We are fortunate to have the Lib Dems in many ways because their high-profile problems have distracted media attention from our own internal divisions. Occasionally the sniping between leader and Shadow Chancellor breaks cover into full public view like it has this weekend but not as half of much as it would have done if the government was wholly united. Not having an awful lot to say is one of the things that has blunted Labour’s intervention into this movement. Of course, activists and individual MP’s have been there but the leadership has been absent; seemingly content to make supportive noises but a bit lacking when it comes practical support.

This is not good. A generation of radical activists is growing-up and is getting very mixed signals about whether Labour will be a welcoming home for them. It may not immediately impact but this will be damaging for the long-term health of the Party and is especially worrying for the left which would tend to regard this intake as natural allies.

Losing the vote will see some of the movements energies dissipate but it wont be the end. I expect there will be some recriminations and one of the casualties could be Aaron Porter, the head of the National Union of Students. A challenge, most likely from Clare Soloman, is imminent and it will probably be successful. If this happens the NUS will start to move further away from Labour too and again this should be a cause for concern to those whose long-term political perspectives are to change Labour into something like the progressive party it should be.

The upcoming festive season will allow for a certain naturally enforced pause which will hopefully take some of the sting out of losing the vote (though realistically, winning it was never likely given the Parliamentary arithmetic) and give the movement time to lick its wounds and come back stronger in the New Year.  Interesting questions will then be asked like whether the NUS will try and stand independently in Oldham East & Saddleworth.

For us within Labour the challenge will be to engage with this movement both supportively but at the same time in a way that strives to give it political direction. I would not want to see all its energies channelled into this Party (nor should they be) but I would certainly hope that the struggle to arm Labour with progressive politics could be seen as part of the wider struggle this movement is engaged in against the government. It is quite clear that within Labour battle-lines are already being drawn between the Blairites and reformers of various hues. The intervention of this inspiring generation of activists could tip the scales decisively in favour of the progressive forces. We urgently need to debate how we draw them into Labour and show them it can be their home.

2 Comments

  1. mark wright says:

    i’m not so confident they will, if labour carry on the route its on at the moment it will be seen as weak and no alternative. it is lucky the lib dems are in a mess otherwise it would be labour that would be glaringly clear that has all the problems here. If ed miliband doesnt show stronger leadership than he has been i cant see this movement you talk of joining him, it is more left than he is and is anti political, how many labour banners were out on those student march’s ? very few

  2. Darrell says:

    Mark,

    I agree about the problems of the current course as laid in by the leadership but this is where the Labour left comes in. We need to be Labours emissary in the movement and win people to the Party with our politics which strengthens our hand and that of the Party.

    Agreed about the Lib Dems. Ive noticed we are almost a third party at the moment when it comes to the media and as things stand that’s probably not a bad thing.

    Not many I agree; where Labour activists are taking part they are doing more so as individuals I think rather than an organised presence. That is an argument we have to win within the Party…for a greater organised presence

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