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Where do activists go to be active?

In 1996 at the Labour Party Annual Conference I asked a well known Political Editor from TV what he thought of the Blairite administration? His reply was coy.

Political Editor: Same as you I expect.

Me:  No really, what do you think of them? Or what do you think the Blairites are in size?

Political Editor: Less than 15 in total.

And he was correct.The total real support inside the Parliamentary Labour Party was less than 20 in TB’s Kitchen Cabinet.

The traditional right wing of the Labour Party organise only in Westminster, and still do, and have a few [very few] key people on the National Executive and Conference Arrangements Committees. Using the mass media to get their message across, if they are in favour.

When John Smith died in 1994, according to Tony Blair quoted by BBC Panorama in 1996: “oh within 30 minutes of his death, I was being called and asked if I was going to be leader.” Timing is everything. John Smith died in the Barbican at 09:25. And the press were not notified [formally] of his death till 09:45. The deadline to get any article, not on the front page, for the noon editions of the Evening Standard was 10:15. Sarah Baxter, then a BBC political corespondent, ex-New Statesman, had an article in the Noon edition, on pages 13 & 14 entitled “Why Blair should be Leader“.

Along with the published article, before John Smiths body was cold, the Party was to be handed a fait accompli. The Labour Party did not elect Tony Blair to the Leadership. He was selected in advance of John Smith’s untimely death. But by whom and why? Ask Lord Mandleson that question and see him slither.

By 1996, I, along with many thousands of old labour traditionalists and Lefities had already left the Party, filled with disillusionment or disgusted at where the Party was being taken. But there was growing anti-Tory feeling growing in the Country and New Labour used that in the mass media to great effect. And so we have the landslide of 1997.

Labour has lost 5 million voters over the last 14 years. Some to the Tories but mostly to the Liberals, till they joined in Coalition in May 2010, and the Liberal have gone from their high of 27% to an average of 9%. Labour were at 28%, Tories at 36%, and the Tories still are, but the big change is Labour is at over 40%.

I saw in the early 80’s how the Militant with it’s arrogant and sectarian ways drove the old Labour Traditionalists towards the right to become their foot soldiers. I was then working at the Militant Centre as an unpaid full-timer with hourly contact with their leadership, so I might know a thing or two.

The left and old Labourites then were divided so Neil [now Lord] Kinnock, previously a Tribunite, anti-monarchist anti-House of Lords, was pushed further and further to the right of the Party. But did he go their or was he helped by the push the left made with its arrogant and sectarian inward looking manner, and tradition he feared would damage Labour’s electoral chances? Possibly all of the above.

The Labour party has always had a left to use as fodder for activism in elections, to go on the stump and leaflet. But it did not have the traditional left in 1997 when Blair won.

Today the political landscape is very different. The left is even more tiny and lacking influence than it was. Oh sure it will pick up students and disaffected youth to do what? Exhaust a new generation as it drives towards activism?

Over the last 5 years the Labour Party, of which I am a member again, is moving to the left, not because of a conspiracy or good organisation but because the rank and file want, as do the majority of people, an assertive and Socialist Labour party. And Socialism is being defined anew?

Do your own research but if you take all the various left groups in Britain, they are less that 15% of Labour’s membership on Facebook. In May 2010, when I rejoined, there were fewer than 84,000 members on Labour’s Facebook, but today over 115,000.The Liberals have lost a few thousand with the Tories at 149,000, not growing as a percentage as fast as Labour.

There are over 800 million on Facebook — a growth of over 150 million since the election in 2010. People are not just getting networked for social reasons but, like the influence it had on the ‘Arab Uprising’ last spring, its influence can be immense.

The Occupy movement is growing and Labour can neither ignore nor utilize this independent mass movement of people across the globe that “are as mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more“. It is not just Ed Miliband and Labour that maybe caught napping but the whole left, as even left groups in the Labour Party are tiny and talk mostly to themselves and not the mass of people.

Activities in the Labour Party might want or wait for a new John McDonnell to lead them to so-called left-promised-land but activists in many other non-left-aligned movements are coming to the fore. They are very critical of the unequal and cruel economic system, but as many pundits on TV and in the mass media point out they offer no alternative. But as the American film maker Michael Moore said to Jeremy Paxman on BBC’s Newsnight, this is “early days”.

That is a positive, they are forming an alternative and it’s still early days, a few months since the 1010 plus uprising in the Western world started. So, let’s encourage it, contribute and Ed Miliband: get with it, try not to lead it but, yes, invite in those activists who oppose the Tory-Liberal agenda. And they will be articulate and active in opposition, but if used cynically by Ed Miliband or the traditional labour left, they may harm the very thing the World needs.

6 Comments

  1. GarryK says:

    This is excellent stiff, well done.

    It is obvious to me that a broad movement of the left is required to overturn the Coalition government. The electorate doesn’t fit into the old boxes it had been for decades.

    I did write a post on this:

    http://think-left.org/2011/12/18/uniting-the-left/

  2. Syzygy says:

    The broad left also need the information, analysis and facts which the mainstream media are not providing. For example, there is a comprehensive British Medical Journal account of how the Tories are privatising the NHS by massaging public perceptions, which can hardly be accused of a particular political bias.

    http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d7973

  3. mary lockhart says:

    The Blairites began by organising in and from Westminster, but their influence on reforming Party structures cannot be underestimated. They control what happens in constituencies, and on the news and views members receive. Having developed an effective replacement for canvassing, in Contact, they have turned themselves into the foot soldiers of a kind of “campaigning” which has alienated remaining left wing activists because it rarely involves either political engagement, or real contact. It has replaced “campaigning” with a form of market research, “How did you vote last time? How would you vote if there was an election tomorrow? On a scale of 1 – 10, how likely would you be to vote for a guy you have never met, but whom you have seen being greeted by a dozen balloon fetishists as he emerges, besuited and rosetted, form a big black gas guzzler?”

    The left talks to itself, because there is no mechanism for us to talk to anybody else. CLP meetings are attended by few, and political education does not feature, or if it does, is determined by the MP, MSP, or AM, with speakers from Progress. The Fabian Society and the Co-operative Party define themselves by their occupation of a centre ground which occupies a space warmed up by one-nation Tories – not by the traditional Labour right of the 60’s and 70’s. But actually, the real gaps in grass roots Labour activists are threefold: there is a class gap; an intellectual gap; and a gap in long term strategic vision. Each of these gaps impacts on each of the others.

    There are very few care workers, refuse collectors, cleaners, and checkout operators, and low paid manual workers out on the doorsteps asking their neighbours how they voted in 2010. And this is reflected in attendance at meetings, membership of Policy Forums, and presence on the Executive Committees. So on the one hand, the low paid workers who make up the bulk of the UK’s population rarely see people like themselves on their doorsteps representing the Labour Party. And on the other hand, the people who represent their needs, views, and aspirations to the Labour Party are usually Trades Union Officials who no longer live or work with the lower paid workers from whom some of them sprang.

    The intellectual gap is in part a product of the Labour Party’s long standing distrust of intellectuals, in part of the contempt in which anything considered to be “ideological” has come to be held. It’s true too, that older intellectuals are often more interested in advancing and discussing ideas than in organising fund raisers or getting soaked on doorsteps. But since they are actively discouraged from engaging in political debate within the Party’s structures, they have largely either left, or become embittered paper members. And the Party has lost the vitality of their contribution.

    The Party has become more professional – which was needed. It has become more focused on wining elections – which was needed. But in becoming more professional, it has turned most of its young people into Parliamentary Researchers in quest of a post, Policy Officers in search of an NGO, lobbyists in search of a paying cause, and parliamentarians in search of a seat. This has two effects. It makes Young Labour an organisation almost indistinguishable from Labour Students, and encourages young people to support and bolster the right wing status quo in order to further their careers. This means that the radical, campaigning, world changing intellectual force which has traditionally been associated with the young is absent from the Labour Party.

    Long term strategic vision characterises any political Party which truly wants to change society. As a Party, Labour used to believe in a new social order. It still claims to be ” a democratic socialist party”. But it no longer says what democratic socialism is, nor sets out how it will go about creating a society which is democratic in its structures, and socialist in its mode of government.
    Have to stop here – no time…..but you get my drift?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Really valuable comment… thank you, Mary.

  4. Chris says:

    “but as many pundits on TV and in the mass media point out they offer no alternative”

    I don’t understand this idea that we need to invent an alternative. The alternative is already there in the canonical socialist writings and old Labour manifestos.

  5. Syzygy says:

    Mary Lockhart .. what a superb analysis.

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