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It’s hard to disagree with Left Unity about anything much, other than their existence

Left unityI have read several times now the founding statement of Left Unity (set out below) which was carried with the support of three-quarters of the delegates at its founding conference. I agree with it all with the exception of the existential clause, a commitment to “engage in elections offering voters a left alternative” as a party to the left of Labour. What’s more I suspect that a large proportion of Labour Party members, perhaps even a majority, would think the same.

Not all of course. Blairites are not against capitalism. Blair himself wants a ‘new capitalism‘: “the change we seek should not be about replacing the free enterprise system or the market but about sustaining them in a way that is stable and enduring.” Ed Miliband also seems to wantto save capitalism from itself“, to create a “responsible capitalism” in which socialist values and capitalism are in some kind of perpetual dialectic: “While there’s capitalism, there’ll be socialism, because there is always a response to injustice.

But an awful lot of Labour Party members really are against capitalism, though they may it’s a long-term project rather than the responsibility of the next Labour government. And what’s more, the vast majority of  political activists who are against capitalism are in the Labour Party. Tens of thousands of them support left candidates in internal ballots and selections. They win the backing of many more on policy issues at a local level.

Worse still, for Left Unity, the vast majority of those voters who might be prepared to support the sort of programme Left Unity will advocate will nevertheless vote Labour. As Andrew Murray, Chief of Staff of Unite the Union, and now revealed to have been the author of a pair of articles on Left Unity (now updated in the 50th issue of the Socialist Register) said:

Electorally, the space to the left of Labour is presently filled by…the Labour Party.

What is missing from Labour is party democracy. The leadership of Ed Miliband, although it has moved Labour back towards social democracy, has failed to reverse the centralisation of power which took place under Kinnock, Blair & Brown – indeed he has continued the process under the cover of “Refounding Labour” and by abolishing Shadow Cabinet elections. 

The reintroduction of democracy to Labour will not happen overnight. And campaigning for socialist values and a left programme is a frustrating experience in its absence. But the alternative,perpetual electoral failure, as Left Unity will unfortunately discover, is just as frustrating.

The Blairite right has learnt from the experience of the SDP not to walk away from Labour. The socialist left cannot afford to do differently either. Neither of us really want to be in the same party as the other – they each have more in common with others outside Labour – but, for either of us, leaving without taking Labour’s mainstream with us is a strategy doomed to failure. And Ed Miliband may have fought for the leadership with his brother, but he is not likely to want to exclude his mother from the Labour Party any more than his brother.

Major political realignments can happen – the one that took place almost a century ago destroyed the Liberals and gave birth to Labour – and may happen again. That’s just one reason why the barrier to change that would be created by state funding of political parties is so undesirable. But for now at least, we shall have to agree with Left Unity’s founding statement from a distance. It is a good statement (apart from clause 9) and we shall be happy to work with Left Unity members on matters where we can agree. But that is as far as we can go.

1. Left Unity stands for equality and justice. It is socialist, feminist, environmentalist and against all forms of discrimination. We stand against capitalism, imperialism, war, racism, Islamophobia and fascism. Our goal is to transform society: to achieve the full democratisation of state and political institutions, society and the economy, by and for the people.

2. Our immediate tasks are to oppose austerity policies designed to destroy the social and economic gains working people have made over many decades; to oppose the scapegoating which accompanies them; to defend the welfare state and those worst affected by the onslaught; to fight to take back into public ownership those industries and utilities privatised over the last three decades; to fight to restore workers’ rights; and to advance alternative social and economic policies, redistributing wealth to the working class.

3. We are socialist because our aim is to end capitalism. We will pursue a society where the meeting of human needs is paramount, not one which is driven by the quest for private profit and the enrichment of a few. The natural wealth, and the means of production, distribution and exchange will be owned in common and democratically run by and for the people as a whole, rather than being owned and controlled by a small minority to enrich themselves. The reversal of the gains made in this direction after 1945 has been catastrophic and underlines the urgency of halting and reversing the neo-liberal onslaught.

4. We are feminist because our vision of society is one without the gender oppression and exploitation which blights the lives of women and girls and makes full human emancipation impossible. We specify our feminism because historical experience shows that the full liberation of women does not automatically follow the nationalisation of productive forces or the reordering of the economy.

5. We are environmentalist because we recognise that if humankind is to survive, it has to establish a sustainable relationship with the rest of the natural world – of which it is part and on which it depends. We recognise that an economy based on achieving maximum profits at the lowest cost in the shortest possible time is destroying our planet. The current operation of industry and economy is totally incompatible with the maintenance of the ecosystem through the growing loss of bio and agro diversity, the depletion of resources and increasing climate change. The future of the planet can only be secured through a sustainable, low carbon industrial base designed to meet people’s needs on a global basis.

6. We are opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of class, gender, race, impairment, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, religion, age or politics. The current economic onslaught disproportionately affects already disadvantaged groups and we oppose their persecution and oppression. We support the introduction of legislation and social provision to make this intention a reality. No society is just and equal while some people remain without the support needed to achieve their full potential.

7. We work for and support strong, effective, democratic trade unions to fight for full employment, better wages and salaries, for improved living standards, for better working conditions and stronger, more favourable, contracts of employment. We believe that the strength of the union is the people in the workplace; that what each person does at work matters – to make the job better, to make the service provided more effective, to persuade workers to combine for greater strength. Going on strike (including mass/general strikes), occupying workplaces and solidarity between workers (in different unions and/or workplaces) can be effective tactics in winning individual disputes and changing society.

8. Our political practice is democratic, diverse and inclusive, organising amongst working class communities with no interests apart from theirs, committed to open dialogue and new ways of working. We will campaign, mobilise and support struggles on a day to day basis, recognising the need for self-organisation in working class communities. We recognise that support for our party and its electoral success will only advance to the extent that it is genuinely representative of working class communities, has no interests separate from theirs, and is an organic part of the campaigns and movements which they generate and support.

9. We will engage in elections offering voters a left alternative – where any elected representatives will take an average wage and be accountable to the party membership – while understanding that elections are not the only arena or even the most important arena in which political struggles are fought. We aim to win political power, not to manage it. We will not participate in governmental coalitions with capitalist parties at a local or national level.

10. We are an internationalist party. There are no national solutions to the problems that humanity faces. Capitalism is an international system, highly organised and globalised and its defeat requires not only international solidarity but the linking up and coordination of struggles across Europe and the world. We will work with left organisations and movements in Europe and internationally that share our aims. We will also seek to learn from the experience of those parties in Latin America which have challenged and rejected neo-liberal economic policies and are establishing a social and economic alternative in the interests of the majority of their people. We stand against imperialist wars and military intervention, against the exploitation of other countries for economic gain, and for a drastic reduction of military expenditure for the benefit of social spending, and for a foreign policy based on peace and equality.


  1. Rod says:

    “Major political realignments can happen”

    Can’t you see the wood for the trees? A realignment is already happening.

    40 years ago, in my workplace, in the non-industrialised South, every single person was a union member and knew the sun shined out of Jack Jones jacksy. Most supported Labour enthusiastically. Young manual workers talked about putting a red flag on the foreman’s office and we’d go on strike at the drop of a hat. Very often shop stewards were elected because their opposition to management.

    That situation no longer exists.

    In my extended family everyone has voted Labour for generations, since the very beginning. Today I am the last person for whom Labour is a viable option. Everyone else has given up. And they’re not returning – from 19 to those in their 90s.

    It’s to late for democracy in the LP. Labour is now the possession of a self-replicating elite.

    Just look at Falkirk? A union candidate was barred on the grounds of a report hardly anyone has seem. Miliband called the police. Even Dan Hodges admits Labour’s actions gave the green light to the Ineos boss – who took the opportunity to humiliate the workforce and impose conditions of employment of the sort you’d expect to feature in a Thatcherite’s wet dream. Good work Ed!

    And now you’ve got a candidate in the safe seat of Falkirk who writes for Progress.

    And this is part of the solution?

    The Labour Party has gone rotten.

    Game over mate.

  2. Robert says:

    Just one thing left now change the name from Labour to the Party of Progress and that it’s all done and dusted.

    The Liberals to return to the Whigs and we are back to the politics of the 1800’s .

    Labour speaks of hard working, hard working middle class, cannot say social anything never mind social housing.

    You can see MIliband go from sort of left to sort of Progress .

    The Unity party well we will see would I vote for it, well why not nothing else left.

    As for the Union and Unite in specifics they are more interested in the same issues as we had in the 1960’s 70’s, people in Unions look for the job as a special adviser or a task on some group all of course paid, Unions are in labour so the top table can get a good old retirement pension, after all Miliband stated he would look at the rolls of the Union within Labour which has been a Progress battle cry and especially Blair.

    New Labour dead, is it prove it.

  3. I’m not sure that “The Blairite right has learnt from the experience of the SDP not to walk away from Labour” is right -I think at the moment the Progress people might be a bit uncomfortable with the direction of the party, but don’t feel anything like as threatened by Miliband as the SDP-ers did by the Bennites – for good reason – and feel they still have plenty of influence. I think they would be as likely to split if the time came as they were then , they are just a long way off needing to do so: After all, in many ways the SDP project was succesful, as one of the parents of Blairism. I think Falkirk showed just how willing the Progress folk would be to shred Labour, and how much purchase they still have in the party.

  4. Stuart says:

    “What is missing from Labour is party democracy.” Well, quite. And without that, I really can’t see the point of being part of it. If there’s no democracy, the only conceivable way that could change would be, to use an analogy surely familiar to the labour movement, strikes (don’t vote for them), boycotts (don’t join them), direct action (form a party on the left of them), etc, etc.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      It is not that there is “no democracy” in Labour – the party conference is still sovereign, the trade unions still have 50% of the votes at it – it is that there are major obstacles to the conference discussing what it needs to discuss. These obstacles can be overcome if most trade unions and Left constituency parties stand together and insist on reforms to its structure and to its policy process. If we cannot persuade our own side to stand up and vote for what is necessary to create a socialist party out of Labour, what hope have we of persuading enough of the electorate? We have the votes to do it, we must have the will to use them.

      Solomon makes a reasonable point. The Blairites are indeed not as threatened by Miliband as they were by the Bennites. But what would threaten them even more than the Bennites would be an alliance of the Left with Labour’s middle ground. Then they may well opt for realignment. Not I think for an SDP mark 2, they are too right wing for that anyway; but for a realignment of the centre-right of British politics With Clegg and Cameron.

  5. Brian Denny says:

    If “There are no national solutions” why organise at a national level?

  6. Stuart says:

    To borrow your title, it’s hard to disagree with you Jon. I mean, it is for me. But I know people, including close friends, and comrades who are now in Left Unity, who have been fighting that battle for decades. It’s all very well playing chess, but if you defeat your opponent and he just sweeps the pieces to the floor in disgust and claims victory anyway, then it’s time to change the game.

  7. Alan Story says:

    I think the main myth still about is that that the Labour Party can somehow be transformed into a socialist party. We need a sense of history. And for that I suggest this 1966 piece by Miliband (Ralph Miliband, that is)

    More by R. Miliband here:

  8. Rod says:

    Jon: “the party conference is still sovereign”

    Someone should tell the Labour high-ups.

    When conference recently voted for renationalisation of the railways a Labour spokesperson said: “Renationalisation is not our policy. Conference is entitled to its view but we are going to do the right thing.”

  9. David Melvin says:

    My membership card says that “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party”. As it is neither I will follow Left Unity’s development with interest.

  10. Chris says:

    It’s corrupted by feminism from the start, unfortunately.

    That’s not to deny the importance of women’s rights, but you don’t need identity politics to support that.

  11. Hch says:

    Of course the ‘Reclaim the Labour Party’ project is going SO well. It’s only been running for 30+ years, so early days!

  12. PETER WILLSMAN says:

    Left Unity will be brilliant at generating hot air,but about as good as Lord Sutch at attracting votes.Why should socialists give up trying to shape a party that has the support of millions in order to join a few disaffected hot air merchants?It may be a long hard struggle, but so is the class struggle in general.There are,and never have been,and never will be,any short cuts.

  13. Stuart says:

    Socialists in and out of the Labour party should do as they please and as they do best – mostly produce hot air, as Peter says. But it’s the many millions who don’t support Labour, or who only vote Labour reluctantly and because there’s no alternative, or who are disaffected by politics completely, or who have never even considered that politics matters much to them – it’s what they say and do next that matters. Left Unity must address itself to them – not to fellow hot-air merchants, whether they’re in Labour or not.

  14. Rod says:

    Peter: “Why should socialists give up trying to shape a party”

    When the ‘registered supporter’ scheme comes in you’ll be in an even smaller minority.

    Clearly the Progress Party won the day in Falkirk. So we shouldn’t expect selection by primaries to be introduced to Parliamentary seats, not just yet. But there is a chance of a Left candidate getting through the net in mayoral selections – hence the introduction of ‘registered supporters’ and primaries.

    This dilutes both the Left and membership vote and introduces influential media barons into the decision-making process – they will present the Progress candidate/s in the best possible light. It’ll be an uphill struggle for any candidates without corporate sponsorship.

    Sadly Peter, you’ve been out-maneuvered at every turn. I wish it wasn’t so. And it looks like you’re going to be maneuvered off the playing field altogether.

    There comes a time when you have to face up to it, bite the bullet and deal with the world as it is, not as how you want it to be.

  15. John Reid says:

    hch ,the general public felt the Labour Party was a more left wing party in 87′ than in 83′ due to the press, accusations of the loony left,in London councils, and after both the 87 and 92 elections ken Livingstone said that labour lost those elections as they weren’t left wing enough.

    Progress was nearly expelled, due to the false claim it was a party within a party ,despite, their being no constituencies, that had its own. Progress branches, or the power to vote at NEC elections or conferences the way even moderates like the Co op or Fabians can, also progress didn’t win at Falkirk, the unite union shot itself in the foot,

  16. Robert says:

    I do not know John maybe Labour are a party within Progress time will tell.

    But when you look at this country to day the Unions are not anywhere near the power they use to be, the are clinging on within Labour by just being the pay masters and not much else.

    Labour had hoped that Collins or somebody would have found other revenues for the party so the Unions could be told to go, I mean it was Miliband who put forward the idea of looking at the Unions roll within the labour party or as they put it the link.

    Ok now of course Flowers has gone and the Coop has suffered badly and right now the Labour party is looking at doing the next election on a massive reduced budget.

    But it’s not only that is it we have a labour party who talks about hard working people, in the hope the middle class will not see it as socialist and then perhaps move to the Tories or the swing voters labour still see as it main hope for winning the next election.

    It’s going to be very interesting election and whom ever loses labour or Tories it will be interesting to see which way they turn and how they choose the next leader.

  17. Rod says:

    @ Robert

    Once Labour has won the next election, dumped the unions and has registered supporters instead of members what’s the betting they’ll rename themselves the Progress Party? There couldn’t be a better tribute to Tony Blair.

  18. John Reid says:

    Both Chuka Amura, Andy Burnham and Ed Balls have all stayed out of Falkirk, I feel labour will win, if we don’t it maybe a case of Mclusky saying what Benn did after 1983′ we lost as it wasn’t left wing enough, would the unions of unite, argue it was the Blairites fault labour ( lost I n 2915) if so Livingstone blamed them for him losing in 2012 and no one took Livingstone serious, if Ed miliband wins, will the unions try to get him to swing to the left, they tried after 1997′ Blair refused , if he gave in to union pressure, would Blairites leave, like George brown and co did in 1977′ of course if Cameron loses Bodis could become leader, then in 2020′ if Ed miliband us like the 1974-1979 gov’t, we could in 2020 have 18 years of Boris style Thatcherism.

  19. Dave Roberts says:

    John Reid.

    The Labour Party was out of power for almost two decades because it was seen to be, and rightly so, by the electorate as too left wing.

    The battles that Kinnock fought against the loony left, principally Militant but also wing nuts like Linda Bellos in South London were right and necessary but even though he purged the party it still took years for the public perception to change.

    Livingstone was probably serious when he said the party lost in 92 and 97 because it wasn’t left wing enough but he is hardly an authority on anything except corruption.

    I am pleased to see that the general consensus here is that there is no alternative to Labour and that anything to the left like the ridiculously named Left Unity is s distraction and a vanity project for those who either have no future in Labour or simply wish to posture on a stage however small.

    On a more parochial note perhaps Jon Lansman could listen to his own pleadings and refrain asking the Labour NEC to reinstate the Islamist backed Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman to the party.It isn’t going to happen Jon so get over it.

    Is it also true that Jon was one of those responsible for penning the 83 Labour manifesto correctly dubbed the longest suicide not in history? Or should I not listen to gossip from long retired Labour and TU full timers who remember that period very well?

  20. Matty says:

    The 83 manifesto is a red herring. The real reasons for the 83 defeat were Labour’s disunity, and Thatcher’s resurgence following the Falklands war and the beginnings of economic recovery. There was a right-wing majority on the NEC at the time led by John Golding but as he knew that Labour were going to lose anyway he let the left get their way with the manifesto in order to scapegoat it for the defeat. See

  21. John reid says:

    Matty, letting the left have the manifesto they wanted, maybe true, but he would have had trouble opposing it and saying that it’s the rights fault that the left had the 83 manifesto over looks the fact the left wanted that manifesto,

    The Falklands isn’t entirely true either, The Tories actually went ahead the week before the Falklands in the polls, went behind in the polls when it looked like it could be lost, yes they had a huge bounce straight after that election, but the poll lead soon disapeared, as for disunity, it was militant who were deselecting the right of the party,

    We lost nearly million votes in one go, nothing like that has ever happened,

  22. Matty says:

    “We lost nearly million votes in one go, nothing like that has ever happened,” Really, how about losing nearly 3 million votes?
    Labour Vote 1997 13,518,167
    Labour Vote 2001 10,724,953

    And in Feb 1982 just before the Falklands war the Tories were in third place in a poll and down to 27.5%. See

  23. John Reid says:

    And in march 1982 using ukpolling reports poll just before the Flaklands the Tories were on 35%’ SDP liberal 33% labour 30%

    Yes labours vote did fall from 13.5 to 10.7 (2.8m votes) which is nothing like the 3.3m votes it fell by in 1983.

  24. John reid says:

    In the 3 elections before the 2001 and 1983 elections where labours votes were down, 2.7m and 3.3m respectively

    The election results were 198710m, 1992 11.54′ 1997 13.52

    The election results in the 3 elections pre 1983 were feb 1974 11.6m Oct 1974 11.45 and 1979 11.69 so where Balir was responsible for labours vote falling so much in 2001 it was still an improvement on 14 years before hand, the 3 elections between 1974 and 1983 it fell by over 3m,

  25. Robert says:

    To be honest I’ve never been so disinterested in an election in my life.

  26. Adam says:

    The Labour party is a party of the right. From its varied privatisation work, its wealth inequality boom, its economics and above all its appalling war crimes. The space to the left is large – if not very trendy – and filled by people who aren’t lining up dutifully with their cash-sack waiting for their final salary pensions. War criminals neo-liberals and scroungers, an unpleasant coalition.

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