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The left should place its trust in democracy – not in leadership candidates

Andy-Burnham-distortedAfter the catastrophic defeat by the SNP in Scotland and the extremely disappointing results in England and Wales, Labour needed a period of debate and reflection about what went wrong and what to do about it. What we have instead is a leadership (and deputy leadership) election. Do not expect an election to provide the debate we need!

There will be no left candidate in either contest, and there were no left candidates in a position to win (especially after the party’s acceptance of the Collins report) even if they could have found 35 nominees in a parliamentary party which is not significantly to the left of its predecessor. The deliberate exclusion and marginalisation of the left by Tony Blair ensured that this would be the case for at least a generation.

Of course there are candidates who have already emerged whom the Left may choose to back.

Tom Watson for deputy has already won the support of some on the left. This is not surprising: as we said when he resigned from the shadow cabinet, Tom was “an outstanding backbencher even when he was on the front bench” even if he “may not be the greatest left-winger in the Labour Party“.  He played an important role in speeding the departure of Tony Blair and securing the victory of Ed Miliband over his brother, and he is undoubtedly a staunch supporter of trade unions.

Of the contenders who have emerged so far, I certainly prefer Tom. But he came from the right, having been an active supporter of the shadowy right-wing organisation Labour First at whose meeting in the West Midlands next weekend he is the keynote speaker. And his supporters include John Spellar on the hard right of the party as well as Len McCluskey on the left. He should be congratulated for having done what it takes to assembe such a broad coalition, but he is not a left-winger.

And nor is Andy Burnham whose backers cover a similar range. His campaign managers are Tony Blair’s old flat-mate Lord Falconer and “attack dog” Michael Dugher who came from a right-wing trade union policy background at Ken Jackson’s AEEU and more recently conspired with the Blairite right against Ed Miliband.

Andy undoubtedly played a positive role in opposing the Health and Social Care Act but the health portfolio is one in which it is relatively easy to construct a left-facing reputation which he ceremony sought to do having been entirely “on-message” as a minister through the New Labour years. Even so, and in site of his anti-privatisation rhetoric, he actually does not whole favour

Andy Burnham is understandably keen to present himself as a unity candidate, as Ed Miliband did (and was in practice). But Andy Burnham admits himself that he is to the right of Ed Miliband:

I was loyal to Tony Blair, loyal to Gordon Brown, loyal to Ed Miliband. I have never been into factional politics.”

It is unfortunate, therefore, that Ian Lavery, for example, in announcing that he would not stand for the leadership also committed himself at that stage before nominations were even open (they open on 9 June) to backing Burnham. This cleared the way for Burnham to react to Chuka Umunna’s withdrawal from the leadership election by telling The Andrew Marr Show this morning that he favoured a “pro-business approach“, whatever that means, and to argue that the last Labour government allowed the deficit to become “too high“. This latter concession to the pressure from the Blairites puts him to the right of Yvette Cooper on the economy. Nor is he to the left of Yvette on immigration.

I would argue that it is entirely premature for anyone on the left to wholeheartedly commit to such candidates until nominations close on 15 June for the leadership and 17 June for the deputy. More candidates may emerge who are more worthy of support. I am unconvinced that Andy Burnham is to the left of Yvette Cooper. I would sooner see Angela Eagle – who is yet to announce her intentions – as leader than either. I hope she stands. That’s why the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy intends to meet with candidates who seek the left’s backing before deciding its position.

The Left, in this contest as too often in the recent past, shows it has failed to learn from the Right who well understand the importance of organisation and exercising maximum leverage. Progress exercises influence way beyond its support amongst the grassroots, while the Left throws away its leverage by settling for too little too soon.

None of the leaders or deputies we end up with are likely to be to the left of Ed Miliband who we criticised (though most of us remained critical friends rather than opponents) for making too many concessions to the Blairites who were forever seeking to undermine him. For the left, therefore, what is even more important than these elections are democratisation of the party (see rule change proposals here for submission by 10 June), the other internal party elections and that constituency parties and trade unions make best use of their votes at conference and the national policy forum.



  1. John P Reid says:

    You forget to mention why Tim Watson resigned to go to the back benches, wasn’t it Under Kinnocks time, that 20% of the PLP had to endorse someone if they wanted to stand, Livingstone getting 14 votes of the 42 needed to stand in 1992

    Find it hilarious that Swatantra and Andy Newman both back abut ham, but then Tony Ben and David Owen ,both backed Ed

    1. Andy Newman says:

      I don’t understand who John Reid is saying I support. I dont recall having made any indication, indeed I haven’t even decided myself.

      A very good article by Jon, and I think the issue that will decide for me will be the candidate who shows an appreciation that the party is a broad coalition, and who values the trade union link

      1. John P Reid says:

        It says so on socialist unity?

        1. Matty says:

          I think you’re confused John (not for the first time). There is nothing on Socialist Unity endorsing Andy Burnham.

          1. John P Reid says:

            No it was a coment from one of the bloggers saying a replying to him

  2. Barry Ewart says:

    Good points Jon.
    I will vote for the most left wing democratic socialist candidate and the most trade union friendly one.
    The amendments suggested seem good and absolutely we need to get power back to the grassroots and decision making back to Conference instead of being a top down party.
    And just why do we allow MPs only to nominate potential leadership candidates?
    I would also like to see at least 2 working class candidates on every Parliamentary Shortlist (social classes 3-6 based on occupation parent/s) – positive (working class) action – (ideally left wing working class democratic socialists) then may the best democratic socialist amongst all of the diverse candidates on the shortlist win.
    You are also correct that the left needs to get organised around the nitty gritty of rules and procedures and I would argue (if you don’t do this already we also need to read the financial pages of newspapers – financial knowledge is power!).
    I read £11b of taxpayers money is being used to subsidise poverty wages (£1b to major supermarkets alone!).
    We are about to have 5 more years of the working class and the poor being crushed by the Tories and (and the progressive middle class will be hit too, and we need to also try to win the general middle class to the progressive middle class) and perhaps the best leader will be the one who joins the grassroots in leading the fight back now!
    Yours in peace and hope!

    1. Dave Walsh says:

      I agree with most of what you are saying with one significant exception – we are not looking at five years of crushing, it will be ten years. The Labour party would have been better off picking a two year interim leader and then taken time out to come up with a plan to win back the missing millions, who are the real reason the Tories are back in power.

    2. alex sobel says:

      You Could come and move them at leeds north west

  3. David Ellis says:

    History has called time on the Labour Party. In fact it has called time on reformist opportunism across the continent. It is almost amusing to see the lemmings of New Labour with their cynical realist `there is no alternative’ philosophy borrowed off the Tories queueing up to lead the party over the cliff. Left reformists and centrist sects will try to resuscitate it of course but they will obviously fail. If the revolutionary alternative is to be built we must intervene politically in all labour movement events and discussions. We must use the tactic of the united front to force the centrists, sects and left reformists to do what they do not want to do and to expose them when they don’t do it. Capitalism is kaput. The working class should not go to its death alongside it.

    What will the so-called left labour MPs do when they cannot get anybody onto the ballot on an anti-austerity ticket? They should forge a separate bloc with the SNP in that case to fight both the tories and new labour because any of these drones especially Burnham will offer zero opposition to this government and there will be no labour party in five years time.

    1. James Martin says:

      David, just go away and build your ‘revolutionary alternative’ then. What on earth is stopping you if the Labour Party and us Labour lefties are ‘finished’. After all, if we have all been ‘pasoked’ as you laughingly keep putting it you really don’t have an excuse do you – or are YOU the real block in the u-bend or working class revolutionary fervour?

      1. David Ellis says:

        Get lost you moron.

      2. John P Reid says:

        Hear hear

  4. James Martin says:

    So you prefer Angela Eagle Jon? Dear me, she is hardly on the left herself is she, and was instrumental in doing the dirty on any trade union and party activists the Collins stitch-up conference. So no, not Eagle.

    But you are right in saying that there may not be a genuine grass-roots/socialist candidate for either post and then we are left with backing the least worst, or more properly the one who we think will do less damage (particularly to what is left of internal democracy and the union link).

    In the meantime the real key to fighting back the Tory attacks in the period ahead will; not be from the opposition front bench, whoever is sat on it, but from the workplaces and the unions.

  5. Duncan says:

    This is all very well, Jon, but we are confronted with the spectacle of people debating the future of the Labour Party all summer and – as things stand – we will play no part in it.

    We may find ourselves backing a candidate, but it is likely to be a candidate for whom we have no enthusiasm.

    We can try and change rules, but if we are ever more marginalised we will continue to fail. At least in 2008 and 2010 we managed a grassroots campaign (John4Leader) and Diane’s presence in the hustings.

    Today we have, if anything, a PLP more amenable to left-wing policies with some excellent new MPs. John McDonnell was heavily (and in my view erroneously) criticised in some quarters for allegedly declaring his candidatures unilaterally and yet this time, when he has chosen not to put himself through the mill again, is it truly the case that there will be NO candidate of centre-left or left? Not even an effort to seek nominations?

    It is essential that this situation changes. We cannot sit out of this debate and line up behind some right-wingers, begging for social democratic crumbs from their tables.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      What cut off the possibility of finding a left candidate was the fact that too many people decided too soon to back Andy Burnham, thereby reducing the number of potential nominations.

      1. Robbie Scott says:

        Who was almost to the right of David Miliband in 2010.

        1. John P Reid says:

          In all fairness to Burnham he understood how unpopular labour was in 2010 when David didn’t

      2. Duncan says:

        It’s clear he won’t need left nominations – surely there’s time to change that?

  6. Barry Ewart says:

    Dave W
    I am an optimist and you may be a bit of pessimist.
    The bad news is that by 2020 the Tories will have redrawn constituency boundaries (aided by Tory friendly computer models?) to give them 20 extra seats.
    But if we take them on politically by then they may be as popular as Labour is now in Scotland.
    I am an optimist – you have to be I am a Leeds United fan!
    Some good news – Coop AGM voted 55-45% to keep funding Cooperative Party – we will have to work to increase this majority!
    I will have to join them, another thing on my to do list as well as regularly supporting my local food bank.
    Solidarity forever!

  7. peter willsman says:

    CLPD will also seek to address the issue of gender balance for Leader and Dep.Leader.

    1. John P Reid says:

      It would be better if it was based on class, what previous job, or if they went to university

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