Wednesday, June 21, 2006

If wishes were horses ....

The news that prominent left MP Alan Simpson is to be disciplined by the Labour Party, and could even lose the Labour whip, is further evidence of the relentless determination of the Labour right to crush all opposition within the party.

Chief whip and Blairite numbskull, Jacqui Smith has also reported Alan to Nottingham South CLP, who will decide whether to censure their MP tomorrow. Of course this is a dangerous course of action for the Blairites, as Alan is popular with his constituency party, and with the voters.

From their point of view they may have picked on the wrong target, as Alan offers them few weaknesses to exploit. He is probably the most committed MP in Westminster towards environmental sustainability, he is a leading figure in Labour Against War, and an articulate socialist.

But the move does raise the question of what strategy the Labour Left now have. I went to a very interesting workshop at the recent Stop the War Coalition conference on working in the Labour Party, that was addressed by the ever brilliant Alice Mahon.

There were around 15 people in the room, of whom half were in the Labour Party, and it would be fair to describe the rest as sharing the politics of the labour left, but cannot see any point in continued participation in the Party.

Although the meeting was intended to discuss how to work for peace within the Party, inevitably the meeting veered into a discussion of whether the left should even still be members. The discussion was very interesting with several of the delegates complaining how moribund their local wards or constituency parties are. In particular there seems a general experience that union branches no longer send delegates to the GMC, often as in the case of my union branch, because there is no-one eligible, as individual membership of the Labour Party is increasingly rare amongst union activist.

Alice Mahon reported the victorious fight by her CLP to select the excellent socialist Linda Riordan, in the teeth of determined opposition by the Blairites, who used all sorts of dirty tricks. Unfortunately, the experience of Swindon South where Millbank were able to orchestrate the victory of the woefully useless Anne Snellgrove over left NEC member Christine Shawcroft seems more typical. Indeed Swindon is a good case study of the collapse of the Labour Party in the south of England, where despite two Labour MPs, the council now has a thumping Tory majority, and 5 former labour councillors have defected to the conservatives in as many years. A comrade from Portsmouth described how there is an awful atmosphere in the local party, and other comrades reported experiences of being marginalised.

The workshop was then addressed by NEC member Pete Willsman, who unintentionally revealed the gap between aspiration and reality. Pete argued forcibly that the left were still a major force within the party, as they have 4 out of 6 constituency delegates on the NEC (but there are 33 members of the NEC), and that if only they could win between 30 and 35 members on the National Policy Forum (NPF) they could get items on the agenda for conference, and if then passed they would be in the manifesto.

But the positions held by the left give them no substantive power, and they are a million miles away from winning enough positions on the NPF. Even then – Labour governments have never felt mandated by their manifesto commitments.


Jim Jay said...

This story in the Independent and the Guardian

The reason for the complaint? Simpson compared the choice of Tony Blair or Gordon Brown as party leader to Iraqis choosing between Saddam Hussein or his son, Uday.

Matt said...

My God, that's rediculous. He won't lose the whip over that. And if his CLP selected him he won't be censured.

Jim Jay said...

Well, I hope your right Matt!