Thursday, May 31, 2007

Where Next for McDonnell supporters?

A good outcome from the McDonnell leadership campaign is that it has put a lot of the Labour Party left into active contact with each other, and I recommend the new collective blog, Labour Left Forum , that has got off to a good start. In particular I found the post Which Way Forward for the Left quite realistic and sensible.

But how it strikes me as an outsider is that the Labour Left seems to organise around Labour Left Briefing, and through the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and the McDonnell campaign, which are structures that are actually OUTWITH and independent from the Labour Party, but as a peculiarity they require LP membership to participate in them.

To really operate as a Labour Party left they have to organise WITHIN the Labour Party structures, seeking to control wards and CLPs, getting union branches to send left delegates to the CLP, get on the council, forming a left caucus of councillors in town halls, having a left block on the NEC (which means breaking from the Brownites in the Grassroots Alliance). Have a clear left slate for the National Policy Forum elections, with alternative policies that they want to pursue. Forcing their issues onto the conference floor.

I think the argument about whether socialists should or should not be in the Labour Party is a futile one: comrades are going to come to their own conclusions one way another based upon their own experience. However much hot air and ink is expended on the issue, we are not going to convince each other. The approach of the Socialist party and Respect to say McDonnell’s defeat shows you are wasting your time come and join us, is unhelpful in the extreme, But similarly the approach from some of the Labour left, that all of those who have decided not to be in the party are incorrigible sectarians and ultra-lefts is equally unhelpful.

If the Labour Left is going to build on the McDonnell campaign they need to build practical activity. They must work to develop specific left policies and campaigns, sometimes in cooperation with the socialist left outside the Labour party: then these can be promoted through the movement, the unions and the single issue campaigns.

But they also need to promote them through the Party. Only if they can demonstrate success in winning commitment to left policies from the Labour Party, and then implementing left policies in local councils under left control, can they demonstrate that work in the Labour Party is effective. I see that John McDonnell is writing a position paper to discuss where next for his supporters, I will be interested to see what practical strategic steps this spells out.

To be frank comrades, the rhetoric of “its hard but we just have to keep beavering away till it gets better” is wearing thin.


BR said...

As a McDonnell supporter I think changes to the LRC that broaden us to the wider left outside the party will weaken efforts to re-build the left within it. Pulling over the soft left to more 'Campaign Group' politics won't be achieved if we're seen with Mili-types who left the party before Blair even became leader...

The Labour left needs to focus on democratising the party and working with the unions at conference.

So a certain amount of bureaucratic work is necessary...

AN said...

Hi BR, Well you didn't do a tremendously good job at winning the soft left and centre in the PLP away from Brown and towards McDonnell. :o)

Whereas one of the most succesful campaigns that the Labour left have been associated with is Defend Council Housing, which has a big and effective input from the SWP. That is the value of practical work over specific issues, and particularly issues where the Centre ground can be won away from the Right. They can utilise the talents of people from different political backgrounds, and helps float all our boats.

Using your example: working with the unions at conference. Although only individual members can be delegates to conference, the delegates have to be acting upon union policy, and the Labour left is no stronger, and perhaps weaker, in the union structures than the left outside the Labour Party. So if you want to have specific policies won through conference, then the stepping stone to that is to win union policy, which means working with the non-Labour left.

The wide support for the Morning Star from union branches, and other union bodies is a good example that the progressive constituency within the unions is open to working with comrades and friends both inside and outside the Labour party.

I think you have to address how increadibly attenuated the left is within the party. I simply don't see how you can achieve the constitutional changes to make the party more democratic starting from the base you have now, unless you break out of the vicious cycle of decline.

I don't criticse bureaucratic work, indeed the point of my post is that it is through such bureaucratic work within the party structures that you can win the positions to prove your relevance. But you cannot inspire people with rule changes unless the rule changes are linked to overcoming obstacles to delivering policies that you have won the political and ideological battle for. And I don't think you are strong enough to do that without joint work - especially through the unions - with the left outside the party.

Louisefeminista said...

But being involved in something like Briefing (which I am) and the LRC does not in anyway counterpose organising within the LP structures. We do it already.

grimupnorth said...

Look, I'm getting really fed-up with the soft-left.If anyone has any illusions in the Cruddas sham jusr read Neal Lawson's piece on Compass.They don't give a stuff about the hard left.We are "unelectable." Just suited Crudster to nick a few policies.........

AN said...


So your strategy for ending the desperate isolation of the hard left in the lapbour party is to slag off those closest to you in the Labour party as shams, and slag off those closest to you outside the LP as ultra-lefts.

Let us know how you get on with that :o)

AN said...


I agree with you. LLB and LRC are not counterposed to working through the official structures, and indeed it is a prerequisite for left organisation that they do have networks and publications outwith the party's control.

My point was a modest one: that there is a trap for mistaking these structures and publications OUTWITH the party for influence WITHIN the party.

For example SYN is a good initiative, but it should not be mistaken for the former LPYS, because the LPYS was an offical party org, with seat on the NEC, etc.

At some point, the left needs to develop and explain a concrete strategy for winning ground back within the party, and I am sure that at one level or another you are beavering way with diffeent levels of success. But a strategy needs to be coordinated.

As I have explained before, when the selection came up for South Swindon, Millbank organised and won the selection in a safe seat, Christine Shawcroft could have won the selection but hardly campaigned, and was given no support from the Labour left. So Millbank were on the phone to every member several times, Anne Snellgrove visited members three or four times each in their homes, why was there no symetrical effort from LLB supporters?

You can't comoplain about right wing domination when you don't do the work in a winnable contest, and they do.

Would the left be in a stronger position now with Christine as MP for South Swindon? Obvioulsy. Then as that was achievable, why didn't you organise to try and make it happen?

This is only one example, but if the Labour Left is going to move forward, you need to be mouch more organised about identifying real opportunities, and making the most of them.