To people like me who joined the Labour Party (LP) in 2015 because of the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership, the subsequent behaviour of the LP bureaucracy and the PLP has been shocking and baffling. Instead of being welcomed into the LP as comrades-in-arms to build a popular LP that can defeat the Tories, we have been treated like skinhead gate-crashers at a middle-class wedding. It appears that the LP we joined would rather tear itself to pieces than accept us as legitimate members. What the hell is going on!!!?
In order for the anti-Corbyn elements in the Labour Party to behave as they have and still perceive of themselves as the ‘good guys’, which they clearly do, they must hold a really strong justifying narrative. From the arguments these folk make and the attitudes and postures they adopt, I extrapolate that this narrative goes something like this:
- The LP is, and always has been, a parliamentary party of the reformist, centre left and that ‘socialism’ is merely tolerated as part of the broad-church rhetoric that holds the party together, but that socialism is not, and very rarely has been, part of mainstream LP thinking.
- In the early 80’s revolutionary socialists attempted (via the Militant Tendency) to ‘take over’ the LP for their own revolutionary ends.
- That these groups were (and still are) organised into what are effectively distinct political parties that have different policies from the LP and do NOT share the reformist democratic values of the LP.
- That in the 70’s and 8-’s these groups and their ‘full-time activists’ had, despite the muted protestations of the ‘silent majority’, aggressively ‘taken over’ LP branches, and CLP’s, the Party Conference and indeed, the entire LP democratic structure, and in doing so dragged the policies of the LP so far to the left that it was ‘unelectable’ for 17 years.
- The ‘reforms’ of the LP instigated in the 80’s by Kinnock and completed in the 90’s by Blair, were necessary to save the LP from these organised revolutionary socialists and to make the LP ‘electable’ once more.
- Tony Blair correctly identified that by the mid 90’s we had entered a post-ideology, post-class, political era and that many of the assumptions of free-market, free-trade, neoliberal capitalism were, and still are, sound. For example that regulation stifles innovation, that private ownership is good – public ownership is bad, that ‘market’ mechanisms can be efficient and fair drivers of progressive change, and that Thatchers rebalancing of industrial power relations in favour of the employers and against the trade unions was pragmatically necessary.
- Therefore the centrist policies of Tony Blairs’ governments represented the genuine and traditional, reformist, centre-left values of the LP – but expressed within the pragmatic realities of a globalised, post-Soviet, post-Thatcher, economic and political context.
- That because of all of the above the UK electorate will never again vote for a social democratic, Keynsian (or neo-Keynsian), anti-austerity economic strategy based on public ownership of essential services, public spending as a driver of the economy, strong trade unions and regulated capitalism.
- That the recent expansion in LP membership although apparently inspired by the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has in fact been instigated and manipulated by contemporary versions of the 80’s groups of revolutionary socialists and that Momentum is the Militant Tendency by another name.
- That these revolutionary socialist groups are disingenuously, purposefully and illegitimately, manipulating and controlling Momentum and using the cover of Momentum to once again attempt to ‘take over’ the LP as a vehicle to pursue their revolutionary ideology.
- That these duplicitous infiltrators in Momentum are profoundly dishonest, intolerant and extremely aggressive, even potentially violent.
- That if they succeed the LP will once again become unelectable for decades.
- That due to all of the above, the ‘moderates’ in the LP have to once again ‘save’ the party from these extremist, infiltrators, and that they must do so ‘by any means necessary’.
And I can see that if you do indeed believe all, or even most, of the above, then perhaps the expelling and suspending of thousands of innocent LP members on often spurious or non-existent evidence, the arbitrary exclusion of over 120,000 fully paid up members from the second leadership ballot, the suspending of meetings, the cynical accusations of anti-Semitism, the partisan political rulings of the NEC and the Compliance Unit, the collaboration of Party officials and MP’s with the mainstream media in order to criticise the party leadership, the trawling of social media accounts, the manipulation by process of the Party Conference, the blatant fixing of the majority on the NEC and the on-going open rebellion of the PLP against the leadership and the party membership, are legitimate, if regrettable, tactics in a brutal war to ‘save’ the ‘real’ LP from these hoards of extremist revolutionary infiltrators…
Except of course that Momentum is NOT the Militant Tendency and the LP is NOT being taken over by hoards of revolutionary socialists. For a start off there are probably less than 10,000 revolutionary socialists in the entire country and 300,000 have joined the LP in the last 18 months. If you think about it for 2 minutes, how on earth could these obscure groups of “Trots” with tiny memberships and no financial resources, ‘recruit’ 300,000 new members? Momentum itself has over 20,000 paid up members and probably 5 times that who attend meetings. Even if every single member of the revolutionary left in the UK were in Momentum, and they are not because the membership rules exclude them, they would still represent only a tiny fraction of the membership of Momentum.
The Cold War is over as is the Soviet Union, and there is no evil Sceptre-like organisation secretly funding and organising the revolutionary left. The only political party of the ‘left’ in the UK who has full-time officials and activists is the Labour Party. No one else can afford to. Even Momentum has only 3 or 4 full-time paid staff and to be honest Momentum is a bit of a shambles, as are most groups on the revolutionary left. Momentum can’t organise itself, let alone ‘take over’ the LP.
Most of the new recruits to the LP and most Momentum members are in fact new to politics. Some, like me, were LP members in the ’80’s but left as the party shifted inexorably to the right, but many (most?) have not been members of any political party before. Imagine their confusion and dismay upon joining the LP to find themselves vilified, excluded or expelled for once having spoken to a member of the Green Party! What must they be thinking? What an opportunity the LP has missed!
But I can understand that it is difficult for those who accepted the managerialist, professionalism of Blair and the tenants of Clintonian triangulation, to understand what is actually happening. What else could it be if it is not the revolutionary left who have ‘master-minded’ this ‘take-over’ that has led to them, the nice, moderate, calmly spoken, ‘good guys’, being accused of being traitors and Tories?
But what if what is actually happening is that the era of neoliberal consensus is coming to an end and all the political ‘truths’ of the last 35 years no longer apply? The LP political elite have prospered through their belief in the precepts and values of New Labour and it will be difficult for many of them to recognise that the political reality they have invested in for a life-time is no longer relevant.
The response of all our mainstream political parties to the huge financial crisis of 2008, was the same, to save the system by imposing austerity on the many to protect the wealth and status of the few. This has exposed millions or voters across the Western world to the fact that whoever their ‘representative’ democracies ‘represent’ it sure as hell isn’t them!
As a result across the Western world, politics is fracturing and reforming itself and surprise, surprise, it turns out that history wasn’t over, that we aren’t all middle-class now, that morality does have a place in business, that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, that ideology does matter and that pragmatism and efficiency without values will lead you down a political blind alley.
Hundreds of thousands are motivated to join the LP not because they are ‘revolutionary socialists’, but because they want politics to represent them! They want ‘their’ political party to reflect their views and to protect their interests. They want an end to elite rule by an ‘old boys club’ of patronising, politically correct, metropolitan, middle-class, ‘liberals’, who eagerly express ‘respect’ for oppressed minorities as a badge of their own ‘goodness’, but who openly and sneeringly despise the majority of the electorate.
The LP bureaucracy will eventually have to wake-up and smell the coffee. Just as they argued that Thatcher’s election in ’79 marked a sea change in politics and the LP had to change with it, the crash of 2008 marked an equally defining sea change in global politics and the LP has, once again, to change with it. Eventually the LP has to offer the electorate a committed and credible anti-austerity, neo-Keynsian alternative to the current Tory chaos and this may be painful for some on the right of the party. But
And just imagine if the biggest political party in Europe were to actually unite behind a principled leader, committed to an anti-austerity agenda. They would in my view sweep the electoral board and winning an election with such a leader would truly mark the end of this depressing, alienating age of neoliberalism.