What is to be gained by democratic socialists staying in the LP?

In the light of the end of the Corbyn era in the Labour Party, some on the left say that left social democrats and democratic socialists (as opposed to the revolutionary socialists) MUST stay in the LP and continue to fight for our values. I think this is profoundly wrong.

I am not optimistic myself that there is currently any viable alternative to the LP or indeed, a clear route to how such an alternative would arise, but I am also certain that to condemn ourselves to fighting perpetual ideological civil wars within the LP is a sure way to ensure that an alternative never arises!

The events of the last 5 years have proved conclusively that the LP is NOT a vehicle for left social democratic or socialist political ambitions. No one would say to left social democrats and socialists that they should join or stay in the LibDems because the LibDems are the “lesser of 2 evils” compared to the Tories. No, the LibDems have a distinct and entirely different ideology to left social democrats and socialists, indeed the LibDems are political opponents of left social democrats and socialists.

“Unity is strength.” Sure enough. But unity between ideological opponents is not unity in any meaningful sense. It is at best a coalition and usually entered into for specific short-term objectives. It is simply not credible for any political party to operate successfully over the long-term if it seeks to contain ideological opponents.

Apart from the brief period of Corbyn’s leadership, the LP has been since the mid-90’s at least, a centrist, ‘third way’, liberal party, purposefully and entirely divorced from any coherent left-wing philosophy or ideology and specifically from any form of ‘democratic socialism’ or even traditional Labour Party ‘left social democracy’.

To ask left social democrats and socialists to ‘fight on for socialism’ from within the LP is to ask us to remain in a party whose ‘non-ideological’, centrist, liberalism we fundamentally disagree with. And I would ask, to what end?

Surely, the last 5 years have shown us that if we continue to try to form (or perhaps reform) the LP into a party of the democratic left we condemn ourselves to fighting a perpetual and endless ‘civil war’?

For the democratic left being within the LP means that rather than fighting the Tory and the LibDems by positively arguing FOR our beliefs and political aspirations in the electoral ‘market place’, we spend all our political energy, creativity and resources fighting an internal civil war that is largely invisible to ordinary voters.

Thus, the ideas of the democratic left never get put to the electorate in an honest, coherent way. Any policy ideas that the democratic left does manage to get adopted by the LP are always corrupted by the back-room compromises that are now, and always have been, the reality of all Labour Party policy… Even the largely admirable 2017 manifesto.

So the question for the democratic left today isn’t whether there is now a viable democratic socialist alternative to the LP, which it is clear there currently isn’t, the question is, ‘what is to be gained by staying in the LP?’

And my argument is that for the democratic left “staying and fighting for socialism in the LP” is a self-destructive trap which will result in the LP suppressing democratic socialist voices for at least another generation… as it did so successfully in the Blair years.

The Labour Party may be still the official opposition, (i.e. it’s got the second largest number of MP’s in parliament), but that does not mean it is the only viable route for expressing the political aspirations of the democratic left. Indeed, a democratic left silenced and neutralised within Starmer’s new, New Labour Party is a democratic left silenced and neutralised everywhere.

The myth that the LP and the ‘Labour Movement’ are and will forever be, the only vehicles for democratic socialist political aspirations in the UK is profoundly wrong and has severely hampered the UK democratic left since at leat the 1950’s. If democratic socialists ‘stay and fight’ within a triumphalist new, New Labour Party then our ideas will be silenced, ridiculed and pushed to the margins for another generation.

Fighting Starmer’s new, New Labour Party track back to Blairist, centrist, liberalism will be a bloody and very, very, nasty fight requiring huge mental and political resources. It also seems that under current circumstances the democratic left is unlikely to win such a fight and that ‘defeat’ will result in even more disillusionment with the politics of the democratic left and in hundreds, possibly thousands, of members of the democratic left being publicly defamed and expelled from the LP.

And I ask again, to what end?

In light of the events of the last 5 years can anyone seriously argue that a left Labour Party emerging from where we are now would be credible, let alone likely!?

The democratic left needs to recognise that the LP is a lost cause and let Starmer, Mandelson, Campbell et al, get on with tracking back to centrist liberalism. They may or may not have electoral success by adopting this strategy (I think not) but let them get on with it.

If enough of us on the democratic left recognise that the LP is a lost cause and leave it the political vacuum that will be created may be the change in conditions required for an alternative to arise.


About Chris Jury

I Am Not A Number is written by Chris Jury. For 30 years Chris Jury was a TV actor, director and writer best known for playing Eric Catchpole in over 60 episodes of the BBC’s antique classic, Lovejoy, and for directing over 50 episodes of Eastenders.
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5 Responses to What is to be gained by democratic socialists staying in the LP?

  1. Ian says:

    An excellent post. I’ve been struggling with this decision since the election. I didn’t want to leave the party as a knee-jerk reaction to the ousting of Corbyn; I thought that socialism would continue to lead the way (naive, I know) and that I needed to continue to support this. Now I realise that left socialist democrats are a dwindling species in the LP and remaining a member supports not socialism, but a return to Blairite liberalism, slightly to the left of the old Tory ways. I’m thinking the time has come to part ways.

    • Yes there are good arguments in both directions and a decision either way is honourable and rational but for me when I framed the question as, ‘how will my political aspirations be promoted by me staying in the LP?’ The answer became much clearer.

  2. Jan Brooker says:

    There are many *straws in the wind* for something *to the Left* of Labour; can there be some sort of convergance? It would take some of those with *heft* to kick-start something: I’m thinking Chris Williamson’s initiative, Anya Zenn’s, individuals such as Jacqueline Walker, Marc Wadsworth [previously both the SWP and SPEW have managed to work together briefly as well]. I usually mention John Rees’ group [Counterfire] as well, and sometimes Tariq Ali. I don’t usually mention George Galloway’s group and had practically forgotten Arthur Scargill’s. Such egos though?

    • Yes, I am sure there could be a new group/party/alliance. Yes there are huge egos at play and factionalism is always the left’s Achilles heel. I think some sort of electoral alliance is the best hope. In Spain and Greece Podemos and Syriza are heterodox coalitions rather than orthodox parties. So all the groupings to the left of New Labour would need to cooperate including The Greens.

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