An alternative to the Labour Party?


I’m afraid the last five years have confirmed my previously held suspicion that in terms of challenging neoliberalism, the Labour Party is part of the problem rather than the solution.

I am now convinced that for the left social democratic and socialist left to stay in the LP is to waste our political energies on fighting a perpetual and never-ending, internal civil war.


UPDATE: 3rd October 2020

The execrable Toby Young made some interesting points relevant to this article and my previous article Left, Right and Centre? Who the f**k is who? in his Spectator piece on Laurence Fox’s new political party Reclaim.

In the opinion piece Young states that “Reclaim doesn’t have to win anywhere in order to make a difference. Ukip only managed to win a single parliamentary seat, yet it achieved its main political objective. All Laurence needs to do is persuade the Conservative party that if it doesn’t become more robust on culture war issues it will lose votes to him in Red Wall seats. Not enough for Reclaim to win, but enough for Labour to come up through the middle.”

This is exactly my argument in this piece about a new democratic socialist party – it doesn’t have to win overall majorities and govern, it only needs to take enough votes from Labour to push the LP to the left. New Labour orthodoxy claims that the LP can only ever win a GE by appealing to Tory voters, it assumes leftist voters will always vote Labour because there is no alternative. This was never true and in fact led to millions not voting at all because none of the three mainstream parties reflected their views. But a new left social democratic party, a UKIP of the left, could change that dynamic and mean that in order to win elections the LP would need to appeal to leftist voters.


The left and the right of the Labour Party have always been at odds – one of the first arguments occurred before the party was even formed in 1906, when the left and the right squabbled over whether the word ‘socialist’ should be included in the party name!

The trade unions formed the Labour Party to represent the interests of ‘labour’ in parliament. There was an understanding amongst many, if not most, members that some form of ‘socialism’ would best represent the interests of labour but the party was from the beginning formed as an alliance of social democrats, democratic socialists, marxists, trade unionists  and even centre-left liberals. The distance between each of these compared with the next on a scale of ‘leftyness’ (see diagram below) is not that great but the difference between a centre-left liberal and a marxist socialist is huge.

Indeed, it is true to say that politically centre-left liberals and marxist socialists are on the opposite sides of the left v right class divide. Centrist liberals are pro-capitalist, pro-free trade and pro-free-markets but ‘liberal’ regarding identity politics. There is in fact little ideologically to differentiate the centre-left liberals of Blair’s New Labour from the ‘wet’ Tories of Cameron and Osborne. It is simply not credible that such people remain in the same political party as left social democrats, democratic socialists and marxists, who all share a class-based political ideology that is extremely critical of capitalism.

Under Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair New Labour moved significantly to the right leaving Marxist socialists and even democratic socialists out on the far left of the party

Many of us hoped that the Corbyn Project would pull the Lp back to the left and into its more traditional ‘broad church’ formation. The defeat of Corbyn by the combined forces of the right of the LP and the forces of capital, most notably the media, have led to a situation in which the LP is being dragged screaming back into the New Labour narrow church. I am now convinced that there is no way of stopping this happening and more to the point it is pointless to try.

It is now clear that what UK politics needs is a genuine party of the left to unite those of us to the left of what I am calling the ‘class divide’.

I do not claim that in the current circumstances such a party could ever win an overall majority in parliament but this would not be the point of the new party. We need a new left party that will be the Brexit Party of the left. A new left party that gets 10-15% of the votes and thus splits the anti-Tory vote would force the LP to negotiate with the socialist left rather than successfully silencing it within the LP.

Even in the Old Labour days of the social democratic coalition ‘the left’ would only very occasionally be able to influence policy in any meaningful, significant way. Under New Labour the Labour left simply did not influence policy or government actions in any meaningful way at all. Under Blair the Labour left  could not even influence the party on the Iraq War which was clearly opposed by a majority of party members and the general public.

The amount of political and emotional energy now being expended by the LLA, CLPD and Momentum inside the LP is huge… and to what end? If the Labour left could not make ground under Corbyn, a leader with the support of at least 350,000 members, then how in hell’s name do we think progress can be made now!? After the defeat of Corbyn the best that can be possibly hoped for is that the Labour left keep control of a few CLP’s and manage to get a few lefty motions put before Conference. We are told we need to stay and fight; to go underground in the party and live to ‘fight another day’. But when is this ‘other day’? The party Grandees made a huge error in allowing Corbyn onto the leadership ballot they are not going to let that happen again for a veeeeery long time! So how long do we now have to wait for the planets to align in just the right way to allow for the election of a left leader? 30 years? 40? 60?

I believe that a new party of the left that put forward coherent and credible policies along the lines of the Corbyn manifesto and in a professional manner, could win 10-15% of the vote or more. This new party would be the Brexit Party of the left. It would be far more internally united than the current LP allowing for a far more honest and direct approach to left wing policy choices thus allowing for much greater integrity in presenting policy choices to the public.

Such a new party could also enter into electoral pacts with other left parties such as The Greens and the revolutionary socialists such as the SWP and the Socialist Party. To actually win overall power any the LP would need to gain the support of this new left coalition. The negotiations for such alliances could give us far more chance of getting left wing policies enacted than we currently do trying to force the LP to adopt a left stance from within.

It is certainly true that such a strategy would be far more effective under some form of PR but the Tory/LibDem Coalition shows that it can and does happen even under our own dismal first-past-the-post system and any new left party would need tojoin other smaller parties in calling for PR as a prerequisite for any formal coalition. Either way I am now convinced that we in the social democratic and socialist left stand more chance of influencing UK politics outside the LP than we do from within it.

[For clarity I regard myself as a ‘left social democrat’. I believe in a mixed economy in which governments legislate against the worst excesses of free market capitalism, while individuals are free to start and manage private businesses to counteract the power and dominance of the government. I believe in a progressive taxation system,  a strong welfare state and empowered trade unions. I believe that both government and business have to be accountable to the democratic will of the people and that democracy has to become more participatory and must ultimately do away with the need for full-time, professional, technocratic politicians. I am not a Marxist nor would I say I am a democratic socialist, because I do not believe that an abstract concept such as ‘socialism’ or indeed ‘capitalism’, can provide universal solutions to our problems.]

About I Am Not A Number

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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6 Responses to An alternative to the Labour Party?

  1. Why not just cut to the chase and join the Green Party? We were already providing some radical social democrat ideas long before Labour headed down the cul-de-sac of Corbynism. Hence the green surge in 2015.

    In fact, we did it so well that Momentum and Corbyn ‘borrowed’ much of our 2015 manifesto when they finally got around the idea that they had to actually come up with some policies to put some flesh on the bones of the personality cult. They even claimed ownership of the Green New Deal in the last election that we launched in 2011 (although of course they didn’t quite get it).

    Corbyn’s ideals were laudable. He just didn’t have the charisma or the political nous to get into power and enact them. Starmer is largely all nous, with a typical stick-on politician personality. There has to be a happy medium somewhere. Just take a look at someone like Caroline Lucas to catch a glimpse of it.

    And while we’re at it, maybe ask the question why Labour, as a party of supposed social egalitarianism, is still yet to have a woman as leader.

    • Sean Will says:

      Why can’t momentum turn itself into a party and field candidates at the next election? Seems easier than creating a new party.

      • Good point, and one that I made a few times during Corbyn’s tenure. I’m not a fan of parties within parties. The same goes for the ERG within the Tory Party. It always seems dishonest to me when these groups form and take advantage of party machinery without actually putting their votes where their mouths are.

        It would have caused a split in the Labour Party if Corbyn and Momentum had struck out on their own, although I’m not sure if that might not still happen anyway with Starmer taking things in another direction.

        The left does seem to have more of a tendency to fracture than the right. That is one of the strengths of the right. The Tories tend not to fight in public and are more pragmatic in their approach to power. But that’s probably because they stand for very little in terms of ideals. It’s easy to give up on your principles when you don’t have any.

  2. Well, the Tories are united by ideology i.e. capitalism. They are split along a conservative v liberal line because some Tories are committed to Nationalism , monarchy, patriotism, etc while others are more like 19thC liberals who don’t care about traditions only making money. But their common belief in capitalism.

    I’d also question the idea that Tories don’t have principles. Many Tory voters certainly do. The strongest of these is probably ‘self-reliance’, that each of us is morally responsible for making the most of of our God-given talents through hard-work and application. Thus for them freedom is entirely about freedom from government constraint. As a result they hate ‘free loaders’ more than anyone. Taking ‘something for nothing’ is for them one of the worst moral sins. They also have ‘collective’ beliefs such as ‘patriotism’ and ‘law and order’. They have pride in our common nationally and that our traditions and traditional beliefs trump new ideas because traditions have been formed by millions of ‘us’ over centuries. They believe we all need to obey common rules and that obedience to rules IS good behaviour. They also highly value people in service to that nation such as soldiers and policemen. They also believe in deference to social hierarchies and that we all our place in society – they want to be led by people bred to lead not by ordinary people.

    Together these values amount to a moral world view summarised as: (i) Individuals are responsible for their own success or failure. (i i) freedom equals freedom from government. (iii) obeying rules and the law IS being morally good. (iv) We all
    owe unquestioning allegiance to Queen and country. (v) You look after ‘your people’ first and who you’re people are is determined by national identity.

    I personally think that such a world view is based on false premises and has such unjust and unpleasant consequences that it has to be challenged but my point is that it is based on moral principles as much as a liberal or left position but very different ones.

  3. I wouldn’t dispute that the Tories have principles. Just that they don’t have ideals. I think the two are rather different. One is, as you have pointed out, a set of values that are based on received wisdom, bias and historical context. The other is based on reasoned reflection and understanding of society as it really is.

    Although voters and politicians are largely separate these days. Many people may vote for a party believing they know what it stands for, when in fact it never did, or it did once but has since changed without this being noticed or understood.

    There’s certainly a growing sense of disconnect between Tory voters and the party they put in power, mainly driven by the fact that the majority of their support base are older people who still think the party is what it was in Thatcher’s day and have never bothered to inform themselves beyond that point.

    Plenty of people would say they have always voted Tory and always will, regardless of current circumstances. But then that probably applies to Labour voters as well (apart from the blue wave in the north that may be an anomaly – hopefully). I call that voting by muscle memory, and it’s very a very hard position to shift.

    Generally though, the Tories have come to stand for less and less in terms of actual ideals. Most are there to make up the numbers, some do genuinely believe in something, and others (usually at the top) are there to forward their own careers and agendas and those of the people who back and schmooze them.

  4. I don’t buy your distinction between ideals and principles or description of our principles being based on a rational evaluation of society as it really is. All political ideals and principles are based on values and as Tony Benn once said ultimately moral values. Free market capitalism is no less rational than social democracy or socialism. It depends on what you value in the world. If you privilege values of empathy and mutual responsibility you veer to the left. Conversely if you privilege values of self-reliance then you veer to the right.

    I think it is very dangerous to assume that only your own political ideals, principles and values are ‘rational’ and that everyone who disagrees with you is either irrational or cynical.

    And by the way I’m talking about Tory voters here rather than the current Tory leaders. Johnson is undoubtedly a cynic who believes in nothing other than his own exceptionalism.

    And I think the red wall is lost to Labour for at least a generation. The loss of the red wall had little to do with Corbyn and everything to do with Brexit. The thing that changed between 2017 and 2019 was the parties position on Brexit and that cost the LP all the Labour heartlands in the midlands and the North. The Labour Party does not represent the working class and hasn’t since the mid-80’s. In fact I don’t think I’ve even met a working class member of the party in the 4 years I was an activist. Plenty from working class backgrounds who had become teachers, nurses, administrators etc but not a one who actually was from a working class background and still did a working class trade such as being a plumber or bricklayer etc. Brexit has broken the spell of class loyalty to Labour and Starmer’s shift back to the centre will do nothing to bring working class Brexiteers on board.

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