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.]