Monday, 19 November 2007

Labour: A Broad Church and A Good Thing.

In conversation at the Labour Students political weekend, I had to dispel some misunderstandings about the Labour-left, which ranged from a prosaic idea that we hadn't changed our policies since 1983 to the more interesting canard that John McDonnell was a member of the AWL!

But the biggest question I was asked was what incentive I had to support a party which wasn't implementing policies anything like those I would choose for myself. There are a number of reasons, which I will try to lay out here:

First, my answer must be tempered with political pragmatism, since if I wasn't seriously interested in changing anything I would join or start a micro-sect, and be perfectly happy calling for the heads of MPs from my party newsletter.

Secondly, the longer I am in the UK, the more Labour members I meet - both activists and people who are fairly inactive members - and the more I learn about why or why not they support this or that policy; why they believe in or feel comfortable stuffing envelopes and knocking on doors for the party. And you know what? Even in the most stalwart Blairite lies a pure heart. A desire for good change; a need to know that the party's policies will produce better results for the least well-off and the most marginalised in our society.

I have spent most of my life outside the Labour Party, and now I'm inside it, I haven't stopped criticising its policies or talking about political scandals on our side of the fence. Politics is a game where even a slight change in legislation or policy can make an enormous amount of difference, and the party democracy of the Labour Party allows good people who believe that progressive change can be exacted in all different kinds of ways to remain within it with clear consciences and to try to campaign for a better future.

Thirdly, this is more than just a feelgood project where everyone must agree - as a party we want to hold power in order to exercise it for the good, and the new ideas required to stay in power will always come from the margins, whether they're the party's left, right, liberal or radical margins. If we want to have a party which stays in the same place and never innovates, we may as well get that micro-sect started.

Finally, I think we all like to see the Tories getting a good kicking now and again, don't we?

"Labour is the place where the greatest impact can be had today. I remain convinced that it is a workers' party and that it is the job of any socialist to be a member and fight for it." - Tami Petersen

"So here's vow number one: holding a Labour Party card won't shut me up." - Dave Osler

"No, I still think the Labour Party offers us the opportunity of a mass workers' party. But at the same time my campaign was completely non-sectarian, working across political campaigns and that's the future. We want to see a broad united front on a whole series of issues and industrial struggles will be part of that." - John McDonnell


Harry Barnes said...

I feel that it is helpful to look for forums which can attract both Labour Party and ex-Labour Party members, yet arn't used to pressurise the ex-members into re-joining. I act as Political Education Officer for my Local Labour Party and we hold monthly discussion meetings which are fairly open and turn out to cater for these two groups. At our last discussion on failures in Labour's Energy policy, 18 attended which isn't bad for a Sunday evening. The speaker fitted the ex-Labour Party category. The Fabian Society has a membership pattern which provides for such a combination, as those "eligable" for Labour Party membership can have an associate status. As the Fabian's are affiliated to the Labour Party, the practice I suggest should not be contrary to Labour Party rules.

Phil BC said...

Far be it for me to offer the Labour party advice, but Harry's meetings sound like a good idea. If they help make meetings more attractive and assist the sharpening up of Labour lefts, that's all for the good. But why not have political discussions on a particular topic tabled for every meeting, like we do in the SP? It isn't as though we haven't got a mountain of business to get through either ...

Doctor Dunc said...

There was a bit of a move against political meetings back in the 90s (when Labour Party discos were all the rage!) I do think it was generally an error: people join political parties for a whole range of reasons, but an interest in politics is normally one of them! The idea that policy meetings and political discussions put people off I think was more part of the legitimation of 'partnership into power' than it was an actual reflection of reality.

I agree with you John - most Labour people you meet do have the best of intentions, and we can achieve far more in this party than we could ever hope to in some mini party or sect (with all due respect, etc. to comrades who've taken that path).

But I guess sometimes we have to ask ourselves what we ARE achieving. I often tell people who want to leave that they will take away any remaining socialist content from the party if they go, but they often retort that they'd rather be free in a small party than be caged in a big party, and there is a bit of logic there. I have also, in the past, been accused of lending left legitimacy to a right-wing party and government. And that's a low blow, and one that takes some defending!