A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Their own worst enemies

Sometimes there is no need to attack the Hard Left because they do it for you themselves.

Hence the surreal spectacle of a 3-way split in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs over the coming Labour leadership election - the ultras backing McDonnell, Alan Simpson and others seeking to maximise the left performance rather than just fly the flag by backing Meacher, and a couple of key people like Skinner and Ann Cryer looking like they will vote for Brown.

It's all been recorded in great detail here - http://reclaimlabour.blogspot.com/ and here http://davespartblog.blogspot.com/.

The lack of self-awareness is amazing - why is no one on the left pointing out the obvious - that neither McDonnell nor Meacher is a credible candidate who has any personal base of support in the Party or any qualification to lead it?

It doesn't really matter which of them runs because in both cases they are incapable of reaching out beyond the oppositionalist fringe.

What the squabbling between McDonnell and Meacher exposes is the fundamental crisis of both the Hard Left and the Soft Left in the Labour Party - they are effectively leaderless and have been for some time. The Tribunite tradition threw up some figures of great stature: Bevan, Wilson, Castle, Foot, Kinnock (who came from that tradition even if he didn't stay in it), Cook. With the death of Cook that "soft left" tradition has no leader of national stature or profile, hence Compass et al are attempting to influence Brown, a potential leader from the Atlanticist right of the Party, rather than run their own candidate.

The Hard Left is in even more of a mess - Tony Benn really dominated their emergence as a separate strand of organisation divorced from the old Tribune Group to such an extent that he made everyone around him look like mere acolytes. The more talented of his followers long ago either sold out to become government ministers or, like Diane Abbott, resorted to becoming media pundits or court jesters. The one Campaign Grouper who did have the charisma and appeal to be a credible leader for them - Ken Livingstone - never felt at home in the Commons and was never trusted by his colleagues so has quit the parliamentary stage to go back to running London.

Much as I detest these people's politics I don't think it will be healthy for the Labour Party if they fail to get a leadership candidate on the ballot paper. We need a contested election so that party members get to choose Brown rather than him just emerging, and because a contest will show the public more about Brown's qualities and more about our internal democracy; and we need to have publicly tested and exposed - as by Benn and Heffer's 1988 challenge - how marginal the Hard Left is.

Get your act together comrades!


Blogger Phantom of the Labour Party said...

The split must be really bad. We've got someone on the right of the party saying things like 'get it together COMRADES'. Comrades, of all words.

8:46 am, October 31, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has just turned, rather predictably, into a festival of careerism.

Poor ol Robin Cook. Most spot-on man in Parliament.

2:04 pm, October 31, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and the right love using terms like 'solidarity', 'comrades', 'socialism' etc, because they reckon it gives credence to their arguments with everyone else in the party. Also, I reckon they're all secretly on the left, but too worried about getting squeezed out of the picture.

2:05 pm, October 31, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

detest? surely this sort of language is uncomradely? If I find anyone on this wing of the party I will get them to complan about your behaviour...

2:26 pm, October 31, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Anonymous - I was very careful to say I detest their politics - not them as individuals. Believe it or not some of my friends are Labour leftwingers ...

2:29 pm, October 31, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you not think Cruddas is on the right, blairite wing of the party? I do, but no-one else seems to hold this view.

3:07 pm, October 31, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I don't think everyone neatly fits into categories and labels... also the Blair/Brown dividing line, the old/new Labour one and the left/right one are not identical. Some people in Compass are very "new" Labour but leftwing, some Brownites are new Labour, some are old Labour rightwingers, and some are more traditional leftwingers.

5:14 pm, October 31, 2006

Blogger Harry Perkins said...

The historic tactical ineptitude of the Labour Left is undeniable and indeed, though I hate to say it, I find it difficult to disagree with Luke on this point.

However, we are in a very different situation as compared to the undeniably disastrous Benn/Heffer campaign of 1988. This was in a period when Labour had suffered 3 successive general election defeats; when the labour movement had been crushed by the juggernaut of Thatcherism; when the Left had been forced into devastating retreat; when rank-and-file trade unionists and Labour party members were hopelessly disillusioned and disorientated - and willing to secure victory over the Tories at any price.

The current situation is incomparable. We have had a decade of a New Labour government which has deeply alienated millions of its supporters. Even though Labour party membership has collapsed and thousands of socialists have ripped up their party cards, left candidates still won the top 4 out of 6 places in the recent NEC elections. In the past few years, only candidates who at least postured to the left have secured victories in the affiliated unions. The old New Labour coalition has fragmented as former staunch supporters have set up Compass. The current Parliament is the most rebellious in post-war British political history. Above all, those who were devastated by years of "principles without power" have woken up to the nightmare of "power without principles" - a nightmare where the Tories appear to be to the left of the Labour party.

Harry Perkins firmly places himself on the Left of the Labour party, so it's not surprising that he believes the appetite for a radical change is there. But he also genuinely, genuinely believes that this is the case. If a Left candidate secures a place on the ballot - and it would be a travesty to democracy if they don't - then I believe that you be proven to have badly underestimated that appetite for change.

8:08 pm, October 31, 2006

Anonymous Ian G said...

Harry, I think you have to distinguish between 'an appetite for change' and a desire to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Undoubtedly we have got some things wrong, and a lot of members feel disconnected from the leadership. However you will also find there is very little desire for someone as unremittingly negative about the government (which we all helped to elect) as John McDonnell is.

I voted for grassroots alliance candidates for the NEC but would never vote McDonnell or Meacher in a million years.

11:12 pm, October 31, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

I wouldn't take everything you read at face value, Luke. As a McDonnell supporter and an Alan Simpson fan, there is less of a split than is being presented. Certainly different candidates have been mentioned, but I think it's quite clear now that John will be the left candidate, and that Alan's name will be on his list of supporters when the time comes.

4:26 pm, November 01, 2006


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