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.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Going nowhere fast with John McD

The Alliance for Workers' Liberty' s newspaper "Solidarity" (circulation probably lower than this website) provides some interesting insights into the market that exists out there in the Labour Party for John McDonnell as Leader.

According to AWL the key to the campaign is to "organise local meetings". Just what the labour movement needs, another series of meetings.

Note that it doesn't say invite McDonnell or someone from his campaign to your local branch Labour Party or constituency General Committee. Which may hint at how much of the enthusiasm for McDonnell is coming from outside the ranks of the party he seeks to lead.

Apparently the campaign has "a lack of resources" - something to do with having very few supporters?

There are apparently "hundreds of thousands of disgruntled Labour members and ex-members, opponents of Blairism in the unions and Trades Councils who can help a local organisational push" - again references to groups of people who (even in the unlikely event that they do number in hundreds of thousands - hundreds is more likely) are not all Labour Party members.

Apparently my own dear borough is the organising model for this:
"In Hackney, we've set up an organising group, which on December 2nd brought together 22 comrades willing to take a role in building support for John in their unions - and in other campaigns, such as Keep Our NHS Public, tenants' organisations and Stop the War. Passing resolutions in trade union and Labour branches is part of this work - our ultimate goal is to hold a conference of local working-class activists and community campaigners in March to support John4Leader. Helping John's influence to grow requires gradual campaign-building and an ongoing local organising body, with regular meetings."

I'd love to know who the 22 "comrades" are because counting heads I know John McDonnell hasn't got 22 active supporters inside the Hackney Labour Party (at a rough count I make it about 12).

Then comes the big admission - they have absolutely zappo support or organisation amongst actual Labour Party members:

"Gone are the days when Tony Benn won 83% of the constituency Labour Party vote for deputy leader, when local parties were the main base of the left and the leadership had to rely on the union block vote to save its skin at Labour Party conference. It is not just a question of the Labour membership moving to the right: much more fundamental is the fact that most local parties have withered almost the point of dissolution, so that there is very little left to fight about. True, party members will have big say in the leadership election, but there is little organisation left to provide the basis of working-class party cleansed of Blairism."

I suspect the trade union support McDonnell has is not from Labour Party members involved in their union's political structures but from flotsam and jetsom from other political parties who happen to be trade unionists.

It then goes on to suggest how to organise for McDonnell in your union, citing examples of work done in the RMT and NUT. I hate to point it out comrades but activity relating to a Labour leadership campaign in either of those unions is a complete waste of time as neither of them is affiliated to Labour so they have no voice in the process.

So, the current state of the Labour "hard left":
- backing a leadership candidate who can't win
- no funding because no one supports them
- cheerled by expelled groups of Trots
- mainly organising in unions that aren't Labour affiliates
- incapable of organising in the CLPs due to lack of support
- self-confessedly unpopular amongst ordinary Labour Party members
- but organising lots and lots of extra meetings!

Keep up the good work comrades, at least it is occupying your time so you can't do anything more dangerous.


Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Footnote: the 83% that Benn got in the CLP section was of GCs - i.e. of activists not members.

One Member One Vote is another reason why the hard left are going nowhere.

3:06 pm, December 11, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Luke - regardless of what appears in a fringe journal - you are well off-the-mark with your criticisms of the John4leader campaign.

First off: John is appearing at meetings up and down the country, many of which are CLP, BLP and affiliated Union branch meetings: others are not, because they are combined meetings for people from several CLPs and Trades Councils, etc. (e.g. John4leader days in Leeds, Oxford, Birmingham, etc.)

These meetings are getting big turnouts, and these are big turnouts of Labour Party members. Yes, there are other people there too: they are open meetings, and the party itself is attaching the election to a membership drive so - if you are so convinced John will lose - you should congratulate his contribution to party funds, as at every one of these meetings several people identify themselves as either having recently or being about to rejoin or join the party.

At a recent Leeds meeting, for example, almost everyone there was a Labour Party member (though there was a vocal minority from assorted groups outside the party), most of the few who were not in the Party were members of affiliated unions.

The comparison with the Benn days of the early 80s is not that there is not popularity for a left campaign and left policies, but that the local organisation of the LABOUR PARTY (not just the left) has - in many places collapsed. This is something we should all be concerned about, whoever we want to see as next party leader. Brown would have similar organisational difficulties were he not blessed with a monopoly on media attention and the profile associated with high ministerial office. Whoever is leader will experience these organisational difficulties when it comes to running a general election. The number of council seats which Labour fails to contest grows all the time, and I fear the time may come where there could even be parliamentary seats we don't challenge (or at least only field paper candidates), unless something pretty revolutionary happens in terms of rebuilding the party from the grassroots.

This is something that those of us who are enthusiastic for John's campaign are trying to do. And we've already seen a re-engagement with Labour politics by masses of disillusioned activists.

Luke - of course you should argue against John's policies and proposals. Of course you should support whichever candidate you wish to see elected. But attempting to dismiss the campaign altogether and badmouthing it will, I think, prove counter-productive. Apart from the fact that it rather goes against your earlier stated desire to see a proper debate and discussion from the various traditions in the party, success for Brown now depends on convincing party members and union activists that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he is politically closer to them and their concerns than Blair is. If party members are treated to an orgy of seeing policies that they share being presented as extreme and marginal, then they will - quite naturally - search for somewhere where they aren't marginalised.

It would be extremely foolish to dismiss this campaign out of hand (and, if you really were doing, you would devote considerably fewer column inches to doing so).

3:15 pm, December 11, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

As for your footnote: OMOV is having virtually no negative impact whatsoever on our campaign. What is having a negative impact for everyone who wants to see more labour governments is the fact that we are losing members who might vote. Most of the membership lists I see knocking about are vainly holding onto people months in arrears.

I suspect one slogan when the campaign is reaching an end will be 24 hours to save the Labour Party: and I mean it.

3:19 pm, December 11, 2006

Blogger Sham said...

24 hours to save the Labour Party

Surely you mean 24 hours to save the Tory party, 'cos that's what you'll be doing if you vote for John McDonnell!

4:41 pm, December 11, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I simply don't buy the doom and gloom thesis that the organisation of the Labour Party is in such a mess. It is in places - but in the places where local members have abdicated responsibility and blame everything on "them" (Victoria St/No10).

In places like Manchester or Lambeth or Hackney or Merton where people have just got on with campaigning (and socialising) the Labour Party as a grassroots organisation is in good health.

4:47 pm, December 11, 2006

Anonymous Kit said...

"Solidarity" a fringe journal? Hardly. I know that it has a circulation in the thousands every fortnight from subscribers alone, which include several Labour MPs, trade union leaders, as well as hundreds of Labour members and trade unionists.

Trust me. I've stuffed those envelopes.

Plus, the AWL website gets tens of thousands of hits every three days or so. More than your blog, Luke.

Get a grip, Luke. Quite frankly, you're not important. I just can't let lies and bullshit stand.

4:59 pm, December 11, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

OK Kit, some facts from the Electoral Commission website:

1) Workers' Liberty is a registered political party and has been since 1999. It has no more remit to interfere in Labour's leadership election than the Tories or Lib Dems do.

2) In 2005 sales of Solidarity raised £17,803 at a subscription price of £15 per year (according to the AWL website) meaning it has just under 1200 subscribers which is about 150 less than the number of individual readers I get per month.

The AWL website points out that every member has to sell at least 12 copies of Solidarity a month - presumably you buy them yourself if you can't sell them, thus inflating the circulation - effectively Solidarity is just a way of adding £13.20 to each member's monthly fees.

3) AWL membership subs raised £40,647 that year. Members without dependents on any income above £940 a month pay £120 per month to the party - i.e. you could have as few as 28 members - but assuming most of your members are students and don't pay the full whack I'll be generous and assume your entire national "party" has over 100 members i.e. about the size of a single large Labour ward party or just over twice the size of the Hackney Council Labour Group.

AWL's own conference report 2006 says: " The general picture is that our own weaknesses, and the
weaknesses of the movement around us, have prevented us
pushing through the desirable goals we set ourselves in our 2005
conference resolution."

The voting figures in the minutes of AWL's 2006 conference report 52 or 53 members present - most of whom I recognised by their "Mark S" or "Janine B" nommes de guerre - as attendance is open to all members and you lot do enjoy meetings, I guess that is the sum total of your active membership.

At least you are not the SWP, but please don't kid yourselves you are going to change the direction of the Labour Party.

P.S. many of the hits on your site are me reading the internal strategy documents you helpfully post there.

5:38 pm, December 11, 2006

Anonymous David Floyd said...

"Members without dependents on any income above £940 a month pay £120 per month to the party"

Is this really true?

It makes the medieval established church sound like a sane and reasonable organisation to belong to.

6:17 pm, December 11, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

The full rates are all on their web site here:


even students + the unemployed pay £5 plus paper sales advance payments of £13.20...

8:01 pm, December 11, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


I'll repaste the link in 2 bits so it shows:


8:02 pm, December 11, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheers for the Manchester plug Luke.

Also the AWL sounds like a thoroughly elitist organisation.

8:35 pm, December 11, 2006

Anonymous Kit said...

Fuck's sake...

Read my replies on Luke's laughable 'rebuttal'. They are only SUGGESTED sub levels.

The Labour Party have them too. And, unlike the Blair clique, we ain't funded by shadowy loans from ex-Tory businessmen desperate for a peerage.

8:47 pm, December 11, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give it up, guys - Luke's already got his Lib Dem membership application filled-out and is happily salivating at the completion of "The Project" coming with Labour's total obliteration at the next election.

10:21 pm, December 11, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

See previous posts for my views on Lib Dems. I am more likely to join the AWL than that lot.

10:40 pm, December 11, 2006

Anonymous danny said...

Given the rabid pro-imperialism of the AWL, you'd fit in better than you think Luke!

5:52 pm, December 12, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

I'm glad to hear that parts of the party are in good health, Luke...

Doesn't really make or break your original thesis though.

10:32 pm, December 12, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loathe as I am to contribute to the already massive readership of your blog, but I must reject some of this arrant crap.

While membership in Hackney LP has undoubtedly declined as a result of figures such as yourself, it hardly proved difficult to rouse 22 people who support John. In fact, Luke, only 2 of those present at the meeting on the 2nd were AWL members.

While you oppose trade unions sending delegates to ward branches etc., it just so happens that of the millions of workers in unions affiliated to the LP, there are those who oppose war, privatisation etc. Funny, isn't it?

Don't they like bombing Arabs? Don't they like hospitals being closed?
Don't they like religious nutters and timeshare salesmen taking over their kids' schools?

8:26 pm, December 13, 2006

Anonymous It's never too late to expell a Trot said...

Who ya gonna call?

Trotbusting! Can I join in. Tell them about Krondtstadt Luke :)

Boy do I hate Trotskyists. The reason I hate them most is that for most of the first decade of my party membership I spent far more time fighting them than the Tories.

An ANC comrade once told me the first task of a liberation movement is to destroy the traitors and collaborators in its own ranks. She was right, but we had to endure than fight for far too long inside our party (not having the means at the disposal of the ANC).

Never, never, NEVER again should these parasites be given a chance. I don't want your membership subscriptions, I want you all to **** off.

12:27 am, December 15, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Strange, because the first decade of my party membership had me permanently infuriated at the fact that we had an enemy on the ropes (the Tory Party) and yet so many of my colleagues seemed to think the real enemy was amongst its own ranks...

Remember the "hiliarious" Labour Students' quiz rounds: "which Trotskyite party are these groups fronts for?" - oh the hilarity when the answer for every round turned out to be Socialist Organiser.

Meanwhile whole industries were being destroyed by Tories.

Don't get me wrong - I was equally frustrated that people who should have had a united purpose on the left couldn't sit round the same table in case one of them thought that the soviet union was state-capitalist rather than a deformed workers' state (or similar obscurantist rubbish).

Stop fighting the fights of ten/fifteen years ago.

9:02 pm, December 16, 2006


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