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, August 10, 2009

Life & death Mr Harris? Too right

Compass' John Harris has helpfully set-out the Labour left's strategy for destroying the party for the second time in 30 years in the Guardian today: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/09/labour-leadership-mandelson-cruddas

His narrative is:
  • write off all the achievements of Labour in government as "outrages and disappointments" - the betrayal myth
  • casually attack and insult the PM for "serial failures and Neanderthal style" - without naming the failures, possibly because there haven't been any?
  • write off the General Election now and start planning for the mother of all faction fights
  • drive false ideological wedges between leading figures in the party to exacerbate the factional split
  • crudely smear your enemies as believing in "genuflection to business, an insistence on the market-driven reform of public services, a belief that Labour should dispose of its residual belief in equality"
  • make veiled threats about leaving Labour for "a new life alongside a few potential allies: Lib Dems, Greens, the unreconstructed Old Left" (I'm tempted to react with an anglo-saxon invitation to do so)
  • then, with complete hypocrisy, falsely accuse cabinet ministers with roots in the party going back generations of plotting a "realignment of the centre-right via the ultra-Blairite split that some Labour insiders have been mischievously predicting for a few years"
  • elevate Jon Cruddas to the messianic status accorded to Tony Benn last time round - the problem being that like Benn he will probably lose his seat if Labour loses as badly as Harris seems to be willing us to

Mr Harris is right, and Lord Mandelson wrong, in just one regard - that Labour faces a life and death struggle just as it did in the early 1980s.

But the internal battle can be averted if for the time being we focus on an external battle - the General Election - which remains winnable if we have the will to win it.

And then if we do face an internal battle Mr Harris and Neal Lawson and their rag-tag and bobtail army of student Trots and dinner-party activist Guardianistas won't be facing the chimerical enemy of their dreams - market-crazed ultra-Blairites - but the broad coalition of moderate mainstream, sane Labour MPs and members - people who don't wallow in ideological debate because they are too busy delivering socialist values in their roles as councillors or trade unionists. People who understand that Labour's core working class supporters want a party to vote for that can deliver sensible policies on crime, tax and defence, as well as social justice and greater equality.

We have had this battle before and won it, long and difficult though it was. If we have to have it again, so be it. We will take on the John Harris's of the world and the nonsense they spout at every ward meeting and GC and conference until we prevail. The alternative is endless Tory government and all its attendant horrors.


Anonymous Madge said...

Luke-battle what battle? I've no problem with some interesting political discussion but if people want to have factional fighting inside the Labour Party let's leave them to it. Let's get on with the important stuff. Let them have a battle with nobody. We won't miss them because they were never much good at stuffing leaflets or knocking on doors anyway.

11:43 pm, August 10, 2009

Blogger Sunder Katwala said...

I agree that John Harris's column was weak, particularly in caricaturing those he disagreed with (on the right of the party). Though the piece could very easily be challenged from Harris' left too, in its willingness to give 'good' status to certain 'social democrats', while writing off others.

I don't really recognise his description of David Miliband, but to be quite certain there is a major ideological difference between good Miliband and bad Miliband is odd when there is little public evidence for that. The Milibands may have different views from each other - why shouldn't they - but one would need a phD in comparative Milibandism to be able to confidently set out what they are at this stage.

One problem I have with both his piece and your post is the 'fallacy of the excluded middle' ... a great many people in the Labour Party do not think some sort of civil war is inevitable or likely ... and think we will have a healthier party if we disrupt rather than reinforce some of the simpler media narratives as to what Labour's internal debate is.

So I think both James Purnell and Jon Cruddas have both done well in recent weeks in seeking to disrupt easy assumptions about what the future debates in the party are, particularly in both acknowledging that Labour is successful when there is a broad coalition of people who recognise there are internal differences about the speed of travel, specific issues and that this is both inevitable and sometimes healthy, but broader common causes which unite these groups.

And, on content, I think we have agreement across the party, including from almost all of the modernising right, that equality is a core Labour value (as in your post responding to John Denham). I just don't think we have a very significant 'no compromise with the electorate' left of a 1981-3 kind. And there are quite a lot of issues which do not fit into traditional left-right tramlines - such as political reform, Europe, environment. (Many of these were early New Labour issues which became somewhat second order).

So I think there can be too great a danger of relishing a factional scrap. Yes, there needs to be debate about strategy, politics, policy. I don't think it helps either the right or the left of the party to argue that other views are not legitimate or authentic views within Labour. (You may well think it is those out to the leftest who do this most: it would help if it was desisted from all quarters).

12:01 am, August 11, 2009

Anonymous Dirty Euro said...

I think membership fees are too high that is why party membership has fallen.
If anything party membership should be almost free. Let people donate then.

12:15 am, August 11, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

"You may well think it is those out to the leftest who do this most"

This is hardly a reasonable charge on Luke's heroically sectarian blog!

I don't particlarly like John Harris's column either. It suggests far too significant a role for Compass and Cruddas. It misunderstands where people sympathetic to left arguments are.

The so-called 'hard' or 'unreconstructed' left (i.e. the real left, with interesting ideas and proper principles ;-) ) are mistrustful of Compass and Cruddas for historical reasons (some fairly recent history...) The broad left who don't participate in such things don't perceive a difference. Lots of people I know who voted Cruddas for deputy last time believed him to be standing as John McDonnell's running mate. Lots of trade union broad lefties talked of supporting 'the two Johns'.

As such, the implied attack on the (so-called) hard left which would precipitate this imaginary Cruddas candidacy would be confusing and disorienting for much of Cruddas' likely supporters.

The truth is that at some point there will be a leadership election - I say that not in a spirit of writing off the next election, but merely a spirit of realism. Before or after, win or lose, there is likely to be a leadership contest in the next 12 months or so. The question for Compass to ask themselves is whether they will believe that somebody from the alleged Harman/Ed M faction (if such a faction exists) represents their position, whether to back a left challenge (again most likely to come from McDonnell) or to post their own challenge. If they are to post their own, they will have to be extraordinarily careful in how they deal with the so-called 'hard left'. Because outside the active core of Compass, left-wingers respond to Compass because they think they're left-wing, not because they think they're soft. There is no getting away from the fact that a 'centre-left' candidate is likely to find MPs nominations easier to come by than a left candidate. Not because the centre-left is stronger, but because they will expect to receive nominations from left and centre too. But if that candidacy has to justify why it is different from a left one (and is likely to prevent a left one) it is likely to suffer quite badly; it may still get the nominations but might suffer a backlash.

Therefore the soft left have a lot of thinking to do: most particularly if they don't have a candidate (i.e. will they back a current Cabinet New Labourite or somebody who supports many of the same policies as they do) but also if they choose to put somebody up themselves: how do they avoid alienating the broad left, without whom any such challenge is doomed.

3:13 am, August 11, 2009

Blogger kris said...

there havent been any failures?

Gordon sold off this country's gold reserves. fail.

McBride and Draper. fail.

Gordon's decision as Chancellor and PM not to adequately fund the military has been an epic fail.

Gordon's like a dog who's chased cars all his life, never knowing what he'd do if he actually caught it. He's not up to it.

6:22 am, August 11, 2009

Blogger Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks for the comment. 'you may well think that ... ' was to note that, from Luke's perspective, he is irritated and wants to challenge claims he is not authentically Labour because he is New Labour and loyalist. I think Luke would be right to note that he represents a long-running loyalist and tribalist perspective on Labour's right.

By the same token, I want to argue that he ought not to challenge those who are left or soft left as not authentically Labour. (That charge can be made against Militant-style entryism, but not against anybody who disagrees on anything). The party is and has almost always been a broad church, and works best when that pluralism is acknowledged.

I think a problem for the 'broad left' and a good deal of Labour Representation Committee/Campaign Group weakness is that it does often seem to argue primarily from a point of view of 'betrayal' of 'true socialism' and the argument that other voices in the party are not authentic, rather than acknowledging the pluralism, and advocating for a shift in its direction within that broad church.

To some extent, this may be reflected in the difficulty with the soft left (on which I am not an expert). But if a soft left candidate would need broad left support, the converse is undoubtedly true, if the broad left does wish to contest leadership positions and achieve something other than the type of symbolic result eg achieved by Benn and Heffer a long time ago.

This approach does often seems to me to turn what are legitimate and important differences of degree into fundamental differences. New Labour has, for example, expanded the size of the state; increased taxation and spending; re-regulated the bottom end of the labour market at least, etc. One can legitimately argue that it has not done enough of these things and should have done many more of them. When Labour voices call it 'market fundamentalist' (as eg Neal Lawson of Compass also does), they caricature

9:30 am, August 11, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Hi Sunder. I actually entirely agree that Luke represents a legitimate and long-running tradition of Labour thought. One I strongly disagree with, of course, but parties where everybody agrees with each other don't win elections!

I also agree that there has to be some sort of accommodation between the left and the so-called 'soft left', I merely like to challenge the orthodoxy that that accommodation should only come from one direction. For example, I was attacked for backing Hilary Benn rather than Jon Cruddas for Deputy, but it was considered absurd to question why those who professed to want to scrap trident, build lots of council homes, fundamentally change Labour's foreign policy and end 'market fundamentalism' should choose to back Brown over McDonnell. Both positions could be considered equally irrational, but then we were talking about very different offices...

I even think your reference to 'Militant-style entryism' is something of a retreat into what you rightly seek to criticise about the 'other positions aren't legitimate' argument. I would question whether there is anything meaningfully different about a group like Progress - which has its own publication advocating its own line - and some allegedly 'Trotskyist' group (the only difference would be if that group put forward and supported non-Labour candidates at elections, I suppose). Even though some of them might even use the language of entryism, it is something I've always found a tad absurd. Were I to join the Fabian Society, would I be an 'entryist' into the organisation, in that I don't agree with their 'line' on many things? Probably not when you bear in mind that I would disagree with very little said by some former illustrious Fabians such as Tony Benn or R.H.Tawney. There have always been Marxists in the Labour Party, to argue that they represent something 'beyond the pale' is the equivalent to saying that those who make no claim to be socialists, to our right, are 'entryists', etc. I have been known to describe New Labour as 'the entryist entity' but it is by way of pastiche...

Your point about the LRC/Campaign Group is a point about tactics really. We're all entitled to tactics! Those to our right can in the same breath be something entirely new and a break from the old when they're speaking to the electorate and the proud inheritors of an ethical socialist tradition encompassing Green, Crosland, etc. when speaking to a Labour audience (or defending themselves against the charge of not being 'real' Labour). Similarly we can be REAL Labour in one breath and remind people that the Labour Party has always been a party with socialists in it but never a socialist party with the next one!

I am sometimes concerned that the 'real Labour' tactic plays a little into the hands of the 'Old' Labour charge (itself a tactic of th right); however it has been reasonably successful in that the public at large probably see the left as a more 'authentic' Labour voice than the right (which I assume is why people on the right sometimes get a bit upset about all this...)

Having said all that, I think it's reasonable to argue that the party has moved significantly to the right and many of those old 'ethical socialists' whom Blair claimed a bloodline to would be more comfortable in an LRC meeting than a Progress one. (The historians of Blairism have tended to start leaving Roy Hattersley out of the chain because he's still around to ask...)

10:34 am, August 11, 2009

Anonymous Antonia said...

Sunder challenged me to write my "yes, but..." response to Luke's post.

The "but" is easier - and more expected. I'd instinctively align myself with the type of policies that Compass promotes. After all, for the most part, they are core centre-left Labour positions supported by many of our members - albeit not all of our members, particularly those who have found themselves at the top of the party in recent years. I voted for Jon Cruddas, and would put myself on the sensible left of the party, though running a local council tends to push you centrewards, I find. And another reason for the "but" is that as much as I enjoy reading Luke's blog, I also find his obsession with bashing the left a bit bewildering. The hard left in the party have no power, anymore, Luke - why do you bother? I know you're in a slightly odd CLP, but the rest of us have moved on, and you're in danger of becoming a caricature.

But the "yes" - well, that's more unexpected. Deep breath: Luke is right. All of us - from the right of the party to the left - should care less about some faction fight for position after the election. Our choice is not for this Labour party or a better one. It's for Labour in government, imperfect though it is, and Labour not in government. This is the heart of the problem: John Harris, Compass and their likes think that Labour in government has been so bad, so imperfect, that it's not worth the effort required to keep it in. They've given up already - not because they believe it's unwinnable (how could they know? Writing pamphlets about PR and the post office takes up so much time that darn it! they've forgotten to go canvassing again) but because they believe it's not worth it.

Don't get me wrong - like Compass, like John Harris, I want Labour to have better policies - dare I say, democratic socialist policies. But I'd like us to get to those better policies and that rebuilt party without upending a barrel of Tory shite over the country.

And that means, if you're indulging in policy discussion and faction fighting right now, in August 2009, you're part of the problem. It is not too late to hold onto many many of our MPs - enough for a majority. What matters now is mobilisation, building trust in your MPs and councillors in your local areas and responding to people's concerns on the doorstep, not warring articles on Comment is Free and pretty launches with finger food at thinktanks.

The reason my answer to Luke is "yes, but..." is because the important dividing line in the Labour party now is not between people on the Labour left and people on the Labour right: it's between those of us with the will to win and the guts to do something about it, and those without.

No matter what our reservations and no matter where we are in the party, people who are out there knocking on doors and putting out leaflets are the future of this party - not those sat at home writing press releases announcing their resignation, setting up think tanks and blogging for victory. The future of the Labour party looks like Luke, who would be (and I hope will be again soon) knocking on doors every weekend; it looks like the former entryist who nearly took a sixth new council seat in Oxford this summer by sheer grinding hard work; and it looks like everyone politically in-between out there on the doorstep defending a Labour government, being honest by their own lights about where they have reservations, and not conceding an inch to the Tories or the defeatists. Unity, hard work and Labour values, comrades. We are not an after-dinner discussion club.

11:37 am, August 11, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Antonia, I'm feeling a 'yes, but...' coming on!

(Leaving aside the 'sensible left' jibe, etc. - which is doing precisely what you say not to) you make a number of sensible points. I entirely agree that writing off the next election is a criminal act of folly. But there are plenty in government doing it. And they're doing it in such a way as to forget the next ten months too! What I'd have done for ten months of a Labour government in early 90s! What I'd have done with it! So to criticise people for having policy debates, I think, is wrong-headed. If the current policies are deficient and are making an election defeat more likely, then a policy debate is the responsible response of committed Labourites who want to win.

A policy debate is precisely what we need - a faction fight is precisely what we don't need. The two things are VERY different.

Our best chance to stay in power is to remind our voters what we are for and to do some really solid, impressive things with the last few months of this parliament: to achieve things that make a difference to the lives of our voters.

We need a Labour government now more than ever. But it has to be a Labour government that is prepared to act as a Labour government: when I say that, I'm not saying a Tory government would be no worse than the current situation or anything like that - of course it would be worse - I'm saying is that the current situation makes a Tory government more likely.

What disappoints me about what John Harris has to say (and some of his colleagues) is that he talks about 'sleep-walking' but he doesn't seem to want to wake anybody up until after the election. By then it might just be too late.

11:47 am, August 11, 2009

Anonymous Daniel Blaney said...

Well done, Antonia, Duncan and Luke (ie where you all agree).

John Harris's article was badly timed and badly crafted. There are too many people across the Labour spectrum (not just in Compass, which I am a member of) who devote themselves to internal battles without reference to the external. Both matter - that politics - but right now the prioriy has to be maximising Labour's representation in the next parliament. John Harris doesn't get it.

12:16 pm, August 11, 2009

Blogger Sunder Katwala said...

Antonia's response seemed to me a good one. And thanks to Luke for hosting this outbreak of respectful discourse across left, soft left, and centre/right of the party too.

On Duncan ... I think we broadly agree on several things about the approach to internal pluralism, and policy debate even if no doubt we might agree and disagree on specific questions.

To clarify on Militant: I am not in favour of a 'reds under the bed' approach. But I do take Militant to be an example of an illegitimate attempt to organise within for purposes directly and deliberately hostile to the Labour Party itself, on behalf of the SWP and its associated ideology. (I would have an analagous concern about those who argued eg that the Black Socialist Society should seek elect Black MPs, using the Labour ticket, rather than Labour MPs who were black, and so who felt for example that those elected in 1987 who agreed to support a Labour manifesto were selling out).

That seems to me different from the LRC, Campaign Group, old Tribune group, the Old Right in Solidarity, Progress, Compass, etc. I would see each of these are all legitimate arguments to persuade on ideas, strategy and policy. Being a pluralistic Fabian, I am less persuaded by any perspective/faction which can only see its own point of view, and especially if that extends to imputing malign motivations to other voices unless there is evidence for that: here I accept that New Labour in its millennial phase around 2000 was as or more guilty of this than anybody on the left.

So I would welcome 'entryism' of that second kind into the Fabian Society (especially Tawneyesque entryism!) as a valid and legitimate contribution to an ongoing open debate about the ideas of the left and how to bring them about in practice, ideally conducted in a spirit of mutual respect. I think the Labour Party can have an excessive fear of internal pluralism and debate from its recent history, which I think casts a longer shadow now than it need do.

12:49 pm, August 11, 2009

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

To clarify on Militant: I am not in favour of a 'reds under the bed' approach. But I do take Militant to be an example of an illegitimate attempt to organise within for purposes directly and deliberately hostile to the Labour Party itself, on behalf of the SWP and its associated ideology.

Without wanting to derail the thread from its original subject, this is well wide of the mark.

Not least because the RSL (Militant) and SWP couldn't stand the sight of each other and had utterly irreconcilable positions on both political and organisational questions.

1:54 pm, August 11, 2009

Blogger donpaskini said...

Good discussion thread.

Unlike the early 1980s, the divisions between right and left are actually much smaller (there are hardly any revolutionary socialists or "Old Labour" homophobes and racists a la Bob Mellish around these days, for example).

The big arguments between the Progress and Compass factions often seem to me to be about tactics and in particular public relations. I was reading, for example, Hopi's criticism of Harriet Harman, which was about the way that she set herself up for a Daily Mail hate-a-thon, rather than disagreeing with any of the policy content.

So one big battle is that John Harris and Neal Lawson want Labour's policies to be packaged in a way which appeals more to "Guardian reading lefties", whereas Luke and Hazel Blears don't, and Neal and John want policies which will be denounced furiously by the right-wing newspapers and Luke and Hazel don't.

Given all that, I'd have thought that there is a policy programme for the next few months which could probably get enthusiastic support from all sides, starting with the introduction of free childcare.

2:55 pm, August 11, 2009

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Predictably, I am popping up. In fairness, I'm pretty much channelling Antonia's views above. As long as Labour is susceptible to any kind of influence from unions I will remain here, imperfect though that minimum situation is. As Luke says, Labour is packed with excellent pragmatic, local socialists. These things are all worth standing up for. So I agree with Antonia's criticisms.

But I think Don Paskini mischaracterises Compass in the same way the right believe Compass mischaracterises them.

It's simply not true that compass wants policies that will be savaged by the right wing press. It was some policies which would be... but there have been countless examples of this from the right of the party too. How much of a decent press did road charging get? Heathrow? 90 days detention? I could go on.

Nobody except possibly Nick Griffin has a policy platform that will keep Richard Desmond and Paul Dacre happy forever. And I won't even start with Murdoch.

These press people will support Labour, as long as it doesn't act within its own traditions, ideology and values. Their objective is to prevent the implementation of socialist/social democratic policies in this country. The first way to do that is to electorally defeat Labour, a tactic they have reverted to. The second way is to gut it and make it kneel for scraps.

As far as I am concerned, both of these situations are unacceptable.

Why does our population have no input into the national debate in the press? Why is freedom of speech restricted to right-wing millionaires and their faux journalistic henchmen?

On factionalism, Duncan makes a point, but I'm afraid that I just don't believe under current conditions that Democratic Socialists can either win elections or widen their movements speaking only the language of unadulterated democratic socialism.

It is completely unpersuasive, but we have no natural majority. So it is wrong.

I think we need our politics to be much closer to the values we profess to believe in. Sunder, a commitment to equality, yes, but the power gap and the financial gap continue to widen. It's all very nice to listen to what ministers tell us, but party members with half a brain should look first at the world and communities around them. A commitment to equality has so far proven largely insubstantive.

As for growing the state, as a Fabian/co-operator of the GDH Cole tradition (as well as a Compasser, god, complicated eh?), I'm going to have to disagree on whether that is a necessary or apt test of social-democratic achievement. Size doesn't matter, it's what you do with it that counts. :-p

There is much that New Labur has done with it that counts. But there is also much that counts against our movement, and against its shared values.

7:13 pm, August 11, 2009

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Also, for the record, I think that all of the factions apart from outright revolutionaries are crucial to the long term survival of Labour. They draw in different parts of a wide coalition, a big pluralistic family.

That said, I would obviously like to see some rebalancing.

I know Luke likes the ALP. In the ALP, at least the left has avenues to win sometimes, though the whole setup is more factionalised than here, formally at least. And apart from really basic things like gay marriage, the right is a lot more moderate (i.e. orientated towards the party centre) and temperate.

7:22 pm, August 11, 2009

Blogger donpaskini said...

Hi Tom,

You say that 'It's simply not true that compass wants policies that will be savaged by the right wing press,' but then go on to support my argument by giving examples of policies which compass support which would annoy the right-wing newspapers, and say that it is basically pointless to try to keep the right-wing press on side.

That's a major point of disagreement between Compass and the 'moderates' - people like Luke, Hopi or Hazel Blears would argue that one of the reasons why we kept losing in the 1980s was because we championed policies which attracted such unrelentingly negative press.

It's an argument about different kinds of public relations strategies as much as about policy fundamentals.

9:38 pm, August 11, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

But the very reason Labour are in trouble is the fact they didn't follow traditional Labour left wing policies.

The new Labour experiment succeeded for so long because you were blessed with an economy built on debt and greed. Brown and Blair lorded in the glory of no more boom and bust and then came 2007. The city brought you success and now it will take it away.

Despite all the good times Labour failed to support British workers and push forward very needed Labour reforms. Years of tory rule left workers demoralized and hoping that a return of a Labour government would bring about change.

The fact is new Labour has made it worse for working people. We are working longer, harder and for a lot less. We face competition from global markets and millions of jobs have been lost because our politicians are too busy lining their own pockets to be bothered about the working class.

This country is fucked thanks Thatcher, Brown and Blair....

9:46 pm, August 11, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

I can't agree with Don. It really isn't about the press. We'd all like a good press. It's the policies. Sometimes it is fundamental. I don't think that's a problem necessarily - there've always been points of fundamental disagreement in the labour movement and - despite the occasional minor split - we've co-existed throughout that.

But it is wrong to reduce those differences to one of media tactics. If you take something like 90-day detention, for example, surely those who supported didn't just do so because they wanted positive headlines? I don't think so badly of them that they would keep people in prison without trial to satisfy Rupert Murdoch! Now there'll be fundamental differences of liberal philosophy, practical differences of efficacy of such a policy, etc. but it can't just be about headlines. Same with privatisations surely. I don't want things in public ownership because I want bad headlines (I don't think renationalisation of the railways, for example, would get us universally bad headlines) - I want that because I think democratic control of the economy is an essential element of democracy. I assume those who support privatisations, PFI, etc. have real reasons for doing so - supporting private enterprise, meeting the convergence criteria for the Euro, whatever they might be - not just because they imagine some newspaper will give them a good write-up for it?

No, it won't do to imagine our differences are so slight. They are big and they are fundamental and they matter. And they matter before an election as well as after one.

But that doesn't mean we can't co-exist in the same party and have comradely debate: I hope we all can. We've managed for over 100 years!

12:37 am, August 12, 2009

Anonymous Neil F said...

The trouble is Luke is that I don't think you have even partially come to terms with the fact that it was Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint, two people you clearly admire, who did everything they could to bring down Gordon Brown this summer. Of course it's much easier to focus on a Guardian columnist rather than those closest to you who have let you down. It really must have hurt. But blotting that out doesn't lend itself to reasoned analysis.

If we're being frank, let's ask just who has harmed Labour's chances of re-election? John Harris's articles? They've not come up once on the doorstep or in any GC meeting I've been at. However the resignation of a local government secretary the day before the local government elections has.

Disloyalty doesn't come when an organisation puts out a pamphlet on creating a good society. It is shown when a European minister who supports our leader when there was a promotion in it for her, but rounds on the PM a day later in the most petulant and vindictive manner when that job doesn't materialise.

You are still fighting the last war Luke, if not the one before that. You are rearranging facts around your own prejudices. We have to keep the party united to stand a chance at the next election. So why not channel your energy into healing recent splits among your closest colleagues and not in encouraging new divisions?

8:50 am, August 12, 2009

Blogger cambusken said...

I am far removed from the internal factionising of any party. I know it needs to be done, for democracy's sake, but, hell, life is too short. But I have to say that Luke's post - which I found via the Guardian, of which I am a long suffering reader - was a breath of fresh air. I think the "script" he has found in the rantings of so-called left intellectuals (who command the Guardian pages nowadays) was spot on. Their concerns are so remote, so academic, but so predictably fashionable - I bet they all Twitter - that I sometimes despair of an authentic left-wing voice for those who really need it. Ahem, poor people? Thank's again Luke, - and to Sunder, who must be the best glue your party has.

10:43 am, August 12, 2009

Blogger Rachael Saunders said...

In reply to Antonia – it seems from what you say that in Oxford people across the political spectrum are prepared to put their differences aside and get out on the doorstep to fight elections. That’s brilliant. Where I’m from, there is a very clear divide between those on the right of the party across to the soft left, who canvass regularly and work hard within a very active party, and those on the hard left, who still bemoan the expulsion of Militant, who are unhappy and discomforted when for example we win a by election, because it doesn’t fit into their narrative. There are significant numbers of these people in my CLP, they regularly win votes in debates at GC, and they hold a number of positions on the EC.
I would love nothing more than to be able to spend all my time out on the doorstep and being a good councillor, but I have no choice but to fight these people because last time they had control of our party machinery – because “sensible” people had better things to do than go to boring meetings - we lost touch with the electorate, our contact rate was close to zero and George Galloway became my MP.
I have no problem at all with people who have ideas and hold ideologies from across the Labour spectrum – my only condition is that they talk to voters from outside their own social circle occasionally to find out what the people of Tower Hamlets, who really need a Labour government, really want and need. There is a significant and well organised faction of people who hate this government, hate those of us who are fighting to keep Jim in Poplar and win back Bethnal Green and Bow and are waiting for us to lose the General Election so they can glory in “I told you so”. I have to fight them, to make decent people waste their time in boring meetings so that the hard left doesn’t steal back our party, steal back control over our resources and structures and leave us to rot electorally all over again.

10:55 am, August 12, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

And just when it was getting friendly...

I don't know people in your constituency, I'm from the other end of the country.

What I do know is that there is a popular myth that the left (what you call the 'hard' left) doesn't work for the party. I find it enormously offensive.

I might feel - I'll be honest, I do feel - that the 'hard right' 'stole' my party, 'stole' our resources and structures and are now at risk of leaving us in an unsalvagable electoral state. Despite this feeling, I have fought tooth and claw to get us elected, at each general election, and to get councillors elected between elections, etc, etc. Contrast this with someone who I won't name because it wouldn't be fair, who told me a little while ago that if 'my lot' were to lead the party she would leave. What strikes me is the astonishing level of acquiescence, loyalty and determination not to rock the boat too much on the part of the much-maligned so-called 'hard left'. Some comments I've read sound as if people on the right thought we'd actually gone away and have come back, so prepared have we been to fight for our government - a government that at times have not just done things we disagree with, but have done things we fundamentally oppose, with every inch of our being.

Now I'm prepared to accept that somebody like Luke would, if five years from now we're fighting a general election with John McDonnell as our leader, would be out on the doorstep making the case (while, quite reasonably and quite rightly pushing his views and preferred policies at conferences, etc.) but I can't say I'm convinced about some of you! Unless you're sure you'd be out with us on the stump, don't be so quick to criticise some who find it hard to stomach canvassing for those who rained bombs on Baghdad.

We are engaged in a constant attempt to keep people in the party, to stop them from leaving (and indeed to recruit new people) and this means being bloody critical of the government at times, and offering people the hope of an alternative. When we do that, we get them out and we get them working. Don't knock it.

It isn't my party; it isn't yours. It isn't a question of 'stealing'. If you're not prepared to countenance a 'hard left' ascendency then you are in no position to question the loyalty of those who have continued paying their subscriptions, and working for this party, throughout the last 15 years, while many of those in charge have seen it as their job to marginalise, attack and exclude them.

11:47 am, August 12, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you can label the line that Harris takes as rabidly Left Wing. I think the real problem that many have with what Labour has done is that some things are just not what a social democratic party should be doing. I would suggest the example of Academies. Straight away the problem is the democratic deficit -local communities do not have democratic control of such schools. For a relatively small sum private concerns are getting control of schools and there is a lack of accountability.

An area we would agree on is the 'equality' is not a crucial concern line. For anyone in the Labour Party it should be a concern.

My criticism of Labour since 1997 would be that for much of that time they had opportunities that say Attlee and Wilson did not have and they did not really make enough of them.

12:44 pm, August 12, 2009

Blogger socialpolitics said...

Fantastic post Duncan, I think you've nailed it :)


12:51 pm, August 12, 2009

Blogger donpaskini said...

"I have no choice but to fight these people because last time they had control of our party machinery – because “sensible” people had better things to do than go to boring meetings - we lost touch with the electorate, our contact rate was close to zero and George Galloway became my MP."

The main reason that Oona King lost to Galloway was because she voted for the war on Iraq. I agree that is an example of an MP losing touch really, really badly with their electorate, but I'm struggling to see how it is the fault of the hard left.

Anyway, isn't the priority in Tower Hamlets internal Labour politics to defeat the Islamists?

2:05 pm, August 12, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

Sorry, but I think its likely that Labour will not win the next election. They are out of steam, tired, without ideas or vision other than those already seen to fail.

The main problem is that they just cannot admit that they put far too much faith in market solutions

The electoral cycle means that every so often there will be changes of government. Isn't it clear enough that the time has come when there will be a change even if we dislike the alternative.

I think its daft to pretend that the centre-left are the same as Militant et al. Totally different.

And given that Labour will be defeated next time, there will be a need to look back and work out what went wrong. I don't think that will lead to far left policies. I do think it will mean a more critical attitudes to markets and globalisation.

5:10 pm, August 12, 2009

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Duncan's playing an absolute blinder here - sensible, engaged, principled. All the things the left gets caricatured as being incabable of being.

Which is why I had to emit a hearty sigh of despair, yet again, at a Compass cheerleader attacking 'hard left' strawmen, to wit Tom 2.0's comment:

"I just don't believe under current conditions that Democratic Socialists can either win elections or widen their movements speaking only the language of unadulterated democratic socialism."

Who is using this 'unadulterated' language here? The things that Compass espouses - and gets acres of space in the Guardian to espouse - are things that organisations like the LRC believe too? And tend to walk the walk a bit more on them than Compass's pretend-rebels in parliament. Can't you lot just lay off this stuff for a bit? Harris did the same with his "unreconstructed" jibe, without explaining what "unreconstructed" stuff he actually disagreed with.

I respect Luke's position and commitment as a legitimate Labour person too - he's an excellent campaigner.

But I'd also like people to get some appreciation of what it means to be a Labour member among other non-party-affiliated trade unionists and progressives these days: it's a nightmare, frankly. We're forever getting slagged off four our perceived 'blind loyalty' to Labour, for aiding and abetting war criminals, for supporting a party that dumps on its own trade union supporters. Has anyone tried to persuade anyone to sign up for the affiliated political fund in a union lately? Found it easy? In these circumstances, the supposedly 'disloyal' Labour left is showing a tenacious loyalty, which should at least be acknowledged.

It'd be nice if government policy gave us a bit more to back up our arguments with. Which is why we do need a democratic debate, and one done in a mature enough way not to develop into a personal faction fight.

12:22 am, August 14, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

. I don't think it helps either the right or the left of the party to argue that other views are not legitimate or authentic views within Labour.

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10:43 am, August 18, 2009


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