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, March 24, 2009

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Sunder Katwala says we have got to get over Militant and New Labour.

I find this Year Zero approach to Labour history somewhat surprising from the General Secretary of the over-100-years-old Fabian Society.

He quotes a guy in the audience at the "Change we need" event last night shouting out
"I remember the 1980s. The Trots will be back. We must have a Trot infestation strategy".

I suspect it may have been John Spellar, but whoever it was, they were right.

The Bennite left and its Trotskyist allies have not gone away. I see the evidence of that every time I go to my local Labour GC meeting. Their cadres are getting older but a Labour defeat in the General Election will allow them to recruit new activists and reactivate old ones around a myth of leadership betrayal.

Insurgency from the left has afflicted Labour during every major period in opposition - the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1980s.

In every case it has been necessary to wage a long and bitter internal struggle to smash the left and purge entryists who are not democratic socialists in order to make the party electable again.

This is not a pleasant task but it is one that has to be done. Sunder worries that this is "deeply alienating for new generations of activists". Not half as alienating as having your local party taken over by revolutionaries is.

The "why can't we all have a group hug and be idealistic" school-of-thought won't last five minutes once the next big scrap for the soul of the Party starts.

We will need moderate activists with the guts and moral strength to stand up to the ultra left and the stamina to out organise them. If we can get to a position where mass participation means we can just out vote the crazies, as in 1994-1997, then great, but there may well be a period before that when being a Labour activist means entering into a world of pain and political trench warfare, and we shouldn't kid recruits it will all be nice social events and a happy-clappy unified crusade.

Ben Brandzel said at the meeting "When all you have to choose from is professional politicos and the unemployed Trot newspaper-seller, then you are in trouble. Seven loud and angry people can dominate a small meeting".

But we will be in trouble if we lose the next election, and meetings probably will be like that. When that's the choice, those of us who are what Brandzel calls "professional politicos" will have to get eight people of good will into the room to out vote the "seven loud and angry people". Unless you win those fights then the chances of ever getting "thousands of people" involved are nil as the people who actually want Labour to win elections will not control the structures of the party.

The big question that will face Sunder and other people of good will in the party is will they get their hands dirty and help win that battle again or will they be at home watching it on TV and wringing their hands about how nasty it all is.


Blogger Sunder Katwala said...


This is a bit daft. What you are taking as an opinion piece is clearly just part of the live-blogging of what people were saying at last nights event. The comment you attribute to me was made from the floor.

12:15 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Apologies, I assumed from it being the headline of the post and you not contradicting it that you agreed with the second intervention rather than the first.

You could have headed your post "We must have a Trot infestation strategy"!

12:20 pm, March 24, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think your piece bears that much relation to reality. Most trotskyists gave up on the Labour Party years ago and laugh in your face when the suggestion of 'working within the mass organisations of the class' is mentioned.

They're not coming back.

12:21 pm, March 24, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke, Hackney GC is a bit different from most GCs across the country. There are scarcely any Bennites left and most Trots have left the party through choice. That doesn't mean the left is dead, just that most of the left aren't Bennites or Trots now (which is a good thing, I think).

Exercising paranoia against left groups which don't really exist outside Hackney before we've even fought the next election will not help us. Let's concentrate on the real enemy - the Tories.

12:23 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

If that's the case how come the Grassroots Alliance get nominations for real unreconstructed candidates like Willsman (CLPD) and Shawcroft (Briefing) from so many CLPs?

The idiots of Compass will undoubtedly act as fellow-travellers and a soft front for the harder left just as the LCC did pre-1985.

I'm sure in the Wilson/Callaghan era people were similarly complacent "oh there's no Bevanite
problem any more, Militant are just a handful of over-idealistic youngsters etc."

Like the headline says: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

12:40 pm, March 24, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you were trying to push my buttons there you succeeded.

Comparing Bevanites to Militants? Come on, you can do better than that. There are plenty of younger activists, myself included, who would've been on Bevan's side in the 50s and against the Militant in the 80s.

Willsman and Shawcroft may be Bennites but that doesn't mean that everyone voting for or nominating them is. Plenty of CLPs want a mix of different political views on the NEC and cross-nominate candidates from different slates. If Willsman and Shawcroft are the options from the left - and as their names are recognisable because they've been around for a long time - they'll nominate them. So too not everyone votes on a political basis for the NEC - eg some people like to have members who live near them on the NEC. Again entirely understandable.

You really seem to be dredging up a conspiracy where none exists.

1:13 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Tom said...

"The idiots of Compass"

Your lot would be screwed without their Kinnocks, Luke.

On the actual reality of trot infestation, my CLP is already too small and inactive to allow any trots to get involved. Without the inspiration for many younger people to join and get active, there is very little to try to take over. I should imagine that this situation is replicated around the country...

2:11 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Oh for a few 'trots'...

Honestly Luke.

It wouldn't half help out right now - they tend to be young, quite idealistic, thick-skinned and not afraid of doing some hard-hitting community work, which we need doing. And - despite assertions to the contrary - they are proportionally more likely to be active. If every CLP had 3 or 4 'trots' I'd fancy our chances much more for the next election.

Your assumption is that people who don't agree with you about policy don't want Labour to win. But in fact those of us who have stayed and fought it out throughout this period have fought bloody hard to get Labour elected - despite disagreeing with many (at times most) of the policies. That takes real commitment to the cause! Not like the part-timers saying they'd leave the party if we elected a left-wing leader.

I'm a Bennite. Proud of it. I'm not a Trotskyist - but I've known some who were good, hard-working party members (and some who were a waste of space - I'd say that about pretty much any faction in the party). I've not met any whose motivation was purely entryist.

If you begin a debate by anouncing that it's a trench war, then you've already ruled out the possibility of it being constructive. Which seems rather a pity.

Our period of agreement didn't last long, did it?

2:46 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

This is paranoia of the worst order.

There is and always has been a totally LEGITIMATE left-wing within the labour party, though many of them have departed in disgust, along with others like me who are social democrats but do not regard this government as sufficiently so.

It appears that the Blairite neo-conservatives, facing certain election defeat next time, are going to try and hold on to control of the party by labelling their opponents as 'Trots', even though it is quite clear that those unhappy with the trend of NL are anything but.

Sadly, NL has put off not only trots (who I think are not legitimately part of a social democratic party) but many others as well. You must realise, Luke, that many people will not vote for an entire slate and think that there should be a place for both left and right in the party - I always used to vote that way, deliberately, and would always favour those not standing as part of a slate in any case.

I think that the Blairites have been just as destructive to the party as the hard left, frankly, because they have left it a hollow shell which inspires nothing but cynicism in the electorate

3:27 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Chris Paul said...

Pete Willsman and co get nominations because many grassroots Labour people happen to believe either (a) they are right about certain important issues and/or (b) that the govt and the party high ups get enough seats in the NEC as it is and that without some CLGA people their concerns wouldn't be raised, there'd be no debate, there'd be no conscience operating in the NEC. Picking 20 yes people of the Luke school of thought may be your ideal but it ain't democracy it's pants.

If some of the TU people were voting along the lines of their Unions' policies the platform might have a problem. But they don't. Those sending them up want Ermine or they themselves want to be PPCs.

3:47 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Sunder Katwala said...

Sure. No problem. I do agree with Brandzel. I will post on your ripostes by tonight, and get this argument up about whether this is an agenda we need, or a red herring by all of us loved up Obamanauts.

Point was that I was simply being deployed by our WebGenerals in a reporting and blogging capacity, and that seemed to me the catchy and provocative headline. So would the other one have been.

I would not myself imply an equation between Militant and New Labour, though perhaps the speaker wasn't either. But I do think the framing of both the contentful and organisational debate as whether we want 1995 or 1975 is bad for us, and wish to try to reframe both. I think the New Labour method and structure is now hopeless as an organisational model, and I do think there is an emerging consensus on that within New Labour; that is a different question to having a relatively centrist centre-left and real world platform, which I will always be for, though also for tilting the content within that somewhat centre-leftwards both on substance and as an issue of electoral coalition-building.

4:26 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

"In every case it has been necessary to wage a long and bitter internal struggle to purge entryists"

Heh. This is the language of pure unadulterated Stalinism and Leninism - smash dissent. Silence opposition. There Is Only One Way.

I don't know if you've noticed Luke, but out in the real world, people are losing jobs, the party's losing support and members, and our government's being blamed - not entirely unfairly - for being asleep at the wheel while this has all happened.

When will you stop sounding so dementedly intolerant? Listen to yourself FFS.

5:14 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


I am "dementedly intolerant" of people who are not democratic socialists infiltrating democratic socialist parties.

If you are a revolutionary communist (not saying you are by the way) you should take a running jump and join a revolutionary communist party.

I am "dementedly intolerant" of people whose policy beliefs would make Labour unelectable, or if we were elected, would deeply damage our country.

There are plenty of legitimate differences of policy that can be debated. There are also limits beyond which people who go should be denounced and out-voted, rather than pandered to and given legitimacy.

5:21 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger E10 Rifle said...


I'm a woolly old reformist in the scheme of things overall, but I think a defeat in an election should lead to a bit of internal questioning of our party's leadership. Clearly, the Blair-Brown way isn't very popular anymore - nor is there political outlook towards, for example, the very rich and unregulated capital. Lots of people in the party - not just the isolated handful of old Trots - think that we need to reconnect with lots of people who feel abandoned and neglected and who no longer vote Labour, no longer want to join Labour, just embrace a bit of social democracy again, rather than the Thatcherism-lite that has characterised a bit too much of the Blair-Brown years.

Some people may have to admit to being wrong, including you, including me, including people in the cabinet. But now seems an odd time to be prioritising waging sectarian war on a very very small section of the party (Trots) or, for that matter, a quite small and unthreatening but mildly critical faction such as Compass

5:45 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I'm not advocating this type of conflict now.

I'm warning that we will face it if we lose the General Election because the left won't be able to resist plunging the party into civil war - it's what they exist for, because they are very destructive, silly people.

5:54 pm, March 24, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke: "I am "dementedly intolerant" of people who are not democratic socialists infiltrating democratic socialist parties."

Fair enough, but for consistency's sake does that mean you will similarly demand a purge of elements on the right of the party who also fail to pass the democratic socialist test.

6:33 pm, March 24, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke is absolutely correct (I was going to say right!) when he says the hard left haven't gone away and will be back to wreak electoral destruction on the Labour Party. It isn't just in Hackney where they remain, I can point to many constituencies in Yorkshire.

Their numbers might be small, but they will manipulate and use their fellow travellers within the soft left (Compass) only to knife them when they get the opportunity. The centre left and centre right of the Labour Party must be united against the very real threat from the hard left.

6:39 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Here's a novel idea: why don't we concentrate on a really nasty and reactionary political opponent that threatens us - they're called "the Tories", and our need to expose their lack of any ideas to deal with the financial crisis, that they speak for and of the hedge fund types that are crippling our livelihoods, and to flag up the dangers they pose is rather more important than attacking people in our own party.

But then there are a lot of destructive, silly rightwing entryists in the Labour party these days as well - and their loyalty cannot always be counted on.

7:07 pm, March 24, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course it will be "necessary to wage a long and bitter internal struggle to smash the left and purge entryists who are not democratic socialists". And we'll do the latter first. Perhaps you and your fellow Blairites could do us a favour by quitting now, Luke?

8:34 pm, March 24, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Speller would do better to concentrate his efforts in his own back yard where I am told his supporters got a real bloody nose at the AGM.

9:13 pm, March 24, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes maybe, but Brown surely should be taking this advice.

I'm hearing very credible rumors that Brown may be ousted from his job next month.

The recession is deepening and the BOE has turned on the governments spending plans. Brown is clearly at the heart of this disagreement and I can't see how Brown can survive.

The Queen is meeting with the head of the BOE....why? And why is the meetings details secret even from the PM.

9:32 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Hmm... Thanks for that Stuart.

Yes there are so-called 'hard left' party members in Yorkshire. I hold my hands up! Mea culpa! Burn the witch!

I could, of course, launch into a diatribe questioning the right of various Blairites and Brownites to describe themselves as 'democratic socialist', asking what exactly is socialist about privatising Royal Mail and the benefits system, reintroducing the 1834 Poor Law and killing lots of Iraqis. Somebody would then throw their hands up in horror and start quoting Herbert Morrison at me... We could have that discussion, I don't really see much merit in it. My definition of democratic socialism differs quite a lot from yours - I'm not going to suggest yours is illegimate, please extend me the same courtesy.

But there are plenty of party members who've joined since 1994 who quite specifically say that they are not socialists; indeed some are quite openly and directly anti-socialist. I can cope with that. By my definition of socialism we are but a significant minority in the party, so if some of the rest recognise that, that's fine by me! I'm not going to try and expel them or remove them because they don't self-define as democratic socialists. In policy terms they broadly agree with you, so they have a place in the traditions of our party even if they're not aware of it.

Similarly there might be some young pups who define as 'revolutionary socialists'. But in policy terms they broadly agree with me. I'm quite relaxed about them being in the party too; they too fit neatly into our traditions. Bevan, for example, was a pretty doctrinaire classical Marxist. I've met lots of these revolutionaries, and they really aren't stashing kalashnikovs for the glorious day.

As for those putting forward policies that will make us lose - we really can't blame our parlous state in the polls on the ideas and policies of the left! Also, there are times when you support unpopular policies because you believe them to be right, and quite right too. Well, occasionally we all do that. Having said that, the public seem quite sold on some 'hard left' policies right now.

And of course, if left-wingers choose to stand in elections and put forward policy ideas, that would not be 'tearing the party apart'. That would be brought on us by right-wingers refusing to have the debates or the elections...

10:51 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

I think that once the next election is lost - and of course it will be - get real - then there does need to be not a civil war but certainly a reconsideration of the many failures of the Blair-Brown years.

I think the first reality check is that the 2001 and 2005 elections were won largely because there was no credible opposition party.

And, yes, I certainly think that Labour needs to rediscover its social democratic direction - which means ditching the Tory ideas of New Labour which have alienated so many people. Belief in the free market, engagement in illegal wars, privatising the post office, PFI's, the entirely mistaken welfare reform strategy which misses the point big-style....when you listen to people like Hutton or Purnell , there is really nothing about them which couldn't happily fit into the Tory party. Tribal affinity to an organisation is meaningless unless that organisation stands for something, and Labour must change in order for it to do so.

I realise that you really do agree with the current direction of Labour, but I think that many more would not agree. Under a Tory government, Labour will need to think seriously about their future appeal, and it will require more than just relying on the Tories becoming unpopular again.

11:46 pm, March 24, 2009

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

I fear that the 2001 and 2005 elections will be remembered by history less for Labour's unprecedented retention of power than for being the point that electoral turnout tumbled irreversibly way below the 70 per cent mark that had been taken for granted before them. But Blairism continued the hollowing out of political choice and alternatives begun by Thatcher.

Duncan's posts have been comfortably the most eloquent and informed on this thread - we need that informed eloquence on the doorstep and in policy-making fora (rather than being hounded out by Luke's Department of Correction) because at the moment the impression I'm getting is that the party's forgotten who it's talking to and what it's trying to say.

And all at a time when we could still be taking apart the really quite remarkably lightweight and incoherent Tory opposition.

12:26 am, March 25, 2009

Blogger Sunder Katwala said...



I have now posted my own riposte in my own words. I am hoping your call for a reality check will see others engage in what is and is not possible in the real world.

But I think you take the miserabilism to almost comedic levels, were it not also predicting a tragic future.

8:07 am, March 25, 2009

Blogger Tom said...

"I am "dementedly intolerant" of people whose policy beliefs would make Labour unelectable, or if we were elected, would deeply damage our country."

The question then, I suppose, is why you believe that democratic socialist policies are unelectable ones.

No contradiction in your position there?

10:48 am, March 25, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I think we have a different view on what constitute "democratic socialist policies". I would say that most of what we have been doing for the past 12 years has been implementing "democratic socialist policies".

10:56 am, March 25, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think we have a different view on what constitute "democratic socialist policies"

Really?! Seriously?!

Flexible Labour Markets
Weak Trade Unions

Maybe I misunderstood socialism.

Sometimes i wonder if you actually exist Luke or whether you are planted by left wingers to actually increase their activity and influence and general anger.

A few points

1) Are you sure you are not paranoid, we havent lost yet, theres no evidence of Trotskyist insurgents but you think there will be a takeover?! Theres no Trots left because believer it or not they think New Labour is a bit right wing for them

2)Our membership is dieing (literally) in most places. The choice is this, do we want a mass membership, left of centre tolerant Party or a top down, neo-liberal, set of politicos. I think i know which one you would prefer.

2:33 pm, March 25, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...


The problem is you have never been able to leave behind the mentality of student politics. Take a deep breath, lie down and think of nice things for a while.

3:40 pm, March 25, 2009

Blogger Unknown said...

Great post. Could not agree more.

5:38 pm, March 25, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

If by "the mentality of student politics" you mean being disciplined, organised and loyal, I'm glad not to have lost it.

6:00 pm, March 25, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just guessing but I don't think he was talking about discipline, organisation or loyalty.

Probably more likely about fighting like ferrets in a sack over things that don't matter.

6:39 pm, March 25, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've certainly lost something.

9:05 am, March 26, 2009

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

There have been some mildly socialist policies delivered by the government, mostly in it's first term when there were atleast some of the soft left in cabinet.

But overall I have to agree with Stuart and the Anon poster who questioned the democratic socialist credentials of New Labour. I would add a few more caveats.

We talk about aspiration, yet we burden people with debt before they even start university education, leading to a large number of students dropping out of university.

We talk about a fairer society, yet we have a huge gap in wealth between the rich and the poor in this country; something Blair and Mandy were "relaxed about" about.

While pentioners have to scape and save to heat their homes, the millionaire owner of British Gas tells them they should wear a wooly hat.

Areas of deperivation lived in hope of a Labour government believing it would change their lives for the better, yet still seem to be mired in the same despair they were in before we came into office.

Why is there still a shortage of council housing? This is scandleous.

Don't try and fool us, I remember you saying you consider yourself to the left of the government on social policy, so I am wiling to wager you too feel that we have some how been holding back.

I don't think it takes a huge swing to the hard left to make us a Labour Party again, even though I agree with most of what they say. I think the Labour right needs to reconnect with some of it traditions, less Tony Blair and more Tony Crosland. I can't speak for other lefties, but if a Crosland socialist were to emerge I'd back him/her. Why? Because they are of the Labour tradition and whilst they might be pregmatic, I doubt they would be as wealth worshiping as New Labour.

Blair said principles without power is pointless, I would argue power withut principle is just as bad

11:25 am, March 26, 2009


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