The situation for Labour and the LeftPosted: September 30, 2015
John Dixon writes
1. Rank and file party members, with recently recruited new supporters, voted by a substantial majority for the platform Jeremy Corbyn had spoken up for in some dozens of meetings in the major towns of England. This platform marked a decisive opposition to government policies in almost all sectors.
2. It also represented a rejection of the platform that had led to a severe defeat of Labour candidates in the May elections. Thus in Scotland, once a Labour stronghold, Labour lost overwhelmingly – well over forty seats – with Alexander, organizer of the Labour campaign, going down to a straight-speaking young undergraduate.
3. Unfortunately for the Westminster party, the majority of MPs had been elected on that losing platform, two of the candidates for the leadership had been part of the front bench that backed it, and the remaining one explicitly put forward a more right-wing alternative. Thus, all except those MPs who had supported Corbyn were faced with a dilemma: the rank and file of the party were now rejecting the platform they’d been elected on and supporting a different strategy.
4. Equally, the new leader faced a similar dilemma when he returned to Westminster. He’d been elected on a new platform; most of the others on the old one. His decision was to recruit a shadow front bench from across the full range of MPs, a few from his own campaign team, and the majority from the other candidates teams. Evidently this decision accepted an unresolved tension. But the key question remains: will those who have accepted positions on the front bench treat the decision of the rank and file of their party with respect?
5. There’s probably no clear answer: we shall see. But meanwhile, what are the rights and duties of those members who voted for the new leader and his campaign team’s platform? I’m hoping that some of the answers that follow will get support from a large group of fellow members, and sympathisers.
6. Given the dilemma facing many MPs, it seems sensible to call for the party as a whole to unite on an anti-austerity platform, that is, to campaign in parliament and beyond to protect our country from two things: the savage cuts to social welfare budgets in every form (including the wages and working conditions of workers in those sectors), and equally the insidious ideological effort to expose public services (from the NHS on) to a market driven by global finance corporations.
7. This would be treated as an interim position, to promote a hard-hitting campaign by the PLP in Westminster, and beyond that through joint branch, union, and supporters actions in as many regions as possible.
8. Meanwhile, it seems sensible to call for informed discussion, from the branches up, and including area conferences, to take stock of the arguments for policies that involve radical change – and which have already attracted support from some tens of thousands of new members.
9. ‘Informed discussion’: make no mistake, every effort will be made – is being made already, relentlessly, every day – to undercut any such a possibility, with all the forces of the media oligarchs and the government deployed. Only the most well-designed, well-judged and strenuous efforts will ensure that mind-forged manacles aren’t clamped on it. Fortunately there are models close at hand: where else in the UK has a campaign recently had to face every trick of the media to blacken and oppose it? – answer, in Scotland. And the Scots, fortunately for us, are still showing how campaigning groups of very many kinds, and by no means all simply SNP, have formed. Details of that later (**).
10. But first, back to the LP national exec. They can make a start. As a young member in the 1950s, I can still remember the monthly booklet of facts and hard-hitting statistics put out by the Labour Research Department, as background for us members. The new social media make this more than a possibility – it’s a must.
11. ‘Discussion’ not ‘debate’: that effete institution, the House of Commons shows why the days of ‘debate’ are finished. But the Select Committees, at their best, show how power can be challenged to answer penetrating questions. Then comes a new opportunity, given by the Web: the chance for the rank and file to answer back – to learn to take part in a two-way exchange. This is the major breakthrough that’s needed.
12. Informed discussion takes time and has its own ground rules. Maybe these should be obvious to a party that aims to be democratic, cooperative, egalitarian, non-sexist, internationalist…? It’s about turn-taking, listening, treating others with respect, seeking to develop and strengthen what others are suggesting… (In our U3A branches we sometimes collectively make such principles explicit from the start: it takes very little time.)
(**) For a start, try the independent think tanks, Common Weal or The Reid Foundation, and for articles, Better Caledonia, Wings over Scotland, or National Collective. [Thanks to A & S Slimon for help here].
So over to you, my readers.