Labour Deputy Leader: Ho hum. It’s Harman.

June 24, 2007 at 4:12 pm (labour party, left, Respect, socialism, Socialist Party, SWP, unions, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOh, good God. Well, she has the advantage of being the Crudmeister’s second favourite candidate, and being “sorry” about her vote on the Iraq war. Oh yes, and her other major selling point: she’s a woman. Which apparently means she therefore represents the sisterhood. Don’t blame me; that really is pretty much the sales pitch she used.

And her other achievements that demonstrate how she merits the job? Errm… kinda hard to think of any at the mo. I wondered initially, if I tried hard, whether something would spring to mind which demonstrates somehow that Harman isn’t quite the walking bag of mediocrity that she appears to be at first glance. And second glance. And third. But of course it didn’t, because Harman really is the wishy-washy liberal and third-rate Blairite minister that she always seemed to be.

No, the real saving grace is that the job to which she has been elected, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, is utterly meaningless. It matters no more that Harriet Harman is Deputy Leader of the Labour Party than that someone has been hired to wear a chicken suit to advertise your local takeaway. Gordon Brown will continue to enact the same neoliberal agenda that he always had in mind, the same Thatcherism-on-cocaine economic policies, the same slow erosion and abolition of any public service ethos in the state sector. And Harriet will continue to bleat on like the Hampstead liberal she always was, offering him southern, London-friendly cover for his hair-shirted politics. At least the chicken suit guy really is offering you some meat.

And you can always comfort yourself that the other candidates were either just as crap as she is, or even worse. I didn’t vote for any of them, and I stand by that decision.

At least now that farce is over, we can stop pretending that the election for Deputy Leader had any relevance whatsoever to the future of progressive politics in the UK. It’s time to have a discussion, to reflect on the failures both of the extra-Labour challenges from Respect and the Socialist Party, and on the equal failure of the Labour Left via the McDonnell campaign to mount a challenge from within. Time to drop preconceptions and old feuds. Time to talk.


  1. stroppybird said,

    Yep, pretty much agree with that.

    Oh i think another strand of her camapign is she is mates with Gordon.

    “It’s time to have a discussion, to reflect on the failures both of the extra-Labour challenges from Respect and the Socialist Party, and on the equal failure of the Labour Left via the McDonnell campaign to mount a challenge from within. Time to drop preconceptions and old feuds. Time to talk.”

    Without coming over all Osler (the left is doomed, fucked …) what chance of the left getting its act together ?

    I don’t think the Respect lot will say they have failed ?

  2. voltaires_priest said,

    They’ll have to acknowledge it eventually, just as the other strands of the left will have to acknowledge their own failures.

    Ironically, there is now some popular support for socially libertarian stances (gay rights, pro-abortion rights etc) traditional to the left, just as sections of the left are starting backing away from them in an effort to build popular fronts with religious-political organisations. It might be worth talking further about how to build coalitions, and what constitutes a genuinely progressive politics – the two questions are not unrelated.

  3. Jack Haslam said,

    You are wrong about the Mc Donnell campaign. Judged against the targets set by those centrally involved it did as well as it could have been expected to.
    When John decided to stand it was understood that he was extremely unlikely to get enough MPs support to get on the ballot paper. If you compare how he did to Livingstone’s failed attempt to get on the ballot paper in 1994 John’s campaign represents real progress.
    The fact is that serious work to transform the labour movement requires a long haul strategy. That long haul, includes several elements: the building of a body of coherent socialist thought that represents an ideological and political challenge to neo-liberalism; a fight to democratise the labour movement (including fighting on apparently small technical things like reducing the MPs veto which kept Mc Donnell offf the ballot paper) and the building of an organisation of socialists willing to link up all the different fronts of the class struggle and spearhead the transformation of the labour movement itself.
    The outcome of the Mc Donnell campaign was only a setback for people who refuse to recognise the extent of the work that has to be done to remake the labour movement into a force capable of overthrowing capitalism, and the size of the obstacles we face.
    Some people are downhearted by the fact that not a single major trade union backed MC Donnell. Unfortunately this outcome was entirely predictable. The trade unions are led by people with trade union consciousness. They do not see their unions as socialist bastions in the struggle against New labour, but as broad class organisations that exist for the purposes of pursuing collective bargaining with the employers and securing legislative reform from the government. Given this fact, the idea that people like Tony Woodley or Billy Hayes would throw down an open challenge to the future prime minster by backing Mc Donnell, rather than seek to court favour by backing Brown was pure syndicalist fantasy.
    If people understood why the unions didn’t back Mc Donnell they would also know why it is wrong to base your strategy and tactics in the Labour Movement on the prospect of the unions splitting from Labour. For the unions to break from Labour – to the left – requires a very thoroughgoing, if not a more or less revolutionary, transformation of the unions themselves. On the other hand, for the unions to collapse into out and out anti-political trade unionism is a very real immediate prospect.
    Those who confuse the one with the other – as typified by chearing the RMT and FBU’s self exclusion from the Labour Party as acts of miltancy – show that they haven’t got a clue through what stage we are passing.
    Unfortunately most of thre existing self defined left in the trade unions are no alternative to the existing leadership. The difference between people like Woodley and Hayes on the one hand and some of the marxists on the trade union left (who claimed to back Mc Donnell) on the other, is that Woodley and Hayes are honest trade unionists. This can’t be said of forces like the Socialist Party in PCS. These people cut a disgraceful ‘pull the ladder away’ sectionalist deal to create a two-tier pension system in the civil service by ratting on the younger generation of workers, and then presented it as a victory. They also have the cheek to call on unions to “break from labour” and affiliate to their campaign for a workers’ party instead!
    Rebuilding the unions is a very big task indeed. It involves not just renewing the leadership but redefining and restating the basics of a working class socialism from below approach to the unions and grouping people around that perspective.
    Talking of the SP and the like …
    Compare the fact that Mc Donnell’s showing represents a significant step forward in comparison to LIvingstones in ’94 to what has happened to the strategy of electorally by-passing the LP.
    The SSP has no MSPs and polled less (0.6%) than Scargill’s loopy SLP (0.7%). The collapse of SSPs support whcich seems to have transferred over to the SNP proved that it was a soft nationalist vote rather than a working class socialist vote.
    Meanwhile in England and Wales the left polls about the samre as the WRP managed in the ‘80s…
    One final point. Whether or not we think he deserved to be seen is this way , Cruddas was perceived by many as the left candidate. The fact that a virtual unknown with zero charisma got nearly a third of the vote (and closer to 40% in the unions and CLps) on a platform of extending trade union rights, building council houses, opposition to Trident etc shows why it was so important for the right wing to keep Mc Donnell off the ballot paper.

  4. modernityblog said,

    I’m sure that the residents of Peckham are hooting and hollering from the rooftops at Harriet Harman’s elevation to deputy leader.

    no doubt all of Southwark will be proud for her, just a shame she’s so useless and an ex-Blairite toady

    Gordon Brown will probably offer her a multitude of poisoned chalices, if she starts any trouble, which is unlikely given her vacuous nature

    still it is a poor state of affairs in the Labour Party when someone like her is elected to such a position

  5. Owen said,

    This is my own take on it:

  6. susancaldervalley said,

    Jack, first-rate post and nothing to add to that analysis. But was in manchester yesterday and it was absolutely pitiful to see the numbers on the demo called by STWC. A couple of thousand,maybe. I’m being generous. The truth is that groups like RESPECT /SP/CPGB are running round in ever-decreasing circles ( and numbers) and missing the point entirely having boxed themselves into a one-issue corner. There are many other issues apart from the War ( crucial though that is) . PFI, globalisation, social housing, Trident, trade union rights.
    It is going to be long, hard, arduous work but the Left must re-group around labour and build on the successes of putting forward a left agenda via the McDonnell/Cruddas campaigns. ll be interesting to see what cruddas does and if he sticks to the lines which won him so many votes.John, we know, will carry on campigning. But talk of new workers partys etc is a foolish illusion. Breaking the labour/union link ( called for by many on the far left) sheer lunacy.

  7. Johnny Rook said,

    Yeah go on? You were talking about how everyone else has failed, but you haven’t mentioned any solution yourself?

  8. modernityblog said,

    Johnny Rock wrote:

    but you haven’t mentioned any solution yourself?

    the solution is to get out of the political ghettos, and actually be relevant to people’s existence, otherwise the Left is destined to be on the margins

    the most obvious way would be to start a Campaign for Public Ownership, aim to be as big as the StWC was

    privatisation is thoroughly discredited in Britain, and there is a political as well as a social opportunity (reversing privatisation will enhance the quality of the working classes’ lives) here if the Left can step back from political bickering and aim for a wider audience

    it is a big if.

  9. Jack Haslam said,

    Thanks Sue. You’re dead right there is no alternative to an orientation to the labour movement.

    The prerequisite for any kind of meaningful revival of the left is a revival of trade unionism as an active collectivist force in the working class. This is because you can’t have socialism without the working class. But a revival of the unions will require a rebirth of socialist consciousness within them. The last two decades of union decline have proved that the unions can’t be rebuilt on the basis of the TUC’s strategy of “partnership”, sweetheart deals, concessions and give backs to the employers.

    The trouble with a lot of the left in the unions is that they concentrate on winning positions, within a more or less empty shell and striking w-w-w-wwadical poses on various international issues etc, rather than building the unions as fighting class organisations.

    This is compounded by the fact that much of what is left of the trade union movement today has the charcteristics of a movement of a labour aristicracy, representing people in relatively secure white collar and ‘professional’ jobs in the public sector etc). The flip side is that many of the most exploited workers with the most industrial muscle are in non-unionised sectors. It is organising this core of the class to think and act as a class which is vital to everything else. Obviously there are still key parts of the blue collar working class in the unions and they still fight- as we will see in the upcoming CWU dispute, but the basic picture of an aristocratic labour movement is nonetheless true.

    The socialist left needs to look to doing things the way the pioneers did in the 1880’s. Eleanor Marx. Tom Mann and other fused together the tasks of building broad unions of the unskilled, fighting for ‘labour representation’ in the political sphere and popularising the socialst critique of capitalism. We could do a lot worse than try to imitate them today.

  10. V said,

    I have to admit I haven’t felt this depressed about the state of the left since I first became politically conscious during the mid-80s. At least then, even during the many defeats, there was a coherence of thought despite the splinters and splits. Maybe the enemy was more obvious back then. Even during the mid 90s there seemed to some rumblings and at least we knew after Major and ’97 there would be a move leftwards, however slight. Now…well…I’m thoroughly pessimistic. Brown and Harman and no change.

    I also feel that I couldn’t join the labour party and much of the ‘micro’ left in this country is laughable, too. I have been a member of various unions for nearly twenty years and don’t at this point see much change happening through that route either.

  11. modernityblog said,

    Jack Haslam wrote:

    The prerequisite for any kind of meaningful revival of the left is a revival of trade unionism as an active collectivist force in the working class.

    it’s not an either or situation

    trade unions are not in a particularly strong position and membership is weak again, because trade unions are not always perceived (note: perceived) as relevant to the working classes

    So not only does the Left had to appear relevant could also trade unions, otherwise membership will continue to decline, so that needs campaigns which are relevant to the working-class:

    the best campaign would be against privatisation

    it could start slowly, and then bringing a wider audience and so make sure that the trade unions and the Left are perceived as relevant to the working classes again

  12. voltaires_priest said,

    The trouble with a lot of the left in the unions is that they concentrate on winning positions, within a more or less empty shell and striking w-w-w-wwadical poses on various international issues etc, rather than building the unions as fighting class organisations.

    That hits the nail on the head as far as the SWP are concerned.

  13. Jack Haslam said,

    Dear V
    You could always join the Labour Party on the same basis that the Communication Workers’ Union are advising members to.

    A recent official pamphlet issued by the union nationally and complete with a foreward by the General Sevcretary says:

    “We’re not asking menbers to join in order to support the direction the government or the party are taking. We’re asking members to join on the basis of campaigning for CWU policies and to change the direction of the party in a way more sympathetic to our aims.’

    Modernity Blog,
    yep, the unions won’t grow unless they are seen to stand for something

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