Desperately Debating Susan

May 25, 2008 at 9:58 am (blogging, blogosphere, labour party, left, voltairespriest)

Ever have one of those moments of total frustration? I get them when arguing with intransigent members of the Labour left who refuse to realise that the game is up. And it’s even more frustrating when they react to suggestions that the Labour Party is irredeemably lost (talk about something that’s obvious from the outside) as though you’ve just insulted their Mum.

Apparently I’ve pissed off Susan of GrimmerUpNorth by stating the obvious point that there is no mechanism, no agency within the Labour Party for its left (even were it able to stop atrophying) to assert some kind of control in order to implement alternative economic policies. That is quite simply true, and indeed was finally tied up by the unions’ collective hari-kiri, giving up their most crucial democratic rights within the party since the 2007 conference in Bournemouth. She finds having the point stated to be “exceptionally tiresome”. Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t; either way it certainly isn’t hard to see that it’s founded on hard facts.

What is noticeable, is that neither Susan nor anyone else amongst the remnants of the Labour left has come up with a reason why what I’ve said on this subject could actually be incorrect – all one sees are shrugs, expressions of “we’re not all like Tony Blair”, or “but the SWP/SP/Galloway are really crap”. None of which, regardless of the validity of the statements in themselves, is an answer to the question put.

As I’ve said before, this is one of those questions where I’d like nothing better than to be wrong. But I rather suspect I’m not. It seems to me that the fact is, no matter how well attended yesterday’s LRC economics conference was, it will have come up with ideas that have no chance at all of being implemented by a Labour government. And Susan telling the truth about that is not “sitting at home moaning”, it’s a call for a reality check. Because the Labour Party’s membership (even if most of it wanted to) cannot move it to the left in any meaningful way.

“Tiresome” or not, them’s the breaks.


  1. twp77 said,

    Votly – Maybe Susan disagrees with you (I am not sure) but I don’t. The point is how to we keep contact with those who ae somewhat progessive – how do we draw them into a broader movement? I am not certain that leaving the LP now will make this feasible. I suspect it’s not so much that people disagree with your analysis but that they don’t agree with your solution – ie leave the LP now – because where does that leave us? What good would such a thing do? It would make us into another small far left group facing irrelevance.

    At the moment the LRC is able to get trade union affiliations and work with groups like Compass who have a membership – thought not necessarily a leadership – that I think is worth working for. Very few people think Labour can be reclaimed any longer. That’s clear from the kinds of conversations we’ve been having lately. The real questions are how do we maintain good bits we have whilst not becoming irrelevant and even how might we develop, in conjunction with other organisations, a new progressive mass movement. It is those questions that most people in the LRC are interested in at the moment.

  2. voltairespriest said,

    Surely the LRC could attract union affiliations whether it was in the LP or not? I don’t think that’s tied to actual individual party membership.

    In terms of union affiliations to the LP, I used to be one who would always, and militantly, argue against union disaffiliation – even after my own individual LP membership lapsed. As it stands most of the positive arguments for LP affiliation have dropped away – it’s simply not the case that union affiliation has bought them any more of a seat at Brown’s table than the various bankers, venture capitalists and captains of industry with whom he’s clearly more comfortable. Furthermore there are really no serious mechanisms any more by which the unions can push an unwilling right-wing leadership. If anything, the one remaining argument for not disaffiliating is a negative one; unions that have done so have spiralled off in some very odd directions, vis a vis Bob Crow’s political zig-zagging. However I have to admit that if Unite-TGWU asks the question in the near future, my support for affiliation isn’t guaranteed any more.

    Obviously (as I’m sure you are aware) I’m not in favour of simply shoving Labour left wingers into the outer darkness; I was one for a considerable period of time after all. However, I do think there’s a case for candour here even where it upsets people who have an all too obvious emotional connection to LP membership – here I’m thinking of people people with whom I’ve recently discussed the issue face to face rather than with anyone on line.

  3. John A said,

    Back to the central question – “What is to be done?” Although the LRC is small (John McDonnell joked at yesterday’s conference that it constituted a mass movement but only in the context of the Labour Party), it was not as if any of us supported RESPECT when that coalition was a potential alternative. Are you proposing that affiliation with the AWL or some other burrowing into the “outer darkness” is any better, or just that we shouldn’t be Labour Party members because otherwise when the Volty Utopian Coalition is created and/or the revolution begins we won’t be prepared to give up our attachment to Labour?

  4. twp77 said,

    What I think Volty is saying is that he is trying to figure out what benefit there is of staying in the LP. It’s an entirely valid question and one that frankly I don’t think we have an answer to. Previously we could say that there were still some organisational ways in which we could make an impact inside the LP but these avenues are not open any longer.

    We can claim that there is no point in leaving the LP but we must address what the point of staying in it is as well. I do think there are a few reasons to remain in – as I said before – but they are fast becoming irrelevant. After the CWU conference this summer, it is likely the LRC will have nearly many affiliated trade unions as the LP does. Once that balance tips in our favour completely we have to ask ourselves what the point of staying in is if working class representation through trade union affiliation is largely outside of the party.

    As I’ve also said before – this is an ongoing discussion and process which any number of events could bring to a decisive head and I’m keen on being around for the discussion and eventual outcome.

  5. Voltaire's Priest said,

    No John, I’m saying that you need to acknowledge the reality of the situation that you’re in, before you can even begin to look at alternatives. The fact is that you can’t change the Labour Party, and you’ve never as much as suggested anything to the contrary. It’s not incumbent on me, the AWL, the SWP, the panel on Gardeners’ Question Time or anyone else to provide you with a pre-packaged alternative, it’s for you to offer a reason – any positive and realistic reason at all – for believing that there’s a way forward forward for the Labour Party. The fact is that you won’t (I anticipate yet another re-hash of “but Respect’s really shit”), because there isn’t one. Indeed several of your fellow Labour left wingers (see TWP’s comment above) acknowledge as much and have other, entirely separate reasons for retaining their cards.

    Your comments about “the utopian revolution” etc would rather seem to suggest that your alignment to Labour Student politics is beginning to rub off on you. It’s not “utopian” to tell the truth about a party that no longer offers anything to anyone of a reasonable, progressive politics.

  6. John A said,

    It was a reference to the party being utopian (lit. “no place”) rather than its platform. Your complaint is chiefly that left-wingers in the Labour party cannot make radical changes. However, left wingers in the party certainly form a bloc and a power which has to be negotiated by the leadership: for example on the 10p tax u-turn, although Mr Field is not LRC. McDonnell and others get a better platform to denounce rightwing party actions than any high-profile socialists outside Labour do. The more we number and the better organised that we are within the party, the more influence we will gain.

    Personally (although this might sound like masturbatory self-verification) I was very much encouraged not only by the numbers at the LEAP meeting, but also by the sensible (and highly progressive) suggestions that were made and the very real experience which many of our comrades have. In just the sub-plenary on debt we had 2 economists with experience working in the Treasury and many other people with a sound grasp of economics as well. There is a potential platform we can support which may come to nothing or may shape the future of the Labour Party – they need ideas at the moment, I think.

  7. voltairespriest said,

    John – our sort of politics doesn’t work by convincing the bigwigs that your ideas are the best, and them deciding to follow you out of good faith. For that to be the case, you’d have to believe that Brown, Balls, Harman et al are people of benign intent whose policy stances are misguided, and who can be convinced of the error of their ways. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think they’re going to agree with any leftist economic argument, no matter who crafts it – a treasury economist or an ice cream man.

    As for the left-wing “bloc” within the party, firstly it’s a lot smaller than I suspect you think, and secondly even if it were large, it has nowhere to manifest, because all machinery of democratic accountability within the party has either been degraded to the point of irrelevance or demolished. There’s no means for them to do anything other than plead with the leadership to change strategy. Even many of your fellow Labour lefts acknowledge that fact.

    I suspect that when you say “leftwingers in the party form a bloc”, what you’re really getting at is leftwingers in parliament. That is again a matter of relying on the great and the good to ride to the rescue (and in the case of the Cruddasite Compass Group I’d hesitate to say just how great or good), which is not the way the left should be doing business. Democratic socialism is a grassroots-led movement or it is nothing. Not to mention that if you really want to rely on some of the oddballs and prima donnas who form the parliamentary “left”, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed.

    Finally, spare me the language lesson. We both know what the colloquial meaning of “utopian” is, and that this was the sense in which you used it. 😉

  8. John A said,

    Nevertheless, at the time of writing, I meant that the idea of such a party was utopian, rather than its platform.

    So let me get this straight:
    1) an attempt to build Labour’s left grassroots is bad because it will never achieve anything.
    2) left action in parliament is bad because it relies on the “great and the good” rather than a real grassroots.

    If you don’t think we can make a change, what is your objection to us trying?

  9. Darren said,


    be honest. The meat of the post is secondary to the fact that you desperately wanted to use that particular post title. 😉

  10. Voltaire's Priest said,


    i) You can have as big a “grassroots” movement as you want (and you don’t have one right now) – with few properly functioning CLPs and no democratic mechanisms with any traction your ideas will go nowhere.

    ii) There is more, in my view, to left-wing politics than convincing politicians to think left-wing things. It is a question of how social change actually happens, and as it goes, I don’t think that even the better left MPs actually believe that they are the driving force behind social change. Nor should they be.

    iii) I think it’s worth having the debate with people who think like yourself and Susan because in my view you’re good people who are wasting your time on a nostalgia project. I also think it’s an important debate to have on the left in general, and not one which should be left to a stance of “hey let’s all just do our thing”.


    Oh but it was such a gimme! 😉

  11. John A said,

    Volty – where’s the alternative to “hey let’s just do our thing”? I’m going to submit amendments to the manifesto-making process: although they may get stripped out from the first round, I may as well try to make an impact where I am…

  12. susan press said,

    After 32 card-varrying years, I will disagree, disagree and disagree again to save the Party I still love. Not because of the apparatchiks, because of the decent comrades i know who are absolutely committed to socialist values.
    There is NO WAY the LRC condones now or in the foreseeeable future of leaving Labour now. We are at a point where New Labour is dead , albeit twitching, and if you seriously think people like John McDonnell should leave well you’re on another bloody planet, frankly. Currently in throes of selecting PPC for my constituency and odds-on chance we’ll get an LRC supporter. We alsomost won a Lib Dem seat two weeks ago and let me tell you what it takes, It takes commitment, enthusiasm, and dedidcation to Real Labour values. I seriously hate the cynicism, defeatism and general Schadenfreude of those on left whoi just want us to follow them into electoral oblivion. We’re not going to. As for trade unions disaffilating well, for fuck’s sake, that’s madness.

  13. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Marvellous. For the sixteen gazillionth time, HOW are you going to do it?

  14. Voltaire's Priest said,

    PS – Incidentally in those “32 card carrying years” (so since 1976, right?) for exactly how much of the time has the left led either the Labour Party or a Labour Government? Or indeed even been in the ascendancy? I’m guessing that if we go from the end of the Miners’ Strike in the 80s, the answer to that question is zero – and that those numbers don’t get much better if you do go back to the ’70s, the decade towards whose end I was born. Now, given that even the technical mechanisms for a left-wing insurrection within the party no longer exist, how exactly do you propose to manifest all of that emotional attachment evident within your last comment?

  15. Lobby Ludd said,

    Susan P said:

    “Currently in throes of selecting PPC for my constituency and odds-on chance we’ll get an LRC supporter.”

    Out of interest, how are prospective candidates selected? I believe that the general thrust of what VP is saying (and I agree with him) is that there are no real mechanisms for the left (or any group, come to that) to influence party policy.

    Susan is saying (I think) that her constituency party is free to choose their candidate, and has a chance to select a LRC supporter. This implies a degree of inner party democracy.

    So what is the situation within the LP regarding the ability of individuals and groups to affect policy and selection of candidates at a local and national level?

  16. Jim Denham said,

    Imho, Volty’s analysis is broadly correct. However, given the truly dreadful / laughable recent experiences of trying to build organisations to the left of Labour, many serious socialists presently active in British politics are still to be found in the LP; we need to stay in touch with them, and simply flouncing out of the LP without a convincing alternative to offer, isn’t the way to do it.

    And the experience of union disaffiliations (and campaigns for disaffiliation) is, without exception, that they are, in reality, campaigns to depoliticise trade unionism – regardless of the intentions of many of the campaigners.

    Volty has openened up a vital debate: the trouble is, that *no-one* (myself included) has a particularly convincing answer to the questions “where do we go from here? (if leaving the LP), or “what do we do now?” (if staying inside it).

  17. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Oh come on now, Jim.

    Firstly, it’s perfectly possible as this very conversation proves for the likes of you and I to converse with people who happen to hold Labour Party cards. Frankly I can’t recall the last LP meeting that I went to when I did have a card, and most of the decent LP lefties I have met have been either via the union or other political activities. The Birmingham LP is so moribund that investing any time in it would be a wasted exercise. I simply don’t accept that it’s necessary to carry an LP card in order to work with people who do – or that not having one is tantamount to “flouncing out” and cutting off all lines of communication.

    Secondly, I don’t think there’s some obligation incumbent on those of us who are outside the Labour Party to provide a new ready-made “home” for LP lefts before pointing out the sheer folly of trying to take control of the LP via structures that simply don’t exist. These are adults who should be a part of building such a home, not tourists waiting for a seat on the plane.

    Finally, I daresay you’ve noticed but in case you haven’t, John and Susan are saying very different things to Tami. Tami clearly does get it, and has entirely different reasons for being in the LP to the others. My argument is primarily with people who take John and Susan’s position (“we can still do it”), and not Tami’s.

    Frankly though and just to reiterate, overall I see no reason to keep an LPcard in order to have that conversation with LP lefts, other than misplaced emotional attachment to LP work.

  18. susan press said,

    The suggestion that the internal mechanisms are not there for electing socialists to positions of power is utterly wrong.
    In my constituency we have an excellent chance of selecting a socialist and that is because we still have sufficient members to dominate the GC and influence the selection process. Localy, we also have credibility for not being New Labour.
    Basically, if even only 10,000 people re-joined Labour, became active, stood as councillors ( which is easy as the LP is desperate for candidates) then the constituency would begin to change from the bottum up. That’s the only way to do it.
    Last year, I set up West Yorkshire LRC and it’s not just a paper organisation. We have mmebers from around 10 constituencies and I’m in the process of helping comrades to get their Branches and constituencies to affilate.
    Trade unions can still send delegates to CLPs – most don’t bother such is the apathy at the moment. That would be another lever to change the picture.
    There are various ways of getting onto the Parliamentary Panel – another channel is the Co-op Party – that’s how Halifax MP LImda Riordan managed to defeat the NuLab aparatchiks. It costs £15 to join John Wiseman, another LRC member, is PPC for Westmorland and Lonsdale. OK, unwinnable but he shoud get a winnable eventually. He got on via UNITE. It suits the ultra-left to say there are no mechanisms left for re-claiming Labour but yes there are. Party Conferene may be an irrelevance now but the Labour Party most certainly is not for serious socialists.
    Askj yourselves how many votes the Left List got and how big John McDonnell’s majority is in Hayes and Harlington? Once a marginal seat……That has been built up via hard work in the constituency and left credibility. There are no quick fixes and for the LRC to leave the Labour Party would be political suicide. We have every chance of getting a socialist PPC in Calder Calley. With hard work and the right platform, it can be done elsewhere.

  19. Voltaire's Priest said,


    The Co-op party is not a vehicle for the left and all but the most blinkered can see it. Look at how most Lab-Coop MPs act, not to mention that the Co-op party hasn’t been a real political force of any kind in living memory. I’m sorry but I think it’s risible to posit that as a route to salvation for the Labour left.

    Unions don’t bother sending delegates to CLPs because it’s largely a wasted exercise; the vast majority of CLPs are virtually moribund and/or right wing. There is no prospect of an insurgent 10,000 people joining what’s essentially the Marie Celeste with a few right wing rats on board (present company excepted of course 😉 )

    Wiseman will get flattened in Westmorland and Lonsdale, as you yourself acknowledge. He may or may not get a better shot in future – largely dependent on whether he’s either extraordinarily lucky, or else simply not seen as a threat by the hierarchy.

    I don’t actually think the analogy between the “Left List” and Hayes & Harlington is a good one: I hardly think a one-off effort by the SWP (who are themselves in considerable disarray) can be compared McDonnell’s efforts. And either way I don’t really see what it proves: McDonnell is undoubtedly a popular Labour MP but much of his personal vote will be because he’s a good constituency MP, not because he’s a left winger. Gwyneth Dunwoody’s vote was much the same. Further, the bulk of his vote will just be a Labour vote, and not personal at all. And either way “John McDonnell’s really popular” is not an answer to structural questions about the Labour Party.

    Susan, the only reason why left-wingers get such latitude as they do within today’s LP is that they’re not even seen as a threat any more. The very day that situation changes, you’ll see a round of expulsions – and there are no structural protections worthy of the name in place.

    Furthermore, I think your emphasis on the possibility of “electing socialists to positions of power” as the basis for your argument to remain in the LP, goes to show the underlying flaw in your argument. That underlying flaw is not so different to the flaw in John A’s, albeit that it’s more subtly expressed – namely that moving good people into positions of power is not the base from which political change occurs. Even if I was wrong and “ultra left” (you misunderstand the term if you think it applies to me) about the real chances of meaningful autonomy for the party left – and I’m not wrong – then you still wouldn’t be looking to the right place to begin changing the party.

    You’ll notice that all of my points around structure concerned the absence of meaninful democratic processes to control policy, and expressly not notional chances to get one or two of the good guys on a parliamentary panel. That, and not internal elections or selection processes, are what determine the substance of the LP. It is its policies and positions which will determine the party’s public face, and democratic control of its programme which will help rebuild trust within communities. Those policy making structures and democratic checks and balances are in tatters (I presume you’re not duped by the “policy forums”).

    All of that leaves us back where we started. You still haven’t answered the same question I started off by posing to the Labour left – how do you propose to even get your ideas on the table within the party when the “table” has been burned by the leadership? Socialist PPCs in one, two, even (charitably) ten new constituencies will not make a difference to that fact.

  20. twp77 said,

    Susan – I think one of the problems is that you place your bet on people actually re-joining Labour in droves but if we are being realistic this isn’t going to happen. People didn’t just quit the LP because they were apathetic but because they were bloody angry and they feel betrayed. There would have to be a change so enormous that is would wipe out the feelings of disgust that tens of thousands of former members feel. This simply isn’t going to happen.

    I think it’s useful to look at the demise of the Liberal Party in Britain to get a clearer idea of what happens when an organisation is seen not to represent its target audience any longer.

    I am not too keen on being called “ultra-left” simply because I posit that the LRC may of necessity need to split with the LP at some point in the future. I have never gotten the impression that staying in the LP is written in stone. The whole point of being involved in politics for me is to find a way to draw people together to build mass progressive movements. If the LP has ceased to be a vehicle to do so then we need to move on. These organisations are tools for the bigger picture – societal change, progress and a better world. They are not ends in themselves and if we keep thinking that way we will get nowhere whether we remain inside or outside the LP.

  21. susan press said,

    I was not positing the Co-op Party as a salvation for the Left- but as a purely pragmatic way of circumventing control freakery and getting more Left candidates. FYI Alice Mahon, erstwhile MP for Halifax was a Co-op MP and it#s relatively easy to get on the Panel.
    “Most CLPs are moribund or right-wing.” A sweeping statement which just isn’t so.
    In my locality, Keighley, Batley and Spen, Pendle., Calder Valley, Halifax, Wakefield – all have left-leaning CLPs and MPs. Is this a Bermuda Triangle of Old labour? I don’t think so.

    Yes, New Labour has decimated the Party on the ground and via Partnership In Power eroded our ability to change policy so what do we do just throw in the towel and walk away . In the current febrile climate many things are up for grabs – and one of them is reversing the rightward drift of New Labour and campoaigning on an issue by issuie basis with thoise both inside and outside the Party. The Party members left are largely loyalists and what remains of the Left. Even those in the middle have had enough
    A year ago, I was lambasted by many on the centre-left and right in my CLP for daring to suggest that Goirdon Brown would not be a Good Thing. Many of those people have come back to me chastened and apologetic – and with an appetite for change.
    At the next election, dozens of New Labour MPs are likely to be swept out of power. And I won’t be shedding any tears over that.
    What I will be doing is staying in the Party and continuing to fight. In my constituency, we acknowledge the 1500 majority makes it a strong possibility we won’t have a Labour MP in 2010 or whenever. But what we hopefully will have is two years with a decent candidate to campaign on an LRC platform and re-build the Party locally. As things are, the CLP has 350 members. Not exactly death throes. I have no illusions about the Labour Party’s weakness. But , as I have said many times, it is still where I will choose to stay. And that is a position shared by the vast majority of the LRC.
    One final point. It DOES make a difference having decent local councillors and MPs. And attaining such positions is surely a way of geting better representation for socialist values.

  22. twp77 said,

    I think I understand what you’re saying Susan but if I am understanding you correctly then it’s a type of scenarrio where New Labour has destroyed the LP and then the left of the party is supposed to come in and pick up the pieces and gain control. I seriously don’t see how this is going to work. My biggest concern is not gaining control of the LP but whether you will be gaining control of a corpse – an organisation that most working people and activists don’t want anything to do with. Sure you might be able to gain control – but what would be the point? Surely if you agree that the LP has been decimated by New Labour then it is not beyond the realm of possiblity that a new LP will need to be formed. Do you see what I mean?

  23. John A said,

    Interestingly enough the Labour Party we have at the moment began with just a Labour Representation Committee, and the formation of a new LP is pretty much its raison d’etre. The LRC have joined the list of groups involved in setting up the Convention of the Left, so we’re working inside and outside the party for change. It’s a good option for lefties, overall.

  24. susan press said,

    Tami. we don’t need a New Labour Party. We just have to rebuild the old one. as ws said at the LRC AGM.

  25. Voltaire's Priest said,

    I think that’s a very idealised image of “old Labour”.

  26. twp77 said,

    Susan – Sorry but that is not the opinion of everyone in the LRC. I am not sure you are taking the ongoing discussions we are having on the issue into account but there are many, many people in the LRC who do not believe that the LP can be reclaimed (and even if they won’t say so in a meeting they most certainly will down the pub!!!) My understanding was that the LRC AGM voted to remain in the LP for the time being. But far from our project being to explicitly rebuild the LP, John McDonnell was very clear about it being a tool to “build bridges” between those people inside the LP and those people without and that the goal of this was to rebuild a mass progressive movement in Britain – not to “reclaim Labour”. This is something I happen to agree with him on. There was no implication that there would never be a split with the LP and there was a good deal of honest discussion at both the LRC AGM and the recent Briefing AGM on this issue.

    The AWL motions presented to the LRC and SYN AGM’s were something I opposed. They called for “reconstitutiong” the LRC as a “workers representation committee” and supporting candidates outside of the LP such as independents running on a class struggle platform against New Labour. As I said before, I think that the LRC still has a role to play in acting as the bridge between people in the LP and people outside of this. If we had accepted the AWL’s motions then we would be expelled from the LP for supporting non-Labour candidates. It is purely a tactical issue at this stage. I voted against these motions because I do not think it would be useful for us to leave the LP at this point in time but remain acting as that bridge – something I think we have done successfully so far.

    This question will continue to come up again and again. We would have had a very difficult decision to make if the RMT had actually ended up running independent candidates. At the next general election there may be trade union candidates running on non-Labour tickets. The problem with your view Susan is that none of these possibilities exist – for you it is simply “rebuild Labour” and damn all else. Well I, and a number of people in the LRC, don’t agree. As I said before – the reason I am involved with politics is because I do want to see a resurgence of the left and the building of a broad progressive movement – I am not involved in the left because I have some kind of loyalty to an organisation regardless of the circumstances. Everything we do must be analysed and re-analysed along the way – that’s part of being an activist and, for me, a Marxist.

  27. susan press said,

    I think you misrepresent the majority view on the LRC. And me . It’s not the Labour Party and “damn al else.” as far as I’m concerned. I’m not that blinkered or stupid.
    I am currently working with non Labour Party people in Manchester on the Convention Of The Left- a non-sectarian, bridge-building exercise which as you know the LRC will be playing a part in in September. However, I also hosted a fringe meeting at the NUJ Conference in which someone asked John McDonnell why he and other left Mps did notjust leave Labour..John asnwered that if he did that then he, and any other left Mps to follow suit, would simply be picked off one by one and that we ( ie the Labour left) would probably end up with no representation in Parliament. Is that what you want ????? I know how hard it is at present to sell the labour Party to anyone. I know full well there are people in the LRC who think it cannot be “re-claimed.” I also know that by changing tack and working with as many people as we can, in and ouside the Party as you say, we can restore some credibility to the Party and hopefully build in the future. The curent malaise – and death of New Labour – is an opportunity for us. Not an excuse to leave the Party. After 30-odd years, I repeat, why would I be in favour of walking like the SSP and Militant into the electoral wilderness.

  28. twp77 said,

    Susan, I really respect you and did not mean to imply you are “blinkered” or “stupid” and I certainly don’t think that. I guess where we disagree is that I don’t honestly believe that the only way for us to have representation in parliament is through the current LP. We – meaning the broad left – could in fact be represented by trade union candidates – not ultra-leftists but trade unionists who are fed up with Labour. It is in this sense that I meant that I understood your argument to be “LP and damn all else”. I am not arguing that we don’t fight for political power. I agree that is a dead end. I think we need a labour party – but the current one may not be it. We may need to found a new one. I don’t have the answers but I want to keep my ear to the ground.

    I also know that you have been one of the strongest advocates for the LRC to participate fully in the Convention of the Left and really think this is an important thing to be involved with.

  29. susan press said,

    Tami. I don’t mean to pull rank agewise but it’s one of the few pluses of being older. We have been here many times before on the Labour Left in the UK. No trade unionist currently around was as venerated on the left as Arthur Scargill – he wemt unilateral and formed his own Party- he was obliterated. Are you suggesting, and I think you are, that the RMT or FBU (ffor example) could field candidates against Labour? Well, sure they could. But they would lose. Badly. End of.
    And if anyone in the LRC chose to suport these candidates agianst Labour, they would be expelled from the Party. Now you might think that’;s not necessarily a bad thing. I do.
    Surely we had thids debate at the AGM when the AWL motion along these lines was defeated overwhelmingly. If there is little prospect of us reclaiming Labour, there is far less that trade union candidates standing against the major parties in a General Election would have a hope in hell It has been tried SO many times and it doesn’t work. That’s why you HAVE to work within the mainstream political parties – at least electorally..
    Yes, the LRC has several unions afiliated. The relaity is that most are relatively small ie NUJ, ASLEF. Until we’ve got UNISON, UNITE, we would frankly be bonkers to even consider what you’re suggesting. It really is the classic route into the wilderness which Militant took in the late 1980’s. I suggest that for the next two hyears we all work as hard as we can to get LRC/Campaign group Labour MPs re-elected – not commit collective hari-kari

  30. twp77 said,

    But Susan – Labour itself was not a “mainstream party” once upon a time and indeed people made arguments about supporting the Liberal Party when the original LRC was set up and did so very much in the same vein as you are now doing in support of New Labour. The LP should not be untouchable as an organisation.

    It’s fine if you want to make age an issue but I feel I am qualified to my opinions, not least because despite my age and despite my being foreign born I have in fact spent considerable time studying the British labour movement. In addition I have studied the US labor movement for years. While undoubtedly these are two different kettles of fish, I’d like to think I have some notion about working class representation in the Western world.

    What I am saying is that in much the same way you had a very difficult choice to make with regards to John Wiseman vs the official slate there may be a point at which people in the LRC are faced with backing New Labour candidates against candidates put forward by the trade unions. This has not seriously happened yet. You have said we should back the LP candidate in this case – I am saying that I think such a situation might very well cause a schism in the ranks of the LRC about what to do because I do not think the decision would be as clear cut for many of us.

    Please also do not conflagrate my views with that of the AWL motion. I had said repeatedly that I do not think that we should leave the LP now but cannot agree that we will remain in come hell or highwater and regardless of the circumstances nor do I think that majority of LRC members feel this way either. This is, I think, our fundamental difference and one over which we are unlikely to convince each other at this stage.

  31. John A said,

    “I had said repeatedly that I do not think that we should leave the LP now but cannot agree that we will remain in come hell or highwater and regardless of the circumstances nor do I think that majority of LRC members feel this way either.”

    I agree with both of you – it’s a good idea to work within Labour but there are limits: I’m not going to be campaigning in Poplar against Galloway, for example, and I certainly wouldn’t campaign against a genuine trades union candidate with a chance of winning. But that, to be frank, isn’t the situation we are in at the moment.

  32. susan press said,

    I am not “making age an issue” – just pointing out I have had 32 years in the Labour Party, lived through Thatcherism, and seen so many new left parties come and go. That has to temper my view.
    I am NOT saying support New Labour. I am saying our priority must be not getting distracted into blind alleys and saving the seats of the LEFT Labour MPs who are now seriously at risk of losing their seats. Two in my immediate vicinity, Mike Wood and Linda Riordan, both stalwqart trade unionists , socialists etc etc .
    I do not want to see a schism in the LRC but I don’t see much appetite for leaving the Labour Party at the LRC meetings I have been to/organised in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Halifax and Hebden Bridge. Most people I speak to are determined to stay.
    Maybe that day will come. But what is happening now to new labour is an opportunity for the Labour Left – not a cause to run away. Yes, the trade unions formed their own party via the original LRC. But that was then – this is now. As Tony Benn always says, we need more socialists inside the Labour Party, not dozens of splinter groups outside it. There is nothing which New Labour woild love more than for us all to leave.

  33. stroppybird said,

    Well better list my credentials to argue this point up front  Been in LP since 16, that’s 28 years one month three weeks one day two hours…ok, little sarky. Lived under Thatcher, Miners strike etc etc.

    Not quite as impressive as 32 years of course 

    I tend to lean towards Tami’s position, even if she is a young whippersnapper from across the pond. I think there are differences between now and the 80s. The mechanisms for influencing the party are no longer there. Ok you can be a councillor but the powers are much more limited than back then, no more socialist republics of Lambeth or even Hebden Bridge.

    Back in the 80s we were trying to shirt the LP leftwards but the starting point was nowhere near as rightwing as now. There was still clear blue water between the Tories and Labour, it’s more a small trickle now im afraid.

    Yes New labour is on the ropes, but the most optimistic result will be a sort of watered down compassite type position.

    So do we all pootle off into the wilderness and join the dead end project of the SWP? Well no. I hope we learn from that and also the vanity projects of the great male leaders (Galloway, Sheridan, Scargill). We do not base a party around one man even if it is John McDonnell…and the LRC gets a bit close to that sometimes.

    Those on the left of Labour in the LRC are generally not leftover entryists, so there is a difference between them and the Millies who left /were expelled back in the 80s.

    The LRC is already building the bridges and potentially the beginnings of a new left of labour party. This will take time and hopefully will lead to more success. Timing is everything and unions need to be on board. It won’t be the next vehicle for the SWP, but a steady evolving grouping that splits off from labour. It will be built on hard work and steadily building bridges outside the party. That’s what is different now.

    Of course the SWP could still fuck it up as could big personality egos. It may come to nothing. But it would seem it has a better chance because it evolves from the labour left alongside campaigns and groups outside.

    It’s an option, but the lessons have to be learned from what has gone before and that is not guaranteed.

  34. susan press said,

    If the LRC was about splitting from Labour I wouldn’t be in it. That’s not what it was founded for andi it’s not the message I’m giving out . If it was, frankly, we would not be building support in the regions with Labour activists increasingly disillusioned with New Labour.There is clearly a fundamental disagreement here- I totally agree with building bridges with those outside the Party. Absolutely not with jumping over the cliff . The thought of “a steadily evolving group that splits off from Labour” fills me with horror..It’s a recipe for disaster. And NO socilaist MPs in Parliament , local government or anywhere else. It is also a recipe for mass expulsion. Not big or clever……

  35. stroppybird said,

    There are two strands of thought on this in the LRC and I expect this will continue as a debate. Im open to the option of leaving but would need to see how it develops as I have outlined.
    Re expulsions,some hard working activists are already being expelled and not for suggesting splits .We may see more as new labour seek to keep control and they do have the mechanisms.The party is very different from twenty years back.

  36. susan press said,

    Sadly, yes. And, yes, there are obviously two strands of thought. But I have to say taht most of the people I speak to in the LRC are still for sticking with the Party. And that the majority of the National Committee most definitely is.Next year, when hopefully we gert more representation from the regions on the NC, I would expect that view to be reinforced by more comrades from Merseyside, the North-East and West Yorkshire.That’snot to say the debate is not going to continue…..

  37. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Keighley, Batley and Spen, Pendle., Calder Valley, Halifax, Wakefield – all have left-leaning CLPs and MPs. Is this a Bermuda Triangle of Old labour? I don’t think so.

    Sounds like the LP left is poised to take over then. Except it’s not. Why is that? It’s because most CLPs are moribund and/or right wing, and also because even if they were “left controlled”, then there is no mechanism via which they can exercise control over party policy.

  38. Ian said,

    For what its worth, I have increasingly and frustratingly come to the opinion that the LP is un-re-claimable. I have been a member since 1981. I cant answer Volty’s question either!! It is virtually impossible to get people to join the LP.

    For what it is worth I remain in the LP in Southampton because there are a group of comrades, some of them councillors, who are personal friends of mine and have been for years. They are all good socialist with solid principles but unfortunately like me an ageing, dying breed. Yet we can still get more people into a room to listen to John McDonnell speak than the CNWP or Respect can locally, which says more about the state of the left here in Southampton.

    The thing that we are all agreed on is the fact that the future lies through the Trade Unions. Brown and Blair have wrecked the party, firstly to stop the ideas of socialism gaining ground and secondly, as we will see at the next general election, finishing it off as an electoral force. The Trade Unions though still remain a massive influence for political change.

    None of the main political parties can be challenged electorally at the moment. Firstly you have a falling turn out at elections. Workers arent taking part in elections as evident in central Southampton where a solid Labour seat returned a Tory on a 17% turnout!!. Secondly , even if all the Trade Unions disaffiliated and formed a new workers party it would be throwing good money away. Currently millions are spent by the main parties to deliver mediocrity and consequently viewed by electors as all the same.The forces of the left currently are too weak to challange and replace that view.

    I support the Convention of the Left initiative because like the LRC it brings all sides of the left together to seek a common programme and as long as the issue of standing in elections isnt discussed, can potentially be successful.

    Thats my view for what it is worth.

  39. modernityblog said,

    very interesting discussion

    Ian, you’re right about “It is virtually impossible to get people to join the LP.”

    I was approached about 4 years ago by a Barrister, a nice well spoken bloke and for the life of him he couldn’t understand why I refused his offer to join the Labour Party, politely of course.

    Not that I have anything against barristers, as such, but when someCLPs in working-class areas positively overflow with the dregs of the middle classes, rampant careerists and new Labour zombies then they are hardly inviting places for working-class activists.

    having said that, I admire the almost limitless fortitude of sincere Labour left activists, it must be torture to be surrounded by New Labour hacks and hangers on, rather them than me !

  40. susan press said,

    Go to Halifax. It’s a thriving CLP in a working-class area. Or, even better, take your blinkers off

  41. Voltaire's Priest said,

    I’m sure Halifax is the new Paris and its shopping centre the new Bastille, but nevertheless I’ll give it a miss for the time being. As for blinkers, I’m not quite sure where the comment was directed or what you meant.

  42. modernityblog said,

    thanks Susan for the suggestion, but I am in a very working class area and I like it here, just not too keen on the middle classes running things, its that old class conciousness that people keep banging on about, which inspires my beliefs, along with my unstoppable contempt for the Tories and when I see similar types (smarmy media types, lawyers, PR Gurus and ne’er do wells) in the LP it doesn’t seem inviting to the ordinary person, I don’t think many people will understand that, but frankly I like to keep the dregs of the middle-class at arm’s-length, I have enough dealing with them on a weekly basis.

  43. susan press said,

    modernityblog, I think you should get out more. Halifax CLP is not Chardonnay-swilling territory, it’s a sriously depressed town with serious problems. It has a working-class MP, an ordinary woman who is a socialist. Neighbouring constituency, Batley and Spen, MP Mike Wood, all-round good guy and socialist who will be lucky to survive the next General Election. It’s class consciousness which inspires my beliefs too.You may prefer to think the Labour Party is bereft of working-class members . But it is not.

  44. modernityblog said,


    can I suggest that you are not doing yourself, or the Labour Party any favours, by failing to read and understand what I wrote, I didn’t say that the Labour Party was bereft of working-class members, I would hope that it’s not.

    but in a lot of places (not all, just based on my subjective experience) the Labour Party is offputting to would-be voters and supporters, and you have to ask yourself why?

    could it possibly be a dominant middle-class membership, in some places?

    class consciousness works many ways, and one of them is, that the working classes don’t like to be bossed round by the dregs of the middle classes outside of work

    I appreciate that might be a hard concept to get into people’s minds, but that’s what I find.

    or perhaps you could conduct a survey? a focus group? on “why are people leaving the LP in droves and why can’t we recruit a lot of quality members?”

    I don’t know, but my views are based on my own experience (not a nationwide census of the British LP), so why not try a bit more humility as it might be appropriate before you piss off more Labour Party supporters with a know all attitude, as you’ll appreciate I meant my above comment #39 fraternally, even if they didn’t read that way.

    it is not like the LP can lose any more supporters, is it?

    I remain your humble, or not so, non member of the LP 🙂

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