The demise of the Labour Party in it’s current form is becoming a slow, painful and long drawn out process. Whilst the Left trains it’s fire on each other, a rich seam of new, fresh and (crucially) young activists are being turned off politics, perhaps for good. If their first experience of organised politics is to witness a dialogue of the deaf replete with self righteous moral certainties that brook no debate then these newly awoken workers will simply switch off and that old cliche of, “they are all the same” will be proven to be more of a truism than a stereotype.
Having an eight month enforced sabbatical from the political scene has produced some unintended positive results. The opportunity has arisen to ask questions and listen to the views of those not involved without having to trot out my own tiresome answers.
Travelling to and from Leeds twice a week affords the chance to listen to a wide cross section of fellow patients making the trip to the world class NHS facility that is the Bexley Wing of St. James’ Hospital.In addition I can canvass the opinions of the drivers and whilst there of the staff. Two long spells in Hull Royal Infirmary were an eye opener to the stresses and strains of life on the frontline particularly for the ancillary workers.
The overwhelming response is that workers are desperate for change but see national and local politics as totally irrelevant. Even in cases where I know the local elected people are decent, hard working and not part of the gravy train the response is largely unchanged. This is the main factor for the Leave vote last month. By and large there wasn’t the refrain pushed by the establishment of, “bleedin’ foreigners coming over here and stealing our jobs.” Because we are a Port city a lot of these workers were well versed in the need for an international approach due to having worked at the docks or in the haulage industry. A patient next to me was a senior research chemist and said it was the Tories that had starved his lab making them reliant on EU cash. It was the disconnect, real or imaginary of politicians from the everyday life that infuriated voters into casting their ballot to leave the EU. Andy Burnham hasn’t got an awful lot right of late but he was spot on when he said the debate was, “too much Hampstead and not enough Hull”.
We have witnessed a rise in politicisation of workers in recent years. This has been exemplified by the ascent of Bernie Sanders who pushed Hilary Clinton hard in the Democratic Party nomination process, the re election of Socialist Party councillor Kshama Sawant in Seattle. PODEMOS and Syriza coming from nowhere in Europe plus the election of radical Left candidates to Dail Eireann in the spring. And most obviously there was the Left being elected by a huge margin to lead the Labour Party.
Labour had a massive stroke of luck in 2015 and proceeded to blow it. The leadership contest came at just the right time. The election of the Cameron Tory Government on just 24% of the popular vote which ushered in the return of the Nasty Party finally galvanised a section of the working class into action. Jeremy Corbyn had be chosen as the Left’s candidate and when the establishment allowed him onto the ballot they could not have predicted the way in which the ideas that he stood for caught the mood of the country. The Left swept to the leadership and then the trouble started…..
As with Ed Miliband in 2010 the Labour rank and file elected the “wrong” leader. Miliband didn’t stand a chance as he was undermined by the full time staff at every turn. These machinations are laid bare in Mehdi Hassan’s 2012 biography of the Miliband brothers. According to Hassan Ed was left on his own in a room when the result was pre announced to the staff as all of them wanted David Miliband to win.
But if Ed thought he had been stitched up, this would be nothing compared to what the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) had in store for Jeremy Corbyn and his team. You can admire the likes of Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and other heavyweights saying they would not serve in a Corbyn led Cabinet. There’s an element of (misplaced) principle at work there. What really doesn’t impress working people is politicians who lick their finger and stick it in the air in order to see which way the wind is blowing. The aim being to secure a seat on the front bench and to climb the greasy poll. They professed loyalty to Corbyn’s anti austerity values but once they saw the tide moving the other way they jumped ship en masse. What was even more galling was the way in which these resignations were staggered in order to maximise the news cycle and keep the story going hour on hour.
However the Left leadership have not helped themselves. Instead of taking the mandate given to them and the obvious upsurge in membership and using it to produce a radical programme for opposition, and then Government they decided on a strange kind of appeasement with their opponents. Almost the first thing that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell did was to quash the idea that Local Government would be the front line on which the fight to the Tories would be launched. “The situation the councils are now in is if they don’t set a budget, a council officer will do it for them. There is no choice for them any more.” he told the Guardian on 24th September last year. This despite telling a mass public meeting in Hull only a year previously that councillors should always oppose cuts, and praised the three Hull City councillors that defied the whip leading to their expulsion from the Labour Party!
Then we a had a (brief) dalliance with supporting Osborne’s fiscal rules regarding the so called deficit followed by a free vote on Syria and then burying 40 years of principled opposition to the EU Bosses Club by a distinctly half arsed attempt to secure a Remain decision. Voters saw straight through that and smelt opportunism and weakness. This handed the PLP the chance that had been waiting for and so the leadership challenge was mounted.
Meanwhile back in the real world the NHS is creaking as the lethal cocktail of privatisation and cuts is decimating the service provided to patients whilst the staff have to suffer with no one speaking up or organising effectively on their behalf. Teachers are on their knees and were forced to strike earlier this month. Once again their was no one in their corner to counter the lies and propaganda being spread by the Tory press.
Now there is an energy sapping summer of infighting which is already underway. How many “don’t know” voters are there in this contest? Virtually none would be my bet. So what will unfold is a series of meetings where everyone agrees with each other but nothing happens that will help working people with the day to day realities. More than likely the leader will be re elected and we are back to square one.
That’s why my preference would be for a steering committee to be formed right here and right now to provide a broad left platform for a new party which can present a programme of workers democracy (rather than just state capitalism) and organise to fight the cuts in a tangible way. What’s the point of re electing Corbyn if Local Government is to be abandoned and Labour Councils just implement cuts with not a squeak of protest?
However the counter argument runs like this. The leadership crisis in the Labour Party could just be the stroke of luck for Socialists need in order to gain a wide audience and then traction for our ideas. By engaging in the campaign a proper platform of policies, and a solid Socialist programme can be argued for. Remember Liverpool in the 1980’s where the Labour Council implemented many of the policies advocated by supporters of the Militant newspaper. “Liverpool A city That Dared to Fight” (info here http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/liverpool/) outlines the acheivements of that fightback but the key lesson for our era is that the council was re elected every time with increased majorities. And Terry Fields (a workers MP on a worker’s wage) a Socialist firefighter was returned to the Commons with a bigger majority in 1987 in a constituency where home ownership was over 70% thus blowing out of the water the argument that the Left is somehow “unelectable” or can’t connect with better iff workers.
Either way it is paramount that the Left become outward looking now and get behind local campaigns on the many issues affecting workers currently. From zero hours contracts, un unionised workplaces, and cuts to the schools budgets to the great NHS sell off and junior doctor contracts the Left must prove they are on the side of everyday folk and not solely engaged in soap opera politics no matter how self gratifying and right on that may be.
Even if you don’t agree with the Left and Corbyn, what has been done to him and by extension his ideas is a disgrace and any moral authority the Labour establishment had remaining has been flushed down the khazi by their actions which make “The Prince”, by Machiavelli look like the hand book for a teddy bear’s picnic.