The mass media is institutionally biased against socialist ideas and politics, and that finds its reflection in blogging too. But nonetheless by virtue of the DIY nature of the medium there is more of a level playing field. It is possible for socialists, and by this I mean *proper* socialists, to build a following over time through excellent writing, thought provoking argument, and sheer bloody mindedness. Rankings from Wikio's and Total Politics' top 100s, and the Orwell Prize shortlist show it can be done.
Part of this blog's initial appeal was rooted in my being a SP member (three and a half years ago there was hardly a preponderance of SP bloggers), but also in the reflective style of writing I developed. I think it's fair to say readers got a good glimpse of what life was like in the party thanks to the never ending stream of branch meeting, internal events, and SP activism reports. I'd also like to think my blogging showed that contrary to received opinion about life in Trotskyist groupings, I was never one for groupthink and that such cult-like behaviour was not a property of the SP's political tradition or organising practice.
Obviously, as a SP activist wanting to promote the party to other lefts, I had an interest in showing SP life in its best light. But this was not a matter of spinning an unpleasant internal regime. All of my blogging was an accurate reflection of how I experienced life inside. I know about all the scare stories circulating around cyberspace about the machinations and skulduggery found at the centre of the organisation, but I never fell foul of any of it. Perhaps it was because I was a lay member out in the provinces, but nonetheless the relationships between (most) members were genuinely comradely. At branch and regional meetings you'd have a laugh, discuss politics and strategy, and go to the pub and do much the same. I very rarely heard a cross word said about another SP member (I can count on one hand the occasions I did so during my four year membership). True, socialists outside the party's ranks used to get slated but because of their daft, sectarian behaviour or lunatic ways of working, not because they were gay, or overweight, or whatever. In other words, the reflection of SP life this blog projected was an honest portrayal of the calibre and character of the comrades involved.
Because I joined Labour out of grim necessity rather than genuine enthusiasm, I don't feel the desire to fight Labour's corner by defending its awful record. When there's a massive media apparatus designed to do just that, why should bloggers fall over themselves to be on-message? It's not like we'll swing the election!
But I do think the best place to fight for socialist politics is in the Labour party. Blogging comrades who agree with this position however tend not to write much about party activism. You'd be hard pressed to find more scathing critics of New Labour than Louise and Dave, but you get little sense of what life inside the party's like. Thing is, doing the whole reflective writing thing that I did with the SP is hardly an advertisement for joining Labour. I put it like this. Some members are still happy to address each other as comrade. But beyond a small minority, there's more than a few who crap on comradely values every time they open their mouths. Mutuality, respect, and solidarity are words uttered for expediency's sake. Discussion about politics is the exception - talk of who hates who, who's been shafted or is in for being fucked over, and who's "mental" is the norm. Casual racism, homophobia and distaste for trade unions aren't uncommon either. And that's before we start talking about shenanigans and stitch-ups.
Blogging reflectively about the SP showed it in its best light. Doing the same for Labour will bring out its worst.
In that case, some might say these are things better left unsaid. I don't think so. What I've seen in the last couple of months puts the worst Trot factionalism firmly in the amateurish shade. The culture of the Labour party is rotten from the constituency level right to the top, which is symptomatic of the neoliberal road travelled and its position as a ladder for local and national political elites. And because their political location is much the same, I doubt the story's any different in the Tories and LibDems. Exposure won't make this go away any more than the MPs' expenses scandal will have banished corruption once and for all from politics. Its well spring bubbles up from Labour being the political expression of the trade union bureaucracies, aspirational layers of the "core vote", parts of the middle class, and capitalists with a conscience. But exposure opens up this culture to scrutiny and challenge, and that is what's needed right now.
So no, I haven't left the SP to become an unpaid spin doctor for Labour. Being a socialist (and a blogger) in the Labour party means building the left, encouraging trade unions to make their affiliation work, promoting socialist ideas, and never sparing the party from criticism, however politically inopportune it may be. That is what I intend to use this limited platform to do.