Monday, 17 May 2010

The Left and the Labour Leadership

The race for the Labour leadership is underway and the Miliband brothers have taken an early lead by declaring first. To try and distance himself from the Blairite appellation, David has declared New Labour a thing of the past, while Ed calls for Labour to reconnect with its working class base. Both stances are an improvement on what's gone before, but in politics deeds matter more than words and the brothers' records in government have set few social democratic hearts a flutter.

Nevertheless David's eagerness to be first out the starting blocks help explain the clear lead he's established among
Labour members and the general public. As Mike Smithson asks in the latter piece, among the public at least, could David's lead simply be the by-product of name recognition?

There has been an expectation that John McDonnell will fly the flag for the hard left, and
according to Louise he has announced his intentions to do just that. If it means anything, in the LabourList poll of Labour members John received a considerable number of write-in votes (he was not an option in the survey) and came fifth behind the Milibands, Jon Cruddas and Ed Balls, and in front of people like Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Alan Johnson.

There are
concerns about the course John and the Labour Representation Committee are pursuing and, from the standpoint of reviving socialist ideas and rebuilding the labour movement, I share them. But nonetheless John's candidacy is to be welcomed. In the first place it gives Labour's hard left something to cohere around (inbetween elections it seems to me the LRC does little as the LRC apart from supporting the odd left trade union candidate and holding an annual conference). As things stand given it is unlikely John will cross the 33 MP threshold to get on the final ballot, this seems like an ideal opportunity for the LRC to publicly test other MPs' commitment to an open and thoroughgoing debate by calling on them to nominate John in the interests of that discussion; a grassroots letter/email/lobbying campaign to encourage MPs to do so; and a write-in campaign to the NEC calling for a suspension of the threshold rule (after all, it is considering dropping the six month rule to accommodate the ten thousand new members said to have joined since the election).

Second, and the most obvious reason for standing, is getting socialist politics on the agenda. Having a socialist candidate debate ideas in front of a mass audience could do much to float all the left's boats, whether inside Labour or not. How would the others answer when John places himself unequivocally on the side of the working class
against the avalanche of cuts and regressive tax rises that are coming?

This brings us back to the question of LRC strategy. If John is to successfully get his candidacy accepted the LRC has to look beyond itself and its natural allies on the far left outside Labour and think about how it can pull the softer, centre left in its train. The opportunity before the left is too great to pass up.


Michael Moran said...

It would seem that the LRC have taken the standard left of Labour view-that if only we mention socialism/nationalisation etc then all will be well, we will find massive support inside and outside Labour, and will rush to a speedy victory. Reality of talking to those polticised by the Tory victory is of a very confused anti Tory mood, yet wothout much in the way of ideological clarity-a sure sign that the legacy of defeat and decline still speaks in the present. the LRC would be best to stand a candidate and raise ideas as you say, but also make clear that they stand shoulder to shoulder with a candidates such as the two Ed's, who appear to have union backing, and who are making clear that the LP needs to get back to its working class roots via the union link to the working class. Any approach which takes some faux Trot abstentionist attitude when McDonnel fails to win even a nomination will rightfully be taken as crossing to the side of the do nowt ultras who so despoil our environment. good post.

CharlieMcMenamin said...

" If John is to successfully get his candidacy accepted the LRC has to look beyond itself and its natural allies on the far left outside Labour and think about how it can pull the softer, centre left in its train. The opportunity before the left is too great to pass up."

Phil, I'm not in the Labour Party so perhaps it doesn't really fall to folk like me to make this sort of comment but ...McDonnell may be a deeply admirable man with whose politics you feel a lot of sympathy but he is quite simply a a poor candidate. He comes across as wooden and inflexible and without a shred of charisma. Not his fault I know - most of us present like that under the spotlight. So let's just say he's no Tony Benn.

You may want to use the leadership contest simply as a platform to air socialist ideas, but the rest of your party members, including the soft left, will be looking for a leader who can win them an election. So presentation skills do matter. & on these grounds it is hard to imagine which member of the soft left of the parliamentary party is going to support McDonnell to even get on the ballot paper.

Chris said...

I think the leadership debates have basically removed the chances for a vast selection of the population to ever become a party leader. Ok this process of style over substance was gaining momentum anyway but this has sealed the deal.

You can put money on Eton having lessons in leadership debates.

Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

He comes across as wooden and inflexible and without a shred of charisma.

That might have been the case three or four years ago, but is about the opposite of what everybody I know has said after seeing John speak in the last couple of years.

Certainly compared to the personality-devoid Milibands or frankly scary Balls.

Dave Semple said...

Though I am an avowed (non-Labour) supporter of McDonnell's, and am therefore likely to be considered unreliable, I have to agree with what JJJ says above. I have no association or knowledge of McDonnell as an orator prior to 2006, but his address to OU Labour Club in 2006, followed by his participation in the Meacher-McDonnell-Brown debate demonstrates his talent as a speaker. He is engaging and very able.

After the aforementioned debate, plenty of those who wouldn't be seen dead supporting him conceded his speaking abilities.

HarpyMarx said...

John McD. to stand for Labour leader.

Jacob Richter said...

I guess words are important here. There isn’t room for an openly labelled *socialist* or *communist* party, but there is certainly room for a openly labelled Left party that is affiliated with the European United Left “europarliamentary” group (getting past CPB nationalism by not being so chummy with continental Eurocommunist parties) and that has a socialist programme of some sort.

After securing PR via German MMP or purer PR, all that is needed is for Labour guys like McDonnell to ditch "yellow" tred-iunion whoring (the whole history of Labour in comparison to the pre-war SPD, inter-war USPD, and even today’s Die Linke) and be Britain’s Oskar Lafontaine.

Derek Wall said...

Yes as a non Labour Party member I think he is an effective speaker and I hope he gets enough nominations, although I suspect he wont be able to