Sunday 26 September 2010

After Diane Abbott

Across the electoral college Diane Abbott won 35,259 individual first preferences (10.42% of total votes cast). For someone who ran a lacklustre campaign and wasn't taken all that seriously by the press, that vote isn't too bad. It is a better tally than the one mustered by Andy Burnham (28,772 votes) and Ed Balls (34,489 votes). But because of the unequal weightings between MPs, party members, and affiliate members, Diane's third place in terms of votes translates into just 7.42% of the college, while Burnham and Balls were on 8.68% and 11.72% respectively (see here for a solution to the present electoral college). Does this tell us much about the strength of the Labour left?

Not really. In the Labour members' section Diane polled just 9,314 votes (7.3%) and came in last place. Only the individual trade unionists boosted her overall total above Burnham and Balls. It might prove tempting to identify this with the 'Labour left vote' and extrapolate a number of conclusions from this - such as its weight in the party, the limited horizons of its prospects and, who knows? Maybe that Labour is dead and a new workers' party is needed? But some caution is needed.

No one is denying the Labour left is weak. But it is wider than the confines of the
Labour Representation Committee and sundry Marxists with an internet connection knocking about the party. These days the Labour left is not so much a force and more a constituency: strictly speaking it is less than the sum of its parts. If the Trotskyist shibboleth of boiling working class politics down to a crisis of leadership has any relevance, this is the one place it will find most purchase.

Without any real cohesion the manner of Diane's entry into the contest alienated a lot on the hard left who were banging the drum for John McDonnell. And as the campaign progressed hers failed to become a point around which left-wingers could rally. Another side effect of this is without an acknowledged and authoritative lead coming from anywhere, a lot of the left went all over the place. For me and a lot of comrades Diane became the choice by default. For others, Ed Balls' campaign conversion to Keynesianism was a good enough reason to command left wing support. And more than a few elected to give Ed Miliband a punt as a means of keeping David out. This poor state of affairs is indicative of the distance to be travelled before the influence of the Labour left matches the numbers of its self-identifying adherents.

Does this support the arguments of those comrades who remain advocates of a new party of the left? Despite being persistently reticent about where an alternative to Labour could come from, you might reasonably assume its impulse to come from within the labour movement (further thoughts
here). But as the results for Diane in the trade union section demonstrate, if there was little appetite for the left wing Labour leadership contestant among the more conscious layers of the workers' movement, what scope for the more 'advanced' demand of a new vehicle of working class political representation?

There is another issue too. Ed Miliband's victory graphically demonstrates that Labour remains open to the influence of the organised working class. That the more social democratic of the two front runners managed to win a plurality of trade unionists' votes counts for something, a reality I'm sure none are aware of more than Ed Miliband himself. So while he will inevitably tack to the right, the conditions of his victory has placed something of a leash on him. It is something he cannot get away with too often or for too long. And all because of the organic links Labour has with the labour movement. Having far from withered away, the links are there and should be deepened. Socialists who ignore or deny them are making a lot of unnecessary and ultimately frustrating work for themselves.


Derek Wall said...

Yes important to have a united and broad left grouping, glad to be in one in my party, I am still sad that John McDonnell could not make a run.

Nonetheless the Labour left I am sure will get involved in the anti-cuts campaign and I hope will take lessons from the left in Latin America where some victories against neo-liberalism have been won.

I am not a labour party member of course but a left victory in one political organisation should be seen as a victory for other lefts in other places.

A. Socialist said...

Dianne's result was dreadful. I think anyone considering themselves at all left would have voted for her as their first preference. The problem with Ed Miliband is that if he tacks right we have no system of democratic recall in the party to hold him to account. He can now abandon members and trade unionists at will.

RickB said...

I make it 35,259 for Abbott (7+9314+25938= 35259) so an even better third.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time if you were in the Union you were a party member, now of course like many I'm not a labour party member, I was for 42 years, but decided enough was enough, I voted for Abbott through my Union vote, but I always knew she come last or next to last.

Now we have a Miliband I suspect in the end the only winner will be the Tories, because simply put unless Miliband can show their is something in voting labour then sadly for the first time in my long life I will vote Tory

Phil said...

You're right, Rick. Maths was never my strong suit.

Phil said...

Anonymous, how can you go from Diane Abbott to voting Tory? If the Labour party isn't "left enough" you're going to support a right wing party bent on making the working class pay for their crisis? Please explain the logic of your thinking to me.

Jonkarra said...

Diane would have been a natural choice for me however I know someone who is as left as she is(sorry but the press calling her hard left really is a joke) would never be elected PM. What didnt help was until after I received my ballot papers and had voted her campaign seem to pretty much centre around I aint one of those guys and I was against Iraq. She did pretty well in the hustings but for me that was already too late and I still dont think I would have changed my mind.

As for the party members I suspect the reason the unions seem to be more left orientated is that a lot of people more to the left of the party left during the Blair years, I know I did before rejoining after the election.

Lawrence Shaw said...

I've ranted about this on Socialist Unity as well, but I do think there was a certain amount of pragmatism exercised by voters in this election, particularly by the union voters - although the turnout amongst affiliates was shockingly low.

Abbotts campaign was basically shite and I think John McDonnell would have fired up a lot more debate and got far more support. She moaned about having no money, but Andy Burnham had very little dosh and did a much better job getting his albeit incoherent message out.

I think the support she received was in spite of her campaign, not because of it. For me, it was the fact DM felt happy enough to nominate her himself to ensure she got on the ballot paper - I bet he would not have done the same for McDonnell.

To say a low vote for Abbott is evidence of the collapse of the left within Labour is, in my opinion, not telling the full story which is that many people voted with their heads not their hearts and got the least worst of the front-runners in, and in doing so forced him to the left ground.

I suppose we can look forward to a barrage of abuse from the comrades about how EdM is siding with the bosses for not publicly calling for bloody revolution and being a but mealy mouthed on the cuts.

Personally, I think he is playing the media game as he knows full well it is not switched Tory voters we are trying to chase.

If EdM sticks to the Living Wage policy, we will have something tangible to be fighting for that will make a huge amount of difference to millions of people if enacted. I am more concerned that we need to pin Ed down on several key areas of policy around wages and conditions and make him stick to them rather than get wound up about whatever bollocks he spins to the Torygraph.

Gregg said...

Phil, a lot of people - quite possibly most voters - see British politics as a two-party contest, and so those who find Labour too right-wing will vote for the Tories because they are the only party Labour can lose to. This problem has been compounded by Labour's shif to the right under Blair and Brown - with policy differences at best muted and at worst non-existent, the election becomes about managerial competence, and those who might be inspired to vote for bold left-wing policies may also, in the absence of those policies, vote for the Tories as better placed to implement and manage the policies both parties are advocating.

This is why it has always been a mistake for the Labour leadership to react to a loss of power to the Tories by assuming that it was because Labour was too left-wing.

Gregg said...

On the subject of Abbott's vote, it may well indicate that the left within Labour is essentially dead. It's no surprise - more members have left the party than have stayed or joined over the past 15 years, and the PLP is ridiculously supine. Still, it is worth looking at the Ken Livingstone topping to NEC poll for some indication of a wider left-wing vote amongst the membership.

Simon said...

I think the result is grounds for optimism. It shows that a Labour Left candidate can still poll 10% despite the poor calibre of the candidate, the confused politics and the non-existent campaign.

Throw in the significant proportion of the votes which went to the Eds and clearly a significant left-wing constituency to work with.

Phil said...

A. Socialist, what you think is ultimately neither here nor there. Other comrades on the left had different calculations in mind. I voted Diane because I felt a message had to be sent. Other voted Balls because they want a head of steam to build behind his return to Keynesian economics. And others voted Ed Miliband to stop David. I don't think anyone doing the latter automatically means they're unworthy of the socialist label.

Anonymous said...

in reply to anyone dissapointed by dianne abbots result. In 1988 tony benn the only other campaighn group candidate to be allowed to stand for the leadership only managed thirteenp per cent. Given the division of the left over mcdonnels withdrawal and some backing more "credible" non-left candidates Including tony benn himself. Dianne abbot didnt actually do to badly especially the way the media attacked her and her lack of an organisation. i still dont think the left has a future in labour but thats a personal view. james?