Saturday 1 July 2023

And Then They Came for the Soft Left

In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn talks about Stalin's terror as a slavering beast with a life of its own. Originally directed at real and imagined opponents in the Soviet bureaucracy, it became an occasion for officials to settle beefs, or acquire a slightly nicer apartment. If that meant innocent people ending up in a camp or the basement of the Lubyanka, that's too bad. The idea of the terror building its own independent momentum and not stopping after meeting its objectives are not dissimilar to the purges that have gripped the Labour Party for the last year. Having successfully excluded so-called undesirables from selection long lists, and deselected a smattering of left wing Labour MPs, what happens to the purge now? Why, it finds new victims. This time from the soft left.

Neal Lawson wrote on Friday that he's under suspicion and could find his membership of 44 years terminated. His crime? Being in favour of progressive alliances. His argument, which is well trodden and well known, is that while the right are more or less united in the Tory party the "progressive vote" is split between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. In the circumstances of First Past the Post, it makes sense for these parties to have an alliance - whether open or a touch more discreet. Neal's crime was not to call for a vote against Labour. Which is a big no-no and warrants automatic expulsion. Instead, he welcomed an alliance between the Lib Dems and the Greens in Oxford as an example of the sort of understanding progressive parties should come to. Unfortunately, this is the backyard of Luke Akehurst, self-styled witch-finder general and arbiter of who passes the not-at-all politically factional "due diligence" tests for CLP shortlists. He says Neal is facing charges because he's backed an lash-up designed to unseat Labour councillors. Which is a creative interpretation of the progressive alliance argument.

This does involve some ancient history. Akehurst has long opposed Neal's organisation, Compass, because of its fondness for other parties. He's not the head honcho of Labour First for nothing. In 2011, Compass effectively decamped from Labour to admit members from anyone from any party, which made it "illegal" in the party. The organisation was also the route through which one Chuka Umunna found his way into the Commons, so perhaps Akehurst's antipathy wasn't entirely unwarranted.

But the significance of their move against a well known soft left figure hasn't been lost on anyone. On Twitter, Zoe Williams said that she felt betrayed by the Labour Party and Keir Starmer for this authoritarian step, especially after the liberal and pluralist noises he made during the leadership campaign. Earlier this month, John Harris twigged that bad things were happening and waded into print about the stitching and the authoritarianism. And, perhaps surprisingly, adding his voice to the rising criticism Jon Cruddas - who only briefly and somewhat tangentially associated with the left - wrote for this Sunday's Observer, saying "Labour is now kicking out people like Neal for upholding the democratic, pluralist traditions that created the party and lie deep within the its history. It is a disgrace." And he hangs the blame for the control-freakery on the "stale undemocratic faction who now runs the party". In other words, our friend Luke Akehurst and, by extension, Starmer's backroom boy Morgan McSweeney and the Dear Leader himself.

This situation was bound to happen. At the beginning of his leadership campaign, Starmer's "big tent" scooped up the soft left and a good chunk of the Corbynite membership, including luminaries like jolly old Paul Mason, Momentum's Laura Parker, and left-friendly wonk Tom Kibasi. But there at the heart of the operation was Labour First's Matt Pound and significant private donations Starmer refused to unveil until after the contest. While the MPs most associated with Labour First demonstrated their lack of nous by backing Jess Phillips and then Lisa Nandy, the organisers who do the hard yards in the party knew who their best bet was. And that should have been all anyone on the left needed to know. When he entered the Leader's Office, it was clear Starmer had no idea about how to run a voluntary party or, for that matter, formulate a political strategy. In came the consultants to advise on policy and structure, but it soon became clear that organising on behalf of the leadership could not be contracted out. That responsibility was devolved to Labour First, and they wasted no time making the party safe for Wes Streeting's future leadership candidature. A lesson for the left that if you don't make your revolution permanent, the counterrevolution won't be so reticent.


McIntosh said...

I am sure there is a poem about this . . .
When they came for Ken Livingston'
When they came for Rebecca Long Bailey
When they came for Jeremy Corbyn
When they came for Diane Abbott

It seems it is not a very broad church that the moderates want but a strict and particular Baptist one. I wonder if the 'Mail' will be happy that the dangerous ones have been sent packing and the adults are in command.

Anonymous said...

I thought Phillips stood in the leadership election to help Corbynites believe Starmer was left wing in comparison. And to say Look At Me of course. Good article and - as has been pointed out many times - a clue to the authoritarian nature of a Labour Govt. Macron would have nothing on these guys

Anonymous said...

Exceot that....Neal Lawson actually called for a vote for the Greens against sitting Labour councillors, something that is against the rules and always has been. Or at the very least did something that could easily be seen as that.

As is normal in such cases, party HQ contacted him to get his response. Instead of replying, he wrote a self-justifying, self-pitying screed in the Guardian - incorrectly claiming that he was already expelled and failing to mention what it was that had got him into trouble, instead preferring to spread the fairy tale that he was being thrown out of the party for "advocating political pluralism".

Add to this the fact that he is an incredibly annoying person with a vast (and unwarranted) opinion of himself, and sympathy for him isn't as high as it should be. He has, typically, been a complete dick.

Is that alone enough to forfeit your Labour membership? No, but the above is a rather more balanced account of things than this piece.

Anonymous said...

Hi Luke!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 23:42 demonstrates, even in a short post, what is wrong with the Corbynite left these days.

Firstly, the idea that Jess Phillips finding out in a matter of days that she was totally unsuited to being Labour leader wasn't a rude reality check after years of having smoke blown up her fundament by right wing journalists for their own cynical purposes - but a pre-planned VAST CONSPIRACY to help Starmer. Just like the VAST CONSPIRACY supposedly hatched by him to lose Labour the 2019 GE by moving to a more pro-EU policy - this was of course solely his nefarious doing, and nothing to do with conference VOTING FOR exactly that shift, nothing to do with it being strongly supported by such naive dupes as Abbott and McDonnell, no of course not - lExIt WoUlD hAvE wOn, and the European elections that pointed to Labour's possible extinction as a major political force never happened.

Secondly, the throwaway Macron comment. Does the poster have any idea just how right wing Macron actually is (I mean, its not as if we can't look at France as we speak) and that whatever you think of SKS he will have to deal with a centre-left wider party, and indeed trade unions, in a way Jupiter does not.

It really is time for the left to stop feeling sorry for itself, cease seeing everything in terms of primary school level conspiracies and start organising to take advantage when a Starmer government disappoints in significant respects (as will inevitably be the case even if it is *relatively* successful, as early period Blair was) If you prefer to bash out self-regarding nonsense on your keyboards, it will be your loss and yours alone. And, as our host says, likely the Greens and LibDems gain.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 09:07

Very droll, but care to refute any of the factual statements in my post?

Bet you can't.

Old Trot said...

Anonymous of 11.02 makes a serious point about the collective amnesia of the Labour Left regarding Starmer's takeover of the Labour Party as Leader. The otherwise enlightening and generally excellent book by Oliver Eagleton 'The Starmer Project' also makes this fundamental error - namely supporting the claim that it took considerable masterly conspiratorial work by Starmer to get Labour to adopt the electorally suicidal pro second referendum, and in all but name , pro Remain, policy in 2018 and the subsequent 2019 General Election.

Far from it, pretty much the entire 2018 Conference , across the spectrum, were gagging for Labour to adopt a full Remain and Second Referendum policy - in a much harder form than the eventual Composited motion that emerged after 7 hours of argument ! I was at that Conference as a Delegate , and, save a few LEXIT deviant socialists like me, there was nil support for Leave, and no interest in honouring our 2017 Manifesto promise to 'respect the referendum outcome. After the 2019 defeat, the Labour LEFT then voted in very large numbers for the lying ex DPP, and quite obvious Deep State asset, Starmer, as the new leader , because of the middle class Left's naive love of the EU, and their contempt for the working class leave voting Labour support base . It is on the Labour LEFT's head (both membership and supposedly 'Left' MPs) that the Trilateral Commission's man, the loyal state flunky , Starmer, now heads the now forever lost to socialist influence, fully neoliberal, authoritarian, Labour Party .

JN said...

Old Trot,

Well, never say never; history makes fools of the sensible and prophets of the crazy. I mean, who saw the French revolution(s) coming in 1780, or the Russian revolution(s) coming in 1900? Having read a fair bit of history, it tends to be a lot clearer with hindsight.

Honestly, I do think that we're going to see a real "far" or "hard" left emerge in the next generation or two that will make us (present day 'far'/'hard' leftists) look so fucking moderate because they will have grown up in a situation where everything is so clearly getting worse.