TCM 6 – Just a parasol

One more quick thought before my last post on this subject.

I agree with Chris, up to a point.

Rather than being a technical matter of putting the right people into the right jobs, the leadership election has become a “battle on for the soul of our party” – which is the natural cost of having a winner-take-all election. … Despite New Labour’s belief that politicians should learn from business, the party is behaving in an utterly unbusinesslike way. This is because it has for years been in the grip of the ideology of leadership, a belief that all will be well if only the right leader can be found.

One of my rare moments of disenchantment with the leadership election came when I realised that we were all acting as if the leader of the party set the direction of the party: elect Kendall, get a right-wing party; elect Corbyn, get a left-wing party. But this way of looking at it is profoundly undemocratic – and an older Labour left would have seen this. The point is to build for a left-wing party within the party; that way, a left-wing leadership will be grounded in, and held to account by, a left-wing membership, which in turn will both revitalise and respond to the broader working class.

We are, of course, a very long way from making that a reality; not only is the level of struggle in society woefully low, but the structures within the party which could have made this a possibility have been systematically dismantled. (The media’s managerialist cult of leadership certainly made this easier, but we need to place the blame for this where it belongs: with New Labour and “Party into Power”. Those policy-making structures wouldn’t have transformed themselves – somebody did that to the party.) So far from being an autonomous presence in civil society, communicating policy directions to the leadership, the Labour Party is little more than a set of local fan clubs for the policy directions set by the leadership. But that’s a real loss, and one which can’t be remedied by parachuting in the right kind of leader.
So I was pleased to read this from John McDonnell a few weeks back, soon after John Prescott’s intervention in the campaign:

I share John Prescott’s view that everyone should just calm down and think seriously about the long-term future of the party and the people we seek to represent.

To reassure everyone that whatever the outcome of the leadership election we have a process for uniting the party, I am writing to propose a process to be adopted immediately following the election result that would ensure the fullest inclusion of everyone within the party in determining the party’s strategy for the coming period, its policy programme and its decision making processes. In this way nobody would feel excluded and everybody would have a democratic say.

This involves ensuring that the direction of the party rests firmly in the hands of our members. I propose that immediately following the leadership election the new leader announces that all the leadership candidates will be given the joint responsibility of organising a wide-ranging and detailed consultation on the party’s political strategy, policy programme and internal party decision-making processes.

For this process of party membership engagement at local CLP and regional levels to take place over a three month period culminating in a recall annual conference to take the final decisions on strategy, policy programme and democratic reform. In this way the future direction of the party will be placed firmly in the hands of its members and so that the party can come together to oppose the Tories and the clear political strategy they are embarking upon which is so damaging to so many people in this country.

Whoever wins the election – which is to say, even if Cooper or Burnham somehow manages to pull it back at this stage – I sincerely hope that this proposal or something very like it can be implemented. I’m sure the Right will cry foul – all this talk of including “everyone within the party”, it’s not going to give the focus groups what they want, is it? Nor is it entirely surprising to find that a veteran left-winger’s recommendations for promoting party unity resemble reforms previously advocated by the Left.

But, putting aside the labels and the name-calling, something like this is going to have to be done if Labour is going to be rebuilt as a party. And if the decade of rightward drift and ever-declining participation has taught us anything, it’s taught us that Labour needs to be rebuilt as a party. That way lies democratic policy-making; that way lies a party that genuinely represents its members and voters; that way lies a functioning party with unity of purpose. There is no other way but decline.




  1. metatone
    Posted 13 August 2015 at 21:55 | Permalink | Reply

    A good post, but rather optimistic.
    Too many “Blairites” (for shorthand) have become addicted to the marginal constituency theory of winning elections – and a democratically organised party gets in the way of that.

  2. Guano
    Posted 14 August 2015 at 10:19 | Permalink | Reply

    Blairites liked the marginal constituency theory of winning elections because it put them in control. They were able to interpret what the median voter in a marginal constituency thought to their own liking (and focus groups are very easy to rig), and in practice they could take decisions about many areas that hadn’t been tested on focus groups. But, like Metatone, I don’t think it will be easy to move away from this. There is now a very thick layer of people in the Labour Party which is unused to debate, and which expects to take its policy line from above (in exchange for sinecure jobs as school governors or hospital boards). They really don’t want to “go back to the 1980s and all those debates” because it’s not what they’re in politics for.

  3. Igor Belanov
    Posted 14 August 2015 at 10:43 | Permalink | Reply

    I think it’s very naive to think that the Labour Party can be rebuilt in a democratic manner that is respected by the full range of its membership. As this contest has shown, the party is enormously diverse in terms of opinion, ideology and strategy, and the right-wing absolutely despise the left. While the left-wing of Labour was weak its opinions could easily be utterly ignored, but now it is clear that among constituency party members and trade union supporters the left has at least the plurality, if not the majority, of support in the party.

    The problem for the Corbyn camp will come after the election, and it has nothing to do with ‘electability’ or popular support. What will it do if Corbyn gains a twenty-per cent lead in the first round but loses in the second? Alternatively, what happens if he wins and the party’s establishment spend the next few years stabbing him in the back? The instinct of Corbyn, McDonnell, Skinner, et al, will be to retreat back into loyal obscurity to maintain the unity of the party. Is this wave of support that Corbyn has mustered going to maintain its momentum and dignity by splitting from Labour, or will they dissolve into apathy?

  4. metatone
    Posted 14 August 2015 at 13:08 | Permalink | Reply

    Good point Igor B.
    The deflation of the Corbyn camp could be a disillusionment of new/young/idealistic potential voters similar to the LibDems going back on tuition fees…

  5. Igor Belanov
    Posted 14 August 2015 at 15:50 | Permalink | Reply

    …and as a possible consequence the Greens would be more likely to make a real breakthrough?

    • metatone
      Posted 14 August 2015 at 16:13 | Permalink | Reply

      We could hope… but looking at all those charts Phil has put up, it would see more likely that they slip back into not voting…

  6. Guano
    Posted 17 August 2015 at 09:12 | Permalink | Reply

    “Alternatively, what happens if he wins and the party’s establishment spend the next few years stabbing him in the back?”

    More concretely, what do we do when the party’s establishment start stabbing him in the back? How do we react if our MPs start destabilising him?

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