Our infant might (2)

I said in the previous post that Red Pepper‘s appeal to build a network of Corbyn supporters inside and outside the Labour Party reminded me of my time in the Socialist Movement in the 1990s. It also reminded me of Harry Hill’s TV Burp, this clip in particular.

The connection will become apparent.

As campaigners, grassroots activists, trade unionists and members of social movements, we believe the overwhelming election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader presents a great opportunity.

Yes, it’s a great opportunity: it’s good for the Left as a whole, and for those broader workplace and grass roots campaigns out of which the Left grows. It’s good because it starts to legitimise them, put their ideas on the agenda, get people talking their language. And it has that effect because it gives them lots of publicity and associates them with what’s still one of the “two main parties”. It’s an opening that the Left across the board can exploit – but the opening was created by working within the structures of the Labour Party.

Some of us are members of the Labour Party and others not. Jeremy’s victory was made possible by people inside and outside the Labour Party who share a common hope in the future.

Yes, I myself was a £3 voter, and there were lots of us. But I’d be very careful with this line of argument. Corbyn’s victory can only have all these good effects if he’s secure as leader, and few things would be more damaging to Corbyn’s standing within the Labour Party than the impression that his supporters weren’t even members. And there’s no need for anyone to get this impression in any case: if the vote had been restricted to full members of the party Corbyn would still have won, probably on the second round. (He only needed 1,010 transfers, and Liz Kendall had over 13,000 first-round votes.) Strictly speaking, £3 voters didn’t affect the result; we weren’t much more than spectators. Which is why I’ve joined the party.

But there is a steep road ahead, during which the government and its allies will attempt to spread fear and division. Parts of the media will attack him because they do not like his agenda of hope and participation. Many MPs will try to limit and constrain the process of giving power back to the people. This will be resisted.

Agreed: winning the election was only the start of the changes, and the campaigning, that will be needed within the party. Corbyn’s victory will be – it’s planned to be, and it needs to be – just the start of the changes that need to be made to, in and through the Labour Party. So join the party.

As Jeremy himself has said, rebuilding this country cannot depend on one person. It demands that all of us take our share of responsibility. We commit ourselves to supporting this attempt to rebuild democracy in Britain.

First and foremost what’s needed is an attempt to rebuild democracy within the Labour party – if that can be achieved, and if Corbyn’s supporters make use of it, Corbyn’s leadership will not only be secure but will put him at the head of a strong and united party. So join the party.

We call on like-minded people to

join the party. Sorry, I interrupted.

We call on like-minded people to join us, creating a democratic and diverse network through action across the country – we will support each other’s campaigns at a local level as well as support the development of progressive changes at a parliamentary and legislative level.

Or you could join the party, and push for the revival of democratic policy-making within the party – which will enable you not only to support “changes at a parliamentary and legislative level” but make them happen.

Jeremy Corbyn provides space to once more allow people to make their voices heard.

Yes, he does, and it’s a good thing. He provides this space by virtue of being leader of the Labour Party – a position in which he has few allies and a limited base of supporters within the party. It’s support from inside the party that he needs – supporting him from outside the party will only make him look weaker and more isolated. So join the party.

I’m not – let me repeat – opposed to the idea of working together with people in different organisations. I’ve never argued that the Left can only get anything done through the Labour Party – some of my bitterest political arguments have been with friends who did. I’m not even opposed to the idea of some kind of non-party/all-party network; experience of involvement in the Socialist Movement, followed by experience of watching the Socialist Alliance and TUSC from a safe distance, makes me acutely aware of how difficult it is to make it work, but that’s not a clinching reason not to give it one more go. But I think this particular project is mistaken, for two reasons. Firstly, joint working between people inside and outside the Labour Party isn’t just an abstract ideal; it’s a method of working – one tool among others – and as such it answers the needs of some situations better than others. In a situation where the extra-parliamentary left is strong but excluded from the ‘respectable’ political agenda, while the Labour left is strong but under attack from the leadership, co-operation between the two makes perfect sense: done well, it enables both to capitalise on their strength, giving the Trots a voice and giving the Labour left a better class of arguments. (Ken Livingstone, of course, worked this approach out years ago and stuck to it.) Now, though – when all the groups and tendencies are in disarray, in the Labour Party and outside it – encouraging people to stay where they are seems like a counsel of quietism. Together we are stronger – and together in an existing party, led by a socialist, we will surely be stronger than in a network built out of ones and twos.

Secondly, and more importantly, the entire idea of building a non-party network to support Jeremy Corbyn strikes me as wrong-headed. Every expression of support from a known supporter of another political party – be it the Greens or the SNP, AWL or RS21 – is ammunition that can be used against Corbyn by the Right. It shouldn’t be like this, but for now it is; it’s a reality that needs changing, but we need to accept that it is reality in order to change it. I look forward to the day when pacts can replace reflex hostility between Labour and the Green Party, for example – not to mention the day when PR can replace pacts – but that in itself will be a position that has to be fought for and won within the Labour Party. Corbyn certainly needs support, just as he needs assistance in driving through the changes that are needed, but he needs the support and assistance of Labour Party members – the more the better.

So join the party. Come on in, the water’s lovely.

(Of course, some of the signatories to the letter may have applied to join the party and been turned down. (I’m slightly surprised I was allowed to join myself.) That would call for a different approach, perhaps involving a non-party network – a Réseau (Corbynniste) des Refusés. I wouldn’t have a problem with that.)

One Comment

  1. Posted 2 October 2015 at 17:46 | Permalink | Reply

    Good points. I still haven’t joined, I’m not sure why.
    Hmmmm – I might post again after I’ve thought about it a bit.

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