United We Stand …

The period of calm after the left right battles in the Labour Party, which erupted after the 2015 election and then died down when Corbyn won the leadership for a second time in 2016, may be coming to an end. The immediate issue is the split in the Hard Corbynite Left which has emerged over the General Secretary post. However the start of March also saw a minor revival of the old Hard Right, dominant as New Labour from the middle nineties for two decades. From a soft left viewpoint, there are both possibilities and dangers. 

The decision of Jon Lansman to run for Labour General Secretary  may look like the People’s Front of Judea, as Owen Jones has pointed out (Guardian 2nd March) as Momentum has a different strategy  from the Corbynistas. This could  have negative consequences notably if the media pick up  disputes in the Labour Party. Voters do not  like split Parties, and while the Leader’s Office (or LOTO as it is called) has gained from being firmly in control, it could be damaging electorally if the office of General Secretary goes to Lansman. This is unlikely as Corbyn as leader will have the decisive influence. However Lansman is not going away and given the history of left factionalism Momentum has to be watched.

Lansman’s views  go back to the struggles of the 1980s around Tony Benn’s politics. Benn famously saw  radical movements as being bottom up and not top down, and based on shop stewards groups and mass participation . OMOV – one member one vote — was one of the key policies  both soft and hard left could agree on at the time,  reflecting lessons drawn from syndicalism, and still has resonance.

The possibility of a massive social movement  remains at the core of Momentum’s politics. While no one disagrees that this is desirable, the Corbynista emphasis  has always seen the trade union leaderships as the key focus, though membership democracy is a priority. Within the Corbynista camp the influence of UNITE has much greater weight than other unions, but the key issue is the view that Labour is predominantly a union party. 

The roots of the current Labour Representation Committee, which Corbyn helped to set up, lie in the original LRC which  was set up in 1900. That foundation body led to the Labour Party and  had  no individual membership, being composed of Unions and affiliated socialist societies, the Fabians, Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation. Individual membership did not happen till 1920. Constituency parties have never had the influence of the unions, and this is still not widely contested within the old Hard Left. 

It is odd that this might lead to a split, as both grassroots membership and the involvement of the trades union movement  are  essential.  However as with most theoretical disputes, there are times when theology becomes important. This is one of them. If Momentum backs one approach as dominant and LOTO backs another, and only one post of General Secretary available, what the candidates think is important. 

While the Hard Left squabbles, there are signs of a minor revival of the Hard Right. At the Labour student conference what Labour List calls “centrist” candidates took the major positions, including the full time positions of Chair, Campaigns and Membership officer — though only 175 votes were cast and the elections took place on a weekend of intense blizzard when affiliated clubs from Wales and the South West  could not get to the meeting. In a blast from the past as intense as the Beast from the East, the students used delegate votes not OMOV.

Meanwhile at the West Midlands Region 11 of the 13 elected places went to “centrists” again on a weekend where weather restricted attendance. The West Midlands is the home of Labour First, an old right group known for turning up with tight organisation. However it was RIchard Angell, Director of New Labour organisation Progress, who Labour List quoted as praising the result.

A period of left — right internal battles when the party is neck and neck with the Tories in the opinion polls is unwelcome. Both sectors are internally divided and focussed on their own agendas. The soft left, which is almost certainly the majority of members, has no part in these ancient quarrels. The priority for the Party is fighting the Tories. Could there be  a Unity Offensive?

Trevor Fisher. February 2018

Comments

  1. 7th April saw a bit of turbulence In the Labour Party making a unity offensive unlikely First, Christine Shawcroft chaired her first disciplinary meeting of the NEC and ran up a few headlines. Older readers will remember Ann Black was removed as chair and Christine put in her place, Christine being a Lansman supporter and Momentum sympathiser. And then announced she would not

    stand for the NEC again, meaning only 3 meetings in the chair.

    The first was yesterday, and reports indicate a ‘fractious meeting’ according to the politics home page. Unlike what happened when Ann chaired, but whatever happened led Christine to put out a statement which deserves to be remembered. To wit, she wrote “reviewing the disciplinary process is going to come too late for some of our comrades. This is why I am supporting Jon Lansman, or a woman in that tradition, for general secretary.

    “Nothing would induce me to support a candidate from a major trade union, they stick it to the rank and file members time after time. Its also time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party. The party belongs to us, the members. I was supporting Jon Lansman for GS before today’s NEC sub committee meetings, but after to day I’m even more determined.

    “Only someone from his tradition will support the rights of rank & file members in the CLPs. The major trades unions are actively opposed to us, a very cursory examination of trigger ballots in mayoral ‘selections’ will tell you that. Look at their track records before you rush to support someone.”

    This was later deleted and Corbyn’s office was shall we say nonplussed in their comments.

    Readers can track the subsequent deluge of opposition to Christine’s comments which are now widely spread.

    Trevor Fisher

  2. I have just noticed the date on this article is April 7th, sorry, the date it was published was March 7th. Gremlins or what, the full saga can be tracked on Labour List and elsewhere,

    Trevor Fisher

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