A Party for the Many or the Few?

Andy Howell rightly points to the need for a strong centre to prevent Labour splitting between two fight to the death factions (Ann Black for the NEC — Fighting Against The Polarisation of the Party). This will be difficult even if independents do win places in the NEC ballot – Ann Black and Eddie Izzard must be top of the voting list. But with Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan quitting as Independents to join the Labour First-Progess hard right slate, the list of independents has reduced since last year.

Polarisation is partly due to the mistaken grasp of history in both factions. Blairism has become a slogan either getting uncritical opposition or unconditional support. The Lost History of the 1990s shows that the centre left moved against Blairism to form the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) in 1997-98 and there was space to do so. Blair was never able or willing to indulge a purge – as Jeremy  Corbyn’s record of rebellions shows – and the hard left belief there was a total clamp down is unhistorical. On the other hand, the New Labour Establishment was willing to roar off into neo- liberalism and cannot be defended. The Hard Right is defending the indefensible, and after Miliband remained in hock to New Labour, the soft left found itself in the middle, and in 2015 voted for Corbyn. 

This gets the soft left nowhere. Neither side in the faction fight accepts the independence of the soft or centre left,  or the need for Labour to be a broad church, and the removal of Ann Black from the CLGA slate shows that independence is not something the hard left is interested in. Like the hard Right, they embrace a black and white no compromise politics, and this risks wrecking the balance in the party. 

When it was set up in 1900, the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) represented the hard left. The Independent Lbour Party (ILP) the centre or centre left, and Fabians the right. The SDF quit – they were not expelled – to form the Communist Party, but other hard left groupings emerged. As long as there is balance, there is no problem. Labour has succeeded when it has been a broad church.

Momentum, the latest hard left grouping, builds on the support for Corbynism and rejection of New Labour by Party members, most of whom still seem to be soft or centre left. Momentum currently claims 40,000+ members, in a party of over half a million. Thus it has less than 10% of the membership, but against the Labour First/Progress alliance is likely to take 8 or 9 of the constituency positions. Such a result would mean that Labour’s constituency section had come under the control of a minority – not a good state for a party which needs to be broad and inclusive, the party of the many, to win power. 

If there is an imbalanced constituency section this will be harmful. For the majority of Party members  not to be represented on the NEC is unustainable – members will leave. For the current elections nothing can be done but to urge votes for independent members and avoid the slates. But in the aftermath there has to be a redoubled effort to build a well organised soft or centre left presence. Labour’s NEC must represent the Many, not the Few.

Trevor Fisher, July 2018

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