21 June 2010

Is working in the Labour Party worthwhile?

Even though I was active on the left of the Labour Party in the early 1980s, I doubt today whether socialist involvement in the Party can be effective.

In the 1980s our complaint against the Wilson/Callaghan governments (1964-79) was that they had been staffed by men with over modest objectives. Nevertheless Roy Jenkins had secured a raft of liberal reforms in the 1960s and the left had strengthened inside the Party and the trade unions. It seemed possible in the early days of Thatcher that a more left-wing Labour government was both possible and meaningful.

New Labour’s (1997-2010) main feature was not the modesty of its reform, but its desire to consolidate Thatcherism under new management. That required a different sort of Labour Party as Blair realised from the outset. Party internal democracy was undermined till it no longer existed, top-down management was imposed leading to choreographed conferences and left-wing activists either resigned or became marginalised eccentricities.

Socialism and social democracy are now too long dead in the Labour Party to be revived. I think I’m right, though I wish I were wrong.

That said, activity in the Labour Party is better than doing nothing or engaging in self-marginalisation through climate camps.

My hope would be that Britain could build a left-wing reformist party to the left of Labour which would win support for itself and prevent Labour from moving to the right. It would have to watch its left flank.

The absence of PR and the fractious left make that difficult in Britain; but nevertheless I believe it should be attempted.

Perhaps we should look to the experience of the German Left Party.

1 comment:

J MacFarlane said...

I had a similar view, in Northern Ireland one votes "tribally". The Left fractured into Socialist & Socialist Workers parties. Both of course are "real" alternatives. A Sinn Feiner I spoke to once said the first question is "When is the split"?