Home > Labour Party News > Leaving Labour? Good riddance

Leaving Labour? Good riddance

LabourCraig Berry, whoever that is, has posted an article at Comment is Free declaring that he is leaving the Labour Party. I suggest that everyone read the article and then utter a heartfelt ‘good riddance.’ Some of the critiques that Berry makes of the Party demonstrate that he has absolutely no idea how it works at a local or national level and that he is frankly lazy in his approach to the local apparatus of the Labour Party, insofar as it survives outside the watchful eyes of the Party bureaucracy.

Berry’s arguments against the Labour Party can be reduced to the following points:

  1. That the membership has declined to the apolitical or the careerist.
  2. Most work is based on fighting for elections and little more.
  3. The inner life of the party is introverted and boring.
  4. There is no link and no possibility of a link between Labour and it’s core supporters.
  5. Capitalism is transforming, but the Labour Party is stagnant

Despite all these criticisms, Berry still has no positive programme to suggest and indeed so weak is his critique that of the Party’s policy forming machines he simply says that they are necessary for discipline after eighteen years of opposition. Evidently Berry is so involved with the Labour Party that he categorically fails to see how relegating policy from Conference, which once formed the bastion of Labour activism, to the National Policy Forum might close down debate.

Berry strikes me as one of these pretentious types for whom a political party allegiance forms part of their self-image. He evidently doesn’t have the conviction to jump into a Constituency Labour Party, grasp the bull by the horns and shape it as it needs to be shaped. This relates back to the weakness of his critique. Berry hasn’t made the link between the collapse and reigning in of Trades Councils and CLPs by an overbearing TUC and Party bureaucracy and the fraying of Labour’s core vote.

If Labour can’t link to its core vote, it might be because the past twenty seven years have been spent in direct eradication of the internal accountability and democracy of the Party. Where once the constituencies could be dynamic campaigning machines, stretching far outside elections, now most of them can’t be bothered sending representatives to Conference and feel aggrieved at the affiliation fee because their membership is dwindling. It won’t be long before scores are dissolved.

These same constituencies still have potential, however. They might not openly debate politics in its ideological sense, but such is the point of the Political Education Officer. They might be introverted and boring, but that simply means responsibility will rest on those few who have their own vision for what it might be. I thought Canterbury CLP was boring, but now with campaigns on the homeless and other local issues, ideology is being dragged out, dusted off and thoroughly discussed.

In the aftermath of Gordon Brown’s speech, when the Canterbury branch reconvened after summer’s parliamentary recess, the battle lines were clearly drawn between the Socialist Campaign Group sympathizers, the neutral disinterested and those who rather naively think that Gordon Brown can deliver on what his rhetoric promised. Thankfully the committed New Labourites hadn’t turned up for that particular meeting, though they do so now and again.

The category of people who naively trust the Labour leadership do so because they don’t perceive the machines of control which the Party, the media and the government all deploy. They have no developed critique of capitalism, thus they are buffeted by any light wind, as though they have nothing to anchor them. Such is the type of Craig Berry – disillusioned by unfulfilled promises and the stark reality of Labour in decline, off Berry toddles into irrelevance, not realising that the promises were always empty.

Capitalism is not transforming. So far as every worker is concerned, capitalism is precisely the same, whether we’re rebuilding Bretton Woods, whether we’re designing a new global free trade compact to carry exploitation in new and more intensive forms to newly integrated parts of the world economy. If the Labour Party remains the same whilst the media is buffeted by its own sensationalising of a perfectly understandable economic event, it’s because the old battles are still the battles that need to be fought.

Between Left and Right, between representative democrat and plebiscite democrat, between socialist and social democrat, between good and evil, skywalker and vader, etc. These still have relevance and either the right wins, and Labour continues to decay, or the Left wins and we seek new engagement with local people, new interest in ideology and a repoliticized politics rather than the banal management speak of the careerists seeking personal political advantage.

Perhaps Berry should take his dilettante approach to the Party and join the Conservatives. Or the BBC. Their more dynamic, though critically empty, management speak might be more to his liking.

Categories: Labour Party News
  1. October 19, 2008 at 2:37 am

    This rather reminds me of Zizek talking about a journalist friend of his who was asked by an editor to replace the word “capitalism” with the word “economy”…

    I notice Brown is being critical of free market economics. Yesterday’s Torygraph article (erm, says it all! why not the Mirror?) he supposedly criticised unfettered capitalism – though, he can’t bring himself to use the dreaded C word, either…

  2. October 19, 2008 at 9:59 am

    A good analysis.

    I’ll just pick up on your assessment that “Some of the critiques that Berry makes of the Party demonstrate that he has absolutely no idea how it works at a local or national level and that he is frankly lazy in his approach to the local apparatus of the Labour Party, insofar as it survives outside the watchful eyes of the Party bureaucracy.”

    In fact he appears to know a fair bit about Labour Party workings, or at least the part of it that has exercised his brain. The evidence is at Berry C (2008), Labour’s Lost Youth amd the Labour Party Youth Sections, The Political Quarterly, Vo 79/3, 366-376.

    Sadly. he appears to be conflating what may be dysfunctionality in Labour Youth/Labour Students (I wouldn’t really know) with what’s going on in the rest of the party, and this has links into your recent article on student politics. Thus, his Comment is free assertion that: “Everybody seems to have a position………..some rung on the ladder…. I couldn’t logically explain why anyone joins the party any more.” is simply nonsense (a fact he actually seems to accept by saying he can’t explain it). Is he seriously suggesting that your average branch treasurer (e.g. me) is doing it as a career enhancer? Most of the people in these positions never had a political career of any kind, and/or are about 25 years out the other end of it.

    So, yes, in terms of Craig personally, your contention, that he might simply have decided HIS career is best served by a public disavowal of Labour, may well be correct. I’d direct him (and anyone interested) to Henry Drucker’s minor masterpiece ‘Doctrine and Ethos in the Labour Party’ (1979, but maybe more relevant now than it was then)for a look at things called loyalty and solidarity.

    But if we accept that his leaving the party is because Labour Youth/Students couldn’t give him the career lift he wanted from it, this still raises the question – which he never poses in his PQ article – about whether a youth section of any kind has a valid place in the party, and again this touches back on your other article. For myself, never having been in Labour youth (I only joined the party properly in 1999) I have to say I can’t quite see the point. For members of Youth/Student sections to want separate structures seems to militate against what they also (sometimes) appear to want – local involvement in local stuff.

    People like Craig appear to regard older members like me as necessarily backward looking, dimwitted, restraining of youth initiative, and impossible to communicate with. It all actually seems mildly ‘in reverse’ – older working class members may not be able to articulate themselves about their political beliefs and desire as much as tthe LS youngsters, but that doesn’t mean they’re deadwood. The reality in my experience is that most older members welcome ‘new blood’ with open arms, and listen to what they’ve got to say/plan/write.

    Likewise I can’t remember, as a young, active, strike-organising union steward in the 1980s, ever having any problems communicating on a level playing field with older members. I respected them, and they respected me.

    Which takes us back to Henry Drucker, and solidarity.

  3. October 19, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    He’s absolutely correct in his assessment, if such it is, of Young Labour and Labour Students. Most of them do have an angle which they are working so that in due course they can take a seat in Parliament or elsewhere in the world of politics. For this reason, in universities like nowhere else, the smaller socialist groups are rapidly growing.

    Even at Oxford the broad Left Forum had the potential to be a bigger, more effective campaigning organisation than the Labour Club – which is famed for its campaigning effectiveness. The only obstacle was that the Left Forum had no links to the constituency-based Left in Labour; and on that score there were also Greens competing for Left credibility, and the Independent Working Class Association.

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