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It begins…

A friend of mine recently posted the article below about why he has left the Labour Party. I thought it would be interesting for some of the ‘hard core’ of socialist members of the Party to read, to realise exactly what it is to remain in a Party with the New Labour leadership. Too many on the Left of the Party have categorically failed to lay out their plan to “re-take” the organisation- either now or in the aftermath of electoral apocalypse. Maybe this, from a member who counts as average within Labour, might prompt them.

“Last week I clicked the simple cancel button on my direct debit, and the Labour Party get £1.84 less a month than it did before. I know quitting it will have little impact, considering I’ve contributed little money or time over the last year.

However, as a gesture, it was crucial for me to do so.

ideology is a very intangible thing, and I never committed to any particular one due to the shortcomings of following any of them rigidly. There are however principles, if not principles than ideas. The simple idea behind why I joined Labour was simple: I believe that the poor should be less poor and the rich should be less rich.

After a decade a Government has a responsibility to really have made fundamental changes in their view of what society should be, and the crucial thing to me is this: inequality is at an all time high. It has never been higher, not even under Thatcher. This is not some statistical technicality, it’s visible around me. Time and time again I see inherited wealth meaning people can lounge about, working if they choose to do so and using that wealth to get influential jobs in journalism and politics. Time and time again I see young people of my age, paying nearly all their low income on rent because of a housing shortage.

There is a huge housing shortage in this country, and it barely talked about in the mainstream media or the New Labour Party because it has been the base of huge amounts of wealth for the affluent middle class. Conversely though, there should be nothing more offensive to a Labour Party than people sponging money from capital investments rather than actually working. The Labour Party has remained silent, disgustingly not arguing originally with the Conservative proposition to raise the inheritance tax threshold.

The Labour Party has retreated on this crucial element. The right to live in a house or flat on one’s own should be a basic right, and it has been for decades. After the Thatcherite period, this is no longer the case. None of the money from The Right To Buy has been put into new social housing, and nothing has been done about the increasingly extortionate rent costs that people are paying. Forced by the ghettoisation of council estates from the right to buy policy, people on low income have been forced into hugely expensive rental or eventually impossible-to-pay mortgages. Labour remain silent, building pathetic amounts of housing, lower than ever,

This is just a single section of how Labour has failed to tackle the real fundamental issues the Left should engage in. Faith schools and private education continue to maintain class and religious divisions, with private schools more than replacing the inequalities of the grammar school system. The sheer lack of redistribution is also pathetic. The key tenant of wanting a better society is surely that those who work the hardest should be adequately rewarded, but investment bankers and inheritance spongers enjoy the greatest income disparity with hard-working minimum wage workers ever since records began of inequality.

Labour’s measures on these issues has been limpwristed, unsustainable handouts here and there, many of them to middle class families. Do high-income married couples need £200 to buy food for their child during pregnancy? These handouts are at times cynical and far too beaurocratic and easily abused than proper, simple tax redistribution. How about cutting tax for lower earners, who proportionately pay more of their income in tax than the rich?

This Labour Government has been a failure in the key fundamental issues that are important to me, and that’s before I even get started on the expenses scandal, showing numerous ministers of Labour stock absolutely trashing the traditions of the party. All-women shortlist and ethnic minority lists are simply diversions, not tackling the real problem of careerist politicians milking the system for every penny they can get in their bloated wallets.

The only argument I hear is that I by quitting Labour I am somehow supporting a Conservative victory, that is not true, but my disgust at Cameron’s Etonian party of rich-friendly policies and social conservatism does not cancel out Labour’s failures. The Labour Party of the earlier 20th century would have loved this decade to put real change in, and all this New Labour government has done is remain silent on the neoliberal social trends that are tearing apart families and taking away basic rights such as housing from the poor. Being better than the Tories only earns my vote, not my membership.

This rant wasn’t clever, it wasn’t funny, but it was pretty damn cathartic.”

Categories: Labour Party News
  1. May 17, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    The main reason I have as yet ‘categorically failed to lay out (a) plan to “re-take” the organisation- either now or in the aftermath of electoral apocalypse’ is that that is actually quite a big undertaking. Longer than the average post (even our average), at any rate.

    I do not know whether it is possible to re-take the Labour party, but that is only in the same legaeu of not knowing as is the question of whether any fudamental social reform will take place And within that not knowing is the question of whether a re-taken Labour party could actually legitimately (indeed by whnose legitimacy?) still be called the Labour party.

    As you know, I count myself as an amateur student of tradition, but not a lover of it per se. I am not emotionally tied to the name and all the tradition that it espouses, but I think its infrastructure may still have some worth.

    But you’re right to press for people who remain in the party for an explanation as to what exactly they hope for (and how it might happen, and what we personally will do to try to ensure it happens). That is what your blog is there for.

    And as I work out my own thoughts – for they are still a lot less formed than they should/will be, I will seek to rise to your challenge by presenting, in shorter than book for if I can, a programme for action within what remains of the Labour party.

    Mind you, it won’t be tomorrow.

  2. May 17, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I actually wasn’t aiming that at you – though a detailed explanation of all the reasons why the Labour Party in your area is still a ‘going concern’ as it were would be most interesting. For the sake of comparison if nothing else.

    There are others on the Left – who are routinely (dogmatically?) insistent that Labour is the place to be and who have never come close to laying out where we go from here. Even the leaders of the Left – such as John McDonnell – mostly refer to taking back the Party in terms of a vague future.

    In the meantime, between now and that future, we’re once again haemorrhaging members. Except in isolated areas, the political networks which made our activists a force even when the leadership were stuck in neutral are gone or going.

    Also, the vast repository of knowledge in an older generation of activists from local council to county council to parliamentary level is being lost – and we have no way of getting at any of it, sifting it and picking out the bits relevant to our current plight.

    One would think with so many councillors blogging (and I exempt your good self from this) that this wouldn’t be a problem – however it turns out that most councillors are just as superficial as the average journalist.

  3. May 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    No, I didn’t assume you were aiming it at me either (I’d be pretty self-obsessed to think you were), but the question of what the Labour left should actually do (rather than moan a lot on blogs) still struck a chord because it is one I ask myself a lot.

    And indeed you anticipate some of my response-to-be around the need to get back local and build energy (and intellectual validity) for a re-takeover at local level.

    As for my own area, I make no grand claims. It’s much the same as all the rest; though a clearer socialist ‘vision’ (perhaps too strong a term) is being established bit by bit, we are no nearer yet to a left takeover of the party structures than anywhere else, not least because the right of the party has im the last 20 years, subtly emasculated CLPs in favour of regional direction and quasi-legal authority (and therein lies much of the detail of that lengthy blogpost I am now foolishly hereby comitting myself to).

  4. May 17, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    What, exactly, is “beginning” here. I have never felt more disillusioned with the Labour Government yet I can still distinguish between the Party on the ground (diminishing fast) and the Mps who are deeply in the shit.Hopefully, they will be got rid of.
    The Labour Left frankly needs nothing less than people tearing up their cards because we are needed now more than ever. In my constituency, we have faced the mother-of-all shenanigans yet most people I know are still staying with it and determineed to fight. I disagree with your previous comments – I think this disgust at the craven greed of New Labour could well be a pivotal moment and alow us at least to re0build something from the wreckage.
    I also think it is the duty of socialists within the Labour Party to do their utmost to retain the MPs we still have.
    That will not be achieved by cancelling our direct debits and walking away.I have little illusions left but I still counsel that the Labour Party is where you will find the most possibility for change in the coming period and, after 32 years, I’m not leaving, Frankly, there is nowhere else to go.However much one may wish it so.
    I think it’s also disingenuous to suggest Labour has done nothing in the last 12 years.Even New Labour managed to pour billions into the NHS and education.Would the Tories have done likewise? Don’t think so.

  5. Andrewmarkbaker
    May 17, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    I agree with the above but am particularly impressed by the latter sentence.

    If you so choose to call this a rant then ranting has all the clarity of looking beyond the moment and seeing that political conviction lies beyond mere flag waving.

    Thank you for your rant

  6. Andrewmarkbaker
    May 17, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    It should have included the quote
    “Being better than the Tories only earns my vote, not my membership.”
    This was the last sentence that I was referring to.

  7. Robert
    May 18, 2009 at 7:53 am

    “Too many on the Left of the Party have categorically failed to lay out their plan to “re-take” the organisation”

    Hello David Semple, what is your plan to re-take your party? If you do not intend to re-take it, why are you in it?

  8. May 18, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Well, I think the reasons to stay in Labour are not large in number, but they are large in impact. It’s the only party subject to pressure from the organised working class for a start. The first priority of the Labour left should be to expand this.

    I also think that participation in the Socialist International and PES are both very important aspects which are completely underestimated by Labour activists here. Third, I meet a lot of socialists (and also encouragingly) social democrats among the grassroots memberships, which normally guarantees that Labour councils are broadly progressive, and provide an army of potential footsoldiers, providing that their trust and respect can be gained. Other parties can’t make this claim.

    The reason to stay in Labour, which is (and always has been) fundamentally defective, is that it has vastly more potential than any other political party in the UK, and that in some areas and some parliamentary seats, this potential does actually go a long way to being realised.

    None of which is to say that it does not need changing, of course.

    Finally there is the merit of reformism in itself (which I suspect you would disregard), and as a material/intellectual aid to revolution (something which, equally, I discard). Reformism is still out there.

    At the end of the day, everyone left of centre, socialist or not, has to ask themselves whether they would be more effective as a member of a sect/as an independent.

    Despite the heartaches, I think the former is the rational analysis.

  9. May 18, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Robert, that’s a good question and one I’m asking myself right now.

    Tom…I think your initial paragraph outlines precisely where there’s a problem. How is it that the Labour Party is responsive to working class opinion? I’m not even talking about the intrinsic bureaucratism of Labour – though that’s certainly at issue – I’m saying that most Labour members have not the ideological apparatus necessary to actually determine what the working class is, never mind what it ‘thinks’ and what is in its interest and why there might be a conflict between those two and how to react to it.

    That’s a big ask of a Party, the leadership of which has spent the last thirty years preaching the death of the working class and the irrelevance of socialism.

  1. May 17, 2009 at 5:15 pm
  2. May 17, 2009 at 8:34 pm

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