Parting of the ways?
Independence supporter Wynn Thorne argues that Corbyn was right, that the centre ground is not fruitful for Labour, and that it may be time for the party to split.
For many years now, I have become increasingly disillusioned with the Labour Party. Since Blair, Labour seems to have degenerated from a left wing party representing working class interests to a middle class party albeit with a conscience. Perhaps the fault was mine and the party was always, just as Benn said, “a party with socialists in it”. Now, I wonder if it can even BE a party with socialists in it.
The party has meandered, left, right, and centre, to settle in a lake of liberalism. There seems to be no place for socialists now except to make up membership numbers. We talk of debate but there is ample evidence that the debate has ended, the vote has been taken and the socialists lost. Labour seems concerned with managing capitalism, not changing the system. Is there any possibility that socialists can shape the party in a way that is consistent with socialist principles?
The removal of Clause IV defined the moment the party started its drift away to the centre. Corbyn, no matter what you think of him, led the last stand of socialism in the party and the party actively worked against it. The media supports the story that 2019 was Labour’s worst defeat since 1935 but actually in terms of percentage votes and seats it wasn’t as bad as Milliband nor Brown and was only 3 points adrift of Blair in 2005. Yes, this can be seen in terms of Corbyn being the ‘only other option in town’ but it was an option that gained almost as much support as Blair when Blair had Scotland and a party backing him, and Corbyn, it seems, didn’t.
True, like Brown and Milliband, Corbyn lost elections, but throughout his leadership, Labour in general and Corbyn in particular endured misrepresentation and falsehoods in print and TV media. That Corbyn lacked essential qualities required by a leader is not in doubt but this also suggests that Labour’s move to the left resonated with the public. Certainly, Labour membership increased to 552,000 by January 2018, an increase of 198,000 since just before the 2015 election. Compare that to those Blair and Brown years which saw membership fall from 407,000 in 1997 to 109,000 in 2004 and saw Scotland move away from Labour and the “Tory Lite” and ‘Tory’s with red ties’ labels becoming attached to the party. Interestingly, when Labour membership surges under a socialist agenda the word ‘entryism’ appears in the media, when it occurs under a centrist the word ‘popular’ appears.
Presently, Sir Keir Starmer wants the party to return to the centre – to me, this is a big mistake. Blair’s personal and media appeal allowed him to move the party into the Conservative territory without resistance, but the simple question always was: why vote soft conservative when you can vote for the real thing? Labour’s move to centre makes it vulnerable to voter return to ‘the real thing’. As a socialist I believe that the centre ground is NOT where the interests of the working class is best served. By pursuing these policies the party leaves its once core vote voiceless and moves so far from the concepts of socialism that there is no more room for debate.
Corbyn’s approach in 2017 offered hope to those who had toyed with voting BNP, UKIP and Brexit Party – people were returning to a Labour Party that was talking for and to them. The working class needs a voice and during the Blair and Brown years in my view Labour ceased to be it. I don’t even like the SNP – there is little to choose politically between them and Labour – but they offer the hope of independence and change.
For socialists, there is the need to be that voice. Managing capitalism isn’t in the interests of the working class – it retains the privileges and wealth of the vested interests, the corporations, the rich. Socialism is about changing society. Its about reshaping the whole structure of our country to put the wealth of the nation in the hands of all. Sir Keir Starmer’s return to the centre, recent revelations about internal machinations of party officers, and indeed the historical actions of the right in removing left-wingers from the party (even Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps had this) makes it seem as though a move to the right is okay, but a move to the left means sanctions. From the outside it seems as if the Labour party is putting up a sign on the door saying ‘No Socialists Please’.
Before the party returns to the politics of the centre, one must not forget what Labour did back in those Blair and Brown years. That ‘glorious period’ saw Blair and Brown preside over privatisation in schools and hospitals, the introduction of the disastrous Public Finance Initiative, the introduction of academy schools in England, retention of of Thatcher’s anti-union laws, no action against zero hours contracts, introduction of university fees, massive expansion of CCTV surveillance cameras, even lower social housing construction than Thatcher, the disgraceful relaxation of gambling laws and the increasing need for food banks. Meanwhile average wages fell, and the cost of living went up. As retiring Unison union leader Dave Prentis later said, “Labour built the bridge that the Tories are marching over.” .
And then there were the wars…
Only in 2017 did the party make inroads into working class support once more. Scotland was already lost to the SNP and the right had already put its cap down in the working class areas of England. Hope, change and someone to listen to them was what the people were looking for and Corbyn’s manifesto offered that. A move to the centre is a move away from those people. Labour cannot wrest the poor and working class vote away from the populist or the right by offering ‘no-change’ whilst lecturing them. I for one don’t recognise anyone in the Labour Party that I can relate to including those on the left – where are the working class?
Right wing policies are clear and offer change, and linked to Brexit change is the obvious outcome of voting for the right. When Corbyn offered no clear Brexit position and the media denigrated Labour policies and highlighted internal party wrangling, it was easy for the right to mop up votes using the ‘scapegoat’ of the EU. Socialism offers a counter-argument to right-wing populism. It offers clear policies that offer change to people’s lives. The population can see that structural change is possible and that there is hope that inequality will be reduced, social mobility improved and that wealth will be redistributed fairly.
We live in a country that still has an unelected upper chamber, an unelected head of state, country houses with massive estates owned by wealthy individuals and families for whom the status quo offers security, better life chances and for want of a better word ‘perks’, on a grand scale. Is socialism welcome in the Labour Party? I don’t know, but moving to the centre makes Labour a party that protects the interests of the rich as much as it claims to champion the poor. Socialism, by its very nature, is incompatible with that political position. You cannot have it both ways. The constant in-fighting which has made the party apparently less attractive to voters has dogged Labour over the years and with the centrists now acting against socialists is it time for the parting of the ways? Would it be better for socialists to move on and form their own party even if it fails? Perhaps a Labour party free of socialists would be beneficial to the centrists? What is certain is that the UK needs an effective, coherent opposition but a divided Labour party makes that prospect difficult.