Labour’s Crisis and the End of the Two-Party System

Labour’s Crisis and the End of the Two-Party System

A Party in Crisis

The Labour Party is facing the greatest crisis in its history. Nine months after the historic election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership, a disastrously botched coup attempt saw 75% of the Parliamentary Labour Party united in a failed attempt to dislodge him, by passing a vote of no confidence in his leadership. Such a vote has no constitutional authority in the party, whose leader can only be removed by a successful challenge. Several weeks on, a leadership election is underway, and despite blatant attempts by right-wing party officials to gerrymander the electorate, all that the coup attempt seems to have achieved is a massive further influx of members and supporters to the party, largely (though not exclusively) motivated by the desire to support Corbyn.

Evidently, the Labour MPs who staged the coup attempt genuinely believed that Corbyn would see his position as untenable and that the membership would accept this. This misunderstanding of the situation proceeds directly from the more general inability of the British political class to grasp what was at stake in Corbyn’s election as Labour leader or in the wider political crisis of which it was only one symptom. The analysis of the situation popularised by ‘centre-left’ commentators such as Helen Lewis and Jonathan Freedland last year maintained that Corbynism was a purely psychological phenomenon, an expression of its adherents’ desire for ideological purity in an age of endless compromise, with Corbyn merely the screen onto which they could project their phantasmatic self-image as true-born radicals (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/24/corbyn-tribe-identity-politics-labour). Versions of the same account, asserting that Corbynism is a personality cult, its adherents blinded by faith, are still trotted out almost daily by the mainstream commentariat (e.g., http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/26/jeremy-corbyns-labour-party-is-a-cult-even-losing-his-shadow-cab/). In line with this assessment, it was widely assumed by such mainstream commentators last year that within a year the membership would come to its senses, realising the mistake they had made as the reality of electoral disaster dawned on them (Labour was supposed to perform much worse in by-elections and local government elections than it did in the intervening period, according to this theory). A key feature of the paradigm shared by all such commentary is its myopic focus on the politics of the Westminster village, informed by an understanding of representative democracy as involving nothing more than the occasional selection of a political elite by a largely supine party membership and electorate.

What Kind of Democracy?

 In fact what has become apparent is that Corbynism is one manifestation of a phenomenon which can be registered in many different parts of the world and which takes different forms across the political spectrum: the angry rejection of the professional political class and its agendas by populations who are no longer willing to defer to them, as they seem unable or unwilling to address the causes of widespread inequality and insecurity. It is very clear that this rejection is central to the motivations of a large number of those who voted for the UK to leave the EU. It is clear that much of UKIP’s support draws on it. It is very clear that the huge numbers of people who joined Labour over the past year to support Corbyn did not do so out of any sense of reverence for those traditions of parliamentary sovereignty to which the Labour Party has deferred for most of its history.

In fact the crisis of authority occurring within the Labour Party now should be seen at heart as a conflict between several different models of democratic politics. The classic parliamentary model regards the elected legislature as the nation’s sovereign decision-making body, and places a high value on the independent capacity of MPs to use their expertise experience and judgement to make appropriate decisions on behalf of their constituents and in the name of their party. According to such a model, it was always reasonable to expect that the Parliamentary Labour Party would enjoy at the very least an effective veto over the party’s choice of leader. Much anti-Corbyn commentary has appealed to this traditional conception of parliamentary politics in order to argue that Corbyn’s refusal to resign in the face of the no-confidence vote was effectively illegitimate (e.g., https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/17/the-guardian-view-on-the-labour-leadership-parliament-matters-most).

The problem with making any serious appeal to this model of legitimacy is the widespread sense – amongst party members and the wider public – that the PLP effectively already broke with it during the epoch of New Labour. Such a model of representative politics implicitly assumes that legislators will do their best to represent the views and interests of their constituents, insofar as it is practically possible and as far as it does not violate moral imperatives. The widely shared feeling is that New Labour did not do this, but instead enacted a technocratic legislative agenda which, against the wishes of the vast majority of its voters, extended privatisation into the public sector, boosted even further the status and power of finance capital, and did very little to tackle economic inequality.

New Labour itself effectively relied upon a quite different notion of the role of MPs to that implied by the classical model. For New Labour, the key role of the MP was simply to secure formal consent from their constituents for the government’s legislative programme by winning elections, by appearing publicly and in the media to be as generically inoffensive as possible to a broad cross section of the public, and above all by appearing unthreatening to key media outlets. This model is now being challenged in turn by one which the radical rank-and-file of the Labour Party have dreamed of implementing for decades, according to which both MPs and party leader are all accountable directly to party members.

As old an idea as this may be, it is striking to note how in tune it now appears to be with the spirit of a global wave of democratic demands and movements, including the emergence of Podemos in Spain, the rise of the SNP in Scotland and even the remarkable movement called into existence in the USA by Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Perhaps more importantly, it resonates strongly with a culture in which any form of deference to the professional political class seems simply to run counter to basic common sense; because today nobody trusts the political class at all (see https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/opendemocracy-theme/postmodernity-and-the-crisis-of-democracy).

Within the Labour Party, the membership have made clear their desire for the party to put forward a progressive programme. However, it is abundantly clear that the vast majority of the current parliamentary party are just not personally, socially or intellectually suited to the task of representing even a moderately left-wing party or its key constituencies in the early 21st century. Almost all of them were selected as candidates and trained as politicians by the machinery established by Peter Mandelson in the 1990s, the key objective of which was to select and train parliamentary representatives who would never behave in any way likely to offend powerful financial interests or their agents. This was a key element of the project to re-brand the Labour Party as ‘New Labour’, a novel type of political formation in which most of the traditional apparatus of party democracy would be bypassed, the authority of the leadership being guaranteed by its control of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP ) and its exclusive access to key media channels.

The Break-Up of the British Party System

Where this will end is very hard to say. Predictions of a full split in the party seem well-founded, given that the political, social and psychological gulf between the majority of the PLP and the majority of the membership now seems unbridgeable. From this point of view, it is probably most useful to reflect that what is happening in Labour is only one element of a much more significant national phenomenon: the break-up of the British party system. As such, the rise of UKIP to a position whereby it can reliably command around 15% of electoral support, the SNP’s complete dominance of the Scottish parliamentary bloc, and the apparently irreconcilable politics of different sections of the Labour Party can all be seen as symptoms of the same general phenomenon: the transformation of Britain from a two-party into a multi-party polity.

Arguably, in fact, this process has been underway for decades. The general complexification of contemporary societies and their fragmentation into multiple cultural groupings was always likely to threaten the stability of the two-party system, which anyway had only taken the form of a classic contest between Labour and the Conservatives since the 1920s. From this perspective, the emergence of a strong third force in the form of the Liberal Democrats had already broken this system by the end of the 1980s. In fact it is possible to see New Labour as much as anything as a strategic response to this situation. Faced with the fragmentation of the electorate, Labour could have accepted a permanent reduction in its overall vote and the need for permanent coalition with other parties, conceding the centre ground to the Liberal Democrats, while retaining its clear political identity as a democratic socialist party based in the unions and the public sector. Instead it opted for a form of centrism which positioned it to the right of the liberal democrats on many issues, on the assumption that almost all of its traditional voters had nobody else to vote for, and so this route would lead to permanent electoral dominance.

Strategies for Labour

The rise of UKIP as a force in working class politics, and the loss of millions of working class votes during the years of New Labour government, has finally rendered this assumption redundant, and has posed once again the question of exactly what kind of party Labour wants to be, who it wants to represent, and how. In response to this problem, the most articulate of the Corbynites see Corbyn’s key role not as being the leader of a parliamentary bloc, but as a figurehead who can inspire people to join the party in their hundreds of thousands, to the point where there is a realistic chance of Labour’s memberships approaching one million within the next year or so. What exactly they plan to do with a million members if they get them remains unclear – but the general proposition that achieving such a figure would create an opportunity to transform British political culture through member-led community activism seems reasonable.

It frankly seems more reasonable than the alternative proposition being put by Corbyn’s opponent for the leadership, Owen Smith. Essentially, what Smith proposes is a replay of the failed electoral strategy pursued by Neil Kinnock in 1987 and 1992, by Ed Miliband in 2015 and arguably by Gordon Brown in 2010: an attempt to make a weakly social democratic platform acceptable to a broad public in the hope that appearing respectable and non-threatening will convince powerful economic interests not to use their influence over the press to undermine any chance of electoral success for that programme. There is simply not one shred of evidence that this can work. Observed dispassionately, it is quite clear that since the great defeats visited on the organised left in the mid-1980s, the balance of forces in British society has been such that the right can and will destroy any chance of electoral success for any political programme which threatens to undertake any meaningful form of economic redistribution. It is able to do this largely because a small but electorally crucial section of the electorate (ageing swing voters in marginal parliamentary constituencies) continues to rely heavily on the tabloid press for news and opinion. Blair understood this and so proposed not to undertake any significant redistribution- and consequently was permitted to win elections.

The ‘soft left’ mainstream of the PLP and the Guardian-centred commentariat either do not understand it or would prefer to remain in a perpetual state of respectable opposition than risk any major transformation of the political universe within which they have a secure, if basically impotent position. By contrast, the Corbynite attempt to build a large enough political army to be able to counter right-wing propaganda on the ground may not work – but it is a least a strategy which recognises the reality of that situation, and proposes a new answer to the question of what the Labour Party should be; by insisting that it must be a social movement before it is anything. This project may fail. But whatever the eventual answer to the question of Labour’s identity and strategy, it seems increasingly implausible that it can involve simply offering the same response as would have been given in the 1990s, or the 1960s or the 1930s. Faced with a new epoch and a new political terrain, Labour will have to reinvent itself, as it has before. The question is whether its MPs and its key supporters in the press, all of their assumption shaped by a historical moment which has now passed, are capable of grasping that fact. At present, it seems that few of them are.

 

 

34 thoughts on “Labour’s Crisis and the End of the Two-Party System

  1. More convincing sections of the article refer to specific people within the Labour Party. Theoretical sections with LP as an entity are less useful. A reference to social media versus trad. media was probably needed. Sections of the LP will find themselves in crisis, the majority membership have plans, ideas and are feeling very positive.

  2. “The classic parliamentary model regards the elected legislature as the nation’s sovereign decision-making body”. No shit.

  3. I would say you have articulately and simply put into words, what is felt by so many? From the thought process of New Labour to the current and immediate role of Corbyn; from the biased mainstream media to the dark forces that try tooth and nail to resist a balanced economic Society…. Just brilliant. Please share your realist and pragmatic views as we don’t get this through mainstream media, you have identified that. Once again thank you very much. @22jeee

  4. A sensible analysis of how a lot of CLP members feel. I thought especially poignant was the paragraph about how ill equipped current PLP members are to accommodate this new shift in thinking; a benign, soft opposition all on good salaries who don’t have to get involved in anything more than a bit of light mud slinging for the cameras and who can pay lip service to and patronise their own constituencies. The Labour Party was hi-jacked by Tony Blair and the likes of Mandelson who for example chose to carry on the PFI experiment when building new hospitals which has saddled the NHS with crippling debts for years to come servicing loans which are being paid to (mostly) tory home counties shareholders to subsidise their children’s’ public school education. They say ‘you get want you want in life’ so if you want useless, figurehead representation in government like the current PLP then that’s what you’ll get and a lot of people have woken up to this and are demanding that the MP’s who they elect to represent them, also do something about the grotesque inequality and corruption that is obviously going on with the ‘revolving door’ being just one example.

  5. Excellent analysis. Its time also to examin who becomes politicians. What their route into politics is and how that demographic can be widened and made more representative. No more smiling two faced liesing slimy media friendly club members. More hard working real people with real life experience outside of education and politics. And modt of alk with a backbone and accurate moral compass.

  6. This is outstanding, it should be mandatory for Labour members. It fits with all my experience as a Labour campaigner and the feedback I’m getting. You have tied my disparate musings into one place and made sense of a highly dynamic situation. Brilliant! I am sharing widely.

  7. Thank you for this. I am a long time Labour supporter and voter only becoming a member when Ed Miliband looked to be trying to change things. I was delighted to be able to vote for Corbyn and fully support him to lead us into the next GE. I have been stunned by Labour MPs behaviour in attacking Corbyn and membership. Westminster has lost its place of respect and only a new building in a new location will change that. I agree that the future is veiled and we are in turbulent times. A split does seem likely beyond that I do believe we can not put the genie of a mass movement back in the bottle.

  8. You have your finger on the pulse and have articulated why I left the Green Party (temporarily!) to support Corbyn. I think Corbyn reflects most of my ideas for a better society but we may need younger blood to attract a young electorate. You have reflected an understanding of the situation that most of your fellow MPs are lacking. After Corbyn is reelected he needs to ask his MPs whether they will follow his new agenda or leave and form a new party of their own. The membership won’t follow them. If they’re smart they will recognise that your analysis is correct and start to follow their leader and the wishes of the people.
    I hope that young people like you have the strength and resilience to take on the establishment. People like me will be right behind you.

  9. The most glaring omission from this article is how, exactly, a party split will lead to a many-party system rather than merely a lost decade or two on the left as parties reform and unify again.

    This whole pieces takes place in a universe where the real opinions of the British electorate either don’t matter or aren’t considered. Britain is a right-wing country. It’s population aren’t mislead by a Tory-false-consciousness, they value different things and find different things important. They are not unilateralists, and they are concerned for growth and are sceptical of government and state solutions for every little problem.

    I don’t see anything here, nor anything put out by the far left, which “reforms the electorate” or creates any opportunities for persuading them of the left wing project. There seems, rather, if anything, a contempt for the electorate. Manifested either in the delusion that the working class are salt-of-the-earth left-wing-seminar coal-mining internationalists OR in the belief that 52% who voted for leaving the EU were “someone else”.

    We have only the political naivety of activists whose goal is “to be right, and to be seen to be right, and to say the right things, and to have the people we like say the right things”. It isn’t noble desire to democratically engage with the people of this country, to convince them of anything, nor to represent their beliefs. It is a narcissistic group mentality in which their opinions must be right, and must be imposed upon the electorate because “theyre really left wing anyway”.

    You have explained how it has come to be that narcissism of this kind has blossomed given New Labour’s disconnect from its membership — but have rather muddied the waters when you failed to mention that their election made them more connected to the population at large. “Representation” here seems to mean representing the member’s interests over and above those of the entire country. It is this political narcissism which drives Labour’s present difficulties not their failure to be a democratic reflection of our demos.

    1. “This whole pieces takes place in a universe where the real opinions of the British electorate either don’t matter or aren’t considered. Britain is a right-wing country.”

      If that is really so, and if that is unchangeable then the Labour Party – a left-wing party – will never be elected.
      More nuanced, we could say that a left-wing party will never be elected but if a party were to change from being a left-wing party to becoming a centrist/right-wing party it might be elected. This is more or less what happened with New Labour.

      “I don’t see anything here, nor anything put out by the far left, which “reforms the electorate” or creates any opportunities for persuading them of the left wing project. There seems, rather, if anything, a contempt for the electorate. Manifested either in the delusion that the working class are salt-of-the-earth left-wing-seminar coal-mining internationalists OR in the belief that 52% who voted for leaving the EU were “someone else”. ”

      I think the idea is that the presence of one million members will have an effect. If there were one million members then everyone would know at least one member, probably quite well. And this will act as a counter to the incessant propaganda from the media, which has been recently proven to have a systematic bias against Corbyn (and would do against any left-wing leader.) The author of the article admits that this may not work, but says that at least it’s a strategy, which is more than the right-wing of the party has. Neither Blairism nor a Milliband-style “soft left” approach can win elections for reasons the author goes into. So when the right wing of the party says that Corbyn is unelectable, they may have a point, but a) we’re working on it – there’s a plan; and b) No other Labour Party leader/faction is electable either and they have no idea or plan of how to fix this.

      ““Representation” here seems to mean representing the member’s interests over and above those of the entire country. It is this political narcissism which drives Labour’s present difficulties not their failure to be a democratic reflection of our demos.”

      If you’re a member of a left-wing party then you will believe that a left-wing agenda is in the country’s interests. If you don’t believe this, perhaps you shouldn’t be in a left-wing party? Granted MPs have the realities of power to contend with, with all its necessary compromises and corruption. But if these compromises and corruption grow to the point where they cease to represent their members’ views, they cease to be a properly functioning part of the party.
      Re narcissism, it isn’t unusual for people, especially political people, to believe that they’re right. If a bunch of like-minded people get together and found a political party, it isn’t unreasonable of them to expect that party to reflect their views. I fail to see how this is narcissism.

  10. I think the importance of social media has not been discussed and surely this diminishes the power of the msm I no longer buy a newspaper and do not believe what I see and hear on tv etc and I am 73yrs old. the young are more savvy than I am and they are the future and demand inclusion

    1. Totally agree with this point. The role of social media is key with greater numbers turning to it as they lose trust in mainstream media. Plus, who wouldn’t want this chance to respond directly to people like I am now. No more ‘shouting at the telly’ when I can say directly to you “well said”

  11. Excellent article. What frightens me most is this truth….”the hope that appearing respectable and non-threatening will convince powerful economic interests not to use their influence over the press to undermine any chance of electoral success for that programme”…. The fact that this is reality should be absolutely horrifying to everyone. I also believe this is what motivates a lot of Corbyn’s supporters, not just vague notions of social justice and redistribution of wealth. Economic interests (or big corporate) and the press should not determine legislature. They have no moral or social obligation and their only goal is profit. Yet somehow it’s the accepted process. The general public are being patronised by most current politicians, we’re too stupid to understand why bombing Syria is a good idea, or that giving Google tax breaks serves the greater good. These things may be true but the overwhelming sense is that parliament is filled with Oxbridge elites who serve themselves and their friends, and their business partners, and the media, and absolutely any one who helps them keep their job and personally succeed. Does this sound like the kind of people the average British person wants to represent them to serve in their interests? Corbyn barely needs to do anything except remain stoic, and reject that image. His view may seem narrow but spread any wider it would be torn apart. The UKIP vote is not much different, the common theme is that people are saying they’ve had enough. I’m fairly certain the PLP will fail in their attempt, mostly because the more the media lashes at Corbyn the more christ-like they make him, and then ironically call it a cult.

  12. Absolutely spot on! Everything I have been trying to articulate about the present state of affairs in a nutshell. This moment has to be grasped and progressive change in the way our political values are expressed must happen or the risk is a return to apathy by the electorate, and disengagement of political parties with the mood of the people.

  13. The above commentary from Travis Bowditch says 90% of what I feel. Well done sir. What I may add is that I feel that the reason for the recent success of the LP membership is down to the issue of trust. That, in a world where almost everything appears corrupt and is corrupt, is the most priceless point. Trust, not blind faith, looking at the history of a man or woman who have stood strong for almost 34 years through continued adversity and still led the way forward. This man is tireless and just by achievement and example. If I underwent open heart surgery I would want the best the most credible and long serving surgeon on offer….wouldn’t we all.
    I agree to greater representation, all inclusive, broadchurch et al. I also agree with a previous critic that the holdings of parliament and politics needs to move from its ‘village’ and represent itself more in tune with the 21st century. We have the land…lets move it away from the centre of London. What an amazing thing if we took the bricks and mortar to the north, what a shift that would be in economics too. (I’m Midlands btw)

  14. Excellent and interesting. I had not analysed the underlying trends in such detail.
    Having lived long enough to see several cycles (I joined the Labour party when Jim Callaghan was Leader), there are a few points in time where one can sense a fundamental shift in the political world: I think there was one that delivered Thatcher and what was dressed up as One Nation Conservatism (I’ll not dwell on what a disaster that was) ; I thought the next one was the Labour general election of Blair swept in on a tide of optimism about the new way. Actually some good stuff was achieved but not enough and all was eclipsed by the folly of the Iraq war; I sense another sea change is in progress, potentially bigger than either of these. Many people that have abstained from mainstream politics see at last the chance to forge a different and progressive way forward (in policy and leadership “style”. that is worth voting (and even working) for. This aligns totally with longstanding members who have rode many poor policies, campaigns and decisions in our party whilst working on the ground and feel equally enthusiastic about the prospects for a new progressive offer. The “split” is actually between Labour MPs and what is really happening in the wider party and indeed electorate. I agree its hard to see how many of these are able to get on board and ride the wave.

  15. You fail to mention both the recent move to form a Progressive Alliance (PA) and last week’s 10-minute bill on electoral reform.

    Regarding the latter – Jeremy Corbyn whipped the PLP to abstain from voting on Caroline Lucas’ initiative which backed proportional representation and votes at sixteen. Fewer than 20 more votes and the bill would have gained a second reading. But good on the 15 Labour MPs – including front-bencer Clive Lewis – who defied the whip and did the progressive thing: backed the bill. (Clive Lewis also spoke eloquently at the PA’s first meeting.)

  16. I think this is an excellent summary of the situation that not just the Labour party faces now, but all of the other non-major parties have faced for many decades – the “by-design” failure of the two party adversarial parliamentary system to ever allow real economic and political democracy to flourish.

    Representative democracy in its current form, controlled by a powerful group of vested financial interests on one side and the counter-force of organised labour unions on the other, will only ever be a battle ground where nobody ever wins and the status quo of the existing economic and social order is maintained virtually intact with just a little tinkering around the edges to adapt to new technology and global developments. That is what is was designed to achieve, in my opinion.

    That, I think, is what the publics of many nations are now rising up against as a result of decades of improved education and access to information – knowledge is power and that distributed and networked public power is starting to exert itself. But the establishment counter-forces are fighting back against an increasingly educated and politicised public, a process which can be seen within and across all the political parties in most developed countries to a greater or lesser extent.

    It happened in Greece as Syriza took over power from the two dominant parties, with the primary counter force being the EU or more specifically the Euro Zone Finance Group who contained them with their ultimate financial control of the banks.

    It is happening now in the UK with the establishment vested interests fighting on several fronts against the SDP, UKIP and now Momentum. The mainstream media is their chosen method of counter force at the moment, but expect more dramatic measures if and when the stakes are raised higher.

    It’s an interesting time, and hopefully those in the Labour party who are fighting to hold onto their once dominant position as the second force in British politics will realise that they are actually impeding real social progress and economic liberation for the vast majority of the people they claim to represent. I would be very pleased if one of the leadership candidates stood up and said they were actually for political and electoral reform in this country, so far I don’t think either have been that bold yet!

  17. Excellent and inciteful. Your comments about how many of the PLP became MP’s, how they were trained and their inability to represent the changing party membership explains clearly why there are clear divisions between them and party members. I wonder how many of their CLP’s have been fundamentally changed by an influx of new members. Certainly a number of CLP’s with right wing neoliberal MP’s have backed Jeremy Corbyn but whether this support will translate into these MP’s losing their seats if they become deselected as part of the MP selections due to boundary changes. Unfortunately I can see the struggle for power between the membership and the PLP continuing until the MP’s who represent the party are also prepared to accept that control and policy making in the party should be in the hands of the many, not the few within their elitist Westminster bubble.

  18. A good and thought provoking article. Describes very well how we ended up here. What you don’t mention is the great British desire to thumb their nose at their supposed expertise at government.

  19. An article that uses the word complexification (second paragraph in the section headed The Breakup of the British Party System) does not give me confidence in its contents.
    Nevertheless, it is thought-provoking and I, an interested observer from some distance away, make the following suggestions:
    The Labour Party needs to be much more honest in considering why it has lost the support of a vast number of voters. Using (or, worse, implying) the old Murdoch-is-an-ogre as an excuse, by saying that one of the key roles of the MP is to ‘appear unthreatening to key media outlets’ is both nonsensical and unhelpful. Every potential politician has to work with the media as it is. If you don’t like it, tough.
    The writer blithely says ‘the membership have made clear their desire for the party to put forward a progressive programme.’ Really? Where, when, and how was this ‘made clear’? What does this progressive programme consist of ? Importantly, is it a programme which would have widespread support amongst, or capable of convincing, the electorate? If not, it is probably a programme dreamed up by secondary school socialists in love with their hatred of Thatcherism.
    Blair was PM and leader for 10 years. The writer refers to legislators doing their best to represent the views and interests of their constituents and says ‘The widely shared feeling is that New Labour did not do this, but instead enacted a technocratic legislative agenda which, against the wishes of the vast majority of its voters’. If that is true … why did it take ten years for the vast majority of New Labour voters to see the light? On the contrary, I would argue that the vast majority of voters were willing to accept the policies implemented by ‘New Labour’ and could see the advantages of privatisation in some areas of the public sector.
    To write that ‘This model is now being challenged in turn by one which the radical rank-and-file of the Labour Party have dreamed of implementing for decades, according to which both MPs and party leader are all accountable directly to party members.’ Implies that the writer has an in-depth knowledge of the dreams of the ‘radical rank-and-file’ (as opposed to the unradical?).
    It may well be the case that all members of every political Party expects to be able to hold their MPs and leader accountable. Of course, in effective Parties, ultimately they do have that power (by forcing their resignation). But whether it is feasible way to run a political Party where the leader and MPs must ask themselves, on every policy decision, “What would the members want me to do?” is debatable. To govern and make decisions whilst constantly in fear of criticism seems to me to be a strange sort of parliamentary system.
    None of the above is to suggest that the Labour Party does not reform. But that reform needs to take into account the current needs and wishes of the electorate as it is. Not what those who hark back to an age of Thatcherism, coal mine closures, and poll taxes, would like them to be.

  20. So New Labour was totally useless and its time has passed?

    But there is a party that’s taken on the strategies of New Labour and is actually improving its electoral position by emphasising its ‘moderate-ness’ and by making an appeal to the nation as whole. That party is the Tories.

    They’re not going to stop doing that while we in Labour agonise over various possible configurations of the left. In fact with the combination of the Trade Union bill stripping us of resources, the boundary review gerrymandering more Tory MPs and Individual Electoral Registration disenfranchising the little support we have left, their aim is to finish us off completely.

    The article is right to talk about the end of the two party system but completely misunderstands that’s true because we’re moving to a one-party system of monopoly of power.

    By leaving the field and offering no viable strategy for preventing the Tories from having power, we are effectively just letting them get on with it while we still have the ability to challenge them.

    Quaintly, I still regard Labour as a potential alternative government that stands for the many and which should make its appeal to the nation as a whole rather than just representing the principles of a small section of society.

    That governance may be alone or as part of a coalition but, whatever, we should be the locus around which others gather – in much the same way that happens in other European countries with PR such as Germany, France and Italy.

    Every day of a Tory government not only hurts millions, it’s another day in which the social democratic settlement gets dismantled a little bit more. Just look at what they’ve managed to take to pieces in just six years. What will be left after another 15 years of Tory gov’t? In 2030 in a de-regulated, individualised, race-to-the bottom, dog-eat-dog UK, will there be any sense of solidarity and community left for us to appeal to?

    Quite simply, by any (democratic) means necessary, we have to try to stop them.

    The appeal of a two-party system may well be waning but while the Tories are still fighting and prospering under the current ‘rules’, we can’t just walk away from it. Or leave it to the Lib Dems as this article

  21. ‘In response to this problem, the most articulate of the Corbynites see Corbyn’s key role not as being the leader of a parliamentary bloc, but as a figurehead who can inspire people to join the party in their hundreds of thousands, to the point where there is a realistic chance of Labour’s memberships approaching one million within the next year or so. What exactly they plan to do with a million members if they get them remains unclear – but the general proposition that achieving such a figure would create an opportunity to transform British political culture through member-led community activism seems reasonable’.

    So basically we abandon electoral politics and the actual electorate to pursue some chimera of a social movement which protests from the outside but has no power. It’s ironic that you go on to criticise ‘the Guardian-centred commentariat’ for preferring to remain in opposition.

    There’s too little time to pick up on the various dubious assertions but the lazy assumption that New Labour was (almost) wholly bad, still more that it was unpopular, should be questioned – hundreds of thousands removed from child poverty, a vastly improved NHS, record investment in education, etc., etc.

    And then there’s the perpetual leftist hope in some radical alternative: Sanders represents the bien-pensant white middle-class (a bit like Jeremy really); Podemos has stalled; do you really think the SNP is left-wing?

    As a Party member of forty years, I shall continue to work for an electable Labour Party with the power to implement progressive change. Anything else is self-indulgence from people who put their ‘consciences’ above the interests of the people who need an effective Labour Party.

  22. Thank you for wonderfully articulating my increasingly muddled thoughts. A pleasure to read. A life long supporter I danced in the street with Robin Cook in excitement and anticipation in my constituency in the 90’s I was thrilled with the result in Northern Ireand but became increasingly disenchanted and felt compelled to leave after the decision to go to war! I am persuaded again by the idea of a social movement. In the meantime I am accused by dear friends of being naive. The division within the party is echoed in left support groups, it will be wrenching!

  23. This article is definitely telling it like it is , perhaps you could edit to salient points and air on the platform of some of the Corbyn rallies as they are attracting many people thirsty for explanations as well as a politics they can identify with. Or maybe those rallies could begin to start broadening out to workshops.?
    One reason for this is not to be over-pessimistic that working class Ukip voters can’t be won back to a Labour party acting more in working class interests. and talking about the stuff that really happens in our lives.. You have to remember that Ukip on occasion would (cynically) make references to social inequality and this had echoes with the Leave Campaign’s “take back control” which connects when the dominant feature of your life is no control over whether you’re going to work or not today, in the next hour, tomorrow, next week etc,. My second point is, for this all not to fizzle out, at some point to build a social movement that has some anchorage , to be rooted in the real world, it will have to start doing real things that start to demonstrate the point of its politics ie things like taking on some of the work that can make local communities better places to be e.g credit unions, before and after school clubs, right now in the school holidays -playscheme stuff for kids, meals for pensioners, . Yes this would all take organisation and commitment but the dividend is-better organisation and commitment at the grassroots and firming up the vision of the future we want so we can’t be let down again and again.

    1. I understand Labour as “a social movement” as one which expands its role beyond being merely a vehicle for elected representatives debating and voting in Parliament in order to build a progressive, just and humane British society into one where whilst what happens in Parliament is undoubtedly of crucial importance, party members and supporters make the effort to shape, re-shape and transform their own communities. It also comprises campaigning where you live for progressive values every day and, obviously very importantly, in the run up to local and national elections Here vigorous, energetic campaigning is the order of the day. I wonder whether the road to building such a party is already underway; I was very struck by the incredible by-election result in Oldham West last December where the Labour Party majority rose to 11,000 where – according to at least a chunk of the Metropolitan MSM. UKIP was going to sweep to victory now that Labour – clearly and obviously according to this view – had a rubbish leader I’m most curious to know how this result was achieved. I know that the local MP (new, winning) praised the influx of campaigners (including thanks to Momentum members coming in) who put much effort in a ground campaign, but I’d like to know more, Your response, Gail, was cynical and pessimistic. I suspect Oldham West, London, Bristol & Sheffield Hillsborough & Brightside have already begun to prove that the rise of the Corbyn “Movement” can win elections through successful ground campaigns. And remember, the Tories are claiming that it was this that won them their puny majority. With an expanding membership and the undoubted existence now of tremendous organizational energy at grassroots level, Labour ground campaigning is going to expand and increase to hitherto completely historic levels, This is simply will not be there under an Owen Smith style “unity candidate.

  24. Could someone explain to me what is meant by ‘social movement’ in this context?

    The reality is that Corbynism/Momentum is not a social movement. It’s a protest movement comprising (mostly) left-wing middle-class people who want to *express* their political principles and *feel* as if they’re doing something. In other words, an essentially expressive politics.

    Other people, recognising this deficit, seem to suggest it should be organising credit unions, after-school clubs, etc, Well, frankly, in my view this is not the role of the Labour Party. Labour i*instrumentalist* politics in local and central government can support such ventures. Otherwise, they are best left to people whose focus, expertise and interest lies in such areas. It simply muddies the waters to muddle the two.

    I’ve no problem with a ‘social movement’ and would happily support anyone organising one outside the Labour Party. But do your own thing – don’t take over an organisation with different aims and purposes.

  25. There are a number of key factors not specifically mentioned in your article.
    The electoral system has kept out UKIP and now that the Brexit question is settled, they are looking like dead ducks. The disastrous 2015 result for the Lib Dems means they are not serious contenders for holding or exercising power or decades to come. Corbyn is the one leader Labour could present to the Scottish electorate with any expectation of regaining support there.
    Freedland is a zionist sympathiser. So, too, may be Lewis as well. Corbyn is dedicated to the cause of Palestine and Palestinian freedom, which is why false accusations of antisemitism have been made against Corbyn and the Labour Party. Many Labour Friends of Israel MPs have also engaged in smear tactics against the Labour Party and its members. This will not be forgotten. The reduction in the numbers of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600 means they will have to compete with one another for new seats in front of CLP members they have slagged-off in a number of cases. Their re-selection is very much open to question.
    Things cannot go on as they are. Right now, we stand on the cusp of a society moving from a neo-liberal perspective into one which clearly is becoming a neo-feudalist society, where maybe 50 families have more wealth than the poorest 50% in our society. That is why only Corbyn and only a Corbyn-led Labour Government can ensure that the potential benefits of robotization and artificial intelligence will be deployed to the benefit of all in society and not just for the sole benefit of a privileged elite.
    The choice is stark: support the rich or support the rest.
    Put like that, a two party system seems likely to endure for quite some time to come.

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