Some on the left of the Labour Party hope that they can mobilise working class anti-Tory sentiment to transform the party.
The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) met last Saturday. It is a grouping within Labour that tries to pull the party leftwards.
Left wing Labour MP John McDonnell is a prominent member of the LRC.
The meeting provided a chance for the left inside the party to take stock after the end of the Labour government.
There was fury at Labour’s right wing policies, as well as a curious mix of pessimism and optimism about the prospects for the left within Labour.
“We lost because we deserved to lose,” said John McDonnell. He added that Labour was elected by a coalition of progressive people and that the party had “systematically pissed off and alienated every section of that coalition”.
Some argued that the disappointing votes for candidates to the left of Labour meant that Labour was the “only way forward”.
John, a Labour Party member from South Wales, said, “Parties considered to be to the left of Labour got derisory support in the election. The real fight is within the Labour Party.”
Peter Firmin, joint secretary of the LRC, said, “If Labour let us down, a lot of responsibility lies with the failure of our unions to fight for their policies.”
Kelvin Hopkins, Labour MP for Luton North, reinforced this point, saying that fear of Labour losing elections stopped trade unions from standing up to Labour’s leaders.
Others argued that left wingers have a responsibility to join Labour and transform the party. Sarah Evans, from North West Hampshire, accepted that “the squandering of 13 years of opportunity to redistribute wealth” had led to people leaving Labour.
But she argued, “There’s no point people saying they will rejoin when Labour turns left—they have to join to make that happen.”
The wrong assumption is that it is possible to transform Labour into a workers’ party.
At every crucial moment Labour in power has chosen to side with the bosses rather than the workers who elected it.
John Kotz, chair of Essex County Labour Party, summed up the state of the party: “We’re meant to be a democratic, socialist party. We’re neither.
“We’ve been led like sheep to the slaughter and we have very little say in how the party goes forward.”
The LRC isn’t even confident that McDonnell will gain the backing of the 33 MPs he needs to stand for Labour leader. He failed to get the number needed in 2007 to challenge Gordon Brown.
Socialist Worker supports McDonnell for Labour leader. If he fails to get enough nominations to stand it will be an indictment of the party, not McDonnell.
As one Usdaw rep from Andover who has left Labour asked McDonnell, “If we can’t get someone like you on the ballot paper, how can we hope to change Labour from within?”
But the difficulty of even mounting a left challenge for leader, let alone winning, tells us much about the Labour Party and the weakness of the left within it.
This has led others on the left to look at alternative candidates to block the right.
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has come out in support for Ed Balls—although Balls is very unlikely to back Livingstone’s analysis.
Livingstone said, “A new policy direction is needed that unites millions of working class and middle income voters in a winning political coalition for progressive change.
“The underlying issue in British politics will be who can secure the recovery and protect living standards and public services.
“To win back its lost support, Labour must offer a progressive alternative to the Con-Lib austerity plans. To rebuild its trust with the electorate, Labour must also acknowledge to the public that the Iraq war was a disastrous mistake.”
Whether or not McDonnell gets to the starting line, it is necessary to open up the debate about how the labour movement should organise.