Thursday, May 17, 2007

McDonnell upbeat but beaten

So the John McDonnell leadership bid is no more. He was unable to get the rather large number of MPs required to stand for the position and Gordon Brown is to crowned, unopposed, in six weeks time. Of course, as someone who is for any system that gets the people he supports elected it's rather difficult for him to complain about the undemocratic nature of the system, which in any case would look rather churlsh at this stage of the game.

It's clear that the forces of the left have shrunk to an all time low within the Parliamentary Labour Party and in the wider membership most decent people have left, although certainly not all. It's too early to tell whether this defeat will precipitate a demoralisation in the left of the party and it's likely that for some this will be the moment they choose to finally leave. It's hard not to feel sympaty for them when a strong left challenger can't even get himself on the ballot paper.

McDonnell sent out an email today saying that his leadership campaign meant that "Thousands of socialists have joined or rejoined the Labour party... We've recruited a whole new generation of young socialists, and won back those who had long since given up hope. We're now in a stronger position to fight for socialist policies than we have been for years." I'm sorry to say that *if* this is true it just shows how weak the left in Labour has been for more than a decade, and it also shows why many socialists outside of Labour were unwilling to join up and support a campaign designed to revitalise a party they no longer support.

The problem of gathering nominating MPs can't just be put down to careerism, neo-liberal consensus and lack of back bone though. The attitude of McDonnell supporters to others to the left of the Blair / Brown axis could well have played a role in alienating a few crucial potential supporters too.

Cruddas and WoodleyMcDonnell refused to back the most left leaning deputy leader candidate, Jon Cruddas, making support wholly conditional on reciprocated support. A better strategy might have been to hug him unconditionally and publicly, attempting to win Cruddas over to the idea of a broad left challenge rather than the 'my way or the highway' leadership style pioneered by Blair.

I'm not keen on Cruddas myself, although I did just vote for him in a YouGov survey as the best of a bad bunch (sign up here if you like). However if the aim was to shift the party to the left and McDonnell was desperately short of Parliamentary support (which Cruddas was not) then a more conciliatory tone was required - if you're serious about the leadership campaign that is.

One blog commentator showed this position quite clearly when they stated that "As a Cruddas supporter I couldn't give a monkeys whether you [a mcDonnell supporter] vote for Jon Cruddas. You were never going to anyway. The hard left should accept that Jon Cruddas is NOT going to nominate McDonnell. You have spent months insulting Jon Cruddas and now you want him to save John McDonnell. There's a thing called karma and you are now becoming acquainted with it."

Meacher in full flowLikewise the hostile attitude to Meacher and his supporters may or may not have been justified (and I don't think it was) but what it did do was make them wary of McDonnell and some self criticism of the overt hostility to others in the Labour Party could be useful for the future. The whole idea that you can demand support from people who you have noting but contempt for - and are in anyway likely to get it seems a little unrealistic to me.

After all this was a contest for the leadership of the Labour Party and any contender has to at least appear to be someone who could lead the Party rather than immediately split it down the middle. Frank Field MP replied to an inquiry on supporting McDonnell by saying "Thanks for your email about John McDonnell. I would have preferred a contest but I do believe an alternative candidate has got to look like an alternative Prime Minister." And this is something McDonnell patently did not do, no matter how far I agree with him on almost every significant political issue there is.

But when all is said and done the only criticisms of worth are those directed towards the architects of New Labour. No matter what tactical error the left in the Labour Party may have made, and no matter how hostile they were to any requests to moderate their infighting they haven't invaded and occupied anyone's country. They opposed rather than defended the mass murder in Afghanistan and Iraq and Lebanon and Gaza. They opposed the ongoing privatisation of public services and support the trade union movement in a principled and consistent manner. of the tasks today, I believe, is to try to find a way of the left working together on those issues where they agree whilst maintaining some kind of fraternal discussion on the areas of disagreement. The left probably finds itself more fragmented today than at any time in the last one hundred years and socialists find themselves in Labour, Greens, Trotskyists groupings, Respect, Plaid Cymru and of course unaffiliated. This is new and whilst tere are down sides to this it is also an opportunity to attempt to build a more thoughtful and less dogmatically entrenched set of politics.

The possibilities and dangers of a Gordon Brown premiership are a new honeymoon for near identical policies to his right wing predecessor. It is this we need to address. If we can work together without having to defend the specifics of our affiliations then we'll all be the stronger for it, if not then any progressive will still have my best wishes.

As an aside just saw this


Daniel S. Ketelby said...

Q: How many John McDonnell campaign managers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: We find it abhorrent that Blair Brown Electrics successfully changed the lightbulb back in 1994 and that they’ve successfully changed it on three subsequent occasions. In the interests of consumer justice, we demand that Blair Brown Electrics send some of their engineers to us in order that we can compete against them, since so many of our workforce have got held up on another job and also couldn’t find the address you supplied in the A-Z that’s served us so well since the early eighties.

I'm not advancing any particular political position in sharing this joke, incidentally. I'm just being revisionist, sectarian and mean.

Sunny said...

One of the tasks today, I believe, is to try to find a way of the left working together on those issues where they agree whilst maintaining some kind of fraternal discussion on the areas of disagreement.

Couldn't agree more mate. This, I believe, should be the way ahead. Good post though (via britblog).