Luke mentioned a recent survey conducted for Compass on the opinions of Labour Party members so I thought I'd have a quick look to see what state the party membership was in after eleven years of power.
The poll, which gathered the opinions of 907 party members, makes for very interesting reading. Now it's been clear that the Labour Party itself has not had a significant hard left presence for some time (no disrespect to those worthy few who are still sticking it out) so it was with interest to see that of the members taking part in the survey 11% thought of themselves as the most left wing it was possible to be.
Admittedly that is not as many as those who didn't think of themselves as on the left at all but an initially positive figure for those of us of the sinister disposition. However, I suspect this is some new free form use of the term very left wing that I've not come across before.
The survey asked about the performance of various top ranking government Ministers. Those who described themselves as very left wing were the most loyal to ministers than any other grouping. I find it rather curious that the very left wing members of the party were the most enthusiastic for Brown, Darling, Smith, Miliband and Harman. Even Peter Mandelson was the most favoured by this group with 26% saying he was performing "very well" (the highest of any group and 6% higher than for the total survey all together).
Young members were twice as likely as their elders to describe themselves as very left wing which, I have to say, I'm interpreting as the younger the Labour Party member the less likely they are to know what very left wing means as they are also the biggest enthusiasts for Peter Mandelson.
When asked about capitalism a whopping 13% of Labour members thought it should be abolished altogether with many others saying it should be reformed (carefully or radically) with just 9% saying that it should be left as it is or they didn't know. I look forward to the next manifesto.
In fact there are some parts of the survey that do reflect the traditional left to right axis. If someone has told you they want to abandon capitalism they are more likely to describe themselves as hard left and if a party member says they think capitalism generates prosperity and should be left alone they are most likely to describe themselves as in the centre or on the right.
However, before we get all dizzy I should point out that 12% of those who described themselves as on the right or in the centre thought capitalism should be abandoned. I'm only thankful there's no question as to what they'd like to replace it with.
Actually this is of a piece with some of the other findings. For instance the right were more likely to want an outright ban bankers' bonuses than any other group, 73% of the (self identified) right supported windfall taxes and more than half opposed even a limited sell off of the Post Office. Talking of which 14% of Labour's "far left" thought that either full or partial Post Office privatisation should take place.
Now, I'm certainly not saying that people should just stay in their boxes and so I believe a bit of deviation from type is a healthy and good thing but frankly if you describe yourself as on the hard left whilst thinking Jacqui Smith is performing very well and that we should sell off the entirety of the Post Office (going well beyond anything publicly advocated by any cabinet member) then you're wrong. You are not very left wing but rather you are very confused and silly.
This is why it's important to know the content of what someone thinks before taking their word for what their political position is I suppose. If someone describes themselves as a feminist you still don't know what they think about war, porn, sex workers, abortion or who should do the washing up for example. Personally I find the labels people give themselves to be almost completely unhelpful at times.
The most interesting thing about this poll is what Labour members think of their own politics and how out of whack it really is when compared to the other political positions they hold. By my reading those who describe themselves as 'fairly left' at least appear to have the best understanding of their own politics and have kept their heads whilst everyone else has spun away. It's a shame there aren't more questions on policy as I'd be interested to see the break down of responses on the environment, nuclear power, Afghanistan and civil liberties, for example.
But that's not what the poll was about. It looks like Compass commissioned the report in the hope that it would prod the leadership to sound more left, but without influencing actual policy in any significant way. Unfortunately for them (and maybe us too) the most disappointed group are those who think of themselves as on the right of the party - which is rather inconvenient for the sponsors of the poll.