Pete Firmin, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP, explains why Labour Briefing is calling for a vote for Diane Abbott in the leadership election.
The left in the labour movement sees the Labour Party leadership election as about so much more than “which candidate do we prefer?” It is an opportunity for the Party to re-engage with disillusioned working class voters, enthusing them about politics, building up the party membership and organising resistance to the attacks coming from the Government. To change direction in this way, there must be a willingness in the Party to ask why Labour lost the election – and a commitment to at least trying to avoid repeating those mistakes.
While the election is going on, a much freer discussion will take place than we have seen for years. Afterwards the new leadership will almost certainly attempt to close that down and consolidate its position. The left, on the other hand, will be fighting to restore party democracy – including making MPs and the leadership accountable to the Party, rather than ignoring party conference decisions and announcing diametrically opposed policy. Part of this battle will be forcing our unions to take their own policies seriously, rather than simply throwing money at the Party in exchange for being ignored and worse.
All of this is pretty far from the minds of the Milibands, Balls and Burnham, all of whom bear considerable responsibility for the defeated Labour Government’s policies over the last 13 years. Even those among them who seek to persuade us that they have secretly disagreed with government policy for the last seven years or more want to keep that criticism within safe limits – a more thoroughgoing post-mortem would raise awkward questions such as whether silent disagreement is complicity or cowardice.
Diane Abbott is the only candidate who can legitimately distance herself from the record of the Labour Government, having voted against nearly all its reactionary measures such as the Iraq war, privatisations and the curtailment of civil liberties. With that voting record and given the choice available, we have to live with the flaws she has exhibited.
Diane will not enthuse active trade unionists in the way that John McDonnell can do, as she has not been so closely associated with these struggles. However, her candidacy will attract more people who would not necessarily have been immediately drawn to McDonnell – primarily black people and women.
The left has to use this opportunity to engage with these potential supporters, both to widen our understanding of the issues facing them and to win them to the left. At the same time, we have to encourage Diane to get more involved with trade unions – to be seen to support campaigns, turn up on picket lines, address meetings, etc. Speaking at anti-war demonstrations and anti-cuts rallies would do wonders for her campaign, encourage others to campaign for her, and help build support for those issues. That approach would encourage trade union branches to affiliate or re-affiliate to the Party – turning the tide of disappearing affiliations is long overdue.
It is important that in the next few weeks we win as many supporting nominations as possible for Diane from CLPs, trade unions and affiliated organisations. Even more important is that in the subsequent period – while hustings and campaigning are going on – we get the message out via those organisations that Diane and the left offer a real alternative to the varieties of neo-liberalism offered by both the Government and the front runners in the leadership election. Labour movement bodies should not just put their names to nominations for Diane but actively campaign to support her and reverse the disastrous policies of the last few years.
Contact Diane’s campaign at http://www.diane4leader.co.uk