THE JOHN MCDONNELL COLUMN
ON THE LEFT IT’S IMPORTANT TO BE RUTHLESSLY HONEST with each other and ourselves. So take this as me writing this as a statement of personal self-criticism. For too long the Labour left has let the right make the running in the preparations for the next election. Of course we can comfort ourselves by arguing that in a capitalist system the left is inevitably swimming against the stream and we don’t have the physical and financial resources that the right can draw upon from big business subsidies.
Nevertheless we are sometimes our own worst enemy. What always amazes me is how coherent the left’s analysis of our society and economic system is and how few differences of significance there are on the main tenets of that understanding – and yet how petty disagreements can so comprehensively disable us.
In the next 100 days we could be faced with Labour going back into majority government, or seeking to negotiate itself into a coalition government or having to mobilise large scale and effective opposition to a precarious extremely reactionary coalition of the Tories, UKIP and a few Lib Dem stragglers. If the left doesn’t get its act together rapidly, we will be sidelined with no effective role to play. So let’s stop messing about and come together.
To try to assist this process I have called a roundtable meeting on Saturday 7 February, whose aim is to bring together left MPs, PPCs, left trade union representatives, elected local government members, representatives from left Labour organisations, and a number of key left academics, policy analysts, commentators and activists. The aim is to discuss and determine the key bottom lines in policy terms that we will be campaigning for Labour to adopt in government and as base lines in any coalition negotiations if Labour goes down that road.
The meeting is now sponsored by almost 20 left Labour MPs and virtually every left Labour organisation including the Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour, Labour Left, Left Economics Advisory Panel, Left Futures, Campaign for Socialism, Welsh Labour Grassroots and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.
The reason for trying to assemble a broad left policy based coalition prior to the election is that many voters will want to know that there are people within Labour who are arguing for real Labour policies – and that by voting Labour there is still a hope that these policies will be implemented.
In addition, if Labour does end up negotiating a programme in any form of coalition, the left should not allow itself to be ignored and should have its own policy bottom lines for any negotiations. If we are forced into opposition against a reactionary coalition of the Tories, UKIP and renegade Lib Dems we need a clear platform from which to launch our campaign – not just to oppose this political nightmare, but to bring it down as soon as possible.
The meeting is from 11am to 4pm at ULU, Malet Street, London WC1. It is deliberately not called a conference. It is also not a public meeting for great flights of oratory. It’s aimed to be a working meeting. Sitting in a circle with all present, the idea is to have three plenary sessions, each one introduced briefly a by a couple of policy analysts or expert activists drawn from a specific social movement or campaign, simply to set the scene. Then everyone can pitch in.
The attendance should be a rare mixture of activists and policy specialists and academics bringing together and sharing their experience and research analysis. Forgive me as an old Marxist for attempting to physically embody in this meeting the concept of praxis, the combining of theory and practice.
Check out the website for the schedule for the meeting on leftplatform.com I know it could be chaos and some have suggested a workshop format but I think it’s important we see how we can work together co-operatively as a group to gain a shared understanding of what we need to be doing and advocating in this coming critical political period.
I will try to facilitate the meeting to maximise participation and we will try to live stream the meeting for those who can’t make it physically to the meeting and for those who will want to view it afterwards. So this is my challenge to everyone who considers themselves on the left in Labour – come to participate in the Left Platform meeting and help us all secure the Labour government we so desperately need.
John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and of the Labour Representation Committee