What now? Three Tasks for the left


John McDonnell MP lays out a strategy for the left after Labour’s election defeat

THIS IS THE DARKEST HOUR THAT SOCIALISTS IN BRITAIN HAVE FACED since the Attlee government fell in 1951. It isn’t just the scale of the electoral defeat – but the overwhelming incorporation of so much of the Labour Party into the political and economic system that the Labour Party was founded to transform.

That the candidates for the Labour leadership so far have failed to mount the slightest challenge to capital shows the abject state of near surrender of the Labour Party. No core Labour principle is safe in the rush to not only return to Blairism but even go beyond.

JMCD4Redistribution of wealth through taxation is denounced as “the politics of envy.” Privatisation of the NHS is acceptable as long as it “works.” Caps on welfare benefits and toughening the treatment of migrants are supported because they were “doorstep issues.” The problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t actually work. Instead, it is cripplingly disillusioning and demotivating for our supporters and it also simply means the parties become indistinguishable. Why would anyone shift their vote to an alternative party when it is positioning itself with the same attitudes and the same policies as the incumbent?

For the left both within the Labour Party and without, this is a testing period. However the seriousness of the situation may well force us to be equally serious about how we work together in the future. We are about to face a hurricane of cuts, privatisations and attacks on trade union rights and civil liberties. It is time to get real on the left.

There are three immediate tasks. First, we have to recognise – even more than before – that with a Tory majority government the main forms of effective resistance will be on the streets, in occupations and on picket lines. This is a time for intensive activism. This is not some form of displacement activity from other forms of political engagement, but an essential role that the left, especially the Labour left, must now grasp more enthusiastically and with more determination than ever.

Over the years large sections of the Labour Party have withdrawn from leading and participating in direct action campaigns almost as though it was beneath a potential party of government – but also because some Labour politicians were actually involved in implementing the policies being protested about. Not any more. The Labour left has to be at the heart of the resistance to this government.

Second, the Labour left may not have the resources in Parliament to secure a left candidate on the ballot paper for the Labour leadership election but we do have the intellectual resources to dominate the ideological and policy debate in this leadership election.

Following the economic crash in 2007/8 the left forced onto Labour’s agenda a range of issues that in a piecemeal and contradictory fashion even Ed Miliband had to address. That included issues such as tax justice, privatisation and public ownership, social housing supply and rent controls, trade union rights and media ownership and control.

The Blairites will aim to drop all these issues from the debate except to use them as excuses for the loss of the election. We have to prevent this happening and mobilise to set the agenda in the debates for both the Labour leadership and London mayoral candidate. To assist in this, I have set up a website called Radical Labour, inviting the submission of policy papers and ideas to discuss and to promote in the leadership debate. Participation is open to everyone. Simply go to http://www.radical-labour.co.uk

Third, the crisis our class now faces means that the left needs to get real and get together. This is no time for sectarian division. Anyone who divides us is aiding and abetting the Tories and other forces of reaction. I do not think the threat of UKIP has gone away.

Prior to the election, because of the potential of a Labour minority government dependent on the left in Parliament, I secured the sponsorship of all the main left Labour groups to convene the Left Platform. We now need to consider what organisational form is best suited to bring together the Labour left to play an effective and meaningful role in the new situation we face – and also what form we can best use to link up with the trade unions, the non-Labour left, and the wide range of vibrant and emerging progressive social movements.

Out of the adversity we face, we also have the opportunity of creating a more dynamic, determined and effective radical left. Be part of it!

John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and of the Labour Representation Committee.

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8 Responses to What now? Three Tasks for the left

  1. John McDonnell crystallises my thoughts exactly. An excellent and cogent analysis of where we are, and hopefully a useful road map of where we need to get to.

  2. canderson64 says:

    The Parliamentary Labour Party is aberration it’s place is to allow any “Labour” opposition or Government to ignore congress and pursue it’s own policies. So this is my NO1 priority there can be no meaningful advance of the left without bringing this body to heel. No2 the annual congress has been taken over and is now more or less a show of PLP control. The great debates of the past can not and would not be allowed now. when labour was in power the opportunity to reverse the tory anti trade union laws was ignored, the opportunity to stop the selling of off council houses and the failure to built council houses helped to create the housing crisis of today. Instead they came up with the LHA which is a tool DESIGNED to make it easier to cut housing benefit and take away the tenants rights (the right to appeal, the right of a rent tribunal). The left failed us during the Labour Parties years in power and failed to support the Unions, the life blood of the whole labour movement, ad now that the birds have come home to rest you ask us to believe in you again. You lost Scotland and don’t use the “rise of nationalism” excuse there has always been a strong nationalist feeling in Scotland indeed the labour party supported home rule in the past. It was the failure of the labour left that drove labour voters away in their droves. In the heart lands of Labour in England the threat is more diverse and therefore not so obvious or dramatic but it is there and will given a decent alternative overwhelm you in the south as well. I think your attempts to bail out the sinking ship is to little to late but for old time sake wish you success none the less.

  3. Carl says:

    I think there’s a challenge for Labour and the Labour Left in forming a convincing narrative. It’s not just about policies but about our narrative, our general argument that informs our positions.

    If we believe the Labour Party needs an alternative to austerity (and I certainly do), then I don’t think it is sufficient to simply say we oppose austerity (as important as that is) and austerity is counter-productive (as true as that is), etc. We need different economic strategy altogether.

    I think that’s all about rebalancing the economy away from the financial sector. I’d like Labour’s stated economic strategy to essentially be to have a manufacturing boom through strategic but very heavy investment in that side of the economy. It’s a plan for growth, a plan for decent paid jobs (as most manufacturing jobs are compared to mimimum wage service jobs) and most importantly to the man or woman on the street a common sense route to economic recovery.

    I’d love the party to put its energy into that as the central economic message. Talking about austerity (including opposing it) and the deficit all the time, is letting the Tories pick the economic battleground but there is a lot more to economics than the level of spending.

  4. Tony says:

    Surely the obvious conclusion is that Labour is dead as a vehicle for the left, and that the very few genuinely left wing Labour MPs must leave and join with the rest of the left to build an alternative.
    To stay in Labour is to be a splitter.

    • Carl says:

      There’s a lot more left-wing Labour MPs than left-wing MPs from other parties!

      • Tony says:

        “A lot more left-wing Labour MPs”? I’d put the number at5 about half a dozen, and it’s getting worse.
        Those few decent lefts could build a new party with outside forces like UNITE, which would very quickly acquire a more active rank and file than Labour.

  5. acs3344 says:

    The working assumption of John’s article is that most people on the Labour Left aren’t overly happy with the current political complexion of Labour and that none of the likely candidates for the leader of the LP exactly wow him. Secondly, it is assumed that it is possible to move the LP move ‘leftward’…though I appreciate that this can be a bit vague term.
    There are a lot of people who are in the same boat: they hate the Tories, they have been in the LP for some time (or have just re-joined) and want the LP to be a real alternative. The question is: how, in a very practical way, could the LP be moved left?
    Say, for example, you and/or your CLP branch were against Trident and you wanted to change the policy of the LP on this question….and so that in the GE leader debates on TV in April 2020, the leader of the LP would say: ” I am against Trident and so is my party because at our conference in Sept. 2018 we voted against Trident.”
    How, again very practically, could and your LP mates, make this happen?

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