Labour in Richmond: ignore the history & principle of independent labour politics at your peril:Update

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2016 by kmflett


Labour has selected Christian Wolmar to be the candidate in the Richmond By-Election caused by wealthy Tory Zac Goldsmith standing down and standing again as a Tory backed independent.

Not everyone thinks Labour should stand a candidate. The Greens have already stood aside for the LibDems.

You could just note that those who think Labour shouldnt stand are people who are moving to the right politically- and they are- but there is more at stake than that.

Namely the importance of an independent labour politics. I’m choosing the words here carefully. Its not the importance of an independent socialist or revolutionary socialist politics or anything like that. Simply the principle that politically labour has a distinct and separate material outlook to ‘bourgeois’ parties and the LibDems and Tories both historically and now are in that category.

The stand downers argue, I believe, that the key thing is to defeat Goldsmith and the LibDem is best placed (they held the seat until 2010). No doubt and it would be good to see. But it is not the only matter.

Labour has stood in every Parliamentary constituency (clearly for one reason are another there are occasional exceptions and the Six Counties of Northern Ireland have been out of the frame for almost a century now) at Elections for a reason or two.

One is to hold to the principle of an independent labour presence. Another is because win the seat or lose the aggregate vote nationally across all constituencies tells us a good deal about the broad mood of the country, sometimes more so than actual seats won in a first past the post system.

Much of this, it will no doubt be noted, is just my opinion.

The history is not. After the Labour Representation Committee was formed in 1900 there was a battle to break MPs who represented working class constituencies (mainly union officials) from Lib-Labism towards an independent labour presence in Parliament. The battle was spearheaded by the first leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party Keir Hardie.

The battle was not quite won in 1906 when Labour MPs were first elected because secret deals in seats were done with the Liberals.

But after 1918 when the Webbs Constitution clearly laid out the framework of Labour as a distinct party it certainly was. By 1924 there was a minority Labour Government and Liberal influence in the labour movement was in sharp decline.

There is nothing revolutionary in noting that these are basic principles which should still be stuck to


In the Election held on 1st December the Liberal Democrats defeated the odious Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith. Good. Labour lost its deposit polling 3.7%. There are a range of explanations for this but I dont think any negate the principle and importance of a politics independent of bourgeois parties.

Of course in practice Labour quite often fails the test of independence but its structure and organisation at least allows for the possibility of it.

My letter in The Guardian (3rd December) is below

The Lib Dem victory in Richmond reflects the post-Brexit crisis of British politics and particularly of the Tories, who now have an even smaller parliamentary majority. There will no doubt be criticism of Labour’s decision to stand which resulted in a rare lost deposit, but from the left that is surely misplaced criticism. If Richmond was meant to be a trial for a progressive alliance, it concluded with Tim Farron proclaiming the outcome as a result for a moderate alternative to the Tories and Labour. That doesn’t sound very leftwing to me. The reality is that while the Tories and Lib Dems have differences, they are not so great that they could not spend five years in government together. Labour stands for a different kind of politics, albeit often imperfectly: one that is based in workplaces and communities and not in boardrooms. That still matters.
Keith Flett


2 Responses to “Labour in Richmond: ignore the history & principle of independent labour politics at your peril:Update”

  1. ‘politically labour has a distinct and separate material outlook to ‘bourgeois’ parties’ – wrong, Labour for most of its history has been wedded to propping up capitalism aka the bourgeois economic system. and trying to win more crumbs from the rich man’s table for the working class rather than change the system itself.

    Its history shows it to be tribal, blinkered and exclusive, refusing to build electoral and campaigning partnerships with other progressive forces. Wedded to short term electoral politics it is and has been without a coherent ideology, analysis or strategy to effect meaningful and long term change.

    It’s fucked.

  2. Quite so. You’ve also completely missed the point. This is about the principle of an independent labour politics not whether it actually happens in practice

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