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Why Labour will survive, despite The Guardian

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2017 by kmflett

Why Labour will survive, despite The Guardian

The Guardian Editorial on 22nd March generously noted that the Labour Party isn’t necessarily in terminal decline. Indeed not, despite the best efforts of a number (not all) of the paper’s columnists and reporters in this general direction.

The Guardian of course, for those with long memories, has form in this area. It was a major supporter of the SDP in the early 1980s. When I first started reading it in the 1960s it backed the Liberals, which was perfectly fine because there was no chance of them becoming a Government at that point, and so why worry about it.

The Editorial notes that several European social-democratic parties, such as those in France and Holland are in electoral decline currently and it might have also mentioned Greece and Spain. All these parties have followed austerity policies and paid an electoral price. In that context one might argue that Labour in the UK having not done that has held up better than it might have done, but that is one of those unprovable points for discussion over a pint in the pub.

There are some wider points. Firstly electoral crisis for Parliamentary parties of the left is nothing new. See for example Gareth Stedman Jones piece, originally written for the then Labour Party magazine, New Socialist, ‘why is the Labour Party in a mess?’. This appeared in 1982.

Secondly there is a material basis for parties that aim or claim to reform market capitalism to make it a little bit better for those who have to endure it. Labour has an impressive record in relation to this in some respects- think for example of the NHS. Even, dare one say it, Tony Blair’s Governments managed some changes for the better. The point is, given the commanding majorities they had, why more was not done.

Even if Labour disappeared tomorrow there will still be significant support for a political vehicle that said it was going to change things for the better a bit and from time to time actually did. The problems occur when things are actually changed for the worse, and that often occurs in periods when capitalism, in the slump part of its cycle, wants retrenchment rather than expansion.

A party seeking reform in such a period needs to be considerably more politically robust than in times of boom.

An example from a recent meeting I attended in North London. A Labour Council proposes a major housing redevelopment which will involve displacing people from their homes, with, some say, a questionable right of eventual return. Not surprisingly Labour is in the firing line, even if a major underlying cause of the problem is Tory cuts to Council spending. Yet at the meeting when it was suggested that people might think about voting LibDem instead there was general uproar. There is a class vote and while the links between Labour, unions and working people are weaker than they were at some points in the last 50 years (but see the late 1960s when they were possibly temporarily weaker) they still exist and won’t disappear either overnight or in the near future.

Does this mean conversely that Labour stands some chance of forming a socialist Government that brings about structural change for a more equal society as a first step. Well, possibly. But in general I still stick with the analysis of Ralph Miliband in his book Parliamentary Socialism (1961) which underlines that Labour is far more interested in Parliament than it is in socialism. Clearly even if Jeremy Corbyn might nod to this point as an historical statement he thinks it can change. Unfortunately nothing in the last 2 years suggests that is likely to be the case.

Socialism will probably require wider change and it is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution…..

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