The end of the Labour Party?

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2017 by kmflett

The end of the Labour Party?

Keir Hardie

The Independent which these days is no longer a newspaper but a website has published a brief survey of some male political historians (broadly described) about whether they think Labour has a future.

A summary is as follows: Labour may be doomed but will probably linger on, particularly as a First Past the Post electoral system makes the rise of new parties difficult. Corbyn is of course, according to them, a disaster, with little support and there is obviously no chance of Labour winning the next Election.

It might have been better if labour or socialist historians with some insight into the history of Labour had been asked instead. Steven Fielding is the exception. He has written about the subject and is the man behind the New Dawn exhibition on 1997 at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. His view may demand to be taken more seriously but that doesn’t mean it can’t be challenged.

Beyond the Corbynphobia there are some fundamental reasons why Labour or a party very similar to it will be around for the foreseeable future.

It must be said that all the main parties are in decline in terms of support. At the 2015 election their combined vote share was under 70%. In the 1960s it was in the 90%s.

Labour now has a mass membership again and at least has the potential in that sense to keep in touch with voters and potential votes in communities and workplaces. Whether it does so across the board is a different matter. The Tories don’t have this, hence the still in progress Battlebus investigation from 2015 where supporters were bussed around the country. The Liberals are very patchy indeed in this respect.

But in a market capitalist society there is political space for a party that promises to make things a little bit better for ordinary person and from time to time actually does so.

If it doesn’t, perhaps because economic crisis prevents funds for reform without a more robust challenge to capital, then decline can set in. Look at PASOK in Greece or the PSOE in Spain. Labour is not in that position

Whether Labour can win an election- and here the Indy historians make a effective points, relies on a coalition of interests between, trade unionists, socialists and those who want to see some form of progressive change in society (Fabians and others). The precise configuration of this coalition of interests varies from period to period, as does who finds themselves a Labour member. This is one of the key points made by Gareth Stedman Jones in his 1982 article Why is the Labour Party in a Mess?

In that sense while some may sneer it is up to Jeremy Corbyn to build an election winning coalition of interests for our times. Can he do it? We’ll see. But if you think he can’t you might ponder who else has the capacity to do so either in the Labour Party or in a differently configured but related political formation.

Others might ask different questions, such as for example, how much difference a Parliamentary Party can make to the lives of ordinary people in a period of capitalist crisis compared to for example, mass mobilisation in workplaces and on the streets. That however is another if related discussion.


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