Democratic Socialist Party

This post was originally published here on Labour Teachers on 2nd January 2016.

Labour is a Democratic Socialist Party. It says so on my membership card. It’s a party built on an internal democracy. Historically, policy decisions have been made by the membership, rather than the small proportion of that membership who sit in the commons. We have the national policy forum and we have policy decisions made at conference. Parliamentary candidates are selected by the membership, democratically, before they stand for election.

I know all this, but earlier this week I read this piece from Tarjinder Gill (@teach_well) who was arguing that these things actually make the Labour party less democratic. I read this albeit well written piece with a bit of bemusement. The argument was that actually these PLP members have been elected by the general public in an election and as such have more of a mandate to set policy than the wider membership, and more than our democratically elected leader.

I feel that this is a twisted an flawed logic. Granted they have been elected by the populous, but there are many reasons why the logic is flawed. Firstly, the majority of these MPs were elected more because they were standing for the Labour party rather than their own personal policy views. I believe that these MPs who have been so outspoken against the leadership understand this, or they’d be able to break away safe in the knowledge that they would be returned as independents, or members of an alternative party, in 2020. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they should, I feel there’s room in the party for all the views and that we can look to work together, I do think that some of them need to stop writing vile horrible things about their leader and members though.

When it comes to policy decisions one wonders why these PLP members are so scared about the membership having a say. Surely if they believed their policies were best they’d be able to stand by them in a debate and get across to members why they should side with them? These are the members who selected them to run in the first place after all.

The article, and many of the things we have seen in other media written by Corbyn’s detractors, tries to conjure up an idea of him as a Stalinist, a totalitarian of the hard left. He’s not, he’s a democratic, keen to make the democracy even more democratic by removing the unelected elements we still have and keen to make his party even more democratic. He’s also not “hard left”, he’s further left than any leader recently, and is further left than the other main parties (and so the labour leader should be!) But he’s not hard left. In the party of Bevan, of Atlee, of Keir Hardie, he’d have been considered a moderate.

The internal democracy within the Labour party is a strength, not a weakness. Policy decisions, selection decisions and other decisions can be made together, through discussion and debate. That’s what Corbyn wants, a party that works together to build a better future for all. I just wish that everyone within the party would get behind him and engage with these debates to ensure their view is heard and the policies are the best for all. This would be much better than the vile attacks we are seeing on our leader and his supporters, and the equally vile retorts that some of his supporters feel the need to issue.

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With friends like these….

This post was originally posted here on Labour Teachers on 23rd October 2015.

I’ve just read this post from @teach_well on Labour Teachers. It’s a terrifying hatchett job which suggests the new Labour leader is similar to the infamous leader of the British union of fascists.

With an almost worryingly bizarre irony the post suggests that Mr Corbyn is working against democracy. Corbyn has been elected by a massive majority of party members. And membership has swelled even further since his election. This shows that he has a massive democratic mandate to create policy. The others in the parliamentary party backed their own horses and found them, and their policy ideas,  rejected by the party as a whole. It seems to me that it’s actually the PLP that are working against democracy by blocking the policies that the party as a whole selected democratically over the summer when it elected Corbyn.

These personal attacks on Corbyn and his followers are all too prevalent in the media and in social media. Coming often from purported supporters and members of the party. But bizarrely we also hear of Corbyn supporters attacking the non “Corbynistas” as tories. I’ve not seen any of these attacks, but masses of attacks the other way.

The post attacks Corbyn for answering a question about policy disagreement with the phrases “I would try to change their minds”, suggesting this is undemocratic. But actually this is the very crux of democracy. The whole point of the parliamentary system is to engage in debate and try to persuade others to come around to your way of thinking. That’s why we have commons debates, Lords debates etc etc. So to suggest that a debate is undemocratic is an absolute nonsense.

The post also attacks the right to peaceful protest. A democratic right that we have in this country. The author seems to think that party conferences should be exempt from this, and that by exercising a democratic right to protest those involved are campaigning for a dictatorship, which is ridiculous inference. By protesting and lobbying the general populous can show the political classes their views, and potentially affect policy decisions.

It’s bizarre that so many members of the Labour party, a democratic socialist party, are so vocal in their opposition to Corbyn, a socialist who was democratically elected leader. The party is a broad church, often referred to as “the coalition on the left”, Corbyn has embraced that and wants involvement from all areas of the party in policy making. Yet those who didn’t want him don’t seem willing to engage, the knives are out and they’re being sharpened. With friends like these….

A surge to the left?

The campaigns ahead of the labour leadership elections have been extremely interesting to watch. Liz Kendal must have thought she was in with a good chance when she was backed by progress, but her tory – lite policies have done little to win over votes within the party and she is miles behind the others in terms of CLP nominations.

Jeremy Corbyn probably set out to ensure the left of the party had a voice in the election,  and I would imagine that to start with he didn’t think he had much of a chance. He has, however, captured the imagination of the party and the nation. Way out in the lead in terms of CLP votes and inspiring masses of long term labour voters, supporters and former members to join, or rejoin, the party they feel has been taken away from their position and too far to the right. The press have been on an all out attack, labelling him hard left, comparing him to Michael Foot, when actually he is just the voice of true Labour. Someone who believes there is another way to austerity.

He has certainly had an impact on the debate,  and I can’t help wonder if Andy Burnham’s pledge to renationalise the railways and re-regulate the buses has come in response to the clear left wing feeling the nation is holding. Perhaps Burnham feels he needs to move to the left to be in with a chance, or perhaps the mood of the nation has allowed him to reveal policies he has wanted to hold for a while but has been worried the nation would not want them.

As he moves to the left Yvette Cooper seems to be staying in that centre ground, and seems to be after Liz Kendal’s supporters second preferences. By ruling out working with Corbyn if either of them win she has certainly not done much for party unity.

The debate goes on, and we are finding out more about each potential leaders policies by the day, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Labour Leadership

I’ve just watched the Sunday Politics Labour Leadership debate, it’s good to see a platform for these hustings that everyone can access. I thought the debate was conducted in good spirit from most of the candidates although I wish it had been someone other than Andrew Neil in the Chair.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn kept up his consistent anti – austerity message, favouring a growing economy over a shrinking state as the best means to decrease the defecit. He is clearly a contender who holds true Labour values of equality,  fairness and democracy and as leader would certainly take the party back to its roots. I thought he looked confident, knew his stuff and was unphased by Neil’s constant badgering. I particularly liked his answer to the question “would you have any of your leadership opponents in the shadow cabinet?” Which was to suggest all ministerial roles be decided democratically. He spoke of a need to add in more bands on housing to raise fair taxes. He spoke of a need to build more council houses and therefore bring down the housing benefit bill and he spoke of a need to tackle tax avoidance and evasion which costs the economy billions.

Liz Kendal

At the other end of the spectrum we had Liz Kendal, she’s a self proclaimed “Blairite” and is certainly trying to paint herself as a modern day Tony Blair. I think there is a difference though. Blair built a growing economy, he appealed to the middle class then handed the money to a true socialist in the exchequer who spent it on improving education, health, infrastructure and creating a greater Britain for all. Kendal sounds more like Cameron, with her repeated insistence that the party needs to adopt the policies of the Tories and to appeal to their voters, as well as questioning her opponents on how they would fund not cutting services that haven’t yet been cut,  I was left thinking “but they’re being paid for at the moment”.

Andy Burnham

Burnham spoke extremely well on a number of issues, he certainly seems to be in near constant agreement with Corbyn and looks like he wants to reconnect with traditional Labour values. He’s prepared to accept he has made mistakes and genuinely seems to want a better future for all. He, with Corbyn and Cooper, spoke vehemently against the cutting of child benefit and tax credits for third (and later) children but then stated he was “in favour of the principle of the benefits cap”. This seemed not to fit with some of his other views and I was left wondering if on some issues he was playing lip service to policies he thought were necessary to win the leadership of the party, then the country.

Yvette Cooper

Yvette spoke of the need to celebrate all that Labour achieved while in government. She holds true centre left values and wants to improve the country for all concerned. She expressed deep worries over the recent budget and how it will hit hard working families the hardest. She spoke of her pride in the diversity of the nation and linked this to her own heritage.

There was consensus between Burnham, Cooper and Corbyn on a number of issues, although the latter was the only one consistent in an anti – austerity message. It was good to see the debate and I hope to see more in the contest, to enable all Labour members and supporters to make the most informed choice.

Labour Leadership – Nominations Close Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the last day that Labour MPs can nominate leadership candidates. Currently three candidates  (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendal) have received the 35 nominations needed to be included in the debate and on the ballot. Mary Creagh has withdrawn from the contest so the only candidate left who has yet to receive the 35 nominations is Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn is the candidate who is positioned furthest to the left of the party and is the only one who has taken an anti – austerity stance. He has currently got the backing of 21 MPs but needs 14 more by tomorrow.

I think it would be a real shame if Corbyn wasn’t to make it onto the ballot. There are many, vocal,  members on the left if the party calling for his inclusion and there are many disillusioned supporters or former supporters who see Corbyn as the leader that they could support. The other three cover the centre (Burnham and Cooper) and the right (Kendal) of the party so including a candidate to cover the left of the party would at least give them a voice in the leadership hustings and the wider debate.

I look forward to the debate, to see where the Labour party are heading and what they plan to do in opposition. I’m not sure who I’d like to lead them, I’m waiting for the debate ti rake place, although I’m certainly leaning towards Corbyn and definitely wouldn’t want Kendal, in fact I often wonder why she even joined the Labour party when she seems much more aligned politically to the Tories.

Labour Leadership

So just over a week since the election defeat and we’re now firmly into the process of choosing a new Labour leader. It didn’t take the Dark Lord long to come out and have his say, claiming that the failure of the party to accept his choice last time was ultimately responsible for the defeat and that moving foward the party would need to return to the “New Labour” of he and Blair, as the lurch to the left hasn’t worked. He presented us his candidate, who promptly withdrew.

These claims have been repeated by many on the right of the faction, but I have trouble believing them. The tory press sold a “Red Ed” line and the Blairites (I’ve always wondered if the term should be Mandelsonite) backed it. However, the reality was much different. Ed Miliband was a great leader with great policies, but I feel that on many issues (imigration and austerity for example) he pandered too much to his detractors on the right.

The election results showed that the Labour vote share was up on 2010. It was up more than the Conservative vote, and in England and Wales there was a gain in seats, although not a large enough gain. Blairites and many commentators have suggested that this was due to the middle class deserting a post New Labour party, but analysis of voters suggests this to be untrue,  and that actually the working class vote was the vote that hit hardest.

In England and Wales one would assume that a lot if that we think yo the Greens and to UKIP,  the Greens stood for the left wing principles Labour were missing, and UKIP built a worrying rhetoric around their anti hero that seems to have sold well to a group who feel Labour have left them behind. North of the border we saw real dominance from the SNP,  a party running in an anti cuts, anti austerity ticket. This all suggests to me that the next leader should be opposing these ideas and there’s certainly an appetite for it amongst the new blood, as well as the old guard.

In the wake if the 2010 election defeat the Tories and the tory press sold a lie to the public. They created this myth of “Labours Recession” and the “Conservative Recovery”. The truth is that Labours spending was working. Our country was improving at a rate of knots. Those of us of a certain age will remember being schooled in portacabains, buildings built on the cheap that were falling down. I remember someone kicking a football against the wall in the biology room and the wall literally falling off. The schools built under building schools for the future are amazing facilities to learn in. NHS waiting lists were under 2 weeks, A&E waiting times were brought down, patients were able to get high quality care fast. SureStart was improving lives of millions. That’s now all gone.

The Global recession was caused by the banking crisis, which was caused by banks, as Richard Burgon said in his acceptance speech, “The clue’s in the nane.” Labour’s failure to defend their spending and to tackle these myths cost a lot of votes, and I feel going forward this needs to be addressed.

Of the candidates Yvette Cooper seems to be the one who is most likely to stand up to austerity and reconnect the party with its roots. She’s already spoken about these issues and certainly seems to hold these views. I did also like Andy Burnham’s video announcing his candidacy, stressing that his vision is a party that stands up for all. Both he and Liz Kendal impressed me when I saw them speak on the NHS during the campaign, although I worry about Kendal’s backing of private health care providers.

I think that all 5 candidates (these 3 plus Tristram Hunt and Mary Creagh) are excellent speakers, all have the charisma that the public seem to think is more important than policies and all have strong feelings for the party.

Today we are all wondering what has had to Chukka, perhaps there is a skeleton? Perhaps he really just didn’t realise the scrutiny the media would present him? Perhaps he’s cut a Blair Brown deal with Hunt? Maybe there is another, personal reason for not running, or maybe he thinks 2025 is a more likely victory year so is holding off? We may never know, but we can’t let it detract us. We need a new leader to win us the election in 2020 and to restart the good work.

I’ve heard some say “we need this person to win,’ or “winning is more important than direction.” I disagree, the party is a democratic socialist party, and must select the leader that’s right for the party and the country. Whatever happens in the end though, we must unite behind the winner and not see the back stabbing Ed Miliband faced, or that Cameron is facing from Davis now.

Will the Lib Dems rise again?

Last week saw an unprecedented wipe out of one of the main 3 political parties in the UK, the Liberal Democrats. Anyone who has been on twitter or Facebook over the week since will have seen the popular hashtag #LibDemFightback and your bound to have noticed the posts pertaining to the amount of new members they’ve gained since the election. A decent amount, around 11000 last I saw, but still less than half the new members Labour have gained and still a fraction of the overall members Labour have and less too than the Greens. So what next for the Lib Dems? Will they come swinging back at the next election, or will they continue to be a minor party with a single figure number of MPs? 

What went wrong?

A lot has been said about this, but I think to fully understand it you need to look at what had previously gone right.

The Liberal Democrats are quite a new party, formed from the remnants of the once great liberal party. (A party that were one of two main parties with the Conservative party. Parties that were not overly different, which showed when Churchill and others regularly crossed the floor. They suffered a massive wipe out in the twenties after entering a coalition with the labour party who were on the rise trying to make things better for the working man.) And the SDP, a breakaway ftom the labour party who thought it was too left under Michael Foot. The Lib Dems built themselves up to over 60 seats in 2005, and this success was twofold.

Firstly, they had built a following of liberal Conservatives in the south and mobilised the labour tactical vote well in many areas to keep the tories out.

Secondly, in traditional Labour heartlands they appealed to disillusioned Labour voters who felt Blair had taken the party too far to the right, picked up a number of protest voters from Labour with their repeated rhetoric on the ‘illegal war in Iraq’, won the student vote with talk of tuition fees and mobilised the tactical tory vote to “keep Labour out”.

What does this have to do with their downfall

In 2010 the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government with the Conservatives. One of the first things they did in that government break a pledge they’d made on raising tuition fees. These two things meant that instantly they’d lost the student vote for 2015 and the traditional Labour vote who’d voted tactically, as a protest or because they felt Labour were too far to the right were likely to go too.

2015

When the election came strange things happened. I like in Leeds NW, predicted to be a Lib Dem / Labour marginal, even a three way marginal. Although the sitting LD MP had a 10000+ majority in 2010. The tories didn’t name their candidate until nominations were due to be handed in. They didn’t campaign and an analysis of the general election results against the local election results show masses of tory voters voted LD. A similar story was seen in Sheffield Hallam and other Lib Dem / Labour marginals.

In neighbouring Pudsey, a Conservative / Labour marginal the reverse happened. The Lib Dems didn’t campaign and a local vs general analysis showed LD tactically voting Tory.

I’m sure the Tories are quire happy with the way the deal panned out, but I’d wager the Lib Dems didn’t felt the same when the Conservative machine steamrollered them in the South as the Labour tactical vote deserted them.

So can they recover?

I think it will be tough for them to recover in the traditional Labour areas. A lot will depend on the new Labour leader and the direction that party takes, but it is currently difficult to imagine a recovery there, or in Scotland.

In the south, however, they maybe able to make some ground. There’s no doubt that they reined Cameron back during the coalition, and I think when the tactical voters see the true face of Cameronist Conservatism they may find it in them to vote LD again to keep the Tories out. I think the LDs should have focused more on this in the campaign, their southern wipe out may not have happened. I feel it wasn’t shouted as much as it should have been due to the need to appeal to Tory voters in seats like Leeds NW and Sheffield Hallam.

A lot will rest on their own new leader. They need to distance themselves from the worst of coalition, and celebrate the successes they had in stopping Cameron. I’d assume that Tim Fallon is the candidate to do this. I think that their rebuilding process will be long, and that it won’t happen in the Labour heartland, so they should focus their efforts on regaining the Labour tactical vote and “Keeping the tories out”.