One common criticism from many lefties who attended Saturday’s Netroots was that it was too Labour centric. I want to respond to that criticism.
I recognise many lefties are still angry over Labour’s past mistakes, and over Ed Miliband’s continual decision to try and straddle the middle-ground rather than articulate the outrage many feel at the Tory cuts (my view on that here).
I asked some people how they felt it was too Labour-centric, and one reply was that ‘because people [most pointedly Labour MP Tom Watson, in the audience] said lefties should join Labour’. This is ludicrous – I’m not going to stop people from expressing their view on how they think people should fight the Coalition. At no point did any of the organisers (the bloggers or TUC reps) stand up and encourage anyone to join any party. Tom Watson had his view, and others said Labour will ever be for the left. We disagree with each other shocker! Let people disagree.
Apparently we had allowed the session to become bogged down in discussion that was entirely irrelevant to the original question. A room full of women, saying the problem is that they are ignored is not answering the question of what women need to do to solve this problem. When discussion of the current political consensus, and its marginalising effect on the debate about women and the cuts occurred- we were needlessly attacking Labour.
This fundamentally misunderstands the point I was making. I was reacting to a point by Laurie Penny on how Labour needs to listen and come to them because they are the real voices on the ground (I paraphrase). My response to this was straightforward: Labour won’t come to you unless you force them to come to you.
That is how power relations work. Saul Alinsky 101. One of my major gripes with the event was that some spent far too much time saying what they didn’t like about Labour, or the current political climate, or misogyny online, or whatever – without following it up with suggestions on what could be done to change that.
You want Labour to listen? Get organised. Mobilise people. Get things done. Force them to take you seriously. Every activist thinks they represent the grassroots, but they don’t really do that (I don’t claim to represent anyone btw) unless they can mobilise serious numbers of people.
You know who does that? Citizens UK. They mobilise thousands of people on the ground, towards real political goals, and that forces politicians to listen. You want Labour to do the same? Don’t complain they’re not listening, force them to come to you. That was what I said. And I don’t appreciate people twisting my words around for their own agendas.
The point of Netroots
I have always said the Left needs to develop an infrastructure outside of the Labour party. That was the whole point of Netroots: to encourage and develop those networks and movements, to give people the opportunity to hear from expert organisers and campaigns, to give people the opportunity to get skilled up, to meet each other and share ideas.
Sure, it didn’t go perfectly. We’ll learn from this event and hopefully improve for next time, not just in terms of content, in representation (gender, race, disability), better networking and more. I’m still in absorbing feedback mode. But I was always clear about my thoughts on Netroots. I articulated them on the day and in advance:
First, we cannot ignore parliament. Demonstrations and strikes alone won’t halt the government’s agenda. There has to also be a concerted effort to influence Westminster on its own terms
I can’t really be any more glaringly clear than that. But that is my opinion. I did not at any point tell people what they could or couldn’t organise. You want to bypass Labour and mobilise people for your campaign directly? I will support you. There is absolutely no requirement whatsoever it has to include the Labour party. But go and mobilise, don’t just complain no one is listening.
As Sunder said, there won’t be one leader, one method or one motivation behind challenging the government’s austerity agenda. Some people will campaign within Labour and some outside. All is fine with me; I’d like to see a thousand flowers bloom. But I resent being called a ‘sellout’ by people just because my methods differ from theirs.
Owen Jones wrote a really insightful blog-post recently, which should be required reading for every leftie, titled: ‘Why lefties like me should drop the cry of betrayal‘. The fundamental premise here is that the only people who shout betrayal are the ones who have no power.
The ones who have power don’t get betrayed. It really is that simple. Lefties are brilliant at shouting betrayal, but we need to spend more time asking why we keep getting betrayed by the establishment. My aim with Netroots was for us to discuss ways to change that. It’s a pity some missed the point completely.
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