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    Left wing coalition building


    by Sunny on 11th October, 2009 at 7:30 PM    

    In writing about left-wing blogging, or more accurately some Labour blogs and some not, Andy Newman at Socialist Unity has similar thoughts to me:

    Now there are in fact structural reasons why the left tends to have a semi-hostile attitude to each other, these are threefold fold; i) the traditional First past the Post elelctoral system has encouraged the Labour Party to be a big coalition, and therefore all effective electoral politics has gone through Labour, and those outside it have been regarded as not-serious; ii) the legacy of the divide in the labour movement over the USSR which has led many in the Labour Party to be deeply suspicious of non-members with opinions; iii) the legacy of toy-town “Leninism” that has led the British far-left to splinter into a mosaic of tiny sects, and to have a sectarian and stupid hostility to the Labour Party. These legacies need to be overcome.

    The legacy of competing tiny groups of true believers splitting hairs and arguing over the finest details of programmes that they would never have the social weight to implement also needs to be overcome, because it is utterly irrelevant to British politics.

    Blogs have an important role to play, not only in providing a space for journalism and commentary outside the control of the mainstream media, but also in providing a space for debate and exchange of views, providing a nertwork of mutual support, and devloping new ideas. The left needs to get better at both of those tasks if we are to fight back to prevent a Tory win at the next election, or failing that to wage a determined and effective opposition to a Tory government.

    I agree with all of that. There are two structural problems we need to overcome ASAP:
    1) too much in-fighting among lefties
    2) lack of campaigning orgs and capacity other than unions (which are too pro-Labour)

    Forget all the ‘new ideas’ shtick for now - it needs to be resolved but right-wingers aren’t bubbling with them either. The two problems above are more problematic. Part of that is about moving past the legacy that Andy mentions above. However, to me that doesn’t mean setting up alternative political parties for now, as AVPS says here. The danger for lefties is that we focus too much on political parties that offer a home.

    Instead, we need to focus first on building cohesiveness and organisational capacity. We need to think about building a non-party infrastructure that can then be used to influence politics regardless of party. The main reason why Tony Blair was able to ignore the left was because there wasn’t any effective pressure put on him from the left. So rather than just thinking outside the confines of the Labour party I’d go further and say we need to start thinking outside the political party structures too.

    [For more on "infrastructure", I suggest reading this article in the New York Times, which was my inspiration for setting up Liberal Conspiracy.]


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    1. SOCIALIST UNITY » AROUND THE BLOGS

      [...] Labour Home have had a makeover that makes it easier to read and spot the new stories, and Sunny Hundal at Pickled Politics has picked up our argument that the democratic left needs to start being more civil and mutually [...]



    1. MaidMarian — on 11th October, 2009 at 10:25 PM  

      Sunny, you talk about there being too much infighting then in the next breath denounce the Unions for being ‘too Labour.’ I say this because it captures well a massively confused article.

      Take this:

      ‘We need to think about building a non-party infrastructure that can then be used to influence politics regardless of party.’

      Come off it! The Green Party tried that and ended up being a ‘conventional’ party - or at least something very like one. Influence is well and good, but it simply is no substitute for power. Do you not hold out the slight possibility that Blair was not pressured from the left because - for a time at least - he was governing from something that was recognisably left?

      The closest thing I can think of to what you are talking about is feminism, but surely the left is different from feminism in that feminism is for a limited section where the left is ‘for’ all society.

      My argument has long been that the left simply likes opposition - it likes the positive polls between elections, it likes the freedom to criticise it likes being able to make decisions deviod of responsibility.

      You talk about structures outside of parties - you mean something like the environmental protests? They blowing everyone away with support?

      Sunny, my belief is that for too long the left has ignored the divide between politics and government. The Conservative Party has splinters exactly, if not more so, than described in the Socialist Unity quote. An example: an underreported feature of Iraq was to dredge the Conservative streak of anti-Americanism right to the fore. But that did not stop ‘the right’ functioning effectively or splintering. They understand that politics is one thing, government and how to get into it is quite another.

      The article appears to want to pretend that government is something other than swallowing differences, coming together and appealing to a core of voters able to lead to power. ‘Influence’ is a cop-out, Blair was able to do what he did because he was a winner and who delivered power.

      Quite why you are so keen to avoid that is interesting. You may want to move beyond the politics of left and right. Your problem is that the other side don’t.

    2. Sunny — on 11th October, 2009 at 10:38 PM  

      Sunny, you talk about there being too much infighting then in the next breath denounce the Unions for being ‘too Labour.’

      That’s not infighting, it’s just pointing out that the unions are tied by their affiliation to Labour in many ways. For example the RMT union takes a very diff stance on things than say Unite does, because the former isn’t affiliated.

      Influence is well and good, but it simply is no substitute for power.

      Agreed. But without influence, or at least some way to exert pressure - the problem with power is that elected representatives can go off and ignore the people that gave them the mandate.

      but surely the left is different from feminism in that feminism is for a limited section where the left is ‘for’ all society.

      feminism is also for all of society - but I see it as part of a coalition of interests within the broader left.

      My argument has long been that the left simply likes opposition – it likes the positive polls between elections, it likes the freedom to criticise it likes being able to make decisions deviod of responsibility.

      Many on the left do - I won’t disagree. But I’ve always been a pragmatist and this isn’t about that necessarily. An elected party will have the temptation to ignore its base unless they are organised.

      The article appears to want to pretend that government is something other than swallowing differences, coming together and appealing to a core of voters able to lead to power. ‘Influence’ is a cop-out, Blair was able to do what he did because he was a winner and who delivered power.

      I think you misunderstand where I’m coming from.

      For a start the support base of the Labour party is splintering, mostly because many people on the left feel its become too right-wing and ignored the base.

      Secondly, I’m trying to get people to think of the ‘left’ as a movement outside of party politics. Your thinking seems to be quite narrow to me.

      For example, Republicans are still able to exert influence on a Democrat President because of their organising. In the past the unions and the left was able to exert influence even when Thatcher was in power.

      Those traditional bases are breaking down and we’re trying to build new ones. So this isn’t just about making sure we get another Tony Blair into power (*shudder*) but find way to have a more disciplined and vibrant left.

      And also find ways of pushing their agenda and exert pressure whatever govt is in power. Hope that clarifies.

    3. MaidMarian — on 11th October, 2009 at 10:48 PM  

      Sunny - Thanks for your reply, a very quick follow up if I may.

      ‘For a start the support base of the Labour party is splintering, mostly because many people on the left feel its become too right-wing and ignored the base.’

      Yes - but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Cameron’s Conservatives? Granted success breeds unity simply because people like to back a winner. Deny it all you want, the left backed Blair because he was a winner.

      Ignore the base? Perhaps, but that is government. It is an idea that the left have been remarkably unable to get, but the right has grasped very well.

      ‘Secondly, I’m trying to get people to think of the ‘left’ as a movement outside of party politics. Your thinking seems to be quite narrow to me.’

      That is saying that you want the left to be one grand social movement, that is not really the same thing as a party. My view is that the left needs to start thinking more as a party and less as a movement.

      Narrow - maybe. It’s just that the business of government is about more than being right - it’s about winning too.

    4. Sunny — on 11th October, 2009 at 11:03 PM  

      Yes – but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Cameron’s Conservatives?

      He has a problem with the right-wing base who thinks he’s too centrist, but right now they’re happy to keep quiet because they want Labour out. That will change once the Tories get into power. Plus, right-wingers are better at discipline.

      Besides, a lot of his vote base is from people sick of Labour not because they like him.

      Ignore the base? Perhaps, but that is government. It is an idea that the left have been remarkably unable to get, but the right has grasped very well.

      Don’t deny it. Only the other day on LC I argued we need to stop screaming traitor at every opportunity. But you can only piss off the base for so long before they stop delivering leaflets for you (which is what happened with Blair).

      My view is that the left needs to start thinking more as a party and less as a movement.

      I disagree, obviously.

      Narrow – maybe. It’s just that the business of government is about more than being right – it’s about winning too.

      But unless you have a movement with an ideological underpinning, which then pushes good candidates, all you get is a govt with no conviction. They work by polls and tabloid headlines - and will announce anything just to look in touch, but actually fuck everything up. which is what Labour is now doing.

    5. dave bones — on 11th October, 2009 at 11:13 PM  

      a non-party infrastructure that can then be used to influence politics regardless of party.

      Where do I sign and what am I signing up to? Actually bugger the last one, just give me the goddamn piece of paper.

    6. MaidMarian — on 11th October, 2009 at 11:19 PM  

      ‘He has a problem with the right-wing base who thinks he’s too centrist, but right now they’re happy to keep quiet because they want Labour out.’

      How is that a problem? Sunny - that is the sort of discipline you need for what you are talking about.

      Best of luck to you.

    7. Sunny — on 11th October, 2009 at 11:45 PM  

      How is that a problem? Sunny – that is the sort of discipline you need for what you are talking about.

      First, I pointed out why Cameron isn’t getting much criticism from his own base.

      Second - I do think the right is more organised among the base. ConservativeHome has successfully hoovered up the party activists and I suspect will bravely defend the party at critical times to make sure:
      1) Cameron doesn’t come under excessive criticism
      2) That they can influence Cameron - more than the left was able to move Blair on issues.

      In fact, my problem is partly that the left isn’t as organised as the right in prodding and pushing political parties that claim to act in their interests.

    8. douglas clark — on 12th October, 2009 at 12:06 AM  

      How do I put this?

      Are we talking about post defeat? For it is certainly looking like a Conservative victory, though I’d have expected a tightening in the polls as Cameron comes under the scrutiny that always audits a new leader. I don’t think he will go through that process, scrutiny, etc, undamaged.

      So, say I am wrong, Cameron is returned with a hiuge majority. Where does that take ‘the left’?

      I am not at all confident that the left can build a new constituency. If there is a constituency to be built is is more likely to be built around an enormous number of issues that are not traditionally left as such, but include and partake of environmentalism, global warming, human rights and, possibly anti globalism.

      These are not about what current politicians think.

      They see it, largely, as a socialism - think Barak Obamas’ health care initiative, or the, frankly Libertarianism option of the Conservative Party.

      I doubt that either actually identifies what people see themselves as anymore.

      I think we are into an era of post socialism, post capitalism viewpoints. Whether the traditional holds or not is a bit moot. I’m not even sure I’d want it to.

    9. Kismet Hardy — on 12th October, 2009 at 12:55 AM  

      “1) too much in-fighting among lefties”

      If I can give a simple man’s simple view, the fact that those on the left tend to think on more than one level, there will always be differences in opinion. Everyone I know on the right, and I speak of the simple ones that outweigh you thinking chaps, tend to listen to Sun bites like “It’s cos of Labour that your gonna be cold this winter while illegal immigrants watch plasma TV and when Tories get in, your daughter won’t have any more babies with black men.”

      And they all agree.

      They’ll vote.

      Simple I know. But there’s not a lot that’s gonna change that. Carry on as you were…

    10. damon — on 12th October, 2009 at 5:27 AM  

      Having just read this Yasmin Alibhai-Brown article it’s difficult to know what is left wing. A view like hers?
      http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/yasmin-alibhai-brown/yasmin-alibhaibrown-my-journey-into-the-heart-of-the-white-middle-class-1801352.html

      Why is the Liberal Democrat party in parliament so white? Is Yasmin saying they’re too racist to pick ethnic minority candidates?
      Or is the answer more along the lines of why there are so few Asian professional football players but loads of black ones?

      I think the left need to sort out arguments like Yasmin’s before there is any unity worth having.

      And those twerps on the roof of the houses of parliament right now are not to be seen as part of the left I hope. Silly thing to do, and selfish too.

      One of them is from Bangalore I see.
      http://www.hindu.com/2009/10/12/stories/2009101259911400.htm



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