The left and the need for a permanent campaign


by Sunny
27th July, 2010 at 4:00 pm    

Harpymarx asks:

But Sunny do you trust the geezer [any politician]? You can lobby him, make demands on him and he can still ignore it

I did reply, but it’s worth making this into a proper blog-post that I can reference later.

As a left-wing activist I rarely do politics on trust. Politics isn’t about trust it’s about competing interests, and I wouldn’t just implicitly trust any politician if they got into power.

My default position is that the left needs to run a permanent campaign to get their ideas and policies into wider currency. That involves lobbying MPs, it involves grassroots organising and it involves kicking off media debates about certain issues and getting people to talk about them. It involves specific ‘targeted interventions’ (protests, flashmobs, exposes) to continually push a left-wing agenda and push the country leftwards.

As I’ve said before: politics is a permanent state of war. You’re fighting a constant battle to get your ideas and policies into the public domain and become established. And once they have, you keep pushing more. Or if you’re losing – then you keep pushing back. Politicians, by the nature of their job, have to weigh up lots of competing interests. The loudest and the most successful interest wins. My job as a left-wing activist is to ensure the left-wing interest group wins.

The mistake the left made (and I keep repeating this) is that it *trusted* Tony Blair in 1997 and thought their job was done. That opens you up to charges of betrayal and to disillusionment. I don’t get disillusioned easily because I’m in a constant state of war.

If I’m good at it – I can influence debates. If I do it badly, I won’t. I was part of the debate to challenge community leaders in 2006 and we won that battle eventually.

I challenged the Met Police’s Form 696 with a targeted intervention and they pretty much scrapped it by the following week. Those are two different kinds of successful examples. My problem is that the left, by and large, especially on economic issues, has been on the back foot for the 20 yrs.

The Left is a movement that has different, sometimes contradictory strands in it (the working classes lefties are standing up for are frequently quite socially conservative on abortion and such issues).

The key to being stronger is to find ways in which people on the Idealistic Left can work together with the Pragmatic Left to push the country leftwards. No doubt sometimes there are disagreements. But if the idealists think they cannot work with other sections of the Left, then they will simply be ignored and left behind. I don’t want to see that happen, but it’s exactly what is happening right now.


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  1. sunny hundal

    Blog post:: The left and the need for a permanent campaign http://bit.ly/c9Zod2


  2. Leon Green

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: The left and the need for a permanent campaign http://bit.ly/c9Zod2


  3. andy c

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: The left and the need for a permanent campaign http://bit.ly/c9Zod2


  4. earwicga

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post: The left and the need for a permanent campaign http://bit.ly/c9Zod2


  5. Don Paskini

    RT @earwicga: RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post: The left and the need for a permanent campaign http://bit.ly/c9Zod2


  6. Why @Ed_Miliband is the right person to lead the Labour party | Liberal Conspiracy

    [...] will only run from the party left. I’ve said before – the left needs to embrace the idea of a permanent campaign, and not just hope that one of their people gets into [...]




  1. earwicga — on 27th July, 2010 at 6:32 pm  

    Sunny, I’m enjoying your posts on what the Left has to do to remain relevant, and most importantly remain a viable force for government. As for your divisions between idealists and pragmatists, aren’t these the two binaries, with most people being a bit of both, much like liberal feminists?

    As for working class lefties being socially conservative on abortion, it is something I wasn’t aware of – from where do you draw this conclusion?

  2. MaidMarian — on 27th July, 2010 at 7:13 pm  

    Trust is not all that far removed from faith. Politics can not be based on faith because that is to ask to be deceived. I didn’t ‘trust’ Blair because I did not see his or any other party in that way. They set out a manifesto, not some quasi-religious document in which hopes and dreams could be invested. I was never annoyed at Blair because I didn’t dream the dream.

    Similarly politicians do not exist to legislate for for my prejudices or to indulge my every whim. To suggest that someone is, ‘ignored,’ is hyperbole.

    WIth all respect, this idea about shouting loudest seems a bit glib. I realise that it is heresy, but Blair between 1997 and 2000 delivered some of the most progressive country this government has ever had. He did it not with flashmobs but with a coherent vision of a left-leaning pragmatic party that saw state intervention as nothing to be ashamed of. He did it with policy, not protest.

    On top of this, much of the discontentment about Blair and by projection Labour was about war. This overlooks that apart from the Benn/Foot blip the left has always had a robust foreign policy. Attlee took the country nuclear and into Korea, Wilson negotiated Polaris, sent troops to Anguilla and stood up to the US on Vietnam. Blair stopped the Balkan ethnic cleansers and pursued atomic energy and defence as Major could not. Many on the left need to get over the obsession with Iraq in the way that the tories are starting to get over themselves on Europe.

    It is policy Sunny, not an internet debate.

    Earwicga – Historically, Labour was very much the party of the Catholics who fought tooth and nail against abortion and easier divorce, of the Methodists who fought deregulated drinking and gambling, and of those in the Labour Movement who defeated Thatcher’s and Major’s attempts at Sunday trading. Labour as this pinko-lefty party is the product solely of an 18 month aberration in the history of the movement.

    It is interesting to note that in the early days of the green movement the Conservative party was seen as far more friendly to the green agenda than was the mining union heavy labour party.

  3. HarpyMarx — on 27th July, 2010 at 8:00 pm  

    Sunny, this debate is turning into a student-style undergraduate debate of “principles’ versus “pragmatism”. Unfortunately you are confusing ideals and principles. Ideals are about what you would like to see while principles are to do with the reasons for doing things. What is a principle behind an action?

    Let’s take the most basic leftie principle is that you don’t cross picket lines. You understand why you don’t cross a picket line because you understand the principle behind it. It is meaningless to suggest it is idealistic or indeed pragmatic. It is principled.

    And what is pragmatism? Giving into the forces that are against you, it seems with your arguments. A Left understanding of pragmatism means you see situations for what they are and act accordingly yet still be principled.

    “The mistake the left made (and I keep repeating this) is that it *trusted* Tony Blair in 1997 and thought their job was done. That opens you up to charges of betrayal and to disillusionment. I don’t get disillusioned easily because I’m in a constant state of war.

    Really, who on the Left ‘trusted’ Blair. I know I certainly didn’t and certainly didn’t support his candidature (nor Beckett or Prescott) as it was bleeding obvious what his project was and that was to destroy the Left and to turn the LP into a neoliberal supporting party hence the creation of the hideous monster ‘New Labour’….

    Overall, idealism is not being principled. Being principled is not idealism. A principle is a generalisation from the historical experiences of the labour movement, and it is learning (trying to learn) from the past and acting accordingly. Pragmatism can mean different things to different people and that includes a self-justification for spinelessness and bending to the will of the powerful. Ideals and pragmatism can let you off the hook, selling out and you become unaccountable while principle is about being accountable.

  4. MaidMarian — on 27th July, 2010 at 8:14 pm  

    HarpyMax –

    As much as I take your point, Blair won elections. His vision of the left found success at the ballot box in a way that other leftist visions have not.

    There comes a point, surely, where glorious ideologically pure defeat becomes just plain defeat.

  5. boyo — on 27th July, 2010 at 8:36 pm  

    blair won elections because he was all that was on offer.

    Smith did not win because he was dead, but there was a tremendous appetite for change before blair

    blair was a tragedy for labour because he made them think there was no other way – like cleggeron

  6. earwicga — on 27th July, 2010 at 8:52 pm  

    ‘Really, who on the Left ‘trusted’ Blair.’

    Well, people like me really. People who weren’t interested in inter-party politics or particularly in party politics. People who want to have a home to live in to bring up their children if they wish to have them. People who want there to be a health service should they need it and a welfare safety net should they be unable to work. Probably people who posted on the Raoul Moat tribute page, people in the EDF, anyone really. Anyone who has since been shafted by New Labour and their love of neo-liberalism.

    And another thing which is off-topic – why single out Blair for hate. He didn’t act on his own, it was a consensus which is why the leadership campaign is such a farce.

  7. MaidMarian — on 27th July, 2010 at 9:28 pm  

    earwicga –

    ‘People who weren’t interested in inter-party politics or particularly in party politics.’

    You’d struggle to tell me Blair was a party triballist.

    ‘People who want to have a home to live in to bring up their children if they wish to have them.’

    Did your house disintegrate in value? Looking at recent events it does not seem to me that banks were coy about mortgage lending at the time.

    ‘People who want there to be a health service should they need it’

    The Blair years were years of record investment in the NHS.

    ‘and a welfare safety net should they be unable to work.’

    Blair hosed money at the welfare state.

    How exactly were the Blair years a political attack on your world-view?

    Blair is singled out because it is easy? Trust is asking to be deceived.

  8. MaidMarian — on 27th July, 2010 at 9:33 pm  

    boyo – Sorry, what, ‘other way,’ is it that you have in mind?

    In 1992 John Major polled 14 million votes – more than for any other party leader in the history of British politics. By 1992 the die had been cast. Had John Smith been leader in 1997 the manifesto would have looked much the same as under Blair. Certainly Blair would have been a senior figure in the government, likely Home Secretary. Brown would probably have been chancellor.

  9. earwicga — on 27th July, 2010 at 9:41 pm  

    You misunderstood my comment MM – housing/NHS/welfare were all under constant attack by the tories and that is why I said people voted for Blair and believed his party would change things. The comment wasn’t as complicated as you seem to be making it.

  10. earwicga — on 27th July, 2010 at 9:43 pm  

    ‘Trust is asking to be deceived.’ I don’t think there are many people now who ‘trust’ any politician.

  11. MaidMarian — on 27th July, 2010 at 9:49 pm  

    earwicga – Why stop at politicians, or is that just too easy? Do you trust journalists? lawyers? activists?

    I believe that Blair bought about change, some good, some bad – the swivel eyed hysteria that is common currency on talkboards is just nonsense.

    If some people feel affronted or let down I’m sorry, but government does not exist to indulge or give individuals the land of milk and honey.

  12. leon — on 27th July, 2010 at 10:51 pm  

    The left need to get over Iraq? Yeah those 1 million dead are very easy to forget aren’t they?

  13. Shamit — on 27th July, 2010 at 11:10 pm  

    I am a massive Blair fan but I like Sunny’s article. And let’s not digress from the topic which Sunny raised.

    In America, you have people who work full time as political activists under various umbrellas – here that is not the case.

    In this country, even election campaigns are not really campaigns – and many campaigns even by organisations such as Red Cross or YMCA or Boy Scouts would make our election campaigns look almost unprofessional.

    Political activism keep politicians honest – and keep issues alive. If run properly they persuade people – but what activism in this country lacks is money & professionals. I have been around politics and media for a fairly long time but I have not met many full time political activists. In fact except for Sunny, I can count those I know on my fingers.

    Political activism seems to be the forte of think tanks here which is pretty much politically dominated and saying the right things in a think tank /party office environment could be your ticket to a cabinet job – look at David Miliband or David Cameron In the past 15 years, from researcher to policy head to cabinet and now leadership contender. Look at David Cameron – a true outsider (politically) such as Tony Blair is usually rare in our politics especially in recent times.

    Anyone who thinks Tea Party came about without money or the Barrack Obama or Bill Clinton came about without money – then someone is living in a dream world. And it required a lot of full time political consultants and activists -

    One of my friends run a very well known women’s activist groups in DC – and politicians all want her lists and the group’s endorsement. Why? because these groups are visible and they raise money and they put money behind candidates that back their issue.

    Sunny is talking about making politics truly professional – and I think we need it. Otherwise, its gonna be run by think tanks, and well paid Union bosses and the westminster media circle.

  14. earwicga — on 27th July, 2010 at 11:11 pm  

    MM – I believe there are people who can help you with your trust issues…

  15. Sunny — on 28th July, 2010 at 1:21 am  

    Hi Harpy:

    Ideals are about what you would like to see while principles are to do with the reasons for doing things. What is a principle behind an action?

    I’m afraid this assumes that there is a linear line to achieving specific ideals. Usually there isn’t.

    Let’s say you want to see more equality in society. But you then have to vote for a government (Labour) which will try and be more equal (relatively) than one which will make society more unequal.

    So you can take your principles and say that the least worst option isn’t good enough (I don’t like it either) but you also end up with an increasingly unequal society – the opposite of what you want to achieve. How do you resolve that contradiction?

    Pragmatism can mean different things to different people and that includes a self-justification for spinelessness and bending to the will of the powerful. Ideals and pragmatism can let you off the hook, selling out and you become unaccountable while principle is about being accountable.

    Sure but all this a bit vague and don’t address the points I keep making.

    You have point-blank avoided answering my question about John McDonnell and trade unions etc.

    What you’re trying to do is apply a general set of rules to politics, where those rules don’t simply work. The arc of progress has always been slow, incremental, and subject to setback. It has mostly been driven by evolution and pragmatism than revolution.

    That isn’t to say that people with ideals and principles are unnecessary or just naive. I think they’re necessary and important.

    But what you keep on saying is that there is one or the other, and there is no middle way. IF that’s what you think, then I refer to the final paragraph in my blog post.

  16. Sunny — on 28th July, 2010 at 1:27 am  

    earwicga: As for working class lefties being socially conservative on abortion, it is something I wasn’t aware of – from where do you draw this conclusion?

    Most working class people aren’t ‘lefties’ in the traditional sense – they are just much more dependent on the welfare state and want it to work for them. They like wealth redistribution because it usually benefits them.

    But they’re also very socially conservative. And I’m talking about your Sun readers, your Daily Express readers. We’re talking about your Gillian Duffy types who care about the welfare state, but also hate ‘scroungers’ and immigrants.

    People need to address these contradictions because otherwise there’s this naive assumption that the left is a monolithic block where we all agree what is necessary for the country. Simply not true. Similarly – many immigrants who vote Labour are very highly conservative. My Asian family are very conservative on social attitudes. This is the norm. But they vote Labour because they dislike Tory rhetoric on immigration.

    All these contradictions exist within the left, which is why it’s a big tent. To think that progress will simply happen by taking a stand is, I think, simply not viable all the time (though I agree sometimes you have to take a stand).

  17. Phomesy — on 28th July, 2010 at 2:14 am  

    The mistake the left made (and I keep repeating this) is that it *trusted* Tony Blair in 1997 and thought their job was done. That opens you up to charges of betrayal and to disillusionment. I don’t get disillusioned easily because I’m in a constant state of war.

    I was going to comment on this but MaidMarian has said everything that needed to be said.

    Except it wasn’t just Blair. It was Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, Phillip Gould and others less well known but no less important who made Labour electable for a record 13 years.

    And it wasn’t Blair who destroyed the Left – it was Brown who always loathed those leftover Bennites/Entryists who clung to their safe seats; but chose to court them throughout his pathetic feud with Blair – allowing the remnants of poisonous and reactionary career politicians to cling to life and eventually form a block large enough to claim the title “Left”…

    By allowing these parasites to represent the Labour “Left”, the Labour Party was burdened with a block of MP’s who were a constant reminder to the electorate of just how incompetent, self-serving, hypocritical, valueless and egotistical Labour could be if it went back to its “roots”. These roots no longer associated with Attlee and the NHS – but rather with Benn, Foot, crippling strikes and unilateral disarmament.

    Meanwhile, New Labour’s introduced the minimum wage, New Start, child tax vouchers – some of the most important and radical reforms in half a century – yet somehow this isn’t regarded as “left”… Or, rather, is forgotten amongst the rows over really important things like did Blair promise Brown he’d hand over the leadership, OR what a cunt Mandelson is for… well… being a posh-sounding poof – at least the Tories and Lib-Dem poofs stayed in the closet OR that prick Alistair Campbell and his “spin” which tried to trick the media into reporting what the Government was trying to achieve through its policy rather than allowing the Daily Mail its god-given right to flat out lie about Govt policy…

    And, as MM mentioned, there’s foreign policy. Blair authorising British special forces to engage in Sierra Leone and thereby end a vicious – possibly genocidal – attack on that nation and its people.

    Blair convincing the US to get NATO fully involved in Kosovo – calling Milosevic’s bluff and ultimately leading to Serbia rising up against its warmongering, nationalist dictator. In defence of a persecuted minority Muslim population… Quickly forgotten as…

    Blair is the driving force behind NATO enacting the policy that an attack on one member is an attack on all – thus ensuring that a US response to 9/11 will be a global coalition with a commitment to Afghanistan beyond simply blowing the Taliban to hell…

    And if this wasn’t bad enough, Blair also joins the US in the vicious attack on Muslims in Iraq – despite the fact that it liberated the %60 Shia muslim majority from the rule of the %30 Sunni minority. And the %10 Kurd population happen to also be Sunni – but somehow this is an attack on muslims?

    The point being, whether the war in Iraq was right or wrong, it was consistent with all of Labour’s previous Foreign Policy actions – but this one somehow betrayed the “Left”?

    Well… Now we are left with a Tory government that’s retaken the middle ground Labour created – using the Lib Dems as a fig leaf. THat’s what’s happened to the “Left” – they’re playing at Deputy Leader while “activists” are still blaming Tony Blair…

  18. HarpyMarx — on 28th July, 2010 at 8:23 am  

    “You have point-blank avoided answering my question about John McDonnell and trade unions etc.”

    No Sunny, because it’s nonsense, I have not point-blank avoided answering that question, the reason I haven’t (which I have explained….) is because that example would not happen in reality, so give me a more realistic question not this, ‘what if, what if…’ That question was about as likely to happen as finding out that the moon is made of cheese….

  19. Sunny — on 29th July, 2010 at 2:23 am  

    That question was about as likely to happen as finding out that the moon is made of cheese….

    Harpy, the point isn’t to ask you realistic questions necessary, the point is to ask how you would deal with these contradictions if the situation does arise.

    That’s important because I want to know, if pushed, you’ll take an advancement of the agenda or will you stick to the view that principles matter over even having the power to advance that agenda slightly.

  20. HarpyMarx — on 29th July, 2010 at 8:11 am  

    “Harpy, the point isn’t to ask you realistic questions necessary, the point is to ask how you would deal with these contradictions if the situation does arise.”

    Erm, because it wouldn’t happen…

    Ok, to answer your surreal ‘what if’ I would be politically opposed to it cos what would be the point as there would be no major advancements. It would wreck the left and also there’s the ‘collective cabinet responsibility’…. it’s a bad deal and it seems like in your post you are in favour of people taking bad deals whatever the consequences.

  21. cim — on 29th July, 2010 at 9:31 am  

    I want to know, if pushed, you’ll take an advancement of the agenda or will you stick to the view that principles matter over even having the power to advance that agenda slightly.

    The Lib Dems are the real Pragmatic Left, then.

  22. MaidMarian — on 30th July, 2010 at 9:59 am  

    cim – The Lib Dems are certainly pragmatic. Left however is a rather different matter.

  23. cim — on 30th July, 2010 at 11:18 am  

    I seem to remember lots of talk before the coalition agreement was made about how “over 50% of the country voted for left-of-centre parties”, “progressive majorities”, and so on. And lots of talk since about how they’ve “betrayed” “the left” or “their supporters”.

    In exchange for getting some cabinet positions and influence in government, some of their leftish policies partly or completely implemented and taking off some of the worse policies from the Tory right, they’ve had to “pragmatically” support a whole bunch of other right-wing policies that many of them disagree with.

    For this they have been heavily criticised by both the Idealistic Left and the We Didn’t Mean Quite That Pragmatic Left, of course.

  24. MaidMarian — on 30th July, 2010 at 1:18 pm  

    cim – Fisrt point, the Lib Dems are in government. They are not some, ‘junior,’ or, ‘influence.’ They are collectively responsible as is convention in UK government. Nick Clegg is the Deupty PM – under any theory of constitutional thought he is in the government.

    Second point, so far as I can make out, the Lib Dems are saying that their main achievemnts are in civil liberties. These are in fact continuations of trends that started under Labour. I struggle to see anything substantive the Lib Dems have got, possibly inheritance tax, but I suspect that would have been dropped anyway.

    Third point, and this is the big one. The Lib Dems are not a left party. Have you read the Orange Book? Granted, Clegg did not exactly advertise the rightward drift, but for many years the Lib Dems have been moving closer to the Conservative line. The Lib Dems have not, to my mind, betrayed the left. The only people who believed that the Lib Dems were ‘left’ were those that wanted to believe – more fool them.

  25. damon — on 30th July, 2010 at 3:31 pm  

    From the opening post:

    As I’ve said before: politics is a permanent state of war. You’re fighting a constant battle to get your ideas and policies into the public domain and become established. And once they have, you keep pushing more. Or if you’re losing – then you keep pushing back. Politicians, by the nature of their job, have to weigh up lots of competing interests. The loudest and the most successful interest wins. My job as a left-wing activist is to ensure the left-wing interest group wins.

    And that means just ignoring stuff, or rubbishing things that don’t suit that purpose.
    Like the story of the women getting thrown off the bus for wearing a niqab.

    I just wrote a post on this kind of thing on Liberal Conspiracy a few minutes ago. Here at post 34.
    I talk about a dishonesty in this adversarial politics which I really don’t like.
    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/07/28/having-a-better-immigration-system-also-means-returning-immigrants/

    I think that thread is a good example of the shortcomings of some leftist politics.
    But if partizanship is the name of the game and I don’t like it … then I know what I might be invited to do.

  26. cim — on 30th July, 2010 at 4:02 pm  

    They are collectively responsible as is convention in UK government.

    That’s rather my point. They seem a far more real-world example of the idea Sunny is trying to illustrate than a hypothetical John McDonnell getting a cabinet post.

    These are in fact continuations of trends that started under Labour.

    No, really, they’re not. Labour had and has good policies in a lot of areas, but civil liberties are something that it just does not collectively get. (ID cards, extended detention, airport scanners, restrictions on protest, at best ignoring torture carried out by military allies, etc.)

    The Lib Dems are not a left party.

    No, but in many areas their policies are to the left of Labour’s. I think they’re “left enough”. Certainly if there really was a “The Left” to betray then they wouldn’t have been part of it to start with (but then, neither, I think, would Labour)

  27. MaidMarian — on 30th July, 2010 at 4:09 pm  

    cim – with respect (and I do mean that).

    1) I’d agree, the hypothetical was fanciful.

    2) Section 44 reached its maximum number in late 2006 and has been in steep decine ever since, May has done nothing different. The control orders were barely ever used and have not been used for some time, that is they were used properly. Airport scanners are going nowhere, whatever party is in and frankly there is nothing wrong with robust airport security. So far (and it may change) all the coalition has done is follow existing trends.

    This is not to mention that I struggle to see any other government of any party acting that differently in the period 2001-05.

    3) ‘Left of Labour?’ Debatable sure. But have you read the Orange Book? The new leader (who I hope will be Andy Burnham) will set a clearer direction, I reserve judgment till then.

  28. All We Need Is Time — on 1st August, 2010 at 8:38 pm  

    Sunny:

    Most working class people aren’t ‘lefties’ in the traditional sense – they are just much more dependent on the welfare state and want it to work for them. They like wealth redistribution because it usually benefits them.

    But they’re also very socially conservative. And I’m talking about your Sun readers, your Daily Express readers. We’re talking about your Gillian Duffy types who care about the welfare state, but also hate ‘scroungers’ and immigrants.

    Incidentally, who was it that founded the “grassroots” of left-wing Labour ideology? You may be shocked to find that it wasn’t lawyers, accountants, and third rate journalists. I think what you’ve said is both bigoted, as well as factually and historically incorrect, and I’m surprised nobody has picked you up on this.

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