Dear John – an email to John McDonnell

John McDonnell failed to get sufficient nominations to get on the ballot for Labour Leader. His campaign was not a personal vehicle but a challenge to the neo-liberal programme of the government. Where does it go now? John is producing a consultation paper. Here is an email I sent him dealing with the question of how socialists inside and outside the Party might continue to work together.

Dear John

I will be interested to read you consultation paper referred to on your latest blog entry. I think there have been two types of response to the fact that you failed to get on the ballot paper. On the Labour Left we have heard something along the lines of ‘we did all right, keep on keeping on’. Outside the Labour Party it has been seen as confirmation that you should all leave, e.g. the letter in the Guardian from Dave Nellist and the CNWP.

As somebody who is not about to rejoin the Labour Party, I still believe that a socialist alternative to Labour is necessary. However, such an alternative is not a prospect in the short term, owing to the sectarianism of the main socialist groups (such as the SWP and the SP) and as a result of the collapse of the electoral base of the Scottish Socialist Party. That is a discussion which no doubt will continue.

However, I think the most productive approach in the current situation, is to examine ways that socialists inside and outside the Labour Party can work together to build resistance to the attacks of the government on the working class.

At the same time the fact that the overwhelming majority of union sponsored MPs nominated Gordon Brown, the author of the government’s neo-liberal ‘reforms’ of the public sector, raises the question of why they are sponsored, and what the unions get in return. This surely highlights the need to be more selective in sponsoring MPs and candidates. The GMB policy for instance, even if not yet vigorously applied, is that the union will not automatically sponsor Labour candidates, but only those who support the broad outline of union policy; above all, opposition to privatisation. I believe that this is a key issue on which socialists in the unions (be they Labour Party members or not) can collaborate.

What is the point of our members’ money being handed over to MPs/candidates who do nothing to further their interests, but support job cuts, privatisation, and refuse to support even the not very radical Trade Union Freedom Bill? We require a major campaign across the affiliated unions on this. Let’s only support candidates and MPs who support our members.

What framework is there for socialists inside and outside the Labour Party in which to work together? I’m not sure that the Labour Representation Committee is the vehicle for the simple reason that you have to be a Labour Party member to join it. OK, you can have associate membership (but no vote). This presents an obstacle probably to some thousands of socialists who are not members of the groups, would like to work with you, but will not join/rejoin the Labour Party, especially since most local parties are empty shells.

Ironically, the RMT and FBU, both of which are affiliates of the LRC have supported candidates standing against Labour, yet they remain as participants. If this is no obstacle to these unions why present an obstacle to individuals? It does not make sense.

To attract such people you would either have to turn the LRC into an organisation which was not an internal Labour Party group, or consider another organisational vehicle.

Ironically, within the Labour Left there does exist some sectarianism in which acceptance of the ‘correct’ position on the Labour Party (to ‘reclaim’ it, or turn it into a vehicle for socialism) is seen as the key test for socialists. Those who ‘fail’ this test are seen as hopeless people who tend to be lectured.

Real life is different. You said in your last blog posting, assessing your campaign:

“More importantly the vast majority have expressed real determination to continue the campaign for socialist advance within and beyond our movement.”

The last phrase recognises the need to reach out beyond the Labour Party. Just as many people outside the Labour Party supported your campaign, they would be happy to continue to work with you and the left in the Party. However, if they are presented with the ultimatum that they must agree on the Labour Party question, then all the Labour Left will succeed in doing is isolating itself. We must find a means and a framework for uniting socialists in campaigning activity in order to rebuild the labour movement and to challenge the neo-liberal policy of the Brown government, and most importantly developing policy alternatives to neo-liberalism.


Martin Wicks

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