Going back to the roots

May 18, 2008 at 8:52 pm | Posted in New Labour | Leave a comment

Oh, what a morbid bunch we’re becoming. Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Alan Thomas writes about John McDonnell’s latest attempt to save Labour from the right-wing thinking that has been its undoing. In order to rescue the party from the misery of opposition, McDonnell apparently wants everyone to return to socialist critiques of capitalism and use them as the basis for new policies to protect jobs and pensions in a volatile market economy. A perfectly noble endeavour, you might think, but Thomas is still filled with skepticism about how any of this might be achieved:

However, with the best will in the world, that’s all it is: a conference. McDonnell (like Labour leftists responding to my previous article on a related subject) offers no means via which these ideas could actually find their way into the Labour mainstream, other presumably than that they’ll just be so good, and New Labour so bankrupt, that the party will have to accept them. If he believes that, then he’s living in a land of cabbages and kings, or at the very least a now similarly remote world of resolutions and accountability.

Marx was always very concerned not only with what should be done and why, but also with how and by whom. In other words with agency as well as concept and structure. Unfortunately there is no remaining mechanism within the Labour Party via which new, progressive policies can take hold, other than by convincing the (right wing) hierarchy that they’re a good idea.

Indeed. Only a madhatter could imagine that the party’s hierarchy will react to an electoral defeat with the eureka! of ‘Oh, I know what our problem was – we just weren’t left wing enough! Let’s retreat to the hills and not return until we’ve all read Das Kapital!’ With its falling membership and chronic financial difficulties, the party doesn’t seem capable of reforming itself either ideologically or organisationally. That’s where we need to step up.

(Warning: what follows is the continuation of a pet project that will bore the less resilient among you to tears)

If Labour is turfed out of power in 2010 and people become so appalled by the Tory party’s agenda that they need an outlet for their pent-up rage, the blogosphere – almost unparalleled as an avenue for cost-free ranting – is where many of them will turn to. So if our numbers swell and our popularity increases, so does our potential influence; if a left-wing blogger could be read by the same number of people as Polly Toynbee or Jackie Ashley, people at Labour’s HQ will quickly take notice.

More significantly, the Labour Party, just like all the others, is influenced profoundly by money. If this liberal-left blogosphere was committed and well-organised, it could seek to raise money for parliamentary candidates, could promote and help fund worthwhile campaigns (see LC’s 24 weeks campaign) and act as an essential reserve army of grassroots support. To harness this potential, the party would have to provide a platform to give the disaffected a reason to donate their time & money.

All of this, of course, is some way in the future, but I think there are certainly ways of influencing the party from the outside of its hierarchy. The task for the liberal left is to prove how valuable – nay indispensable – the grassroots can be as an agent of change. Since nothing else has worked so far, I reckon it’s worth a try.

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