Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Labour Election Results, The Eustonites Wail and Gnash their Teeth.

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Zombie Labour Catastrophe.: Say Today’s Euston Manifesto Supporters.

Younger readers of this Blog, not to mention anybody not up on the last decade of so’s history of the British left may not know what a ‘Eustonite‘ is.

The term comes from the Euston Manifesto of 2006.

There people were particularly associated with the statement, Norman Geras, Marxist scholar; Damian Counsell; Alan Johnson, editor of Democratiya; and Shalom Lappin. Other members include Nick Cohen of The Observer, who co-authored with Geras the first report on the manifesto in the mainstream press; Marc Cooper of The Nation; Francis Wheen, a journalist; and historian Marko Attila Hoare. (see complete list).

This declaration included many statements which, at first sight, the democratic socialist left would agree with.

Such as,

We defend liberal and pluralist democracies against all who make light of the differences between them and totalitarian and other tyrannical regimes. But these democracies have their own deficits and shortcomings. The battle for the development of more democratic institutions and procedures, for further empowering those without influence, without a voice or with few political resources, is a permanent part of the agenda of the Left.

The values and goals which properly make up that agenda — the values of democracy, human rights, the continuing battle against unjustified privilege and power, solidarity with peoples fighting against tyranny and oppression — are what most enduringly define the shape of any Left worth belonging to.

 As can be seen these general principles were vague enough, or more charitably, broad enough,  to embrace just about the whole of the liberal and democratic socialist left,.

But a great deal of fire was aimed at the supposed opposite, the “non-democratic left”, and more broadly the organised forces of  those who opposed US-led military adventures in the Middle East.

This was stated clearly in the Manifesto’s introduction,

We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values.

How could this line be drawn?

This was a sticky point,

The manifesto takes no position on the invasion of Iraq. However some of its most prominent contributors, including Nick Cohen and the proprietors of the left-wing blog Harry’s Place, supported the invasion. Of the manifesto’s principal authors, two were broadly against the war and two broadly in support. Of eight people advertised as attending a Euston Manifesto Group meeting at the 2006 Labour Party Conference, six supported the Iraq War. One of these, Gisela Stuart MP, declared during the 2004 American presidential election that a victory by challenger John Kerry victory would prompt “victory celebrations among those who want to destroy liberal democracies”.

In practice this meant making a distinction between those who actually did something to oppose the War and those, either who supported the invasion or whose reservations were too qualified for them to join with the morally “flexible” – read undemocratic, read ‘totalitarian’  – left.

On that left, comrade Paul Flewers stated at the time (Accommodating to the Status Quo. A Critique of the Euston Manifesto). (1)

There is plenty that is wrong with the far left. But these problems did not start with Respect’s dalliances with sundry dubious Islamic individuals and organisations. Over the decades sections of the far left have adapted to various anti-democratic and anti-working-class forces in an attempt to overcome isolation or to gain an ally against the ruling class. Left-wing groups have long engaged in all manner of squalid petty manoeuvres, and one need not dwell for long upon their internal regimes to recognise their manipulative and undemocratic nature. This is both demoralising, as it corrupts the fight for socialism, and self-defeating, as it has deterred many people from engaging with the left and demoralised many people who did get involved.

His conclusion is relevant today,

The Eustonites aim almost all their fire to their left, condemning what they see as the left’s dalliances with anti-democratic forces, and in so doing effectively lumping in everyone to their left in that basket. A lot of people on the left are in fact quite happy to oppose the ruling class without lining up with assorted mullahs, sundry nationalists and all sorts of other anti-working-class forces. There is plenty of scope for socialists to oppose imperialism without giving a carte blanche to Islamicism or other non-socialist outlooks, just as there was a space for genuine socialists 50 years ago to promote genuine freedom between the opposing millstones of imperialism and Stalinism.

There are real problems with the left’s traditions, not least in respect of the question of the relationship of socialism and democracy, and it is one of many issues that we must critically assess if we are to make any progress in proposing a positive alternative to capitalism. However, just like the Encounter socialists half a century ago, those behind the Euston Manifesto are not attempting to provide any meaningful alternative to capitalism. Quite the opposite: they are moving in an entirely different direction. Far from providing a positive course to challenge the status quo, the Euston Manifesto is outlining an approach for a broad ideological and institutional capitulation to it.

Those of us who hold to the strong ethical principles of socialism have little need to defend our record since that time: we have given active support for the democratic goals of the Arab Spring, backing for democratic and secular forces fighting Islamism, defence of Laïcité.

Sometimes we, the democratic socialists,  been on the same side as former or present Eustonites,  against those who have compromised with our Islamist enemies.

But we are socialists not liberals.

Democratic socialism is the base of the labour movement. It is not a set of ideas shared by the supporters of free-market liberalism, or Blair’s Third Way.

This offers no prospect of emancipation or the ambitious task of reforming and replacing the institutions of the British privatising state and promoting the basic goals of social equality and welfare.

It would be perhaps better to define the present shape of Euston thinking as social liberalism, not any form of socialism or social democracy. But in attempting to find  a balance between individual liberty and social justice, they offer absolutely no indication of what kind of social equity they support, what kind of egalitarian measures they would back, and why exactly the present Labour leadership has become such an important threat, even totalitarian menace, to those battling for freedom, here and internationally.

The attempt to draw a ‘line’ – of their own making – has reached a crescendo  over the last months with  today’s Eustonites’ obsessive fight against Jeremy Corbyn.

The Gerasites (doubtless claiming the legacy of the – despite disagreements one might have with his later views – fine Marxist thinker Norman Geras), look at last week’s election result.( Zombie Labour. Jake Wilde)

….the Labour Party as “the walking dead, aimlessly trundling on, a parody of political life” is as accurate as it is brutal. Like all good writing, it got me thinking. Firstly about the counterfactual: what if it had been a wipeout, a disaster, a game-changer? And secondly where does this zombie Labour Party stagger off to next.

The people keeping Corbyn in the leadership position are those who would view any attempt to move towards the electorate as a betrayal. They firmly believe that it is for the electorate to realise that the policies, the slogans and the general attitude and positioning they are being offered by Corbyn’s Labour Party are objectively correct. This is why there has been no attempt to gauge the views of the electorate during the run-up to 5 May. Indeed the only polling that has been undertaken is blowing the whole £300,000 budget on asking questions of non-voters.


But no heavy defeat occurred, simply the worst performance of any opposition party for three decades. Once the far left have control of something there is only one outcome – that thing dies. Whether it is a country or a city council, a newspaper or a political party, death is inevitable. It’s not always the put-it-in-a-box-and-bury-it-in-the-ground kind of dead though; sometimes it is Ian Dunt’s walking dead. So even before 5 May the Labour Party was already dead but, like so many zombies, it doesn’t know it yet.

…the results on 5 May mean that the Corbynistas were the ones who hung on and the Labour Party is now past the point of resurrection.

Harry’s Place thought so highly of this piece that they have reproduced it.

All we can say is: look at the picture above before you continue with these witless rants.

(1) See also Sparks, flashes and damp squibs. Andrew Coates reviews Nick Cohen’s What’s left? How liberals lost their way (Fourth Estate, 2007)

In fact many on the left have rejected those who wish to be aligned with islamism. Leftist websites and journals have ferociously criticised Respect’s communalist alliance with islamism, as well as mocking Galloway’s antics. Cohen cites Mike Marqusee’s widely circulated critique of the STWC, but ignores the fact that Mike continues to attack the American occupation. Many others have followed this dual track.

A central issue at the moment is to oppose potential American intervention in Iran, while supporting the opponents of the theocrats in Tehran. Another is the domestic cause of republican secularism – the best answer to religiously inspired political bigotry. None of which is helped by lumping ‘the left’ into a heap, or by standing aside, as does the Euston Manifesto (many of whose hands are less than clean with their implicit support for western militarism).


12 Responses

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  1. Totally misleading graphic (Milibands is missing which in those terms would be 49%) but to put those figures into GAINS AND LOSSES.

    1995 Labour 1,807 gains

    2006 Tory 316 gains

    2016 Labour 27 losses

    % share is misleading. People will form their own view why only a % share is being chucked around.

    Everything’s fine though…

    Howard Fuller

    May 8, 2016 at 11:26 am

  2. Fine, but those figures do not justify the Zombie Labour analysis either.

    I would think Scotland deserves some treatment as well but there the problem is deep rooted in the party’s recent history and, apart from many other issues, that the Labour and the left more widely has failed to offer an alternative to the nationalist version of sovereigntist ideology of looking after their “ain folk”. Nothing there specific to Corbyn.

    Andrew Coates

    May 8, 2016 at 11:44 am

  3. Hard to beat this for sour sectarianism,

    “Sadiq Khan’s election as Mayor of London was not a victory for Labour it was a victory for the Labour Right, which remains committed to supplanting a leader they view as an impostor on the way to returning the party to its ‘rightful owners’”

    John Wight.


    Andrew Coates

    May 8, 2016 at 12:29 pm

  4. It is one thing to have a go at Eustonites, it is another to pretend that the actual election results are something they are not.

    See Rob Francis’ cool-headed analysis https://medium.com/@rob_francis/local-elections-a-labour-failure-43c94d1833a#.ec2itlpk4

    I desperately want Labour councils and a Labour government. The party has achieved great things, and I believe it is still the best vehicle for delivering greater equality and social progress.

    But we have got to start being honest with ourselves.

    Everything points to a Labour defeat at the next General Election. And a big defeat, at that. These local election results were poor.

    You can have faith that we can win in 2020, but that’s all it is. Faith. There is nothing to back it up, and many things pointing in the other direction.

  5. I think that Euston was also about trying to create a realignment on the left – including democratic socialists, left-libertarians, egalitarian liberals…and excluding assorted authoritarians and totalitarians. Many in the former category have strong ideas about how to advance the cause of social justice – but these are contested (e.g. minimum basic income versus more traditional social democratic methods of wealth distribution). Part of the idea, was, I think, to create a space where these proposals could be debated maturely….whilst also making links with the regressive left unacceptable in the same way that the Tory party (largely…) have succeeded in breaking with the far right.

    I don’t think this succeeded – social justice took a backseat whilst views on Iraq (and interventionism generally), Israel and anti-Semitism, Islamism, secularism and free speech took centre stage. These are all very important issues. But an attachment to social justice ought to be “bread and butter” for the left…although I do think coming up with concrete alternative proposals beats general indignance – and very few (apart from a handful of bloggers) do this!!

    Alex Ross

    May 8, 2016 at 4:02 pm

  6. “it is another to pretend that the actual election results are something they are not.”

    They were much better than the Labour right expected, and indeed hoped for.

    Were they a great victory that means Labour is on course for success in 2020?

    Probably not, but an acheivement nonetheless, considering the constant attacks on the leadership from within the party and the fact that Labour were 15 points behind in the polls before Corbyn took over.

    Perhaps if the right hadn’t constantly washed their dirty linen in public and at least made an attempt to unify behind the leader the party might be in a better position. Whilst Francis, in his blogpost, says there’s no evidence for this, evidence for how a united party, with all ideological elements working together behind one candidate can be incredibly effective has an excellent case study in the London mayoral elections.


    May 9, 2016 at 4:02 pm

  7. Makhano points to the essential: “evidence for how a united party, with all ideological elements working together behind one candidate can be incredibly effective has an excellent case study in the London mayoral elections.”

    I would also endorse Kahn’s call for openness and the need to listen to the demands and feelings of the wider public – finding ways to either give them a voice or (In the case of racist or xenophobic views) answer them.

    I agree with Alex about what has become Eustonites’ concerns.

    As somebody who has not hesitated to use the word totalitarian for something as serious as Daesh, and has, like my own personal comrades, always defended democratic socialism, I have found we have sometimes agreed with them on human rights, sometimes not.

    Perhaps the bread and butter issues matter most to people who are political activists where they live, rather than those who main concerns appear to be abstract and attached to International issues.

    There is also an element of sheer long-standing near to Cold War anti-left hatred at work here.

    Andrew Coates

    May 9, 2016 at 4:10 pm

  8. @Makhno Eh?

    Khan eschewed Corbyn. Very obviously, despite what Diane may think.

    The thing I don’t get with the Corbyn defence is that he’s incompetent, plainly, plainy mCPlainface, just not very good at the job. I have heard this from countless Corbynites, facepalming over one fuckup or another. This is sometimes attached to Milne, but ‘the buck stops with … ‘

    I really think you guys would prefer the beef, ie McDonnell. There’s your real ‘coup’, I predict.

    NB Andrew. Factor into your thinking that the Eustonites, like most, could give a F about Ukraine.

  9. “Khan eschewed Corbyn”

    I didn’t mention Corbyn in my post. It’s as daft to state that Khan won because he “eschewed Corbyn” as it is to suggest he won because Corbyn was leader. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, Khan was the candidate for mayor, people voted overwhelmingly for the Labour candidate for mayor.

    Labour won because the party was united behind the candidate and workers from all wings of the party (including the “EVIL TROTSKYITE MOMENTUM ENTRYISTS”) worked hard as fuck to make it so. To say anything else is an insult to the party members. Although they’re getting used to it by now.

    Of course, if the “moderates” had had their way, we’d have had Tessa Jowell standing. Christ.


    May 10, 2016 at 10:59 am

  10. “Andrew. Factor into your thinking that the Eustonites, like most, could give a F about Ukraine.!”

    So could McDonnell. And yes, I would prefer him to Corbyn. That said, my politics is about ideas and policies not personality cults.


    May 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

  11. Paul, in the interests of constructive debate, let’s cut to the chase.

    Name me one candidate, just one, who *right now* could command the support of the PLP and the membership and put Labour on track to win in 2020.


    May 10, 2016 at 11:46 am

  12. McDonnell supported the Hands off the People of Iran, which combined opposition to a possible armed intervention against Tehran with support for the Iranian democrats, the left and trade unionists.

    “a leftist anti-war group led mostly by exiled Iranian and British socialists, based in the United Kingdom. It is opposed to Western military intervention in Iran, which it considers imperialist. It also criticises the government of Iran, while advocating radical anti-government secularist groups in that country.

    The initiative for Hands Off the People of Iran came from a number of Iranian exile organisations in 2005.[1] On March 16, 2006, Workers Left Unity – Iran wrote an open letter to the British anti-war movement, calling for genuine solidarity with the Iranian people.[2] By 2007 HOPI was fully established, consisting predominantly of Iranian exiles who campaign for regime change in Iran but are against external military intervention, believing military occupation to be the worst condition under which liberation can be achieved. HOPI’s founding conference was held in December 2007.[citation needed]

    At the Founding Conference, a National Steering Committee was established consisting of seventeen members from a range of different political organisations and political traditions. These include members of the Green Party of England and Wales, Labour Representation Committee, Jewish Socialist Group, Permanent Revolution, Centre for the Study of Socialist Theory and Movements at the University of Glasgow, Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee), Workers Left Unity – Iran, Revolutionary Workers of Iran, Anarchist Federation (pc) and Women’s Campaign Against All Misogynist Laws in Iran.[
    An Irish branch of HOPI, chaired by Anne McShane, organised a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in Dublin in June 2009.[3][4][5]

    Expulsion from Stop the War Coalition

    Shortly before Stop the War Coalition’s 2007 AGM, HOPI, alongside another organisation Communist Students, was denied affiliation with the Coalition.”


    Andrew Coates

    May 10, 2016 at 12:30 pm

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