Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Labour Leadership Contest, Corbyn and the Left, some Notes.

with 9 comments

corbyn york

People of Good Will Flock to Back Corbyn in York Yesterday.

Tensions inside the Labour Party have reached new levels today with this news:

Labour rebels plan to start their own party if Jeremy Corbyn gets re-elected

Labour rebels plan to elect their own leader and create an ‘alternative’ parliamentary group if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected, it was claimed last night.

Senior Labour rebels are so convinced that Jeremy Corbyn will win the leadership contest that they intend to launch a legal challenge for the party’s name.

The move would see them create their own shadow cabinet and even elect a leader within Parliament to rival Mr Corbyn’s front bench to take on the Tories.

They are considering going through the courts to get the right to use Labour’s name and assets including property owned by the party across the country.

Since it is clear that Jeremy Corbyn will win the contest – from nominations,  massive turn outs at meetings to the polls – it is important that the left thinks about its stand.

This, one of countless articles from across the spectrum, is just one contribution.

Some people may rejoice in the prospect of a fight to end with his opponents, wish for a completely different Parliamentary party, and indeed, if opinion polls are to be believed (which put Labour 17 points behind the Tories) a new electorate.

A better approach has been taken by Owen Jones, who has written some of the best, and most informed, commentary on the rise of Corbyn’s support inside the party and the challenges his team faces.

He begins by examining what the party is now and what it could be become.

With Labour currently in the throes of an existential crisis, a false dichotomy is being debated: is it a party of government or a social movement? Labour was undoubtedly founded because of the limitations of social movements. Winning concessions from Britain’s rulers was not enough: those rulers had to be displaced by the political arm of the labour movement and, more broadly, working people and those without a voice.

One challenge is that the Labour party membership is simply unrepresentative of the population. That has always been the case: it’s the trade union link that grants Labour any right to self-describe as a workers’ party. According to ESRC-funded research by the academics Tim Bale, Monica Poletti and Paul Webb, around half of Labour party members belong to the social group AB: that is, middle-class professionals. Yet only 22% of Britain’s population belong to this group. Those deemed to be working-class represent 47% of the population, but they make up just 21% of the Labour party membership. Nearly half of members live in London or southern England, and a large majority have university degrees

Understandably, any movement that feels under siege from the establishment will be defensive. An obvious danger is a retreat into the company of those with similar views, and the lashing out at those who dissent, even mildly. On issues from immigration to social security, there is an obvious chasm between the views of Labour members and the general public. But this divide can be bridged.

That won’t be achieved by intolerance for differing opinion on the left, let alone the wider public. An optimistic, understanding, empathetic, inclusive, outward-looking movement needs to be built. All of this must be part of a wider strategy for gaining power, of course. The Tories won the last election with few footsoldiers on the ground. Without a clear plan for power, the history books will refer to the left only as an explanation for how the Tories were able to rule for so long. Enough of the false dichotomies: Labour doesn’t have to choose between being a social movement and a party of government. It can be both.

One aspect that has drawn a lot of attention is precisely this intolerance.

From critics of Corbyn claiming that his supporters would put people in the Gulag and torture women, to those constantly claiming that his opponents are ‘Blairite scum’, this has marked recent weeks as never before.

It is worth noting that differing opinions on the left, within the boundaries of democratic socialism, have no always been so polarised. People on what was called the ‘hard’ left have contributed to ‘social liberal’ left sites, such as Harry’s Place, or, the more muted Left Foot Forward – despite wildly differing opinions – and they have contributed to our Internet vehicles. Within the democratic socialist left people read, write for, and talk with, journals from Labour Briefing, Tribune, Chartist, the AWL’s Solidarity, and ….the Weekly Worker. 

There are plenty of other places where the left expresses differing views, from the Morning Star to the Guardian.

I for one have no intention of ending any dialogue with our democratic opponents.

Left-wing Political Culture and Brexit.

Many people now drawn to Labour have no previous experience of left-wing politics. They are people of good will. They have their own opinions. They will make their own judgements. But the voices which are being heard are not just from them, but from groups with a long, in most cases very long, political histories.

In this respect it is important to recognise that not only is there not ‘one’ left, but that the left is itself divided after Brexit. One group, Socialist Resistance,  like the AWL (who also took welcome initiatives to build on this), took a progressive ‘Another Europe is Possible’ Remain stand during the referendum. They have just published this article which helps explain the background of the left and the implications of the result for those who backed Brexit and for the (majority) who supported Remain.


It was clear, long before it was launched, that the EU referendum held serious dangerous for the left and for multiculturalism and anti-racism in Britain. The campaign itself was always going to be a carnival of racism and xenophobia and an outcome in favour of Brexit would trigger a major shift to the right in British politics—both at the level of government and in terms of social attitudes. Racism and xenophobia would be strengthened and the left thrown onto the defensive….

Socialist Resistance argued for a remain vote on the basis that the referendum would be a carnival of reaction leading to a major shift to the right in British politics, and we have been right on both counts.

Those far-left organisations—the SWP, the Socialist Party, and Counterfire, along with the CPB—that agued for exit from the EU on the basis that such a vote would bring down Cameron, push the political situation to the left, and open up new opportunities for radical politics, even increase the chances of a Labour government, got it dramatically wrong. In fact, some are still arguing that there has not been a shift to the right a week after the formation of the May government…..

It should be clear now, if it was not clear before, that this referendum was not, at the end of the day, a referendum on the EU but on immigration: i.e. ‘are you in favour of the free movement of people—yes or no?’ This scenario was played out in interview after interview, on the streets, the response was overwhelmingly: too much immigration—end free movement. And the uncomfortable fact is that given Britain’s imperialist and colonialist history, decades of bi-partisan institutionalised racism practiced by both Tories and Labour, and the disgusting xenophobia of the tabloids—the Sun, the Mail and the Express in particular—over many years, it was always going to be thus.

It is important to read Alan’s article in full.

One cannot underline enough how backing Brexit significantly  shapes any attempt they make in claiming to be part of a Corbyn Movement. To put it bluntly, it reduces their assertion to ashes.

The Present Politics of the Brexit Left and the Labour Party.

The Socialist Workers’ Party has issued a petition to defend Corbyn.

This week Socialist Worker states,

Everyone should back Corbyn and build the movement in the workplaces and the streets that can win reforms—and much more.

The Socialist Party has issued  instructions to Labour activists,

…for the first time since world war two, all regular party meetings have been closed down, removing the chance for ordinary party members to hold anti-Corbyn MPs and councillors to account.

Local parties should defy these edicts and continue meeting, or #Keep Corbyn meetings should be organised independently, including by trade union branches – and involving Corbyn supporters inside and outside the Labour Party.

They believe they have a right to join the Labour Party as a separate, democratic centralist (that is organised through their own internal discipline) group. They advocate a Labour Party run on federal lines.

(such a) federal approach applied to today would mean allowing political parties like the Socialist Party and others involved in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), and anti-austerity Greens, to affiliate to Labour as the Co-op Party still does.

Behind this stand very distinctive politics.

The SWP believes in building a revolutionary party, that is their party. That is their objective. The Socialist Party’s previous strategy was summarised a couple of years ago by Andrew Murray (of the British Communist Party and UNITE) as follows. They are

trying to create a shadow labour movement around itself, with its own electoral front, its own shop stewards’ network etc.

This labour movement has failed to materialise.

The No2EU slates in 2014 scored between 0,25 and 0,5% of the vote.

The SWP and the SP stood candidates through their electoral vehicle, TUSC (Trades Union Socialist Coalition) against Labour again as recently as…..May.

Their vote was derisory indeed “Following the 2016 elections, TUSC have no remaining official councillors“.

They actively campaigned for a Leave vote.

In some cases they advanced the demand that we should have “local jobs for local workers.”

In effect the provided a ‘left’ cover (to use the language of these organisations) for the hard-right nationalist pro-Leave campaign.

Now both groups wish to become players in the Labour leadership contest.

The SP is even involved in the campaign to get Corbyn re-elected.

They both campaigned for Brexit just over a month ago.

A big majority of Labour supporters and an even larger majority of young people voted Remain.

The Pro-Brexit left may think young people and Labour Party members have the memory of fruit flies, and are ripe to join their groupuscules.

But only those in, as Alan Thornett says, “in denial” can expect their interventions to be welcomed.


9 Responses

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  1. TUSC have continued to put up candidates against Labour more recently than the May elections. On June 9th they contested 2 by elections:

    Gipsy Hill in Lambeth where Steve Nally (who he?) got 19 votes (0.7%)

    North East Lincolnshire where Val O’Flynn got 26 votes (1.6%)

    Better luck next time comrades! But why do they bother?

    Councillor Barry Buitekant

    July 30, 2016 at 12:36 pm

  2. Hardly a balanced view. Lots of views on the membership and how it might be infiltrated, where is the writers explaination about the PLP, it’s backers, it’s reasons for wrecking the party.

    James Kelso

    July 30, 2016 at 1:54 pm

  3. “This, one of countless articles from across the spectrum, is just one contribution.

    Actually the main point is Owen’s, on building labour,

    The next is the legacy of Brexit – which is the dominant political fact at the present – and the groups which backed that.

    I could have written, and will probably write, something about a comparison with the French Parti Socialiste – in government.

    Their membership has dropped to around 50,000 (not a typo).

    But this is a Blog, not an academic journal, nor an article for a left journal.

    Blogs are threads of thought and experience, not “rounded” judgements.

    Andrew Coates

    July 30, 2016 at 4:14 pm

  4. I can see that the “support” of Leninist or Trotskyist groupings outside Labour (or parasitically organised within Labour) is worse than useless for the Corbyn campaign – whatever line these groups took on the EU referendum. They contribute nothing but disruption to the Corbyn camp and provide the right with “proof” that the left is riddled with inflitrators. But I wonder how useful it is to split the left along pro- and anti-EU lines. If the outcome of the referendum is respected, and the process of leaving the EU is initiated, the left will not be indifferent to the terms on which Britain leaves. And I expect the positions of those who favoured remaining and those who favoured leaving won’t be so very different when it comes to the terms of the Brexit settlement. On TTIP, social guarantees, labour protection, environmental protection etc. etc. the pro- and anti-EU left will have more in common with each other than with the pro- and anti-EU right.


    July 31, 2016 at 1:10 am

  5. They actively contributed to Brexit.

    Though on the point about the influence of the particular organised parties I cite, however limited its real impact may be it is highly visible, and in particular conditions it can indeed be extremely disruptive.

    Andrew Coates

    July 31, 2016 at 10:33 am

  6. Leftists who supported Brexit must be held to account and forced to take responsibility for the results of their foolishness and/or opportunism: the rise in racism and the advances of nationalistic/isolationist populism. While serious socialists must deal sensitively with non-racist workers who voted “Leave” and attempt to educate them into class consciousness, we should be merciless in out denunciation of the pro-Brexit “left”, who must never be allowed to forget their shameful betrayal of elementary socialist principles.

    Jim Denham

    August 1, 2016 at 4:55 pm

  7. “Everyone should back Corbyn and build the movement in the workplaces and the streets that can win reforms—and much more.”

    Can I build the movement in my Cul De Sac – or in an Alley or Mews….or does it have to be a Street? And what if I’m unemployed?

    alex ross

    August 2, 2016 at 10:46 am

  8. No, you should build the movement in the street, and it will turn into a cul-de-sac. Left movements generally do. It’s the socialists’ own unique contribution to gentrification.


    August 2, 2016 at 11:45 am

    • This has all the signs of a dead end, an impasse, a back alley, hey my thesaurus is running out already…

      Andrew Coates

      August 2, 2016 at 12:17 pm

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