Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Debating the future of the "Left" in Northamptonshire: Do you want to join in?

I recently posted the following observation on Twitter/Facebook and it prompted the following exchange of views between two friends from Northampton.

I have reproduced it here because I believe it is worthy of further debate and discussion. Do you want to join it? If you do, please post your comments.

ME: Only good news coming from elections seems to be total wipe-out for BNP, English Democrats and their ilk. But hate taken on by UKIP #dangers

    • David Huffadine-smith In effect, Northants voters have endorsed all the Tory cuts made to date, and opened the floodgates for more of the same thing. And the Tories can now rightfully claim a mandate for this. And all because the left of centre parties spend more time squabbling amongst themselves than setting out a clear set of policies and motivating people to go out and vote for them. 
    • John Dickie David,everywhere I look your repeating the canard that the centre-left is squabbling.What you really mean to say is the centre is scrabbling to find something worthwhile to say.The left i9s fairly coherent in its world view,indeed I have never known the factions of the left to be so united.I find it encouraging that the initiative by Ken Loach(onetime SLL/WRP doyen)-Left Unity is gaining traction.It's starting to feel like those who founded the Labour Representation Committee must have felt all those centuries ago.Added to which the creation by Unite of the Community branches is also echoing a return to first principles of trade unionism.Perhaps we are moving towards the sort of movements that are starting to happen again all over Europe!
    • David Huffadine-smith My observations about lack of unity amongst the centre-left is confirmed by your comments (on other threads) about the Labour group actions at the most recent Northampton Boro Council meeting. It seems to me that Northampton Labour desperately needs the guidance of experienced and gifted elder statesmen who can do a useful turn in the kind of rhetoric that wins peoples hearts & minds. As well as see through political traps, and counsel against playground theatricals. Those who, for one reason or another, now find themselves outside the traditional Labour umbrella could usefully wave an olive branch. Its a win-win, in that so long as Labour does not insist on those individuals eating 'umble pie, it regains the talents that are currently missing, and losing seats as a result of a split vote will become a thing of the past. Isn't it about time that both sides buried their egos for the sake of the common good?
    • John Dickie David, wwere it all that simple.The problem is that the Labour party that I once knew and worked for despite all its imperfections(Callaghan,Kinnock,etc) is long gone.What we appear to have is a hollowed out shell that lacks ideology and only has a strong desire to provide a small group of people with a professional career structure that ends on green benches.Right now in Northampton there are far more ex-labour party members with considerable talent and experience than there are still within that palsied organisation.It utterly breaks my heart to see it stumble and fail at every hurdle,but I think that the time is about right to create a new movement that brings together the multi-faceted left into a rainbow coalition of ideas.it will certainly not be a socialist organisation but it wil be a damn sight nearer one than what we have at present.I would hope that those few remaining socialists in the Labour party would understand that they are flogging a horse that was eaten as a Tesco burger years ago.The creation of Left U*nity and the Unite Community branches are both steps in the right direction.The Tory hegemony is a dreadful spectre haunting Northampton,and the advances of the BNP in suits is distasteful too-but one feature of us old lefties is optimism-without it we'd all think that Blair was the answer instead o0f being the problem!
    • Paul Crofts It appears I have prompted an important debate. Please continue and it may be worth reproducing as a pamphlet/blog to get debate going involving even more people too.
    • David Huffadine-smith I could not give a [insert expletives of your choice] about the Labour Party as currently represented in Westminster, or indeed the previous Blair/Brown Labour Government. What I see is the Tories systematically destroying Northampton (+ shire) culturally, economically, morally, aesthetically and socially, not necessarily in that order. The people who used to be motivated, at least in part, via a powerful and effective Trades Union movement can no longer be reached because the Trades Union movement has been emasculated. There is no longer a popular left wing press, although middle class armchair socialists seem well catered for, and so those who would support a left wing movement are increasingly difficult to reach. I do not know what the solution to this situation is, but having several weak left of centre political parties that do not seem willing to work together does not seem to be a very good game plan for defeating those who would, given half a chance, consign us all to serfdom.
    • John Dickie David, your arguments are persuasive and depressing,and remind me very much of what has been going round within the left generally for what now seems decades.I started my political life as what the Americans call a 'red diaper baby',growing up in a CP household,a working class family that itself was a rarity in CP circles even then.I was the youngest member of the YCL in London and seemed ddestined for an apparatchik role in the party.However the sixties radicalised me and it seemed that Peace in Vietnam was not as good a slogan as 'Victory to the NLF'.But even then it did seem that the extra parliamentary route was something of a blind alley, there are only so many times you can demand the TUC call a General Strike today! and only so long you can dismiss the labour Party as lackeys of the boss class.I joined the Labour Party at the height of the leftward shift,when despite the PLP and the leadership exciting initiatives wee happening in local government-Liverpool,London,Glasgow,even bloody Sheffield! (remember Blunkett the red scourge!) We tried to make Northampton a red bastion-we failed of course but in the process attracted some very bright and able young activists.But then came Thatcherism and the sickening dark period of ugliness.In 1997 we would accept almost anything,even Blair,rather than another decade of demoralisation and dispair.But that led the labour party into the capitulation of 'tolerating the filthy rich' and even becoming in some cases the filfhy rich.Watching Ken Loach's film 'Spirit of 45' and hearing Attlee talking about a socialist future showed how far backwards we have come.However my glass is not empty, I believe that the Occupy movement,inchoate and confused though it may be,has seeds of optimism.I think a range of single issue authonomous movements are emerging and the trick is to get them to converge.That does mean detaching the brightest and most able from the moribund Labour Party,that has become the Liberal Party of the 1900's, and create a new and vibrant view of socialism that will encourage many more local solutions,building bases in communities and reviving a spirit that the British people once had, the spirit that created the trade union movement,and yes the Labour Party.It's the job of us old greybeards to encourage and nurture and then get out of the way as quickly as possible!Sorry to take so long,but being old also means being long winded.
    • John Dickie paul, I think this is the debate that's kicking off within Left U*nity-maybe we need to bring to9gether all the strands of left,green,unaligned and gently loopy into a Northamptonshire Convention of 21st century Levellers,Diggers and people like me who think of myself as a Jeffersonian Marxist!(I pinched that designation from Chomsky)
    • John Dickie Another thought occurred to me, if this debate is to go anywhere it really needs one of the smart and hip young gunslingers from New labour-sorry One nation Labour to explain how ideology-lite labour will move on from listening campaigns to political action.It would be interesting to find out what motivates them now beyond the cliche and stating the bleedin' obvious!



  1. OK, although it'll make for as oddly stilted discussion. :-)

    The points about the state of the Labour Party are true (although it has *never* been a force for socialism). And many good militants have walked away in disgust. However, the criticisms are equally valid for the trade union movement where, presumably, many of these selfsame militants are still active. So what are we doing wrong?

    For a whole myriad of reasons - both inside and outside the UK - the idea of positive social change, of ordinary people taking back control of their lives, has taken a massive knock. This is reflected in attempts by a section of the labour bureaucracy and labour movement professional politicians to deLabourise the Labour Party. (Tony Blair wanted to 'heal the rift' with progressive liberalism.)

    We can argue whether New Labour was successful in its project to deLabourise Labour. However, the moot point is surely the role of the labour bureaucracy, both within our political organisations and within our trade unions. We can't wish this parasitic layer away, in much the same way, we can't wish away the Labour Party. (Millions of workers still vote for it, while only a handful cast their ballot for Tusc, the SLP or whatever incarnation of Old Labour Lite is currently being proffered by the left.)

    The Marxist left needs to organise together in a single party and operate both inside and outside the Labour Party, as well as in the trade unions. We need to take on the bureaucracy and democratise our organisations. Avoiding this struggle, or dismissing it as a distraction, is useless. Marx talked about winning the battle for democracy; that applies to our own organisations as well as to society as a whole.

    Andy Gunton

  2. I have added the above comment from Andy Gunton (with his consent) who emailed it to me.

  3. Steve lytton has drawn my attention to his comments on this issue at: http://leftunity.org/we-need-a-clear-vision-for-the-future/

  4. These comments have been sent to me by John Dickie:

    John Dickie: I believe this is the moment for all the tribes of radicalism, progressive thought and socialism to start pulling in the same direction.For decades we have been precious of our own ideologies and relied on the labour party as a vehicle of last political resort.It has gone,what is left is a soup of opportunism and a few good comrades swimming about in the vain hope that something will turn up.The left is not weak,merely factionalised. We need to talk together,with the Greens,the single issue campaigns,the unaligned,the trade unionists who are fed up with propping up a discredited political agenda.We need to take stock of our collective resources and the direction of our future campaigns and aspirations.All my life I've heard people talk about the re-alignment of the left(when they weren't talking about the forward march of labour halted)The crisis in capitalism is breeding reaction at a faster rate than ever-we need to start organising like our very lives depended on it. Sorry for the doom laden language but it seems to me we have opportunities like never before.I favour a county wide activists day to bring together the strands of argument and a strategy.Not quite the founding of the fifth international but maybe the Northamptonshire Unity of the Left movement.

    John Dickie

  5. The debate is also taking place nationally in the context of the possible formation of a new political party of the Left. See: http://www.independentsocialistnetwork.org/?p=2118

  6. There is already a mulitiplicity of lefy unity groups, unfortunately populated by the usuial suspects. My fear is that there unless there is real activity on the ground these unity groups will just remain nice theoretical concepts, subject to the same process of split and renewal that we have seen in the past.

    The strength of sustained, principled campaigning has again been displayed by the results achieved by SOS in Northampton. It is this sort of activity, local and with a clear trade union link, specifically to activity in workplaces that clearly works. the trade union movmement is goinf through fundamental reorganisation and opportunities are being to open up which will encourgae greater involvement.

    As for the Labour party, there is no future in cooperating with this embarassing bunch. Anyone still involved with this party has either abandoned their principles, is looking for a comfortable poltical career, or is unable to admit that their years of activity has been wasted and can't make that final break. Harsh but true. At best there are in the party because there is no viable alternative. This alternative will only come about through sustained local activity which then works together nationally. We can then consign the Labour Party to history, wher it belongs.

    Craig Plowman

  7. You are invite to an informal discussion/debate on the results of the recent local and national county council election. What lessons do they hold for the Left locally in Northamptonshire and nationally? What are the implications of the rise of UKIP?

    When: This coming Saturday (May 25th) at 3.00 pm
    Where: Jimmies End (St. James) Community Centre, St. James Square, Northampton

    All Welcome!

    This meeting is jointly sponsored by Save Our Services Northampton and Independent Socialists in Wellingborough.