Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Following not leading

The Labour Party has always been a coalition of diverse views, even if the range within which those views diverge has changed over times.  Whilst it’s true that many of the intellectuals involved in its founding had a strong commitment to building a very different type of society based on socialism, others were more interested in simply providing representation to a class which was not represented by the existing parliamentary parties: not for nothing was one of the early precursors called the Labour Representation Committee.  The theoretical underpinning ranged from Marxists to Social Democrats, and even if – with the benefit of hindsight – the tensions were always present, they haven’t always been so obvious.  And in the Blair years, it even looked as though one of the various factions had finally won the internal debate.  It was – as she famously claimed at the time – Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement.
Even during the worst of the Blair years, however, it was still the case that most Labour members and their parliamentary representatives had, as some sort of core belief, the idea that they could and should make the lives or ordinary people (they had long since given up on calling them ‘workers’) a little bit better than they would be under the rule of a party dedicated (according to their tribal view of history and politics) to protecting the interests of the elite (they had also given up on calling them capitalists).  ‘Let’s spend a bit more on the NHS’ is a long way from demanding ‘socialism now’, but it was still about putting forward an alternative of sorts, even if it wasn’t as alternative as it could be.
Earlier today, one of Labour’s Shadow Ministers, Barry Gardiner, opposed the holding of any sort of confirmatory vote on any deal on which parliament can agree, on the basis that it makes Labour look like a Remain party.  Whilst it was a Remain party going into the referendum, it is now a party of leave, according to him, because the party “has accepted the result of the referendum”.  In his view, a party which set out to lead people to a better future, to argue for what was in people’s best interests, is now a party which seeks only to follow public opinion – even if to do so is to damage the interests of those they claim to be representing.  It is almost the complete opposite of their starting point.
There are, of course, those in the Labour Party who genuinely believe that Brexit is in the best interests of those ‘ordinary people’.  They are a minority, and I think they’re wrong, but it is an entirely honest and honourable position to argue.  But arguing that the result must be respected and implemented because it was what people voted for, even when it is clear people have been persuaded to vote against their own interests and those of people around them, is a very long way from the principles of the party’s founders.
It turns out that the Marxists remain stronger than many had thought within the modern Labour Party after all.  I mean Groucho rather than Karl, of course, “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well I have others”.

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