Narrow and brittle, or broad and democratic?

This is a hard thing to write because I generally try to stay away from discussing individual disciplinary matters in the Labour Party. It’s difficult to know for sure what the real circumstances are in such cases, because after everything, details are still selectively leaked and briefed about anonymously. Often the individuals concerned will make a big public complaint about some areas of the concerns raised about them, but leave out important details, or whole areas of the complaint. In some respects, we will never know if the cat is in the box.

That said, we seem to be going through a particularly dark time for natural justice in the party. The most openly Machiavellian voices on the Labour right will simply resort to Lenin-style nonsense about eggs and omelettes to defend this stuff. These are the sort of people who would have looked at the Dreyfus affair and said “you know what, I think this is good for the military”.

Concern about this stuff is entirely justified. The factual gap is an obstacle for sure, but the moral argument for basic principles of justice should not be something which is up for grabs in any political party that supports democracy.

The opportunism that takes place inside our internal culture is really pretty stunning, and it’s amazing it doesn’t end up in much more press attention, or indeed legal challenge.

Factions in the Labour Party will all tell you they are the torch bearers for fairness and democracy, as long as they aren’t in control. The past couple of days have seen the NEC imposing its own members as candidates, and all sorts of anti-democractic chicanery involving disciplinary processes, which we are told are meant to be independent and above board.

Here is the reminder what their mirror characters are like in the upper echelons of the Labour right: the same in a lot of ways, and if anything, far more happy to be brazen about it.

There were many critics of similar (but it has to be said, less blatant) behaviour from the elite of the traditional left under Corbyn. This was justified, but a blind spot now is not. I can forgive where there is willingness to learn, and many members who joined the party during the Corbyn years could have been forgiven that the Corbynites were the only dodgy faction, or the only one that mattered.

The truth is that the Labour left between Militant and the Corbyn years was a lot less like this. For one thing, even with control of the Labour Party, the left still supports democracy and transparency in the party as a matter of principle. As simple evidence of this, look how the least democratic bits of the Labour left ended up tying many of them in knots when they wanted to silence the membership on Brexit.

Part of the reflex towards authoritarianism and stitch-ups in those parts has its roots in Stalinism, but the reason that this kind of politics received any license in the first place was in reaction to the right’s flogging of the same methods during the New Labour years.

Instead of the party ever learning these lessons and a new position emerging from the seemingly endless dialectic of Labour’s intolerant edges, we simply repeat the same cycle of recrimination and counter-recrimination, until it makes us unable to function, or represent a broad slice of the electorate from left to centre.

But the roots of this behaviour, in my opinion, rest with the faction who are usually in charge, and seem inherently much more comfortable with politics being decided by a backroom elite. Small and influential bits of the left are like this, but it sums up the bulk of Labour’s right.

We would all do well to remember this, and for those relatively new to the party, learn it.

This is not us.

The bulk of Labour’s membership is not like this.

Yes, it wants proper wrong’uns out and gaffes minimised. Along with his impressive leadership manifesto (!), that’s part of the reason Starmer is in office, and that his self-proclaimed allies run the NEC.

But our members are heavily motivated by their sense of fairness and justice. They want it done fairly and transparently, and this applies whoever is in charge.

Generally, our members do not believe in ‘ending’ people for minor transgressions, in purges of dissenters, or a vision of a narrow party where people can’t debate or disagree.

The same goes for the trade union movement, which often seems far politically broader than Labour, and is far stronger for it.

Labour seems to be heading for an election win. That’s great, but as someone on the centre left of the party spectrum, it should not leave me feeling so ambivalent and miserable about things.

Frankly, I am now very sick of posh people in suits conducting dick-waving contests and targetting their “opponents” as a means of governance, whilst the rest of us knock on doors and help our austerity-ravaged communities. It’s insulting.

Learning the wrong lessons

I’ve no doubt that MPs make mistakes that are worth an apology, and so forth. In some cases it goes far further (Chris Williamson!), and it’s indisputable by anybody with any understanding of human behaviour and emotions that this person should be expelled.

But the debate is now far bigger than this kind of stuff. When action is deliberately delayed and obfuscated over until members can be denied their choice at a selection meeting, that’s a systematic moral and democratic failing.

When NEC members are directly parachuted by their own colleagues and faction-mates into safe seats, that’s very much the same. When the way to get a seat is without a vote and because of working for the right person in politics, that’s also a problem, albeit a less serious one.

Basically, the political situation is bigger than individual cases.

Faced with a choice between a party that is narrow and brittle, versus one which is broad and pluralist, there is no contest. Faced with a choice between a party that hides behind locked doors, and one which honestly faces the people who pay its subs and deliver its leaflets, there is no contest.

Usually the faction in charge has been responsible for forcing these choices, and at the moment, that’s the Labour right. Their lesson from the Corbyn years has been that they need to be less tolerant of others and less tolerant of arguments for fair due process.

The underlying analysis is that there’s nothing wrong with stitch-ups or performative cruelty, and that adding these elements does not damage the areas of our disciplinary process that are actually proportionate and necessary. Everything is fine.

This is false, and dangerous.

But to the extent that anything ever went wrong (such as the election of Corbyn), everything is everyone else’s fault.

As well as being false and dangerous, this is also boring and shortsighted.

Still… thoughts need applying

Frankly speaking, arguments for intolerance should ring alarm bells about anyone who seeks power. Like the Corbynites before them, the Labour right’s “lessons learned” may well work for personal advantage, but they are exactly the wrong ones for the Labour Party, and in turn, the country.

The directive is “do what we want with our power and positions” and the cost, so long as they keep the media on side, is nil. As members, we need this to change.

So what do we do? In my view, alliances need to be formed against anyone who wants to run the Labour Party as a lawless back yard of their own. But first, there is a question to ask: does this describe you?

The unwitting conspiracy against class

The more I think about it, the whole political spectrum is just totally unwilling to think about things in terms of economic class. Conservatives have spent their entire period in government trying to hide the issue completely, as a way of safeguarding austerity.

The first generation of Tories in government (with Lib Dems supportive and complicit) not only framed their entire programme in management terms (efficiency, necessity, big society), but actively saw things this way.

Both parties knew it was far more damaging to people on low incomes than either were prepared to admit, of course. But there are problems with this.

Seeing class in terms of incomes is significantly more advanced than most discourse in Britain, which frames class as cutural, a mixture of consumer choices (you can’t be working class and buy coffee) and racialised communitarianism (to be working class, one must be white and uncomfortable with diversity).

But even this doesn’t see class in ‘true’ terms, as a set of relationships to economic and political power. By way of example, less well off people being more damaged by austerity happened because lower earners depend more on services, yes. But it also damaged lower earners because it achieved its real purpose, lower public and private spending by enforced wage discipline.

As a side effect, it also gave relative benefit to the capitalist class in this country by forcing people to buy private sector alternatives that the state could provide more cheaply or perhaps even for free – striving for decades for a landlord when you could have had a Council house, paying through the nose for childcare when this would have been partly covered by SureStart, and so forth.

These things don’t just affect people because they are low earning, but specifically because we depend on a wage or salary for a living – a wage that will never allow us to get the capital we need to live independently. This is what class is about – income is only part of that.

When all of this politically failed and further austerity had exhausted public support, the Conservative Party transformed itself fundamentally at one level, purging its ‘moderate’ MPs. In other ways, the change was utterly cosmetic.

The swing from ‘liberal’ conservatism towards a more nationalist orientation functions mainly just to find new ways to ignore class, dividing working class communities along the lines of the 19th century; protectionism versus free trade. Anyone who has read the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist can tell you that whilst there are serious aspects to this for workers, again, making the whole of politics about it simply serves to distract from questions of class, power and distribution.

The so called ‘NatCons’ are keen to make hints about class where it helps to construct a cultural myth of workers as bigots and reactionaries, and will also make minor economic accommodations such as ‘levelling up’, though in practice even this turned into a pork barrelling exercise for Tory MPs in wealthy seats. Which should not surprise us, as about their only working class MP is Lee Anderson, who has been carefully selected from the working class for being its least intellectually advanced member.

The post-Johnson conservative orientation is just another way of not talking about class. As such, it actually has a lot in common with the Tory managerialists and their Lib Dem servants who came before.

And in some ways it’s actually worse. Despite its early rhetoric of Tory Keynsianism and soft protectionism, in praactice this government has played a large role in making sure that our whole economy is screwed, not just our public services.

Its only hope is finding new ways to make identity grievances salient for people who now can’t pay their bills.

Do the liberals offer us anything on class? Of course not.

As I’ve pointed out above, ‘official’ liberalism has been deeply complicit in austerity, and its local base runs from class as soon as building a council flat means felling a tree, or funding social care means swapping out a paving stone.

But there are probably two ‘flanking’ liberalisms that I can also identify, which I’m going to call progressive liberalism and centrist liberalism. They are quite different, so I’ll deal with them separately.

Centrist liberalism is best represented by the trend we might call Blairism, although Blairism had authoritarian instincts at time which I think perhaps make this label difficult. Perhaps a wider idea of New Labour works better.

Nevertheless, you can get an idea of what a centrist liberal looks and sounds like by looking at examples like Martin Kettle, or Ayesha Hazarika. Politically these people are a tiny minority, but one which is capable of winning mass support, on the condition that this support is shallow and precarious. A core part of their behaviour and analysis tends to be about not rocking the boat.

This does not mean they don’t do bad things; rather that they are afraid of challenging ideological consensus (‘common sense’) as they perceive it. They tend to have a conservative view about what that common sense is, and an even more conservative view about any potential for leading or changing it. This makes them excellent at meeting a wide range of people ‘where they are’, but terrible at making any of the shifts in power that political power basically exists for.

Being unwilling to challenge the common sense in a country that has historically been ruled by Conservatives (who also own its media and circles of influence) means that lots of well intentioned working class and middle class people get involved in centrism, but staying in it kind of means an acceptance that changes to normal people’s lives won’t ever be transformative, fundamental, or irreversible.

Staying here tends to be a marker of naivety, opportunism, a massive pay rise since your 20s, or any mixture of the above. Being out of touch with the injustices and wasted potential of the class system is just the burden you have to bear for being in touch with the consensus.

It is of course puzzling that if you’re aware of class injustice and invisibility that you might be happy to leave such a consensus in operation. Nevertheless, the centrist ethic is to put class beyond the bounds of polite conversation. Indeed, many liberal centrists are even reticent to talk about equality, let alone power relationships, preferring instead a kind of vision of social mobility which is apparently possible without any regard to people having an equal starting point or ability to influence politics and economics.

Make it make sense!

The typical result of all of this is that we get something like the Equalities Act – a rather brilliant piece of legislation to tackle discrimination and ‘formal inequality’ on an individual level, which at the same time entered force without its provisions on social and economic background in force, a circumstance that was somehow deemed acceptable to the centre left.

Tackling informal aspects of inequality or building the collective power to fight it (for example via unions, democratic deepening, or workplace democracy) are absent, because we can talk about injustice if it’s about your race or maternity status, but again, class is out.

With our progressive liberals, we get something quite different. Like the liberal centrists they share a commitment to fighting formal equality, but they are also prepared to tackle economic injustice in their theory and analysis.

The progressive liberals are liberals who share an overlap with social democracy in this sense, and also with forms of thought that are developed in the academic left somewhere on the spectrum between left liberalism and anarchism. This means that there are progressive liberals who have sympathy for ideas which might support some kind of revolutionary programme (for example ‘defund the police’).

There are two problems with this way of thinking from a class perspective however. One is that struggles for liberation are again about formal equalities – defund the police springs from the struggle for racial justice against the summary executions carried out by US police. Likewise, this area of the political spectrum pioneers political ideas like trans and non-binary liberation and equality. But what is the class equivalent?

This are of politics is brimming with ideas, some good and some bad, about tackling injustices. And many of those injustices have strong class aspects. But in progressive liberalism, even when the rhetoric is radically ‘left wing’ or anarchist in tone, class will be absent from the discourse and framing of these struggles, and often plays little part in the answers.

The result is that when these ideas make contact with the mainstream, the conservative movement will happily promote them in order to build a culture war and split working class people. You’ll get an invite onto GB news pretty quickly, but will it help you create racial justice?

This brings me onto the second problem. Within the left and the labour movement, this kind of person becomes a mirror off the class reductionists who excuse bigotry or at the softer end seek to ‘back seat’ the politics of formal equality. What’s missing from both of these approaches is actually the intersectionality that ‘progressive liberals’ claim to espouse – recognising that injustice is complex, has a context, is underlaid by material economic injustice, and so forth.

The class reductionists are concentrated around workerist leftism in a wide range of settings; tankies, some Bennnites, some very active trade unionists. These people play the foil to the progressive liberals by also rejecting the importance of intersectionality. They will pass a pro-LGBT motion at their conference, but next week they’ll be at a demo next to a hezbollah flag and have nothing to say about it. If someone in their bits of the movement gets nicked for sexual assault, likewise they will disappear.

People will get excused for an offence against oppressed group X because they ‘have a great record of antiracism and fought the BNP’, in essence saying that they deserve a special pass because they are an important figure in the socialist or labour movements.

So whilst inclusive in theory, in practice this politics foregrounds a vision of class that does not actually care about workers from diverse backgrounds or less powerful groups, the worst version of this being the SWP’s hideous rape apologism, added to its egregious record of platforming and defending antisemites. Coming to a STWC rally near you!

The only parts of politics that are serious about class being fundamental are probably the genuine social democrats and democratic socialists, and the class reductionists. But the class reductionists end up frequently shilling for a politics that makes class unity impossible to establish.

We’re left with a very small number of people who are willing to talk about class and meet the challenge it presents. We have a consensus of class silence that is only ever breached briefly by a small minority, many of whom are inadequates who pit class against diversity and inclusion.

And I haven’t even started on the journalists or the shortcomings of the Labour Party yet.

As such, we’ve produced a national political culture in which class is rarely understood, barely ever platformed, and never acted upon or given leadership.

All of this being said, this only describes the current situation. This is something we can change. Conservatives can be challenged, and given their incoherency, centrist liberals are even more likely to be shown up if they don’t get serious about challenging class injustice. I am sure that it is also possible to take the progressive liberals and the class reductionists and bang their heads together until they mutually accept the importance of each other’s priorities and start to work towards solidarity rather than against it.

From the right all the way to parts of the centre left, and across the opinion forming spectrum, there is an often unwitting conspiracy of silence against class as a valid and important way of seeing the world. In parts of the left, there is a competition between class and personal forms of ‘background’ as to which we should apparently ignore, which itself helps prevent class from getting onto the agenda in more mainstream debate.

At a national (and perhaps Anglosphere) level, I believe that those in consensus against talking about class must lose ground, that this can only happen if it is led from the left. I believe that this demands a left that works towards solidarity and inclusion whatever the reason for a given injustice. This in turn requires much more understanding and empathy than we have within the left itself.

Only then can we get to the point where the left can pressure or persuade those who currently sit outside it.

The irony of this is that within the left itself, it will require ruthless criticism and organisation against those who can’t show their support for these aims.

To get class discussed along with the various protected characteristics, internally we need to keep internally asking ourselves one simple question: “does this build solidarity?”.

Externally, we need to make sure that we raise class wherever we can, and that we make sure it’s about power and the real world – not whether trades can drink lattes. The absence of class in how Conservatives and centrist liberals speak and deal with things has to be highlighted constantly.

The related nature of class with struggles about feminism, racial justice, gender, disability needs emphasising, and when faced with those who wish to keep class off the table, we need to emphasise that these are struggles we unite around, not things that divide us.

Get this done for a few years, and some of these ways of looking at things could actually become popular. If there’s praxis, there can be hope.

Momentum halted?

WARNING: This was written when tired, and is probably confused as hell.

Momentum. Technically a member, though mostly this is in the hope of finding people who overlap with Open Labour and maybe a bit for the debate. I got scared off organisationally by the removal of an innocuous non-violence clause at the start, and dipped my toe personally about a year or so ago. There are plenty of well motivated and clever people and much potential for good in the organisation. There are also some real shits. And where the good and bad are in operation, they are often followed by the ugly, so it’s said.

I do find that one really frustrating aspect of Momentum is a kind of smiley optimism that pretends there are no internal contradictions and no challenges even though that’s the whole joke, and everybody knows. Socialism will win, Jeremy is more popular than ever, we are strong and beloved, yadda yadda. Please keep the curtains closed, comrade.

Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose…
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Open Labour 2020 – my manifesto

It’s extremely difficult to get across political points in a couple of hundred words, and more difficult to do it with any finesse, so this is clunky – my apologies for that.

My manifesto is as below:

In 2019-20 we have become more sustainable, recruited exciting new members, and set the terms. Since becoming co-chair in 2015 and working with all of you since, we have risen from 59 supporters to over 1000 strong. Our platform – left economics and internationalism, an open and cooperative way of doing democracy, and political realism – came to dominate the leadership elections.

Political priorities

  • Support the leadership where we can but criticise where we must; press for Keir’s “10 pledges”
  • Become a bridge to take liberation politics into the mainstream of national opinion
  • Labour’s political culture: boost internal debate, democracy & collaboration
  • Fight for a Brexit policy that ensures green jobs, migrant & human rights; press for global democratic alternatives to globalised capitalism.
  • Ally ourselves with friendly voices in the labour movement & radical left
  • Champion greater clarity and simplicity in our comms, & move on from the framing of ‘soft left’.

Organising priorities 

  • Expand national/regional groups, louder and more organised in CLPs. Build visibility & consistency with a paid organiser.
  • Boost participation from under-represented groups, work with other organisations to develop & profile OL activists
  • Formalise relationships with trade unions
  • Become a debate platform, support the summer school and public discussion groups

Vote Tom Miller #1!

Something to be proud of

All things being fair, today is the day that Open Labour should pass 1000 members. To mark that I’m allowing myself a self-indulgent post.

When people says you don’t exist or don’t matter, you show them that you do, even if this is the hard route. When you can’t rely on financial backing etc, if you have good people that you can rely on, then you come together and build it yourselves.

I’m missing a lot of people who were there from the start of it, and there is still a lot of work to do, to clarify the politics and adapt it to post-2020, and to get more organised in CLPs and trade unions. I hope everyone running for the internal elections gets how those things need to go big, at this point.

But I’m very proud of what OL has become and where it is going.

I’m proud of how it has stuck to its guns.

OL has kept fighting for democratic reform as part of socialist reform. It has stood by left pluralism and the fact that vibrant democracy means diversity and a right to be inclusion and respect. It hasn’t conceded to constant demands to dump its own independence, it hasn’t yielded to centralised top-down leftism and the call to dump open politics, or to demands to shift to Labour right and dump transformative ideas. It has fought for international responses to global capital. It has become nobody’s hobby horse or personal platform, and it follows its membership consistently.

To me, refusal to bend on these things makes us less ‘soft’ or ‘wet’ than most of the other factions, where the arguments change with the winds.

In a lot of ways, our politics has come to heavily influence some of the other traditions. I hope we can make our basic principles inescapable ones.

Most of all with OL, I am proud of some of the excellent people who have joined it on its way! They are all we have – and how fortunate that is for us.

Why is Becky losing, and how can she win?

Many people choose to approach leadership elections by setting down their own preferences and prejudices. I’m as vulnerable to that as anybody else, but I’m lucky to be in a contest where everyone remaining in the race now has some level of overlap with my politics.

I am probably voting for Lisa Nandy but I certainly haven’t made my mind up yet. Whoever I back personally, I’m trying to look at the contest dispassionately, give people a chance, and see objectively what campaigns are doing right or wrong.

Most interesting of all of them is the RLB campaign. It has of course been a very tough few weeks for the Corbynite left, which seems split on how to react to the election defeat (take some of the blame, or try to hand it all over to pro-Europeans who make up most of Labour and Corbyn’s membership base).

This splitting, and the non-viability of the latter position, have not helped Long-Bailey, who wants to make a far more positive proposition for herself than blaming a load of other people for Labour losing. A wise stance.

However, the RLB campaign is weird and seems to not know what has shifted opinion wise, or what it needs to offer members.

People are tired of the aggression in factionalism pretty much foremost, and feel this has contributed heavily towards us losing. This key change in mood seems to be getting completely missed, and there are a few examples.

Firstly online supporters seem to have reflexively gone straight into attack mode against everyone else. This worked in 2016 because there were two candidates and because people hadn’t seen what it would lead to if it became standard. But it’s not working now – RLB needs to win transfers, but some of her supporters are campaigning as if the priority is to push people away. Nobody from top to bottom seems to clock this as a problem, but people are now in much more of a mood to explore where we overlap and what we have in common.

Secondly, the open selections bit seems to be another manifestation of putting factional stuff before how we appear to the country – and I say that as someone who believes it is both good and necessary. It also seems like more of a debate for members than leaders and potentially drags down the candidate again.

It definitely doesn’t look good when tonnes of our seats at the last election were effectively stitched up by Momentum backed parts of the party bureaucracy and many CLPs were deliberately denied a vote.

To many, it doesn’t look like this part of the party is consistently democratic at all. This is the opposite of how people felt in 2015.

It certainly does not look like the traditional left is concerned any longer wish offering a level playing field to all. Even to many Momentum members, it looks like the trad left is only interested in democracy as its own instrument.

Thirdly, the concentration on democratic reform of the Lords is good, but it’s a bit partial and again it’s hard to see how this addresses the question of how we win (though all campaigns are a bit guilty of this).

Last and perhaps more importantly, many members have continued to have a traumatic and torrid experience in the party over recent years, as was also true under the right. Large amounts of this have been due to a highly factionalised admin arrangement which has also been perceived to lack perspective and professionalism, and not just by those outside it, as John McDonnell and Andrew Fisher may agree.

People are very keen to see a break with this. It is assumed that any sensible candidate would do, but as the candidate backed by the establishment faction, Long-Bailey is the only person who can gain voters by agreeing with the need for this and showing how it will work. It hasn’t been addressed at all.

All of the issues I’ve mentioned above have been key points that my part of the party, Open Labour and the broader ‘soft left’, have been diagnosing for some years, usually with a completely ‘deaf ears’ reaction from the traditional left. We have built a small but punchy movement around these ideas, which remains far far smaller than Momentum, which came from Corbyn’s 2015 supporter list and rests on a massive logistical advantage from that time.

The analyses offered by the party right have not really gripped members imagination, by the problem faced but the RLB campaign is that the soft left critique is widely seen by members to be thoroughly evidenced, and to identify the key issues which need to change – even though our actual formation is fairly small.

Starmer, Nandy and Thornberry are all speaking to these concerns and getting heavy feedback from members about them.

On the face of it, given who joined Labour in 2015 and 2016, and the respective levels of organisation, it is puzzling that the RLB campaign is not smashing this election.

It has huge logistical and financial advantages because of the mountain of contact details and general election fundraising cash which Momentum is sitting on. The rules have also been designed around Momentum slate members on the NEC, who managed to out-maneuvre some trade union and elected rep delegates on issues such as timetabling and rules.

But so far the campaign has used these advantages as inefficiently as possible by failing to understand how to get the politics right, and what conclusions our members have drawn about he last few years.

As the general election has shown, sending out armies of thousands of activists and spending loads on adverts does not particularly help if they are all armed with blanks, duds and bad detonators. You just deliver more of the wrong arguments.

The political content of elections matters vastly, and the arrogance of thinking you can simply mobilise your way out of political dead ends (especially without political flexibility or segmentation) is a big part of what got us in a leadership contest in the first place.

This leaves the questions very clear for the RLB campaign, which needs more votes and in particular a greater rate of transfers from other candidates. if they are asked, Becky can still win.

Is the campaign addressing why Labour lost, and is it really credible or popular to try to pin it all on Europe?

What can we do to win, and who has a place in making that happen? What is our potential majority coalition?

What is it that Labour members see as needing to change?

Does this differ between current RLB supporters and those she wants to bring on board, or to transfer to her?

What has been bad for the experience of being a member, or bad for public perception in the last few years?

What do people currently see as the downsides of her candidacy and can she show leadership in neutralising these, as for example Lisa Nandy has over free movement?

RLBs big challenge should be how to make socialism a majority project – answering the tough question that Corbynism lacked the self confidence to take on.

But it could only win an argument for this with considerably more of Labour’s own membership comfortably on board. So far the camapaign is behind on this, with neither grassroots or coordinating supporters showing that they ‘get it’.

A good campaign should always employ the advice of a few critics. from the outside, it seems to me that all of the contenders have been serious about doing this so far, apart from the one with the greatest starting advantage. The campaign seems tone deaf and unwilling to make offers outside of its core. Plus ca change! We will see if that turns around.

I bear no ill will and I’m not really writing this to slate anyone. I may be left eating my own words. Christ, I’m used to them being discarded over the last few years anyway.

I hope that some of the above is useful for those supporting Becky in thinking about what they need to do to win trust or admiration from sceptical members, the vast bulk of whom remain some way left of New Labour. You should be looking for support from people like me.

A win for RLB is still very much possible, but it means thinking a lot more deeply and honestly than has been done so far.

Latin America – the need for an open left

On reading a recent Guardian article I was struck by the admission of the former President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, that his friend and ally Evo Morales had been wrong to run for a third term in office, something which stretches the norm in Bolivia.

Lula da Silva

I disagree in principle with term limits for elected people – voters should get who they want to vote for, is how I see it. But that does also rather depend on healthy environments inside political parties, which I suppose is part of the logic for Latin America. There has also been much talk of polling irregularities in Bolivia, hinging on an OAS report. The report itself seems to rest on analysis which points to suspicious outcomes for framework reasons, but is light on actual evidence. At the very least however, the state has failed to provide for the transparency of process necessary to free itself of such allegations.

Together these have provided the pretext to a right wing military coup, which must be condemned without reservation and opposed by anyone with any interest in political activists not being suppressed and murdered.

But this does not mean the left hasn’t fallen into a trap. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of Latin American left approaches since the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua has been the willingness of movements to abide by multi-party democratic elections, which now seems to be a stated policy for the left continent wide, except perhaps in Cuba. This was also a fundamental tenant of Chavismo, and has been a condition to making social reform possible on a massive scale across the whole continent. The issue here is seeing that principle relegated in importance.

It’s healthy to see a pink tide leader, unfairly imprisoned and his own movement deposed undemocratically, still feeling able to articulate himself with a bit of nuance about his own friends. If he is able to do this in the face of the crypto-fascist/evangelical alliance running his country, so can those of us more distant from Latin America’s situation.

There is a big conference about the Latin American left in London today. It will be interesting to see how much talk there is about how the left there can be better at avoiding screwing up. The fascist enemies of the left are still powerful in Latin America and are morally responsible for their own acts, but it still doesn’t help the left to step into traps.

Uncritical support is often the most useless kind, and is simply laughed at by most of the people who aren’t already on your side. We need to support socialists worldwide in a way which offers perspective from our own position, and can help to plot a way forward. In short, we have to have a conversation about what makes the left still vulnerable to open social conflict and stops its development as a hegemon in democracies which are overwhelmingly working class and less well off. But sometimes it seems that as an international left we do make this as hard for ourselves as possible.

For me the obvious barrier is an inability to take stock and re-assess. This has had particular negative implications in parts of Latin America for both the constitutional and economic policy of the state, knocking on to real people’s lives and choices.

Like in much of the world, the Latin American left is often affected by a closed style of political culture that’s all about blankly support this or oppose that. There is too scant attention paid to the debates that actually need to be had on policy or strategy, and minimal confidence in activists and voters to lead and participate from below.

There is a need for ‘socialist democracy’ within any serious left movement globally. I guess the point I am trying to make is that this quickly degrades unless structures and cultures are aligned to encourage ‘open politics’ as a part of this; otherwise we are all cogs but no oil.

Populism is not necessarily bad, but the particular problems of centralism, bureaucracy and ‘big personality’ are now a worldwide issue in socialist political culture. They stop our movements adapting before they break, limit participation, and make us narrow. They have got to be challenged and overcome, and to do that, we need to recognise them as political in nature. There will be no renewal for the Latin left without this – something the rest of us can also learn from.

We need to be clear that normal people are as capable of being able ‘intellectuals’ and leaders as power brokers or academics or politicians. That’s what the left needs to be about.

On the hitting of children

I’m not a parent, but I was once a child, as I understand quite a lot of us are at some point. Some parents will have a different point of view on this, which I respect. But I’m entitled to mine.

The banning of smacking is something I can’t help but support. People think a lot about kids as being ‘theirs’, but the truth is that kids, like the rest of us, are people who belong to themselves. sure, often they don’t understand the world they are in or the consequences of their actions. But in my view, hitting them teaches fear of the parent, and still does not educate them.

Pretty much the only reasonable excuse for even controlled violence is the defence of yourself, or another person.

There’s no clear legal line between what kinds of violence are ‘reasonable’ or not, and what seems reasonable to a parent often ends up completely crossing the line. Sometimes again and again. And who can a child speak to about that? How can they deal with it themselves? Can you really move beyond it, even in adulthood?

Abuse rarely starts with abuse and this is the gateway drug for people who can’t control themselves. Parents need to be able to use other methods to control their kids, and sometimes, to come to peace with the idea that kids can’t be controlled.

That’s better than letting the law be set up in a way that allows children to be hurt – physically or psychologically. Let’s end the acceptability of corporal punishment in our homes.

After the party

I’ve seen quite a few friends (and opponents) leaving the party over the last day or so, generally people who have a more anti-Corbyn or party right perspective than me. On a personal level, it’s really sad to see.

Their legit complaints about anti-Semitism, majoritarian bullying and so forth should have been listened to long ago.

I don’t want anyone to leave, and I think us having developed a traditionalist left which can’t tolerate any level of success for any other part of the Party, but which also effectively has a power monopoly going forward, has made that very difficult.

But why be selective? I also want people from a broadly ‘Blairite’ perspective to have a clear understanding that they’ve also contributed to getting us here.

Their politics are a form of Labour and deserve some sort of future. However, the folks at Progress alongside their journo and PLP allies gambled very hard and lost. They lost because they mischaracterised the left as invalid, badly organised, and with some irony, as without any social weight. They also lost because they overrated their own public appeal and lacked humbleness.

They had gambled over allowing random members of the public to vote for our leaders, and over the 2016 leadership election – a terrible play which dragged other parts of the party in even if they thought it was a crap idea. And it was.

If ‘third way politics’ had its day again in public opinion, they still couldn’t get it through the Labour Party firstly because it is now effectively locked, and secondly because there is no bridge between their politics and the rest of social democracy. I can understand why they feel there’s not really any hope here for what they believe. It’s like when they lost, all avenues to ever winning again were shut down.

I don’t want the same sort of party that Blairites do, straight up. I identify more with the policies of the left, and I am more happy with a member and union led party even when I disagree with fellow members.

But it’s sad to see many of these people leaving, because these people have dedicated big parts of their lives to the party and lost any connection to it, because some bits of sense they have talked have been ignored, and because we do need Nuneaton et al to vote for any type of Labour Party, whoever leads it.

Most powerful of all the factors from my point of view is the knowledge that people like me have absolutely no power or influence to fix this. Unless you are an insider who comes from a Momentum or trad left perspective, you’re in a minority that can’t nudge anyone to listen to you. Like Progress, I also can’t make it politically necessary for anyone to give a shit what I think as a member, because I don’t have 70,000 people on a factional mailing list.

Given that much of the Momentum left is emotionally motivated by blindly returning the trauma and caprice all of us from the broad left felt in the Blair years, and that nobody *has* to listen to people from different factions any more, all I can really do is hope that some of those members who do still matter are big enough to rise above the cycle, and listen just for a moment to what I’m saying here. Your voice still counts as a member where mine does not, so please pause for a second. So I guess this feels pathetic as well as sad. How uplifting for us all.

Brexit: voters deserve honesty

The worst line on the Brexit negotiating strategy is one shared by most Tories (including their front bench) and many lexiters.

This is the idea that we can have everything we want whilst accepting nothing our negotiating partners want.

We are in a process with at least two points of view involved, in which we have fewer cards to play because of our smaller economy and its level of dependency on trade and selling services.

1) Like us, the EU will act in their material interests rather than to give us a hand for no reason.

2) This means only mutually acceptable solutions or situations which come close can avoid us (or potentially both parties) ending up worse off.

3) The main difference is the power imbalance, as the EU economy is far larger and more diverse than ours, so we are down on leverage. It is in our interest therefore to lead the negotiation with constructive suggestions. Which means we need a model they may accept. Which probably means the four freedoms, in one form or another. This doesn’t have to mean losing all political influence, as it would potentially mean a new treaty.

If you want to honour the vote and this is not the strategy you prefer, it is better to just say you want out in all ways and will accept the costs imposed to industry as supply lines are broken, or trade becomes uncertain, and employment gaps begin to emerge.

If you want to honour the vote but aren’t happy with big costs and competitive disadvantage to British industry, it is much more honest to say you want out of the EU but will take a realistic economic solution than it is to make one up yourself which we all know is unlikely to succeed.

It’s high time people in Labour were more honest about this. The public get that we face a choice if we go ahead.

Show me an honest man, and I’ll show you a fool...
Show me an honest man, and I’ll show you a fool…

Enough voters are persuadable over soft Brexit models, especially with working examples, and it’s by far more likely to be better for Britain and industrial workers in particular. Like Labour’s struggle with the Thatcherite consensus, we also know that it will be impossible to win people over without making the argument. And if we were being more honest about what’s acceptable to both parties, it’s the argument we would have to make.

If leaving the EU, the ballot paper question, means Turkey or Norway are out as examples, those countries should by all rights be sending MEPs to Brussels. They are self-evidently not EU members and have a purely economic and cultural relationship. The fact this simple point is not made is also because of a vacuum left where Labour should be – at the front.

On a side note, the approach Labour are taking of mandating a government negotiating strategy by statute is a very strange one. It reminds me of the Brown years and the push at the time to simply make climate change and child poverty illegal. Again, we all know that this is not how negotiations work. As a party we are at risk of being seen to piss people about. In my mind at least, always better to just tell a difficult truth.

Right now looking at all of the major political parties I’m reminded of a story about the Cynic philosopher Diogenes. When asked why he was stalking Athens in an agitated fashion, never putting down his lamp despite the abundant sunlight, he replied that he was looking for something perhaps impossible to find: an honest man. Read anyone of note discussing Brexit strategy, and awareness sets in; the disillusion washes over. Soon, the lamp will run out of oil.