Around the web: Labour left portal

Phil Hamilton reviews the website of Tribune

The Labour left is on the move once again after years of long slumber. The election of leftwing activists to the leadership of key trade unions and the mass opposition to Blair’s warmongering has provided it with some much needed backbone. Over the coming weeks, this column will be looking at websites of a number of opposition groups and journals.

We begin our cyberspace journey around the Labour left with Tribune, a veritable stalwart of “democratic socialism” since being set up by Victor Gollancz (of Left Book Club fame) and a few close comrades in the late 30s. Today the journal remains one of the main clearing-houses of left Labour activists, and its pages are regularly graced by prominent personalities.

Logging on to the Tribune homepage, initial impressions of the site aesthetic are mixed. A parade of past magazine covers runs along the top and underneath that the screen splits into two vertical columns. The first has a bright red background and is jam-packed with all manner of links. In contrast, the second is sparsely decorated and rests on a dull grey backdrop. Thankfully this lukewarm impression remains restricted to the surface, as this is a website of many depths.

The grey panel is more Tribune-focused than its companion. Mark Seddon’s editorial comment for the latest issue heads up the column. Clicking on the link takes us to a photo of the comrade and his short commentary on the opposition facing the Blairites. We are also invited to submit our own opinions to Tribune and comrade Seddon directly, and there is a link to an article that covers similar matters by Diane Abbott on the Socialist Campaign Group website. The next five features are similarly adorned.

Continuing down the page, the ‘Tribune online vote’ leads with the ongoing row around homosexuality and the church. It carries an archive of the polls taken so far this year, and these also remain open. So if you feel particularly moved to vote on six-month-old polls, the option remains to do so. Following on is probably the definitive page of British anti-war links, supplemented by the relevant Tribune editorials from the last year. Next up are contact, search engine and comment page details. The latter, however, is not a forum for a general exchange of ideas between participants and is more akin to an edited announcement list, which in the context of this site is not necessarily a bad thing.

An archive of Tribune from 1998 to the present is patchy in places, as a good number of issues have been only partially uploaded, this being especially true of older editions. However, the comrades have to be congratulated for beginning work on an ambitious library of articles running from 1937-75. I hope the time (and the web space) is found to get all issues online. Moving on, the next item is a three-year archive of book reviews, followed by a collection of contributions to Tribune-sponsored conferences over the period 1999-2001. A link to live parliamentary webcasts is a nice touch, and a shameless plug for a Tribune-branded bag completes this column.

A special mention must be made of the ‘British’ and ‘International’ links pages. The former links to hundreds of websites, covering Constituency Labour Parties, elected members, campaigning sites, Labour affiliates, unions, etc. The international links are not as broad in scope, bringing together several dozen social democratic, green and campaigning websites.

Turning now to the first panel, it is broken up into 3 separate sub-sections. The first, ‘Subscribe to Tribune carries a subscription form in pdf, an ‘ezine’ page (under construction and open only to subscribers) and the option to sign up to the journal’s email list. ‘Latest links’ is self-explanatory, but worth exploring in its own right. For instance the Orwell centenary is marked here with half a dozen dedicated links. Lastly the column is finished off with business information, such as advertising rates, stockists and the like.

As a portal to the cyberspaces of the Labour left, this website is excellent. As a vehicle for Tribune, however, there is room for improvement. Understandably the archives are still under construction and will no doubt remain so for many years, but what is most visibly lacking is a dedicated introduction and history of the magazine. Perhaps a search through the Tribune archives would yield up the relevant information, but this is no substitute. The Labour Party remains a key area of struggle despite the Blairites, and unfortunately the case to back up this assertion is not clearly made here.