Taking Labour seriously

The Labour Representation Committee has just published a list of Labour candidates that it will be actively supporting in the coming general election. It is a starting point, argues Ben Lewis

The Labour Representation Committee’s January 13 press release on the general election highlights the weak position the Labour left currently finds itself in. This in turn reflects a more general malaise on the left as a whole.

Underlining the cross-party cuts consensus, the LRC is looking instead to back “Labour candidates who have stood up for socialist politics”. It argues for “maximum socialist representation” in the new parliament against a background of another “Labour government”. Quite correctly, the LRC is concentrating its forces by actively picking out and backing candidates standing for left politics, no matter how vague or inadequate.

A mere 23 in total, and the LRC was obviously stretching things to recommend a vote for even this small number. Indeed, to describe ex-cabinet minister Michael Meacher, who voted for the Iraq war, as “standing up for socialist politics” is enough to make many in and around the LRC cringe. The rather vaguely worded criteria for support seem to confirm this attempt to bend over backwards to include as many candidates as possible - the list includes all “who are (or would become) members of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs” and “those who backed (or would have backed) John McDonnell’s leadership bid in 2007”.

However, we welcome the list’s publication as a starting point when deciding which Labour candidates should be given support. Not that we should simply take a passive approach. We urge voters to get in contact with the candidates and question them about their policies. We are recommending a two-pronged approach:

1. Given the proposed ‘slash and burn’ attacks on the public sector, will you oppose all cuts in services?

2.What about the British occupying forces in Afghanistan? Will you call for their immediate and unconditional withdrawal?

We argue for such an approach because, even in its current state - precisely in its current state - it is imperative that Marxists take the Labour left seriously. This means seeking out and actively engaging with these forces. Too often the far left ignores or belittles the significance of the Labour Party and the place it still occupies in the minds of large numbers of class-conscious workers in this country.

In the Socialist Alliance 2001 general election campaign, for example, our proposals for a proactive approach and united front tactics in relation to Labour left candidates were often met either with cries of derision or outrage (sometimes both). We suggested contacting Labour candidates and offering to stand down in those constituencies where the alliance was also contesting if they would come out in favour of the SA ‘priority pledges’. Diane Abbott, for one, willingly did so, but the SA issued no statement supporting her (there was thankfully no SA candidate put up against her).

That she could publicly declare her support for left policies, and that we could vote for her, was a vindication of the sort of tactics our movement needs if it is to overcome the strategic problem of Labourism in the struggle for a Communist Party. This is something that could not be achieved by the drab and uninspiring auto-Labourism (‘Vote Labour, but …’) prevalent on the far left before the days of Tony Blair. Nor can it be achieved by the flip-side of this perspective: the auto-anti-Labourism that decrees Labour’s death and then seeks to create - wait for it - a new Labour Party to replace it!

At the 2005 general election, when the movement against the Iraqi occupation was still a key issue in British politics, we in the CPGB called for a vote for all Labour candidates who would openly declare for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of imperialist troops. We were genuinely shocked to find that just four were prepared to do so (see Weekly Worker April 28 2005).

We must utilise a wide range of tactics and interventions to open up the gulf between left and right in the Labour Party. In the coming period, every voice in parliament against swingeing cuts and the continued barbaric occupation of Afghanistan can only help to strengthen our movement. Using the LRC list as a starting point, we would urge our readers and supporters to contact Labour candidates and report back to the Weekly Worker.

The LRC’s recommended candidates are:

Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington), Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), Martin Caton (Gower), Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), David Drew (Stroud), Sarah Evans (North West Hampshire), Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Paul Flynn (Newport West), Nia Griffith (Llanelli), David Hamilton (Midlothian), Gary Heather (Tunbridge Wells), David Heyes (Ashton-under-Lyne), Kevin Hind (Bury St Edmunds), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington), Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton), Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby), Gordon Prentice (Pendle), Linda Riordan (Halifax), Lee Skevington (Yeovil), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Mike Wood (Batley and Spen)