Labour's black sheep

Laurie Smith went canvassing for John McDonnell

Members of the CPGB were out canvassing for John McDonnell in the Hayes and Harlington constituency on Sunday April 25.

After being assigned an area, we were asked to find out whether the residents were voting for John, but not exactly encouraged to engage in discussion. Time is obviously a factor with the election close, but this approach emphasised the Labour left’s quite narrow vision of working class politics.

Our reception on the doorstep was more often positive than not. There were people who knew of McDonnell or had met him personally, and were voting for him because of his political record. We spoke to few outright Conservatives, and perhaps the majority of people were undecided or were not sure if they would vote at all. But the experience did prove that working class people take their vote seriously: many McDonnell voters were doing so despite their antipathy toward Labour nationally, and even those not voting said they were doing so for political reasons rather than laziness or apathy. They argued correctly that no party standing was representing their interests, even partially, and that parliament was undemocratic and corrupt.

Often these people were unaware of their MP’s reputation as a persistent rebel and socialist and could be won to voting for McDonnell. One resident joked that John must be “a bit of a black sheep” in the contemporary Labour Party. Indeed.

The questions of national representation, and genuine democracy at all levels, still remained. And communists should foster no illusions in the failed strategy of Labourism, including the idea of a “real Labour government”, as comrade McDonnell puts it in A people’s agenda, the Labour Representation Committee’s pamphlet. But a socialist voice in a parliament determined to impose cuts in public services can help increase the fighting ability of the working class in the struggles to resist them.