What the left thinks of Ed

Jim Gilbert rounds up the response of the left to Labour's new leader

Although the election of Ed Miliband as Labour Party leader was not what most of its MPs or indeed much of its membership wanted, some have welcomed him as the least worst option (ie, he is not his brother). This attitude is typical of the reformist approach to politics. But when it comes to the purportedly revolutionary, dare we say Marxist, left, is what it is saying helping to take us forward?

The largest left group, the Socialist Workers Party, has Tom Walker in Socialist Worker reporting from the Manchester conference: “while the Blairites were holding back the tears, those with some connection to the left and the workers’ movement were chuffed to bits.”[1] In the same issue, Socialist Worker editor, Charlie Kimber, writes: “Ed Miliband’s victory can open a gap for the left that would not have been there if David had won. It can be used to involve more layers of the Labour Party in action against the cuts, and is another avenue to bring pressure to bear on Labour to fight ... Miliband’s victory is an echo of a growing mood. People don’t want more of the politics of Blair that proved so disastrous.” In a rather blinkered manner, comrade Kimber insists that “the real battles will be fought outside Labour.” As if the Labour Party can be written off as a site of struggle and has no connection with the trade unions. Strikes and demonstrations are important. But so are the historically established institutions of the working class. Nevertheless, comrade Kimber insists that: “Everyone should demand that Ed Miliband supports the resistance.”[2]

In the current issue of The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, a leading article fights the good fight, trying to confirm its dogma that Labour is no longer a bourgeois workers’ party, merely a bourgeois one: “... an examination of the figures shows that this is far from a ringing endorsement amongst ordinary trade unionists for the ‘new’ Labour leader or the party. Nor does it vindicate the union leaders’ insistence that they must remain affiliated to the Labour Party because trade union members still look towards this party.” The paper goes on to argue that because trade union leaders could only turn out a paltry vote (8.7% of affiliated trade union members), their argument to stay affiliated is defeated. More bizarrely, trying very hard to find the SPEW constituency in this election, the article asserts, “Added to this were the 15% spoiled ballots in the union section. This cannot be explained away by confusion over voting procedure. It indicates most probably a conscious decision by a significant layer to spoil their ballots because none of the candidates reflected their urge for radical socialist policies to meet the challenge of the current devastating economic crisis.”[3] Well, no, actually, these were invalid, not ‘spoiled’, ballots; if these voters had wanted to spoil their ballots they would have defaced them in some way. In fact, these voters “did not tick a box to confirm that they support the Labour party and not another political party,” as instructed on the ballot itself, according to a Labour spokesperson. SPEW is straining at the gnat on this one.

Giving up before even starting, The Socialist leading article claims that, “Nothing better illustrates the thorough rightward transformation of the Labour Party than the phobia of the right wing press and Blairite MPs that the party, which was founded by the trade unions, could now be ‘controlled’ by them. If only this were the case! Then ordinary working-class people and trade unionists would have a possible route to enter and transform the Labour Party.” An interpretation of this is that SPEW could only countenance workers entering and transforming the Labour Party if the trade union bureaucracy controlled it. However, The Socialist discloses some of SPEW’s abiding illusions in old Labour (ie, when Militant was wedded to the Labour Party body and soul). The paper wines, “It is fatal to cling to the hope that New Labour, because that is what the party is, despite the blandishments of Miliband, is not still a Blairite pro-capitalist party in its policy, in the social composition of its members and how it is likely to act in this crisis.” So was the Labour Party of Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan anti-capitalist? Are the trade unions now bourgeois?

Finally, the clarion call: “Therefore the conclusion that all socialists and active trade unionists should draw is that this is no time to foster illusions in New Labour or that there will be a ‘change’ in its programme and actions in the next period. On the contrary, this leadership election has highlighted once more the absolute necessity to fight the Con-Dem government, not just on the industrial and social planes, but also the need to provide a clear political alternative. The basis for a new mass workers’ party, the only hope for the millions who fear the cuts about to destroy them and their families, must be created now.” A Labour Party mark two, some hope!

Socialist Appeal represents the Ted Grant group that remained in the Labour Party when the rest of Militant departed, splitting itself into SPEW and the main component of what became the Scottish Socialist Party. It is the main part of the International Marxist Tendency. SA’s editorial board recently stated that, “In the 1970s, it was the rank and file who were to the left of the trade unions ... It was the Marxists who ... understood that the key to the Labour Party would be the trade unions. Today, the union membership is far closer to the workers than Labour’s ranks, which have been depleted over the years. The unions remain the key to developments in the party.”[4] Unfortunately, it also gets it wrong about the invalid ballots: “It was also reported that more than 36,000 ballots were spoiled by members of affiliated organisations, including the trade unions - 15% of the total. This indicates dissatisfaction with all the candidates and policies on offer.”

In an assessment shared even by some in CPGB ranks, the SA statement also thought that, “While there was little fundamental difference between the five candidates, the fact that Ed Miliband felt the need to appeal to the union membership shows how he could bend under the pressure of events” (emphasis added). Some of us would certainly beg to differ with respect to Diane Abbott’s candidacy, but that can be dealt with elsewhere. Ed Miliband’s relationship with the union bureaucracy is a mutually beneficially one, for the present, and SA is correct to stress it.

You might think that more than a week after a new leader had been elected the left groups inside the party would have got their act together and given us all some insightful commentary about him and what to expect. You would be disappointed. A blog on the Labour Representation Committee website is the only item I could see dealing with Labour’s new leader. Michael Chewter asks, “Where does the election of Ed Miliband as the new leader of the Labour Party leave the Labour left? What should be our strategy now?”[5] In response, Marie Lynam comments, “... we are electing leaders a bit like the Palestinians elect theirs, in a the middle of an occupation. The invasion and the occupation of the media and the banks. Imagine! The new leader of the Labour Party is what we could get, in the circumstances, a little like the Palestinians got Abbas. Or the Afghans got Karzai. ...”

Somewhat complacently, comrade Lynam argues that “the Labour left is not in a worse situation than before. It is slightly better off for having got rid of the Blair-Mandelson clique, though this is not final, by any means. The Labour left is not determined, not entirely determined, by who leads the party. I take it that there have been advances made at the conference of the party, and this is going to help the Labour left. The task of the Labour left, and the LRC, is to continue to organise itself.” A suggestion of sectarianism here, as the left in the Labour Party is certainly more than that organised by the LRC. But at least the LRC website contains something about the new leader: the website of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy[6] has not even been updated since September 4. Even worse is the Socialist Campaign Group website[7], which is stuck in a time warp: October 2008. Labour Briefing’s website[8] currently only has Christine Shawcroft’s musings - before the ballot result - about what she hoped was not about to happen: “David Miliband ... I’m really hoping he isn’t being acclaimed as leader while you’re reading this - I have my fingers, toes, legs, eyes and everything else crossed ...”

As might be expected, given a hankering for the good old days of complementing the Labour Party in ‘official communist’ fashion, the Morning Star has delivered some verdicts on Ed Miliband. The day after he was elected, a leading article lectured: “the new leader must recognise that his chances of becoming prime minister depend less on mollifying Labour MPs and more on reaching out to the working people and their trade union representatives who were let down and taken for granted by New Labour.”[9] So what does the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain recommend? General secretary Robert Griffiths calls for a “shadow cabinet which will support social democratic policies”.

Meanwhile over at Respect, Salma Yaqoob’s article on Ed’s election[10] ignored any possibility that Labour could be the site of struggle for working class partisans. She simply does not deal with how the fightback against cuts or to advance socialist ideas might be achieved together with Labour Party comrades, contenting herself merely with a description of the leadership election. “Ed Miliband received the votes of tens of thousands of people because they believed, or hoped, that he would put up a fight against Tory cuts. Instead, his first statements as leader are designed to lower expectations, not raise them ... The good news is that Labour has not moved even further in the direction of the Tories. The bad news is that Ed Miliband has used his first minutes as Labour leader to reassure his opponents that he won’t hit them too hard.”

A statement from Socialist Resistance (“part of the Fourth International”) puts a little gloss on Ed’s victory at first: “The positive outcome of the Labour leadership contest is that the new leader is not David Miliband, and the privatising, war supporting Blairites have been rejected. We should not underestimate the discarding of Blairism and New Labour by important sections of the labour movement.”[11] And it went on to say that, “Whatever else the leadership campaign showed, it represented a small shift to the left in the Labour movement and in society at large and showed that public opinion is moving against the savage Tory plans to reduce the deficit.”

Less enthusiastically, though, it noted that “in his first few days as leader Ed Miliband has shown himself, on the decisive issue of this parliament, to be only marginally different to his right-wing brother ... Miliband may be just an opportunist, or too weak to challenge the pro-market and anti-public service establishment consensus ... We can be sure that there will be a big media campaign to keep Ed within the bounds of the establishment consensus, while arguing that if the Labour movement ‘rocks the boat’ Labour will becomes unelectable.”

All quite lamentable, really. With few exception the left does not treat the Labour Party seriously. Even when it does the horizons are extraordinarily low. Instead of communism there is social democracy, instead of working class rule there is improving the lot of wage slaves. One thing has been good though. The revolutionary left seems to have drawn the line of demarcation against the four ex-minister, Ed Miliband included, and opted for Diane Abbott as the only supportable candidate. They did not urge a second reference vote for ‘Red Ed’.


  1. ‘Labour right mourns after Ed Miliband’s victory’ Socialist Worker October 2 2010 www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=22549
  2. ‘Blairism rejected in Labour leadership vote’ Socialist Worker October 2 2010 www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=22549
  3. ‘No “lurch to the left” for Labour’ The Socialist issue 640 www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/10321/29-09-2010/no-lurch-to-the-left-for-labour
  4. In Defence of Marxism at www.marxist.com/britain-ed-miliband-wins-labour-leadership-contest.htm
  5. l-r-c.org.uk/blog/post/the-new-labour-party-leader/
  6. home.freeuk.net/clpd/
  7. www.poptel.org.uk/scgn/
  8. www.labourbriefing.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=88:christine-shawcroft-october-2010&catid=44:christine-shawcroft&Itemid=61
  9. ‘An important step towards social justice’ Morning Star September 26 2010 www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/95716
  10. ‘It’s not David’ www.therespectparty.net/articles.php?item=912
  11. www.socialistresistance.org/1071/ed-miliband-rolling-over-on-cuts-already