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What now? Three Tasks for the left

31st May 2015

What now? Three Tasks for the left

John McDonnell MP lays out a strategy for the left after Labour’s election defeat

THIS IS THE DARKEST HOUR THAT SOCIALISTS IN BRITAIN HAVE FACED since the Attlee government fell in 1951. It isn’t just the scale of the electoral defeat – but the overwhelming incorporation of so much of the Labour Party into the political and economic system that the Labour Party was founded to transform.

That the candidates for the Labour leadership so far have failed to mount the slightest challenge to capital shows the abject state of near surrender of the Labour Party. No core Labour principle is safe in the rush to not only return to Blairism but even go beyond.

Redistribution of wealth through taxation is denounced as “the politics of envy.” Privatisation of the NHS is acceptable as long as it “works.” Caps on welfare benefits and toughening the treatment of migrants are supported because they were “doorstep issues.” The problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t actually work. Instead, it is cripplingly disillusioning and demotivating for our supporters and it also simply means the parties become indistinguishable. Why would anyone shift their vote to an alternative party when it is positioning itself with the same attitudes and the same policies as the incumbent?

For the left both within the Labour Party and without, this is a testing period. However the seriousness of the situation may well force us to be equally serious about how we work together in the future. We are about to face a hurricane of cuts, privatisations and attacks on trade union rights and civil liberties. It is time to get real on the left.

There are three immediate tasks. First, we have to recognise – even more than before – that with a Tory majority government the main forms of effective resistance will be on the streets, in occupations and on picket lines. This is a time for intensive activism. This is not some form of displacement activity from other forms of political engagement, but an essential role that the left, especially the Labour left, must now grasp more enthusiastically and with more determination than ever.

Over the years large sections of the Labour Party have withdrawn from leading and participating in direct action campaigns almost as though it was beneath a potential party of government – but also because some Labour politicians were actually involved in implementing the policies being protested about. Not any more. The Labour left has to be at the heart of the resistance to this government.

Second, the Labour left may not have the resources in Parliament to secure a left candidate on the ballot paper for the Labour leadership election but we do have the intellectual resources to dominate the ideological and policy debate in this leadership election.

Following the economic crash in 2007/8 the left forced onto Labour’s agenda a range of issues that in a piecemeal and contradictory fashion even Ed Miliband had to address. That included issues such as tax justice, privatisation and public ownership, social housing supply and rent controls, trade union rights and media ownership and control.
The Blairites will aim to drop all these issues from the debate except to use them as excuses for the loss of the election. We have to prevent this happening and mobilise to set the agenda in the debates for both the Labour leadership and London mayoral candidate. To assist in this, I have set up a website called Radical Labour, inviting the submission of policy papers and ideas to discuss and to promote in the leadership debate. Participation is open to everyone. Simply go to

Third, the crisis our class now faces means that the left needs to get real and get together. This is no time for sectarian division. Anyone who divides us is aiding and abetting the Tories and other forces of reaction. I do not think the threat of UKIP has gone away.

Prior to the election, because of the potential of a Labour minority government dependent on the left in Parliament, I secured the sponsorship of all the main left Labour groups to convene the Left Platform. We now need to consider what organisational form is best suited to bring together the Labour left to play an effective and meaningful role in the new situation we face – and also what form we can best use to link up with the trade unions, the non-Labour left, and the wide range of vibrant and emerging progressive social movements.

Out of the adversity we face, we also have the opportunity of creating a more dynamic, determined and effective radical left. Be part of it!

John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and of the Labour Representation Committee. This is his contribution to the latest edition of Labour Briefing, the magazine of the LRC.

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