Monday, 11 May 2015

Failure of Vision on the British Left:

Political Leadership and moral decline


THE success of the Conservative Party in last week's elections showed up the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the British left in general.  Since the death of the former leader of the British Labour Party Michael Foot, I have been arguing that the Labour Party has for many years been a party that has outlived its mission.  Last week's election result merely confirmed what has been evident for a long time. 

But the failure is not just that of the Labour Party but that of the British left in general, including the trade union movement in this country.  Since the strikes of the miners in the 1980s, the British trade union movement has been industrially a busted flush that has politically looked to the Labour Party to usher in social change.  The unions had no plan or serious strategy of their own other than capturing influence and power through the British Labour Party in government.  That involved them in the rather vulgar prospect of buying political influence through the sponsoring of Members of Parliament.  In the eyes of some of their members this has been a case of throwing good money after bad. 

Last November, at the building worker's Rank and File Conference, I watched closely as one such Scottish Labour MP, Ian Davidson, performed as a honoured guest of the building workers.  Mr. Davidson was then introduced as the M.P. for Glasgow West, and it was he who performed so well when he recently he chaired the Scottish Affairs Select Committee enquiry into blacklisting in the British building trade:  see the books 'Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business & Union Activists' by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (price £9.99), and Tameside Trade Union Council's 'Boys on the Blacklist' by me and Derek Pattison (price £3).  In his speech to the building workers Mr. Davidson was careful not to offend the trade unions, some of whose paid officials disgracefully may well have been involved historically both in the enforcement, and supply of intelligence about blacklisting in the construction industry.  Last week after the elections, Ian Davidson was calling on Jim Murphy, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, to stand down, as he and almost all of the other Scottish Labour M.Ps had lost their seats to the Scottish Nationalists.  Unlike Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, Jim Murphy who performed worse than either is, at the time of writing this, determined to to stay in office. 

Surely it is more than a failure of leadership that has brought about the decline in the fortunes of the Labour Party, and in some respects the labour movement.  It is a systemic failure that is rooted in an underlying lack of imagination and political vision that is common, not just in the trade unions, but on the left in general.   The British left, including the anarchists, seem to fear of self criticism.  On the eve of the election Russell Brand called on his anti-establishment constituency to vote Labour but to no avail.   

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times last Saturday wrote:

'Elections are decided by fundamentals that take shape years in advance.  The five-week flurry of campaigning at the end might actually be the least significant phase of a parliament.....  But the best campaigners understand that campaigns do not change very much:  they merely uncover what already lurks inchoately in the mind and breast of the electorate.  On that score Labour lost the election long ago.' 

I can remember at the Manchester Labour Party Conference in 2010, when Ed Miliband was anointed as leader of the Labour Party.   At that time it was seen by some, particularly in unions like Unite, as a victory for the left.  It now looks like another dose of what George Elliot in 'Felix Holt: Radical' called 'vain expectations' from which the British left periodically suffer.  As Labour faces another leadership election Janan Ganesh warns:

'Whoever they choose (as leader), there has to be the all-out argument that was dodged in 2010, when the party entered a stupor of mutual reassurance and wishful thinking.'

It is doubtful if either the the Labour Party members or their trade union paymasters understand what is required here.  Unfortunately, Mr. Ganesh doesn't help his case when he writes:

'The consolation is that it (the Labour Party) can choose a  new leader from a promising field.  Andy Burnham, from the left, will offer Milibandism without Miliband.  The more market friendly flank of the party might assemble behind Liz Kendall or Chucka Umunna, the man the Tories fear most.'


Not much sign of profound vision or any great social transformation for humanity here.

No comments: