Monday, November 13, 2006

No Enemies on the Left?

Robin Cook used to refer to the divide in politics as being between 'cosmopolitans' and 'chauvanists'. To (mis)appropriate that idea, there are plenty of cosmopolitan lefties - people with a strong commitment to social justice, involved in a range of single-issue campaigns, willing to work with others who share their values without denouncing them for real or imaginary betrayals. I've met people like that amongst Trotskyists, Greens, Lib Dems and most of all in the Labour Party. Then there are the chauvanists, the humourless dogmatists with their doctrinal disputes, the pious holier-than-thous who attack Labour for having betrayed left-wing principles and then throw themselves into campaigning against new affordable homes if they would be built anywhere near them, the people who are full of complaints but never to be found when help is needed in building a campaign, and the people on both sides of the Labour Party who want to re-enact the internal fights of twenty five years ago.

This post is inspired by Antonia's report of the John McDonnell meeting in Oxford. I'd signed up for live text message coverage from Antonia of the event, and was particularly struck by what she said about "how the Labour left is accused of being disloyal, of collaborating with entryists and co-operating with those outside the party".

John McDonnell's campaign has decided not just to focus on people who are currently members of the Labour Party, but also lefties who are not currently members but who the campaign hopes to enthuse to join up. This seems like a perfectly sensible strategy to me, because especially while Labour is in government there will be quite a number of people who share Labour's aims and values, would be an asset to the Labour Party and would enjoy getting involved, but who are currently members of the Greens, Respect, the Lib Dems or not a member of any political party at all, the leftie cosmopolitans.

But the point is not to try to attract the support of any old idiot who is 'on the left'. Opening up the campaign beyond party members does attract people who have no interest in helping Labour, like the clowns from the Socialist Party that Antonia mentions. There is no reason to have people who are present to try to recruit for a different political party present at a John McDonnell meeting.

There are a lot of people who might be receptive to what John is standing for, but who don't think that everything that the government has done is bad and won't support a campaign which just seems interested in listening to people who don't support Labour and who have some other agenda. John himself says that what he wants to see is a Labour Party which draws ideas from the Right, the Centre and the Left of the Labour Party - it's a moderate programme with widespread potential appeal, not exactly the abolition of capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.


At 12:50 am , Anonymous Gregg said...

pious holier-than-thous who attack Labour for having betrayed left-wing principles and then throw themselves into campaigning against new affordable homes if they would be built anywhere near them

Seriously, is there anyone really like that. There are those of us who attack Labur for having betrayed left-wing principles. And there are people who campaign against affordable homes being built anywhere near them. But, I suspect, never the twain shall meet. Surely Labour members who campaign against affordable homes being built near them, are what's left of Blair's base in the party.

At 12:05 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you heard of either the Green Party or the Liberal Democrats?

Try going to see what they're doing on housing in Oxford - a city with a serious social/affordable housing shortage

At 11:09 pm , Blogger Matt Sellwood said...

Ah, let the libel continue. The Labour Party sells off more council housing than Thatcher, makes it near-impossible for councils to keep the housing that they still have, relies entirely on market driven demand solutions for affordability - and its the *other* parties that are to blame for Oxford's housing problem?

Nice spin. Shame it is total and utter cobblers.


At 11:50 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

I wasn't thinking specifically of the Oxford Green Party with the original comment (and Matt is definitely cosmopolitan leftie rather than chauvinist). I think Matt would probably, though, admit that in the Green Party there are some who are less eco-socialist and more conservationist and anti-new housing in their backyard.

The other parties in Oxford haven't caused the housing crisis, they just don't support the policies which would have a realistic chance of easing it in the forseeable future.

I think I'm right (and Matt will correct me if not) in saying that their alternative involves trying to reduce the number of jobs in Oxford and building on the sites earmarked for employment, as part of a critique in which the housing shortage is caused by the obsession with economic growth which is unsustainable. I think the fact that they support 'employment restraint' which would hammer people on low incomes is a major reason why they get lots of votes in North Oxford and fewer than 20 in the most deprived ward in Oxford. But this may be a subject for another day.

I was told once that at one time Green policy involved building a load of new houses in Shipton Quarry and then building a railway station near there, but Alex may have been making that up as an apocryphal example of obviously stupid and impractical ideas.


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