“The Left has lost its way” many ‘social democrats’ might say, lost its way to the ‘hard left’. So, what is the way forward for the Labour Party and the movement as a whole? It needs a culture, and we need to build it.
Many feel the MPs, more so the so called ‘social democrats’, are the ones holding back the Labour Party. The likes of Tom Watson and a few other MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) are. However, we have to build a movement despite what they do, the Labour Party is transforming and we must ensure that it continues to do so.
Jeremy Corbyn’s victory as leader was only possible in 2015 due to timing, and well-placed experienced members from the parties old left. The likes on Jon Lansman, John McDonnell and Diane Abbot and some of the old left that lingered in the unions. We need to establish a bigger base for the future.
The PLP have significant influence and are, sometimes, a pain in the ass. Which is why we should have Open selections, to encourage more working-class and minority candidates, these people are essential to help the Corbyn project move forward. We should also remember that an educated movement is a powerful movement. These new candidates will need support, campaigners, communications officers, aides and much more. We cannot rely on the Labour machine to deliver: we must build this movement ourselves. This starts by building a party consciousness. A common endeavour. A movement that is in-tune and never out of step.
Something that has never taken off fully in the UK is summer camps for children, when I was a child I went to something called Children’s University. In my local school hall I trained to be a clown for four weeks and I also made a stop-motion video to a Robbie Williams song, whilst this wasn’t overly educational it was memorable and interesting. However, this was one summer, most summers I spent my time falling off a skateboard or wondering why girls were so weird. Now I live in Madrid where the Spanish left is also at each other’s throats, unable to form a government in the aftermath of elections that saw the rise of the far right. Despite these collisions, the left has a real culture in this country. Mass May Day rallies, Communist festivals and a poster culture that at election times makes the Hunger Games look meek. This culture is sustained with political summer camps where people debate and learn. They aren’t only for English learning and science experiments.
Many political parties such as the Communist party, the anti-capitalists, Podemos and socialist groups hold extensive educational and engagement camps, sometimes over whole weekends. These are for anyone interested in the movement. These weekends are normally held on university campuses with cheap accommodation, bars and music. The focus is not only on having a good time, but also getting engaged in political matters. This is something the United Kingdom could learn from Spain, but saying that, this has started with The World Transformed.
This year TWT are going around the country rather than just being a side show at conference. This is good because only a handful of people can go to conference as the cities get booked up quickly. Whilst we may not wish to replicate the Marxist Fest held by the SWP (I personally want to go) we could learn something from them too. (Just not on disciplinary procedures)
Momentum are hitting the right buttons but the Labour Party‘s efforts have been aimed in the wrong direction. Labour Rocks managed to just about dodge a significantly toxic publicity bullet, and Labour Roots, which is an engagement event planned for the rest of this year, is there to engage with the traditional heartlands working-class. That’s if they are still there after Labour turning remain or is it leave? No one is sure.
That is the problem in the party, no one is sure of who we are, there are many different people in the Labour Party that are failing to identify who the ‘core support’ is. The old left workers party or the liberal metropolitan party, or maybe something in between. These groups have different ideological thoughts, ones that need to be shared and rebuilt into something agreeable. Our strength is in these thoughts and the diversity of our party.
Brexit has highlighted an identity crisis in the Labour Party, and we must repair it. We need to explore who we are and where we are going. It’s not enough to crucify someone for not supporting the leader or pretending to understand why they voted leave. All sides of the argument are important, and we don’t need to agree afterwards. Just be able to talk and build a movement.
Culture isn’t just for Toffs
A collective membership is the beginnings of a conscious class, it is a movement that can make changes when in government. However, without a sense of direction and strategy for implementation, Labour will fall at the first hurdle. This will be the real test after getting into government. This is why we need to invest into educational programs with engagement at its heart to help explore ideas, to educate on current and future policies and more importantly to build a left-ish culture.
This is what happened with the Left Book Club in the 1930’s and 40’s, arguably this helped, in a small way, lead to the most successful Labour government ever in 1945. With perfect timing the Left Book Club is back. For as little as 6 pounds you can get a book every other month which forms the basis of many discussions, now everywhere little book clubs are popping up. It is a great way to explore old and new ideas collectively with others. You could even set up a left community sharing library.
Check out the Left book Club here
On the first Acid Corbynism podcast, on Novara Media, they talked about the policy development and how culture has been avoided. All the big boys conversations are around economics these days. The group of economic nerds that hang around John McDonell have shown that the left has the ideas. The most recent evidence of this was in the form of the book the Economics for the Many. Whilst this book is good, it only really engages people who are economically inclined.
Yet, many see the benefit, and need, in producing more cultural policies, and a culture of the left in itself. Neo-liberalism never succeeded because the free market was so successful, it wasn’t, it succeeded in building an ideology around an economic model, the culture of hyper-individualism that we have today. We continue to endure this ideology today even though the light is breaking through the capitalist facade.
Join the club
In Spain, political parties have stalls at local festivals, every neighbourhood has one, and they sell beer and engage with their voters. They also have club houses in nearly every town, which doubles up as a HQ and of course a bar. People of all ages meet here for talks, games, planning, campaigning, book launches and policy discussion. It keeps the movemt going in times of despair. Labour could do with a bar more now than ever.
The old working men’s clubs in the UK were, and remain, the embodiment of the old labour movement. Labour should look to this for inspiration for the future. Labour needs an institutional network to build upon and a space that people can go. A place people can learn, debate, share and organise, oh and of course drink beer. This could be the building blocks of a culture that we already have in modern day Britain. A culture of inclusivity, mutual respect, liberty, democracy and fish and chips. The left should embrace it all just like it has the NHS. Why not revitalise the working men’s clubs? Ok, there may be a few UKIP voters or Brexit Party voters but I’m sure with careful discussion and choice Labour branches and CLP’s could reclaim these spots.
Educational festivals, cultural centres, book clubs and debate can help the Labour left build a cultural hegemony around its economic radical ideas. It will be the beginnings of an ideological shift from neo-liberalism, the world is changing. We must feed the change; we must be the change. Education and the building of a movements’ consciousness would empower members and give them the skills to implement new ideas and change Britain, and the world, for the better. Only then will the left find its way.