I have given up the Labour Party, and not just for Lent. I am even now savouring the sweet air of pure socialism without the foul insidious stench of neoliberalist corruption. I gave up before, around 1997 if my memory serves me correctly, but I was seduced back into the habit a few years ago by visions of future paradise.
When Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader, like so many others, I thought that the party of Keir Hardie, Nye Bevan and Tony Benn might return. It has not. I looked at the thousands of new members, most of them idealistic and keen to make a difference, to build a new equal, caring society and drastically curb the excesses of the global capitalists. I, like them, retain my ideals, but I despair at the extent of the corrupt influence at the heart of the party. At local and regional level far too many positions are filled by petty despots, self-serving egotists and outright bullies. The PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) and the top echelons of party management have fixed meetings, trampled on the rules and expelled thousands of innocent members in order to gerrymander elections so they can overturn the democratic will of the membership. These people call themselves “Labour” and even “Socialist” yet they take money from bankers and global corporations and they connive with Murdoch, Harmsworth and the rest of the Tory media to attack their own comrades. They deliberately drive the party down in the polls and even lose elections to provide themselves with the ammunition to grab back control of the Party.
I believed this could be fought and that right could prevail. I now accept that is wrong. There is quite simply too much money involved. Despite the equalising effect of the Internet and new media, the influence of the traditional media conglomerates, especially now they have the BBC in their pockets, remains just too strong. Once again the ideals and enthusiasm of the members who remain will be cynically harnessed to propel a few carefully selected individuals up to the rich man’s table on the promise that once there they will, for a while, sweep a few more crumbs off so that we can pretend we are doing better. To the capitalists it is worth any amount of money to produce an opposition which will almost certainly continue to lose, but where even if it does win, so do they. It is only because there may have been for a while a real chance of Jeremy Corbyn winning on a genuinely socialist platform that the attacks on him were, and continue to be, so vicious.
For a while I thought that the answer would be a split, with, hopefully, an SDP (Social Democratic Party) mark 2 heading off into well deserved oblivion. If the left were actually to retain the name and assets of “The Labour Party” then I would expect enough of the others to remain “fighting to save the party they love for neoliberalism” for there to have been no real progress. Only if the left were to break away under a new name and without all the baggage of the existing party could there be a real opportunity to build a proper socialist alternative. It would take time but it might just slip under the radar and surprise everybody. This, however, is not a popular idea. The ties of history are difficult to break, even, or especially, when they have become shackles. If such a new party were to come into existence, or even if it were to coalesce around the existing Green nucleus, I might reconsider my position.
The relationship with Trade Unions would also need to be reassessed. I am a great supporter of Trade Unions, and there was certainly a time when a political movement based on them made sense. However, especially when the whole nature of employment is changing rapidly, direct involvement of Trade Unions in politics is not necessarily a good thing. Socialists would always support Trade Unions and the rights of workers, Trade Unionists would, in the main, recognise the benefits of a Socialist government, however solidarity should be based on shared principles and a common cause; it should not depend on a shared management hierarchy. This was brought home to me at the last Labour Conference when a representative of the GMB spoke strongly in favour of the Hinckley C project and the number of jobs it would provide for his members. It is of course perfectly proper of a Trade Union leader to look after the members of the union and encourage projects that provide jobs for them. Politically this is a different matter. I am not ideologically opposed to nuclear power, although it may be that nuclear fission is a technology whose time has been and gone, however spending so much money on one giant project and placing direct control of a large part of our energy infrastructure in the hands of a not especially friendly foreign power in order to provide what will be just about the most expensive electricity in the developed world may not be such a good idea. There would be as many jobs created if the money were invested in renewable energy sources, plus many other benefits, however those jobs would be scattered among many industries and within the purview of a number of Trade Unions, so might not attract such powerful support.
So here I am, stepping out on a somewhat dreich morning, renewed in my socialist beliefs but free of the necessity of support for a fading, possibly moribund but certainly ramshackle structure. There is a part of me that hopes I am wrong, but I fear that is not the case.