Friday, May 05, 2006

Labour leadership: challenge from the Campaign Group

The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs - once an important organisation on the left, but virtually moribund for the last decade - has been spoiling for a leadership contest for some time.

After New Labour’s recent troubles, capped by last night’s performance, it looks like they have finally decided that now is the time. Here’s a press release from the Labour Representation Committee, issued in the name of Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell:

‘Last night's results show the gradual erosion and fragmentation of Labour's electoral base. The Government's support is just draining away at successive elections and splintering to the smaller and even fascist parties. No number of reshuffles will address the crisis of confidence among our supporters in our leadership.

‘Large numbers of hard-working Labour councillors all over the country have paid with the loss of their seats for the New Labour leadership's refusal to listen - a refusal to listen to our supporters, party members, Labour MPs, and our supporters in the trade unions and the public at large.

‘People who marched out to vote for us nearly a decade ago to get rid of the Tories have been turned into a bitter, disillusioned, stay-at-home vote.

‘This vote is not just about recent blunders or scandals or any need for a simple change from Blair to Brown; it is about New Labour's overall political direction and performance …

‘Voters stay at home, party members resign or give up working for us, CLPs have become hollowed out shells with the result that small cliques around Blair & Brown vie for power and position. Decision making is centralised, with policies handed down from on-high that bear no relation to the problems of the real world with which our supporters have to contend.

‘These results demand that we launch a serious challenge for Labour's future - a challenge to transform the structures of the party, to change our policies, and to change the leadership.

‘The LRC conference meets in July, at which we will be recommending that a decision is taken in principle to mount this challenge. We will be working with affiliated organisations, trade unions and members throughout the party to formulate this challenge on policies, on restoring democratic control of the party to its members, and on the change in leadership needed.’

Any challenge will only be a gesture, of course. The Labour succession is already tightly stitched up. But it is a gesture that needs to be made.

Its positive consequences will include a reopening – inevitably partial and temporary, but still a reopening – of political debate within the Labour Party and the wider labour movement.

In that debate, democratic socialism will be one of the options under active discussion. That can only be to the good.

New Labour spin doctors will, as of today, start talking down the chances of any leftwing stalking horse candidate. He or she will get a derisory single figure percentage vote, they will argue.

I’m not so sure. As I’ve pointed out previously, there are growing signs of discontent among ordinary party members and trade unionists. After last's nights drubbing, they can only get more noticeable.

Here’s a prediction. The size of the vote the Labour left secures will surprise many. It may even top 20%. Peter Mandelson might want to believe 'we are all Thatcherites now'. Some of us still ain't, and never will be.

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