The 1960s hippy political activist Richard Neville, once claimed the advantages of having a Labour Government in power is that it gives the political Left half an inch of space in which it can live and breath. I have always thought there was a certain amount of truth in what he said, for until the day comes when the UK Left becomes a major parliamentary political player in its own right, to a certain extent in the past it has had to rely on the LP to create the political space in which the left can work.
This changed dramatically after the New Labour Government came into office in 1997 and moved from being a party which supported modest social democratic reforms, to become an organization which acts as a vehicle for the implementation of Neo-liberal economic reforms, privatization and Globalization. Up until when Tony Blair became Prime Minister, all of the previous post WW2 Labour governments have inadvertently created the political space in which the left can live and breath. This was especially useful for those leftists who felt unable to work within the LP, as it not only allowed them independence when reaching out to new forces, but also enabled them through their trade unions to work in established Labour Movement structures. This enabled the Left to punch way above its actual political weight by influencing Labour Governments through the Trade Unions and TUC. True this was hardly storming the Winter Palace, but is was solid left reformism that bettered the lives of millions of working class people.
The Left is often at its best when reactionary Conservative governments hold power, not least because reacting to oppressive legislation whether at home or abroad is what we are best at. The very nature of reactive struggle suits the coalition of leftists Party’s and organizations as it enables them to maintain their independence whilst engaging in struggle whilst punching above their actual weight. This is mainly done by working in broad political fronts, engaging with people whose political aims are not always the same, but who are willing to engage in a common struggle in the short term in opposition to the Government of the day. This type of work is best demonstrated in the Stop the War Coalition and Anti Apartheid Movement and to a lesser degree the Trade Unions.
However the Labour governments which have been headed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been an entirely different kettle of fish from their predecessors. NL has worked hard to liquidate that half inch of political space that Neville referred to. If anything the space to the left of Labour has retracted rather than expanded as often occurred in the past. This is partly due to the fact that in the past the non Labour left could organize campaigns at a local level whilst the parliamentary LP left could move forward within Parliament etc. This is no longer possible as the leadership of Blair and Brown have gradually shut down the democratic space within the LP to such an extent that a once vibrant party is a democratic corpse. Its governing body of last resort the Party’s annual Conference has been transformed from being the Labour Movements highest democratic forum into a party rally with bunting, union jacks and all; and at which standing ovations are carefully rehearsed and 84 year old lifetime members, for partaking in a spot of light banter are bundled out on to the street by hired thugs. The same is true of the party in the Constituencies, come the next general election bar sitting members, in all probability not a single left wing Laborite will be nominated for a parliamentary seat. What this means in reality is once the current crop of LP Left wing parliamentarians retire, the Parliamentary LP left will no longer exist.
The recognition by many on the Left that there has been no half inch under the Blair/Brown New Labour governments has been a wake up call for many leftists. When Blair stood down as Prime Minister and Party leader some leftists within the LP allowed their hearts to rule their heads and hope that when Gordon Brown became PM his government would revert to a traditional form of Social Democracy. It has after six months of Brown in office now become pretty clear this is not going to happen. It was never going to occur as Mr Brown is the man who since 1997 has said to the City of London enrich yourself at the tax payers and future generations expense with his ridiculously costly public-private finance initiatives.
To conclude it has become clear to the vast majority of leftists that if they and the workers they represent are to have any real influence within this country, they must accept the days of piggybacking and accepting scraps from the LP’s table are long gone, not least because that party has now changed out of all recognition and no longer even claims to put the best interest of the working classes first, but sees the middle class and Capital as its core constituency.
The Left must enter the parliamentary arena under its own steam with a new Left Party for England and Wales or it will whither and die. The recent brouhaha in the Respect Party, the collapse of the Socialist Alliance before it, the split in the Militant Tendency, the failure of the Parliamentary LP left for the first time in its history to mount a viable challenge [to Gordon Brown] in the Party leadership contest, and other minor convulsions that have taken place on the political left in recent years are all part of the process of building a new Left Party. Not only does the working class deserve a new Left Party, they desperately need one to defend their interest in the political arena, both at local and national level, for at this moment in time bar their trade unions the working classes are politically defenseless.