Tuesday 2 October 2007

New Routes for the Left Emerging

After the events at the TUC and the Labour Party conference it is time for the Left to take a hard nosed look at where we go from here. First of all we have to face up to the harsh realities of the new political world in which we are operating.

The historical path of the Left stems from working people coming together in the workplace and discovering their strength through solidarity. Nourished by socialist ideas they recognised that if they wanted to exercise power beyond the workplace they needed political representation and so the Labour party was born. Democratic party structures were established to develop the policy programmes to be implemented when power was achieved.

This week's vote to close down democratic decision making at the Labour party conference and Gordon Brown's first leader's speech demonstrated that the old strategy is largely over. The conference is now virtually irrelevant and its replacement, the National Policy Forum, is a behind closed doors exercise of centralised control of party policymaking.

Brown's speeches at both the TUC and Labour conference demonstrated decisively how much he fundamentally believes in the principles of neo liberalism - the dominance of the market, flexible labour and privatisation. Even if there was the potential to use what is left of the party's structures to attempt to influence him, it is clear that the overall political direction of the Brown government is non negotiable.

The Left has the difficult task of accepting and explaining to others that the old routes into the exercise of power and influence involving internal Labour Party mobilisations and manoeuvres have largely been closed down. We have to face up to the challenge of identifying and developing new routes into effective political activity.

The contradiction is that the more undemocratic the Labour Party becomes the more it cuts itself off from the real world at a time when new social movements are emerging. People may be increasingly giving up on political parties but they haven't given up on politics. They still want to challenge the injustices they meet in our society and they are devising a multitude of mechanisms to do so from indy media and climate camps to affinity groups organising direct action.

New social movements have mobilised on a vast array of issues ranging from climate change, asylum rights, to housing and arms sales. Many trade unions have also rediscovered their roots as social movements themselves in their new campaigns on everything from private equity to the exploitation of migrant workers. New alliances are being forged and where trade union leaderships have been incorporated as supporters of the status quo, rank and file activity within their unions is re-emerging and organising.

The difficult task for the Left now is to appreciate that new strategies, new coalitions of forces and above all else a new dynamism are needed to deal with the new political environment where the traditional routes have been so narrowed. The Left needs to open itself to co-operation with progressive campaigns within our community, learning from them, treating them with mutual respect, rejecting any patronising or sectarian approach, and where needed to serve as the catalyst to instigate and facilitate campaigning activity. Creativity is also needed to stimulate the analysis, debate and discussion of the ideas and principles which we may share in our wish to transform our society.

The main political parties are increasingly seen as irrelevant to the real world issues facing our communities resulting in declining participation rates and election turnouts and deepening scepticism. This doesn't mean people are apathetic. Far from it. There is a growing radical nature to our times and an opportunity for a period of exciting, frenetic activity capable of creating a climate of progressive hegemony which no government could immunise itself from no matter how ruthlessly it closes down democracy in its own party.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star.