Daily catch-up: Where now for the left? (Especially on the European Question.)

Labour-minded people didn’t bother with introspective ‘whither the left’ sessions when Tony Blair was winning

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The Independent Online

I know the ritual too well now. After the 1983, 1987, 1992 and 2010 elections, Labour-minded people would assemble in therapy sessions entitled, “Where now for the left?” Panellists would panel away and people would “ask questions from the floor” in which everything everyone already thought, especially that proportional representation was the answer, would be restated. Everyone would go away thinking it was all very stimulating, ready to lose again.

In 1987, I remember one organised by the Labour Co-ordinating Committee, the formerly Bennite faction that now called itself “soft left”. Nigel Stanley in the chair was ignoring the raised hands of two young women, one of whom finally protested. Stanley said: “I’m not calling members of the Revolutionary Communist Party. We may be soft left but we’re not that soft.”  

Marxist groupuscules hold their own sessions, also called, “Where now for the left?” After the 2010 election, Weekly Worker reported:

“Around 20 comrades attended the June 5 London Communist Forum at the School of Oriental and African Studies entitled ‘After the elections: where now for the left?’ They heard speeches by Owen Jones of the Labour Representation Committee...”

Thus it was that I found myself at a “left salon” at the Conservative-leaning think-tank, Policy Exchange, yesterday called, “Where now for the left?” It was organised by Marc Glendening, who gave me a copy of the poster he made in 2009, satirically opposing Tony Blair’s attempt to become EU president (above).

Polly Toynbee called for proportional representation and reluctantly backed Yvette Cooper for Labour leader, but otherwise she and I agreed on most things. She, Yvette Cooper and I all worked together briefly at The Independent in 1997.

I agreed more enthusiastically with Phil Collins of The Times, who said that unless Labour had a leader people didn’t think was useless and could be trusted on the economy it would get nowhere. He and I both support Liz Kendall on the grounds that Labour won’t win under any of the others.

Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton in Manchester, is one of only four Labour MPs (apart from the candidates, former leader and deputy leader and whips) who didn’t nominate anyone for leader. He said he hadn’t been impressed with any of them and hadn’t yet decided how to vote.

He is one of the leading Better-Off-Outers in the Labour Party and prompted a good discussion about the EU referendum.

He found a surprising ally in Ruth Davis, an environmentalist and Blue Labour sympathiser (Turquoise Labour), who wants the party to understand the concerns about home, work and a sense of place of the white working class. Not that she is anti-EU, but she realises that free movement of workers is seen as a threat rather than an opportunity by many of the voters Labour needs.

With Collins and I both Eurosceptic Blairites (sceptical in the true sense of the word, as Collins said), it was left to Toynbee and Henning Meyer, of the German social democrats, to put the pro-EU case.

He said the macro-economic benefits of immigration are clear and that dealing with local problems is therefore a distributional question.

He got more people on his side when he said that the German SPD shared many of Labour’s troubles. He mocked the latest slogan proposed by the party’s general secretary, the “working middle”.

If there was one theme that came out of the session, it was that the language of jargon and abstraction is one of the big vote-repellents for leftish parties everywhere.

More reports of the event here and here.