Sunday, April 22, 2007

The McDonnell campaign and the future of the Labour Left

As the likely date of Blair's resignation draws nearer there seems to be more wheeling and dealing going on .
Miliband has finally come out and stated he will not stand and will back Brown.
Brown's team has been chasing MPs to see who will back and not back him, putting on the pressure I expect. The team have named senior MPs who have not said they will back him, not really in keeping with Brown's earlier statement that he would welcome a contest.
Meacher has no credibility with either the left, centre left or those that just don't like Brown and yet he persists in splitting the vote .He is unable to accept that McDonnell has built a grass roots campaign and is probably the only one of them placed to mount a challenge and get the 44 votes.
Its close for McDonnell, if Meacher stands it is highly likely neither will get the required votes to get on the ballot. It seems unlikely now that any Blairite will stand . Clarke may stand but is not guaranteed of enough support.

Brown believes he should 'inherit' the title of PM and Labour Leader, all because he stood aside many years ago and apparently made a pact with Blair. The two may have come to that arrangement, but it is still the Party that should decide. Over the years the tension between Blair and Brown has simmered away. Brown desperately wanting Blair to step down and seeing it delayed and delayed, yet not quite putting in the knife .

Whilst I back McDonnell and would love him to be leader, that ain't gonna happen. What is likely is that Brown will become leader without a challenge. Labour could well lose the next election, and no I don't want this as I still believe the Tories are worse. There are many in Blair's camp who will chip away at Brown, attacking him on a personal level.They will not be given power and will have lost influence ,so they will have nothing to lose. Already the leaks and briefings have given the media and Cameron plenty of ammunition .

Brown will not bring a change of direction,he was an architect of New labour. He cannot distance himself from the policies and will continue much as before. He is likely to inherit the fall out of the loans scandal and defeats in the May elections. The public may fall for the New Tory charms of Cameron, more camera friendly on his bike . Of course its surface and underneath its still the old Tories,but they have though learnt and presentation will be a factor.

Brown is likely to lose. Miliband may wish he had stood. Yes if he did stand and then lost he would have been in the wilderness as far as Brown was concerned,but sometimes there is only one window of opportunity. This is not to be read as support for Miliband, I'm just trying to assess the situation. Brown lost his nerve all those years back and is now likely to inherit the dying days of a Labour Government. Miliband may or may not become leader if Brown loses, but if he does he will inherit a divided Party that could spend many years again in opposition.If labour loses there will be many in the Party unaccustomed to life without power and influence.
So where does this leave the McDonnell campaign? Yes I know its being talked up, he will get on the ballot, he will win. But back on planet earth the best case scenario is that Meacher comes to his senses and steps aside, McDonnell scraps on to the ballot and there is a debate.

This does raise questions as to what is the purpose of the campaign , I mean the real purpose as he will never win. It has drawn new members in, some young and enthusiastic without the baggage of years of defeats and the scars of the 80s. Some of the battle weary have rejoined. Others, like myself, have stayed in because of the campaign.
So whether McDonnell gets on the ballot or not, where does the left go when he finally loses and we have Prime Minister Brown ? There needs to be a debate. Yes I know we have to put on a brave face and say we are in this to win, but we have also to have plan B. Many could leave the Party disillusioned, both the enthusiastic young and the cynical battle weary. 200,000 have already left since 1997 and they do not seem to have joined with other groups such as Respect, its predecessor the Socialist Alliance or any of the small left groups. Not all will have done so because they are on the left, but even if 10% have, where did they go?

What I don't want to see is people disillusioned by the campaign just disappearing. I would like to see the campaign built on in the Party . There is scope for it at a local level as many areas have pretty dead wards and CLPs. The trouble at the moment is anyone on the left is usually quite isolated .

I'm sure some outside the party will do their usual chorus of doom and 'I told you so's', trouble is I don't see a rush to join the groups outside the Party. What I see is lots of grouplets bickering and point scoring, which alienate many. I see a left that does not seem to learn from the past and adapt to a changing world. When changes are made they seem to be at the expense of basic principles such as class politics and involve getting into bed with reactionary groups .

I think the McDonnell campaign has been positive. Its prodded some life back onto the left in the labour Party . Many would say let it die , but what is the alternative?
The left in the Party needs to be realistic and build on the momentum of the McDonnell campaign and not slump into despair at a Brown premiership.