Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2787

The Labour left is reduced to a strategy of ‘stay and sulk’

Momentum wants the left inside Labour. Nick Clark disagrees, arguing struggle lies outside parliament
Issue 2787
Starmer’s ‘vision’—warmed up Blairism and empty waffle

Supporting Keir Starmer is a waste of activists’ time

“Stay and sulk”—that’s the future Momentum offers to its supporters questioning their place in the Labour Party today.

It’s the appeal of left wing writer Jeremy Gilbert, who spoke to Momentum supporters on a Twitter broadcast last Thursday. 

It was also his suggestion in a Momentum bulletin late last month.

To those who’d rather quit, Gilbert says, “You’re thinking like a liberal.”

For Gilbert, deciding if you support Labour based on its current policies or leadership mimics the mindset of the liberal media and Labour’s leadership.

The Labour Party isn’t like a football team you choose to support, says Gilbert—it’s the pitch on which the game is played.

Leaving Labour “is merely to concede the entire match to the opposition.”

So for Gilbert it’s not Labour that’s the problem, but the right wing faction in charge. 

And the battle between left and right reflects the “key fault line between political progressives and their opponents in Britain.”

Anyone leaving Labour is “simply absenting themselves from the frontline of political struggle altogether.”

Yet this is also a viewpoint shared by the liberal media and Labour’s leadership. It sees politics as something that happens mostly—if not entirely—inside parliament and its parties.

That’s a narrow view of politics.

The two greatest political movements in Britain in the past few years—Black Lives Matter and the climate change movements—took place outside Labour. 

And if there are to be strikes over wages and battles over the cost of living crisis, those are inevitably political too.

To see the Labour Party as the centre of politics risks either marginalising these, or funnelling them towards a parliamentary dead end.

The defeat of Corbynism should have provoked some reflection on the strategy of the Labour left and the nature of the party itself.

Labour is not like a football pitch with two opposing sides. Both left and right are tied together in the same organisation through their shared focus on parliament.

As Gilbert himself says, this means appealing to all sections of society for votes. “Inevitably this will result in internal conflicts, and a situation in which different political tendencies will have to fight it out.”

What Gilbert doesn’t say is that Labour must also prove itself the “responsible” party of government. That’s why the right is always concentrated in the party’s MPs.

It’s also what gives the right power.

The right might feel they’re better off without Labour’s left wing membership. But the left utterly depends on unity with the right. 

The centrality of parliament, elections and staying in Labour always forces the left to fall into line.

Gilbert says Keir Starmer has “made himself the political enemy of anyone who is even vaguely on the left of the Labour Party.” 

But he also says the reason to stay in Labour is that it’s the only parliamentary party that can beat the Tories.

So what does that mean when an election comes? If you’re a left wing Labour activist, you have to stop fighting your “political enemy” Starmer and work to get him elected instead.

Fighting for a left wing Labour Party has turned into campaigning for a right wing one.

Avoiding that means turning your focus towards the real “key fault line”—the onslaught on working class people by a ruling class determined to defend their system and their profits.

It means building the struggles outside parliament that can topple Boris Johnson. You’re better placed to do that outside Labour, where you won’t have to put it on hold to campaign for Starmer.

And you won’t have to sulk anymore either.

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