Good home offered to custard pie throwing entryists

by Dan Hodges

Recall the name of  the leader of the Militant Tendancy? Me neither.

We remember Derek Hatton, of course. All sharp suits and scouse wit. But he wasn’t the leader. Hell, he wasn’t even leader of Liverpool council.

That’s the thing about political entryists. They’re sneaky like that. They don’t hold formal positions, or hold elected office. Wear name badges and carry business cards; “Hi, I’m Derek, I’m here to infiltrate you and divert you from the path of moderate democratic socialism. Please enjoy the canapés”.

In fact, many of them don’t even think of themselves as entryists at all. They’re just honest to goodness “new members”.  A bit of fresh blood and innovative thinking for a battered and beleaguered movement.

I’m a bit of an entryist myself. A “Blairite” or a “Thatcherite”; apparently they’re interchangeable. I know this because people tell me so every time I write something outrageous, like suggesting we should try and get more seats at the next election than the Tory party.

Oh yes, entryism is suddenly all the rage. The Labour party has always been a broad church. But since the election we’ve decided to thrown open the doors, smash in the rose  window and bulldoze a gaping hole in the transept.

They’re everywhere. Flat-earthers. Liberal conspirators. Ivory tower intellectuals. New politicos. Community cultists. Direct action die-hards.

When they first arrived it was all quite exciting. A “new breed of young political activist” is joining Labour, Harriet Harman told the Guardian last June. Apparently, “the surge was a genuine political movement that the Westminster media, transfixed by opinion polls showing the temporary popularity of the coalition, had missed”.

Then some of the “new breed” decided that it would be a good idea to smash up Conservative central office and torch a police van on Whitehall. The Westminster media picked up on that all right. They were there too, when the TUC rally was hijacked, interspersing coverage of Ed Miliband’s speech with  that of some hooded figures trying to put in the windows of top shop.

“We’re here to help”, promised our new friends. And help they did. When the phone hacking scandal broke wide open, were they going to leave things in the hands of clapped out old political has-beens like Tommy Watson? Hell, no. You want to campaign against the News of the World? Wimps. We’re getting it closed down. You want to pull Rupert Murdoch in front of the culture media and sport select committee? Bunch of squares. We’re going to shove a custard pie in his face.

All of a sudden the old certainties were being challenged. Actually, not so much challenged, as ripped up and tossed in our faces. We should not be confronting extremists like the EDL. We should be reaching out to them. We should not be challenging Tory plans to let criminals out on early release. We should be applauding them. Win elections? What do you know about winning elections? All you need is a gospel choir, a noble cause and a commitment to social justice in your heart.

Jim Callghan’s defeat in 1979 was the cue for the entryists to march the party off to the left. The entryists of 2010 have no such grand plan. They will be happy just to march the party around in circles.

Militant were driven by a poisonous ideology. But at least they had one. The new entryists do not adopt positions, but strike poses. Their ambition is not to shatter the existing social order, but capture a thousand new Twitter followers. Vanity and naivety, rather than ideology, provide their impetus.

But they are no less influential for it. In the wake of the student riots I had a meeting with a sensible, centrist shadow cabinet minister. “Something’s happening out there”, he said. I immediately started peering out of the window, expecting to see some sort of commotion. “No, not out there. In the country. Politically. Something’s changing, and we need to recognise it”. In response to my criticism of the UK uncut movement another senior Labour figure agreed, but added, “We have to be careful. UK uncut are our route into the kids”.

Make no mistake, they’re in among us. And making their presence felt. Ed Miliband’s flirtation with reducing the influence of the trade unions. The re-writing of clause 1 of the constitution. The rise of blue Labour. The embracing of movement for change. These are all being strongly supported, and in some cases driven, by those who crossed to Labour in the last 16 months.

Of course change is good. New thinking is good,  especially for a party that experienced such a seismic defeat. But as we learnt during the dog days of Blairism, just because something is new, it doesn’t mean it is right.

There is a cry that rises intermittently from the Labour ranks. Where are the leadership? The shadow cabinet? The PLP?

I’d like to pose my own question. Where is the Labour party? We read the most fundamental part of our constitution, the organisation of a political party within parliament and the country, is to be at best diluted or at worst scrapped. And we sit silent. We hear prominent former liberals, who campaigned against Labour at the last election, bragging about how “complaints by traditional party members and union leaders who want to maintain their privileged positions as power brokers will be swept aside”. Yet we stay dumb. We learn that we are going to tell  the country Labour’s response to revolution in the middle east, a global financial collapse, a collapse  of morale in our military, the crisis in our pensions industry, the crisis in our penal system, plummeting living standards and soaring unemployment will be three new community activists for every constituency. But for some reason we do nothing.

I never could understand how it was that Militant managed to seize Labour in such a strangle-hold. I understand now.

When Kinnock finally started to move against the old entryists, he was condemned by many. Their arguments, summarized by New Socialist, seem strangely familiar; “The Labour Party always has been a broad collection”,“The charges being levelled against Militant that it is ‘a party within a party’ is one that can be levelled with equal justification against any other groups within the Labour Party” and “The very existence of the Militant and other groups within the Labour party is a source of strength rather than a weakness. By working for the adoption of alternative policies and candidates, they assist the democratic functioning of the party”.

You will not find the new entryists selling their magazines at the door of drafty party meetings. But when you log on to the internet, they’ll be there. As you queue to enter party conference later this month they won’t be trying to force a poorly printed leaflet into your hands. But when you check your Twitter feed, their propaganda will be circulating. And when Ed Miliband convenes the next meeting of his “long term strategy group” some of their number will be in attendance.

You may not spot them. But they’re here. On the inside. Home.

Oh, yes. Now I remember. Peter Taaffee. That was his name.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.


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32 Responses to “Good home offered to custard pie throwing entryists”

  1. Wow! that reads like you got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning, shortly before someone stamped on your face and really pissed you off!

    I’m one of those broad coalition people. I think of party members as comrades, not because of some old left nostalgia (OK maybe a little) but because we have agreed to be on the same side, regardless of our differences of opinion over the details.

    Yet this piece of yours leaves me nonplussed as to what you think the Labour Party ought to be doing – certainly not recruiting new members it seems. The Blairites took over the party just as Militant tried to, yet most people will forgive them, even though 4 out of 5 leadership candidates renounced Blair and his works last year to one degree or another.

    What you seem to be saying is not that we should be cautious of new members, but that we should be cautious of members who don’t agree with you.

    The funny thing is that you personally have been instrumental in ensuring we have a stagnant electoral system where the only avenue for new – dare i say “progressive” – ideas in politics is through the existing cartel of political parties. You don’t want left wingers in your party but you don’t want them going to another party either because Labour simply could not win if we were ONLY the Blairites.

    I enjoy your writing and think your contribution where I disagree with you is as important as when I agree with you. But your rant here is one stop short of demanding regular testing to ensure the ideological purity of the members. Which sounds like something fractional pseudo-Marxist parties would do.

    Why can’t we just agree to disagree on some issues rather than seeking to marginalise each other on the basis of an issue or a tactical disagreement? Pluralism demands it and if you don’t want pluralism in the party, let us know what the ideological test is and we can see if we qualify.

  2. Mil says:

    I can see what you’re writing against – but I’m not absolutely sure what you’re writing in favour of. Or can we take it as read that it should be an updated version of whatever most characterised New Labour’s campaigning effectiveness?

    If so, then I sympathise – the Coalition’s constitutional nooses, gerrymandering, prejudice-based politics and tendency to fill the pockets of wealthy supporters are all bitter pills to have to swallow. The problem is that I think we still haven’t fully recognised Cameron’s behaviours are a logical extension of New Labour – without the saving graces of socialism by stealth.

    So what *other* updated version of New Labour’s campaigning machinery do you propose – if, indeed, that is what you are proposing? A subject for another post perhaps?

  3. Mike Mason says:

    Taaffe and Hatton were circus freaks. The real scary ones were people like Tony Mulhearn and Ted Grant. They got their hands on the levers of power and actually started moving those levers.

    So far, our “new breed of Party member” is just that – new. There are two mistakes we shouldn’t make: firstly, view them with suspicion just because they are new; secondly, give them too much power or influence until we’ve understood who they are and what they want.

    I spent the 80s fighting the Militant in hand-to-hand combat over each and every poisonous, stupid resolution and campaign they proposed. What they brought was dynamism, passion and – that most precious of qualities – free time to the Party, large parts of which were moribund. If only we could have harnessed that newness…

    …and there’s the reason why we’re perfectly capable of making the two mistakes we should not make. Yet again, our organisation seems moribund. Yet again, we need dynamism, passion and free time.

    Will we shut out new members, afraid that they are the next Militant? Or will we trust them, give them power and influence and hope that we are strong enough to get it back if we’ve been had?

  4. The Future says:

    So you want less members? Or think that we shouldn’t be glad we now have teh largest political membership in the country?

    Dan you really are insane sometimes. Given that all you do is damage your own cause. I am guessing you are an entryist intent on destorying David Miliband supporters and all their credability. If an election was held today he would get hammered. Mainly thanks to people like you!

  5. donpaskini says:

    The situation is even more perilous then you suggest. When you write that,

    “Ed Miliband’s flirtation with reducing the influence of the trade unions. The re-writing of clause 1 of the constitution. The rise of blue Labour. The embracing of movement for change. These are all being strongly supported, and in some cases driven, by those who crossed to Labour in the last 16 months. These are all being strongly supported, and in some cases driven, by those who crossed to Labour in the last 16 months.”

    You missed out one of the key people who “strongly supported” and helped to drive these changes.

    The man who planned to rewrite clause 1 as one of his first acts as leader.

    Whose speeches were written by Maurice Glasman.

    Who set up the Movement for Change.

    Who was backed by just about everyone in the Labour Party who wanted to reduce the power of the unions.

    Who, erm, you voted and campaigned for as Labour Party leader.

    Step forward David Miliband, leader of the New Entryists.

  6. Dan Hodges says:

    Alex,

    You failed.

    You’re out.

  7. Dan Hodges says:

    …but to answer your question, I don’t want people in my party who break the law, try to break the link with the unions and generally advocate policies that make Labour unelectable.

    I’m not actually calling for expulsions.

    Yet…

  8. Dan Hodges says:

    Mil,

    “an updated version of whatever most characterised New Labour’s campaigning effectiveness?”

    I’d settle for that at the moment.

    And yes, an article for another day.

  9. Dan Hodges says:

    Donpaskini,

    Don’t quite remember David getting the endorsement of Liberal Conspiracy. Or UK Uncut. Or the anarchists who hijacked the TUC rally. Or the advocates of the new politics. And Maurice was writing for everyone.

    But you’re right, the entryists need someone to open the door for them, and David was an idiot for flirting with some of these guys.

    But then look where it got him.

  10. john p Reid says:

    I never could understand how it was that Militant managed to seize Labour in such a strangle-hold. I understand now.
    The way i understood it was, During the Wilson years, the Gaitskellites had burnt themselves out arguing that Tax and spend what we haven’t got, the Closed shop, blocking people going to work who weren’t on strike, osting elected Lbaour members by using block votes to deselect them and, Williams and Jenkins and Co’s view that this was happening was falling on deaf ears, to the point that the Leadership couldn’t understand what they were saying, the Tories were out of touch by 1964, and Had lied to the public in ’59 to win so Wilson manaiged to win i 1964 (actually geting 400,000 less votes that Gatiskell 5years earlier), by getting the public enthused, all be it Militant had joined and were energetic,

    Come 1979,1983 and 1987 Tony Benn was arguing that laobur had lost 3 general elelctions as they weren’t left wing enough,( a case point beign that LAobur done worse in london in ’87 than ’83 and that the public at the time felt laobur was more an extreme party in 87 than ’83)

    Blair maneged to get 5.2 million votes more than Foot, by within 4 years had lost 2.7 million. losing another 1.2million in 2005 and another 1million between 2005 and 2010. the majority of votes we lsot then weren’t due to Iraq, but the last 1million votes we lost between 2005 and 2010 were due to us looking tired, out of touch, the wxpences scandal,our handling of the economy and immigration, with us by 2010 only being more popular than the tories on two issues, Law and pensions, Ye swe had policies that we never got around to introducing, the thrid runway, the police mergers, changing the abortion laws in Northern ireland,(let alone the new ideas that Blue labour or the Purple book people have)

    Some people have rejoined leaving over Iraq and there are Poeple who are traditional tores who stayed at home during the 3 elections we won, there are People who voted laobur upto and Including 1979 who remember the longest suicide speech in History and the 87 election and still can’t bring themsleves to vote for us now ,despite having swung so far away form those years, We are only 1point ahead in the opinion polls, yet the tories have some ridiculous policies, Maybe they public don’tsee us a valid alternative in terms of getting tehdefict down, Maybe becasue we havne’t admitted we were wrong on it, So we might not even win the enxt election, Yes up and coming stars and left wing jounalists who’ve joined laobur Like Sunny Hundal, Laurie Penn and sam Tarry ahve argued the Tony benn view that we lost last time as it wasn’t left wing enough, But if we do lose the next election, i can’t see anyone saying we lost the 2015 election becasue it wasn’t left wing enough, And i haven’teven mentioned Ed M, saying that he wants the travellers evicted for their site at dlae Farm or that the Riots weren’t due to poverty but sheer looting or Ed’s denouncing of the strikes a few months ago.

  11. More than a whiff of McCarthyism here.

    I didn’t realise that UK Uncut were affiliated to the Labour party, must have passed me by..

  12. paul barker says:

    You shouldnt worry about the new members, most will leave as quickly as they joined. Thats what happened in the years after your last membership boom, 200,000 left between ,97 & 2003.
    Its not a pattern restricted to Labour, the classic example was The Greens whose Membership fell from 30,000 in 1990 to 5,000 a decade later.
    All the mainstream Parties have seen long-term falls in membership. Labours unique problem is the intense Factionalism combined with sheer personal nastiness, no-one can hate like Labour.

  13. Paul Krishnamurty says:

    Potential entryist signing in. I left the party in 1999, after NuLab fixed the selection for London mayoral candidate, and after numerous candidates were punished for daring to criticise the corrupt, catastrophic PFI. Since then, I voted Lib Dem, so you can understand why I might be thinking of rejoining…

    These comparisons with Militant are bizarre. By the time of next election, nobody under the age of 50 will have voted in 1983. There are several generations of ‘lefties’ who never supported state socialism. Its ancient history to us. However what we do tend to believe in are principles like free education, genuine equality of opportunity, strong accountable public services, disgust towards tax avoidance and the offshore world. Above all, and this goes way beyond the Left, we see with our own eyes, and in our own life experiences, that neo-liberal economics are a catastrophe.

    Looking at the current polls, Labour should be counting their lucky stars. For much of the last election campaign, there was genuine chance that the LDs would get more votes than Labour. Successive LD leaders had carved out a progressive identity, and stolen many ex-Labour voters like me. Moreover, they had an army of young, enthusiastic activists. Labour by comparison looked moribund, stuck defending old, failed ideas, and more interested in courting Murdoch than new voters.

    Ed’s doing a good job imo, but it would be unrealistic to expect instant dividends. Labour remains a soiled brand, blamed for the economy and untrusted. The Tories disastrous policies will need to proven so, before the public completely loses trust. Given that backdrop, Labour should be delighted to be ahead in the polls or even close. In 98, the Tories were over 20% down.

    If Labour can maintain that coalition of lifelong supporters, and young leftish ex-LD types, it has a natural majority. The one way they can certainly blow it is by falling back into the politics of Blair. Labelling any left-wing criticism as stuck in the past, endlessly trying to outflank the Tories on the Right, whether on privatisations or civil liberties.

    I never thought Blair really got Labour, and it’s place on the spectrum. For a party to be relevant, it must have real roots in society. If sometimes that might mean its members are out of tune with the majority, so be it. These arguments shift back and forth over time. Those of us who criticised PFI were dismissed as backwards a decade ago were eventually proven right. A year ago, austerity economics was the fashion, with anything else treated as a thought crime. Now the world is crying out for someone to reverse the failed consensus.

    By never fighting it’s corner, never defending it’s left-wing achievements or promoting it’s values, New Labour became redundant. A professional electoral machine, detached from mainstream society. Eventually it would have died. Yet thanks to Nick Clegg’s lack of political savvy, it has one more chance. Embrace the emerging progressive generation, it’s values and priorities, and they will become the natural party of government.

  14. Oliver says:

    Historically, I’ve never been really convinced that people vote for policies en masse.

    I think the majority of people either vote on traditional/habitual lines and the floating voters ‘pendulum vote’ as a reaction to who has been last been in office. For them, it’s a kind of political gong show where the voters are really only familiar with two contestants’ names. When they’ve had enough of whoever is on stage, they bang the political gong and the other contestant gets a turn. Tories and Labour on an endless repeat. The last election was an interesting diversion with the Coaltion and increasing interest in the Greens, but it’s going to be a while before binary politics really changes.

    The next election won’t be any different, other than people will be more desperate than usual to get the Tories out. (New) Labour’s policies won’t matter per se to those who will actually vote anyway.

    Where policies will probably matter is to those who become so pissed-off with the main parties (and the lack of any real meaningful distinction between them) that they stop voting.

  15. swatantra says:

    I understand Hatton has been asked back to Liverpool to give the Keynote Adress to Conference … along with that other great democrat Karsai.
    But Dan is wrong about t e Campaign for LP Democracy d the like which are doing a stirling job thrusting leaflets under the noses of bleary eyed Conference goers. Its thanks to CDLP, SW, LCER etc and all the rest of the Fringe Groups that we get a real idea of what the real situation is like out there and not what the carefully managed Party Machine and Unions would like us to think.
    Besides which their leaflets produced are much more interesting and readable.

  16. aragon says:

    Given that we are facing Mortons Fork electorally: No good choices (Three Neoliberal parties); something has to change.

    You might want to read Stuart Hall on Neoliberalism in the Guardian.
    “The March of the Neoliberals” (paragraphs 3, 4 and 7)

    And yes, Thatcherism, New Labour and Cameron (along with Orange Book liberals) are all subscribers to Neoliberalism.

    I that my 140 characters ? Not on twitter yet!

  17. L.T.Morris says:

    Hodges, right now you got me about as confused as I ever hope to be.

  18. The Future says:

    Dan your just smearing now.

    Do you honestly think *any* of the anarchists were members of the party?

    Really?

  19. Dan Hodges says:

    David Talbot,

    “More than a whiff of McCarthyism here”.

    And people accuse me of hyperbole…

  20. Dan Hodges says:

    “If Labour can maintain that coalition of lifelong supporters, and young leftish ex-LD types, it has a natural majority.”

    Paul, it’s arguments like that which scare the living daylights out of me.

  21. Dan Hodges says:

    LT, that’s my job.

  22. Dan Hodges says:

    “Dan your just smearing now. Do you honestly think *any* of the anarchists were members of the party?”

    No, but I think there are a number of the “new breed” who have sympathy for their tactics, are prepared to go to ridiculous lengths to excuse their actions and provide the environment in which they are able to flourish and tarnish the broad left.

  23. I have read this a couple of times now. I genuinely cannot work out what you’re trying to say. There really are times I thank God that people like you are contributing heavily to the debate but on this occasion I just don’t really know why you’ve bothered.

    Equally worrying is this fixation on the Militant Tendency. For me, it’s something I read about in history books. I have never really felt that the party was under threat from similar threats in my time and I think it is utterly irrelevant to most of us. Paul Krishnamurty is right in that respect. That is not say we can’t learn lessons from the party’s history.

    But this article doesn’t really seek to draw any lessons at all. I feel like we’re missing a paragraph. As Bartlet said in the West Wing to Robert Ritchie: “What are the next ten words?”

    PS. Please don’t bitch back at me. I’m not trying to be a bitch. I just think you owe yourself a bit more with this analysis.

  24. john p Reid says:

    I recall at the 87 election there were labour members going upto previous LABOUR SUPPORTERS Who’d switched to the SDP in ’83 saying ,Laour’s the only real alternative to the Tories, we’ve got rid of 22 militant members and Wrapped the party in red roses, Come back to us but we don’t want to accept the policies the SDP has on unions , Europe, Privatisation, or crime, and those Millions of ex-labour suppoerters who went over to the SDP, were still going to vote SDP at the 87 election and the Labour party were saying “but we’ve got rid of the Red flag, we’ve got the red rose now and Derek hattons been kicked out, why won’t you come back to us, sure were not going to back your policies, but we’d like your support all the same”

  25. Dan Hodges says:

    ” I genuinely cannot work out what you’re trying to say.”

    Here’s a clue:

    “Make no mistake, they’re in among us. And making their presence felt. Ed Miliband’s flirtation with reducing the influence of the trade unions. The re-writing of clause 1 of the constitution. The rise of blue Labour. The embracing of movement for change. These are all being strongly supported, and in some cases driven, by those who crossed to Labour in the last 16 months”.

  26. Stuart says:

    What are you on about? Yes, people are involved in direct action rightly or wrongly. Are you trying to say that these people are joining the Labour Party? Reading between the lines I think you’re trying to say that you would like everybody to do things your way. That isn’t the way that the world works.

  27. Dan Hodges says:

    Stuart,

    “Reading between the lines I think you’re trying to say that you would like everybody to do things your way”.

    No need to read between the lines. I am.

  28. john reid says:

    Stuart, my point was that in 1987 the left of the party said to those who’d gone over to the SDP in ’83 ” come back to us but we’re not going to change our policies to those of the SDP” to which those ex labour voters who wentto the SDP in 1983 said “we’re not coming back” the difference between ,Hodges view that he’d like the left in the party ,but not to have a view on policy and the left of labour in 1987 aying that they’d like the right of the party back in the party but similar ther Ex-SDP’er’s can’t have A say in the policy, was that when the SDP left in 1983 labour got 27% of the vote, when the left of the party left in 2010 labour got 29% and thatcher was massively unpopular in the early 80’s before the north sea oil, got the revenue flowing in the mid 80’s

  29. Stuart says:

    Stuart,

    “Reading between the lines I think you’re trying to say that you would like everybody to do things your way”.

    No need to read between the lines. I am.

    It is refreshing to have an open admission of arrogance.

  30. john reid says:

    Stuart, Didn’t Tony benn say something in ’86 to ex alobur voters who voted SDP in 1983, along the lines of SDp voters come back to labuor and at the conference, you can Propose how you want to get rid of Our socialist views and then I’ll use the union block vote to defeat them

  31. Dan Hodges says:

    Stuart,

    “It is refreshing to have an open admission of arrogance”

    Almost as refreshing to have such an open admission of pomposity…

  32. Jon says:

    “But when you log on to the internet, they’ll be there. As you queue to enter party conference later this month they won’t be trying to force a poorly printed leaflet into your hands. But when you check your Twitter feed, their propaganda will be circulating. And when Ed Miliband convenes the next meeting of his “long term strategy group” some of their number will be in attendance.”

    And the name of the only entryists trying to destroy the Party are… Progress.

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