by Alex White
Two things happened in the Labour party recently which managed to make me sympathetic to things said by both Karl Marx and Neil Kinnock, which is no mean feat.
First, a group of left Labour MPs did what groups of left Labour MPs are reduced to now: they wrote a letter calling for the cancellation of Greek debt, which is one step up on the ladder of Parliamentary left-wing activism from signing an Early Day Motion.
Letters do not generally cause me distress, but letters telling the country that a group of Labour MPs want to let another country abdicate its fiscal responsibility, when our own party has lost two elections weighed down by perceptions of our own fiscal irresponsibility, are definitely a bad thing.
Second, at the Unions Together hustings for the Labour leadership earlier this week, Jeremy Corbyn rallied passionately on the topics of Hugo Chavez, Greece, Colombian trade unionists, Greece again, TTIP, how the bad outweighed the good done by the last Labour government, and occasionally the Conservative Party.
Marx was wrong about a lot of things but he had a good turn of phrase, particularly when he said of a dying regime that it ‘only imagines that it still believes in itself and asks the world to share in its fantasy’.
The same is true of the Labour left who are rallying not just around Corbyn but against any attempt to make Labour electable. They would have you believe that the more you wrap their language around you – anti-austerity, public ownership, industrial action, alternative economic strategies – the more you are on the side of working people.
For them, it is enough to tell people they are really passionate and that everyone else should share in their own delusions and damned is anyone who tells them they might not be doing what working people want.
In fact, the only coherent strategy for empowering workers has come from Liz Kendall, whose calls for putting workers on boards, moving to a living wage society, and investing in long-term skills would do a lot to build better relationships between employee and employer.
This will be ignored by the left because they know – remember, they are true Labour so they know what is best – that Kendall is a closet Tory. For them, it does not matter that if Corbyn had said what she did about empowering workers, they would love it. They could put it on banners or badly made social media memes.
This appropriation of Labour values, where one element of the party holds court to pass judgment who is ‘real Labour’, is absurd but it is more absurd that it happens time and again.
It leads to what Neil Kinnock called a Labour party ‘irrelevant to the real needs’ of the people. The idea that the world pivots around the Labour party and our values has been proven wrong more than it has ever come close to being true. Once you start checking off people for not being the right sort for the party, you check off millions of voters too.
The 1980s were tragedy, but the mistakes of letting others decide who belongs in the party is repeating itself as farce. If only they were as passionate about the electorate rejecting Labour values as they are when they think their fellow members are doing it.
Alex White is a Labour campaigner