It is well understood by most leftists in Britain that the current political left is in disarray. With so many small parties, splinter groups, fringe groups, and new parties rising and falling every other month, it’s no wonder that Britain has become so conservative over the last couple of decades. The simple fact of the matter is, that because the left is so divided on the petty issues really affecting minor sections of policy, or sometimes even issues on a personal level between two leaders, the left is no longer a credible force in this country. However, it was not always like this.
In the U.K., the Labour Party was once able to put up a strong left-wing argument, and united most sections of the left in British Politics, it was very simple; if you were a Socialist of any kind, you went and joined the Labour Party, the left was united under one banner and one leader, they were united for a common goal of helping the working classes of the country to a better standard of life. However, the pre-Thatcher disasters of the strikes, the power cuts, the loss of refuse collection and so on, led to a Conservative government taking power over a country of people discontented with Labour’s handling of the situation.
After eleven years of Thatcher and a further five of John Major’s Conservative government looming after 1992, Labour needed some drastic reforms to regain the vote once more. In 1994, the leader of the Labour Party, and HM Opposition, The Hon. Mr. John Smith died suddenly, the opportunity for a New Labour was opened up and into the breach stepped Tony Blair. Blair’s new policies of taking up the ‘radical centre’ of the political spectrum and reassessment of Clause IV of the Party’s Constitution, removing the commitment to establishing common ownership of the means of production and establishing the Party as Social Democratic may have bought the votes of disgruntled centrists, but it began the destruction of Labour as a true force for left-wing politics in Britain.
Aided by the collapsing support for the Conservative government after the 1992 recession and ‘Black Wednesday’, on the 1st of May 1997, Tony Blair and his ‘New Labour’ Party took office with a majority of 179 seats in Parliament. Whilst some policies of the New Labour government under Mr. Blair were seen in a good light- such as the creation of the devolved assemblies, the introduction of a National Minimum Wage and the increased rights for same sex couples including the Civil Partnership Act 2004- there were many other policies that left the left-wing of the Party, and indeed the country as a whole, feeling disheartened- such as the increases in certain taxes, the increase in the number of arrestable offences, the introduction of compulsory DNA recording, ID Card legislation and, perhaps most infamously, the Invasion of Iraq.
Whilst Blair continued to describe himself as a Social Democrat, the people of the U.K. and the Labour Party began to think otherwise. Labour backbenchers began to place Blair to the right of centre, a 2005 YouGov poll showed a majority of U.K. voters and Labour Members placed Blair on the right of the political spectrum. The sixteen years of Conservative government and the slide of Labour first to the centre and now seemingly to the right had damaged irreparably the left-wing’s confidence in Labour as a party for the working people of Britain. So, where to go from there?
Britain has always had a large collection of various communist and socialist parties, each with a handful of members, with some being bigger than others, such as the SPGB and the CPGB, then with various smaller parties like the SWP, SPS, etc. However, since the loss of Labour as a viable rallying point for the British left-wing, these parties have become a bigger part of the British left. Normally, seeing new parties coming into the spot light is never a bad thing, but in the case of the left-wing in the U.K., it’s a real shot in the foot. Now, the left-wing vote, once safely in the hands of Labour, is now spread out across numerous other, smaller, parties. What makes the situation worse is the lack of real experience in these parties and the rate at which new parties keep appearing and dissolving.
With a large influx of new members, each wanting to start a new leftist movement in Britain, these smaller parties found themselves swamped with new members, the leaders however had very little experience in managing such large numbers. This lack of experience shows when the inability to cope with the debate that comes with large member bases shows its head. These parties had before been able to keep very narrow ideological lines because of the small, dedicated membership base. However, with new members arriving from other parties come new ideas, this is something for which the smaller parties were unprepared. The differences in opinions on various matters and the debates on certain party policies was something they could not cope with.
This resulted in members either being expelled for not towing the party line, or leaving for being forced into the party line. Sadly, in many cases, this did not simply result in the members seeking a new party or going back to Labour, rather in many members simply founding new parties and splitting the left vote further. In some cases you hear stories of committee members falling out and one founding a new party as well. The reasons can be as petty as you can think of, and sadly this has resulted in the destruction of the left-wing in Britain.
There are simply too many left-wing parties, many with unrealistic goals and solutions to existing problems. There are so many of them now that people simply don’t trust them to do a half decent job, everyone knows of the inabilities of left-wing politicians to cooperate with each other. The further the left splits itself, the more votes simply go to Labour or the Lib-Dems or other parties, because the left is in such a mess, and the people know it. They simply cannot see past the small differences to the ultimate goals of their cause.
What’s more is the problem with thinking too big. The left-wing seems to be the idea that it is bigger than it really is in this country. The sad fact is that the left is now so caught up in its international goals and the different paths it wants to take to get there, that is has forgotten about who it really represents, and that is the people of this country. It presents policies on international revolution, international this and international that, and when it does finally get around to discussing Britain, the goals are still huge and unachievable in a single term; complete transition to socialism, complete this, complete that, it’s the same again. It’s all well and good to be concerned with the struggle of the workers abroad, but one must remember that one is representing the people at home.
Before you can have your way, you need the mandate of the people, and to do that, the people’s trust is first required. The people do not want to think big straight away, especially in harsh economic times like these when they have been failed by countless politicians and officials. The people want goals that will help them, but that are, perhaps more importantly, achievable. To get big results, one has to start small, and this is yet another problem with the left, they are afraid of the small changes making them look ‘nationalist’, ‘revisionist’ or just ‘uncommitted to the socialist cause’. The fact is, that the numerous groups talking big but taking no action are the real detriment to the cause. Those who can see the small steps required to build up to the big goals, and who are willing to climb those small steps first, are tho ones who will do well.
The simple fact is, that in order for the British left to ever get anywhere it needs to to two things: Firstly, it needs to unite, the petty bickering between small parties with minute discrepancies in policy has to stop. If the entire left-wing apart from Labour united under a single banner, the odds are they would being to form a credible and large third party to present a real challenge to the power of Labour and Conservative. The second step is to consider the small changes first, before talking big, the trust of the people has to be gained, and by talking big and international, you lose their trust, becoming branded as unrealistic idealists.
There is a strong base for the left-wing in this country, it just needs to be utilised correctly, the possibility for a strong British left-wing does exist, we just need to put aside the small differences and focus on the ultimate goals that we all share.
Thanks for reading, and if you do wish to contribute anything or ask questions, please post them in the comments below.