Labour to Win’s Losing Culture
I’ve been twitter free for a few weeks so not up on exactly why well-know Labour rightwinger Luke Akehurst has it in for Young Labour, but I found this take on the reason for the existence of a youth section interesting/revealing.
At one level, this is all just the usual tactical warfare stuff; Luke wants Young Labour to toe the new line, even though he backed Labour students, precisely because they were stuffed with moderates opposed to Corbynism. To this end, the idea that Young Labour’s raison d’etre is to be a training ground for future party operatives comes in very handy, and also handily contrastable to his argument that his side’s young person organization existed for quite different reasons, and that they were a valid alternative voice.
But, that’s just standard politicking hypocrisy, and not very interesting of itself.
More interesting for me is that this particular hypocrisy depends for its argument on a longer-term trend by on the part of the Labour right to mythologize what it takes to be an activist and/or officer holder within the party; there’s a notion promoted that these are very unique roles and that intense induction and training is needed to do them. Being a Labour operative who’s come through these ranks, we are led to believe, affords special powers and wisdom that can not be attained elsewhere, and should command the utmost respect and obedience.
This is, frankly, rubbish.
Most of the skills required are pretty standard ones around administration, quasi-legal, presentation and communication etc.. There really is nothing out of the ordinary done by, say, a senior regional officer, or an MP doing their day day job. It’s all straightforward enough middle-management stuff, paid at middle manager rates (though of course MP and councillor rates are set differently).
What this mythologizing process — of equating party activism with some kind of specially skilled profession — does, though, is squeeze out the politics, which of course many will argue is handy for the Right went it is trying to control an insurgent Left.
But it’s a tendency which goes back a lot longer than the attempted purge of Corbynists. Here for example, is a young Mike Gapes (in Hugh Jenkins’ Rank & File, 1980) plotting a course from Labour National Student Organizer to ‘office holding’ without touching the outside world.
The upshot of this ‘Labour politics as profession’ is that, in a way utterly out of keeping with the demands of a modern electorate, the way up the party hierarchy still being promoted by the Right is one insulated from the kind of extra-party organizing and doing that wins votes.
I’ve met this kind of MP, some well advanced in their careers, who have not the foggiest idea about basic legal forms of organization, for example, because all they’ve ever done has been within the Labour party, meaning they remain incapable of proper grassroots support and, in a world where actually knowing how things beyond the Labour rule book works is noticed and scrutinized, less capable of winning elections.
It is also an established norm utterly contrary to the avowed ambition, set out in the Future Candidates programme to esnure that future MPs come from outside the party (people who like Kim Leadbetter, who won the Batley byelection because she wasn’t primarily a ‘party person’).
And so if it seems odd that Luke is arguing against the Starmer approach, that’s because it is. But this long-term Labour Right way of doing things is so deeply embedded that someone like Luke doesn’t even notice the contradiction.
This is not to suggest that the Labour left has got it sorted. Momentum for too long has followed a parallel path of drawing people into Labour-only activism, in a way which militates against proper community focused activism, though it may belatedly be improving.
In a post-purge world there may be scope to talk this stuff through and actually develop political activism routes which acknowledge that skill sets are generic across intra- and extra- party organization, and that this is a good, empowering thing. I’ve written half a book about how that might be brought about, but the time is not yet right, it seems.
Till then, suffice to say that Luke’s wrong, and not just because he hates Young Labour (about whom I don’t care very much, other than thinking it’s probably current good way for lefties not to do proper activism either). He’s wrong because what he and his Labout to Win thing are promoting here will lose elections for Labour.