Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Burying the hatchet

The Convention of the Left couldn't be happening at a better time - but can the left really work together?

September 19, 2008
4 min read

If you decided to draw a family tree of the British left, you’d have a bit of a job on your hands. There have been so many splits and splinters that we’ve all ended up as ideological half-sisters or second cousins, surrounded by immediate family who warn us off having anything to do with our scatterbrained relatives.

You could see the Convention of the Left, then, as a sort of family get-together – one thrown by a well-meaning aunt to encourage us all to ‘get along better’. It has the potential to be the most important event for socialists for many years, which is why I’m going to be blogging from it for Red Pepper over the next five days. But can it really work?

Its organisers have certainly picked a good time and place. Setting it up as a counter-conference to the Labour Party’s debate-free rally is a great way to pull in some of ‘Old Labour’, and having the opening session right after Saturday’s Stop the War protest will draw in some activists who might not otherwise have made the journey.

And the convention is not a rushed response to the wipeout the left faced in the May elections, or even to the escalating economic crisis. It was announced more than six months ago: before London elected a Thatcherite buffoon for mayor and a full-fledged fascist to its assembly, and the rest of the country appeared to take a shine to David Cameron; before the consternation about whether British politics was ‘moving to the right’; and before certain over-eager lefties started declaring that the collapse of a few banks means ‘the end of capitalism’ (again).

The immediate issue it plans to tackle is not the rise of the right or the twilight days of that system we all love to hate – it is the collapse of the left, in the broadest sense. Labour’s support is a fraction of what it was even in Blair’s day, with the ‘core’ voters and the diehard members finally pushed over the edge by Brown’s head-in-the-sand tricks, and yet the left-of-Labour parties have somehow spectacularly failed to grow. Without going into the controversial details (we all know them anyway), it seems clear at least that we never managed to harness the energy of the anti-war protests five years ago into anything long-term.

Today, the left has another chance. It is only the Westminster system that makes it look as if the public somehow desire woolly centrism tied to fetishes for privatisation and war – in poll after poll, voters support the parties on the basis of ‘lesser of two (or three) evils’ politics while roundly rejecting their actual policies. The economic crisis has exposed the absurdity of having three neoliberal parties and no alternative: no-one can seriously maintain that the City is an ‘engine of growth’ when people are losing their homes because some speculators decided they’d make good casino chips in their game of roulette.

You don’t have to think very hard about bankers getting multi-million pound rewards for failure while food prices and energy bills go through the roof to come to some notion of nationalisation or ‘production for need’ (even if you don’t necessarily call it that). In an age when an economic crisis can get halfway around the world before the central bankers have even got their boots on, anyone can see that the problem is the system – the economic Wizards of Oz have suddenly found their curtains drawn back, exposed as the selfish frauds they always have been. The free market has stopped being simply unpleasant and started actually not working on its own terms. New Labour, the New Tories and the Cameron-lite New Lib Dems have no answer to that.

I’m not saying that ‘the revolution is upon us, comrade’, but it certainly seems that people are casting around for an alternative. The point of the convention is to organise a forum where we can see what unites us and how we can make tentative steps towards unity that will really work – the broad support the convention already has is an encouraging sign. I just hope the left will use its convention as a chance to bury the hatchet, not as a venue for that most destructive of socialist sports: sectarian point-scoring.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

The unrepentent Sarah Champion has no place in the modern Labour Party
Sarah Champion has defended her comments on race and sexual abuse. Her views have no place in the modern politics, writes Gavin Lewis

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright