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We can’t wish a new left party into existence

Michael Calderbank offers an alternative view of Ken Loach’s appeal to discuss a new party

March 20, 2013
2 min read


Michael CalderbankMichael Calderbank Red Pepper co-editor and parliamentary researcher for trade unions. @Calderbank


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In a week when Labour chose not to oppose the coercion of the unemployed into unpaid work for profitable companies, it’s only to be expected that activists start to give serious thought to the need for an alternative.

But at the same time there is a gulf between wanting to see it and being able to realise that ambition. Ken Loach himself has been here before, as a previous advocate of both the Socialist Alliance and Respect, both of which failed to live up to their potential. It is important to understand the lessons of these experiences, and what problems any such attempt faces today.

For one thing, the field isn’t entirely clear. We already have the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), even if its performance so far gives little reason for encouragement.

And while the Green Party might have greater appeal to liberal middle class professionals than to working class communities, they will nevertheless compete to an extent with any new left party unless an accommodation can be reached. The situation in Scotland and Wales is further complicated by the role of the nationalists.

And as we approach the general election, the key priority of voters angry at the coalition will be its defeat and removal, which given our first past the post electoral system is likely see people voting Labour, even if they have to hold their noses to do so.

This is not a counsel of despair, but to recognise that building the foundations for a viable anti-austerity politics will take time. The success of Syriza in Greece, another key development influencing recent thinking on the left, holds lessons here. It emerged precisely as a coalition rather than a party, with the very specific priority of giving practical support to movements which were emerging in the streets, community and workplaces. Only now, nearly 10 years on, is it beginning to slowly, carefully develop the structures of a party.

Ken Loach is right about the crisis of representation, but it won’t be put right overnight. In the meantime, we have to coalesce in practical forms of resisting austerity. In time, this might yet find the kind of electoral expression that thousands want to see.

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Michael CalderbankMichael Calderbank Red Pepper co-editor and parliamentary researcher for trade unions. @Calderbank


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