Thursday, 8 October 2015

Against factions

I joined the Labour Party at the start of 2009. I joined because I agree with the aims and values of the Labour Party as expressed in clause IV of the Party Constitution. I joined because I wanted to end poverty and inequality scarring our country. I wanted to help build a society where hard work was rewarded. And I wanted to support a government that was making the right choices on the economy.

I have never been a member of another party, not the Green Party or the Socialist Workers Party or (God forbid) the Liberal Democrats. There's a reason for that. The Labour Party doesn't exist for me to fulfil my fantasies. It's not a pose that I strike or an identity I can swap like other people swap T-shirts.

It's the way I can play my part in improving people's lives.

You don't improve people's lives by joining a society or a group, or setting up a committee. You improve people's lives by joining together in a political party with others who share your principles, and winning government and putting those principles into action. If you don't think those other people share your principles, you don't have to be in the same party.

I've never joined Progress, Compass, or the LRC. There's a reason for that. They have central committees and policies and conferences. They look smell and sound like political parties. And I only want to be a member of one political party: the Labour Party. If these people want to form a political party, they have that right. They don't have the right to create the organisational structures of political parties and pretend to be Labour people.

I am a member of the Fabian Society, largely because of its reputation for neutrality and intelligent, open political discussion.  

But quite frankly, if you oppose academies, you have no place in Progress. If you support Trident, you're going to find the LRC a bit hostile. 

That's not how it ought to be.

I'd rather discuss across the Party spectrum about how we put our values into practice than have my views dictated by the limits of factionalism.

Because my views are complicated. And not just me. Most people in the country have a combination of right wing and left wing views. You can support higher taxes and lower immigration at the same time. The point of political parties is to put this complexity and diversity into some kind of framework, but it's not to get rid of it completely. 

It's a cliche to say the Labour Party is a broad church. But all political parties are broad churches. If they're not, then they're just sects. A party which thinks about everything the same way is dead. Because if we can't allow Labour people to challenge us, how will we ever allow the British people to challenge us? 

That's why I hate factions, and that's why I'm so concerned about people creating organisations based on whether they're on the 'Labour left' or the 'Labour right'. Sure, your best friends in the Labour party might all be one shade of red, but that doesn't mean you have to shut yourself away somewhere where you never hear an opposing view.

There's a reason why we have structures within the Labour Party where members can debate the best way forward. It means that we don't have groupthink, it means that we can debate openly. Members should be working within those structures rather than creating their own.

Obviously there will always be the need for groups focussing on particular policy areas, Young Labour, university Labour Clubs and the rest. But those aren't based on where you stand on an imaginary political spectrum.

I hate the phrase 'the Labour left'. We're all on the left. Our interpretation of that might differ. But we're in the party because we share common goals. Otherwise, we wouldn't be in the party.

No member of the Labour Party is an enemy of mine. Unless, that is, they make me an enemy of them. But I will always relish a victory over the Tories so much more than a victory over one of my own.

Can everyone in the Party say the same? That their goal is not to get one over on their comrades? Not to push people away from the Party? Not to get rid of people that don't completely agree.

I'm afraid the answer is no. And I'll be more afraid the more organisations like Momentum rise up. The more forums we have to talk only to ourselves and not be challenged. The more people see themselves as on the Labour left or Labour right than just Labour.

So, to everyone in the Labour Party, let's stick together. Let's debate together. Let's fight together. Let's win together. United but not uniform.

Let's get a beer together and raise a toast to Jeremy Corbyn. 

And Tony Blair. 

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