Open Letter to Labour Comrades Who May Vote Yes.

Dear Comrades

In my 36 years membership of the party, I have seen many people who have disagreed with party policy, which they usually address in one of three ways.

The first is to simply leave: no-one is forced to join or remain a member of any political party in the UK (unlike for example, in the Soviet Union or 1960s Chicago.) However, this is the worst approach, as taken by the SDP Gang of 4 and Jim Sillars.

It is far better to take either of the alternative approaches. The first is these is to seek to change the policies with which one disagrees, through the machinery that exists for that process.

Indeed, one of the ways in which the weakness of such outfits as Labour for Independence can be measured is its lack of activity in CLPs or even at last weekend’s conference. The contrast with the 1980s when activists were (successfully) pressing for Labour to commit to devolution is remarkable: it was impossible to get away from pro-devo enthusiasts in those days. 

The second positive approach is to realise that one is in a minority, and continue to support that majority of the Party’s policies with which one agrees.

This is what I do myself, and is based on two principles: that I would not have joined Labour had I not agreed with the general principles and direction of travel; and that my opinion is likely to come back into fashion again eventually. In the meantime, I keep my complaints in house.

This is called loyalty, by the way, and is part of simple respect to my fellow members, whose view on independence is summed up in the phrase: “by the strength of our common endeavour we achive more than we achieve alone”. (It is on the back of our membership card, if you ever need a reminder.) You can also see the real achievements of Labour in power elsewhere on my blog, and I will not waste time on repetition here.

It is hard not to catch a note of regret for the passing of an old working class Labour Party in some of the views of longtime comrades . This is puzzling: back in the old days, Labour was run by public school educated grandees like (Wykehamists) Hugh Gaitskill and Richard Crossman. The left was led by similarly privileged people like Tony Benn and Michael Foot. Now the Leaders of the Party at both UK and Scottish levels were each educated at state comprehensives. 

Since then, it is true that there are fewer people at the head of the party from a trade union background, who were in many cases right-wingers like Jim Callaghan and George Brown. Interestingly, the presence of working class people in Parliament declined when they were replaced in the 1970s and 1980s by more left-wing candidates who were overwhelmingly middle-class and university educated, which was summed up when Hackney North selected Diane Abbott over Ernie Roberts.

I share your regret, and hope that the new arrangements put in place by Ed Miliband will bring more trade union members into active membership (and with it influence) of the Labour Party.

Finally, I am sure you know your Labour history, and so should be able relate to what Ernie Bevin said about George Lansbury: that he was “taking his conscience around from body to body to be told what he ought to do with it.” No-one is bigger than the Labour Party, and nor is their conscience, be they leader (like Lansbury) or you or I or any other member.

Yours in solidarity,

Peter A. Russell


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