The clumsy and hasty attempt to abolish the role of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party has predictably failed. It exemplifies the weakness of the “top down” approach to Left politics, which is merely a “socialist” reflection of the bag-carrying, Leader-following, insider politics of the Westminster bubble.
There is a good case to be made that there ought not to be a Deputy Leader elected with the same mandate as the Leader, because if the two are of like mind then the Deputy adds nothing of substance, whereas if they disagree that is a gift to our opponents (and there are also valid arguments to retain the position).
There is also a good case to be made that Tom Watson has been a persistent negative feature of the Party for some time – and that his continuing presence is an unwelcome reminder that a large part of the Parliamentary Labour Party is not reconciled to the popularity of socialist policies in the wider party.
However, if the Left wants to achieve lasting change in the Party then we need to campaign for it among the membership of the Party, not seek to use an NEC majority to bounce Conference – that is precisely the tactic which we would expect from the right-wing in our movement over the years.
Such campaigning can be laborious, tiring and brings with it no guarantee of success (not least because the opponents of socialism within the Party will use any and all levers of power still in their hands to frustrate Party democracy). Also, in seeking to mobilise a majority for change it is an unavoidable necessity to work alongside people with whom one doesn’t agree on many issues.
The sudden and unexpected accession to the Leadership of a socialist candidate in 2015 has created previously unanticipated opportunities for socialists in the Labour Party – but it may also have generated the illusion in some quarters that change can be achieved simply by attaining positions in the Party and using those exalted positions to direct a stage army of the Left.
The left on the NEC have handed an undeserved “victory” to the current Deputy Leader and, in so doing, have humiliated themselves and the wider left in the Party. Perhaps comrades can draw the right lessons from this fiasco, and can rediscover the principles of rank and file democracy as a guide to their political activity.
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