A reply to Jim Jepps

Jim Jepps has made a very strong, and convincing reply to my last blog post (which can be found here). I have responded in turn to his reply. It goes as follows:


First of all I love the title – it made me smile reading it, before the inevitable heartbreak of being disagree with (I know, I know, should be used to it by now).


Secondly a quick clarification, I wasn’t referring to the ILP when I called to book a “small, inadequate left wing part[y] shout[ing] in the wind, by the sidelines”. I had specifically in my mind then the SWP, apologies for not making that clearer.


In helping the POUM the ILPs history, in this sense, is unquestionably noble. Despite having notable Stalinists inside it, the heroes were obviously the anti-Stalinist, anti-fascist volunteers who went to Spain, consulted with Andres Nin, and helped the Republican fight.


Back at home, under the rule of James Maxton, the ILP failed to concede to Bevan’s point about purity, and failed to maintain Hardie’s political principles of entering a broad church predicated on trade unionism, parliamentary road to socialism and working class struggle. Instead it gave in to the politics of factionalism, when the broad church needed a left-wing direction more than ever (doing a lousy job at governance, and losing MPs all over the show).


As per the received wisdom on the ILP, their first 25 years (or thereabouts) were so effective as to be almost magical, and their history home and abroad I can safely assert will influence my own politics no end, but I regard their democratically chosen decision to leave the Labour Party a bad move, not just for the Labour Party itself, but for them as well – the years after were their worst, before finally disappearing into the ethereal, and finally disbanding in the 1970s.


As you may have guessed my politics are different to the so-called Labour politics that you state – the way in which the deficit will be dealt with (which by the way, if you know what the official Labour response to is then you’re doing one better than our silent Milibrother I can tell you), war and ecological matters – but two things arise here:


  1. that’s not Labour politics, that’s PLP politics, and if we all submitted to that half the time then there’d hardly be a councillor left, and many of the MPs would be lost too. Part of the efforts of the left and the centre in the party is to loosen up party democracy – something also spoken about by not so Red Ed earlier in the year; one commenter on this article (where it is posted on TCF) had this to say: “I suggest that the massive disconnect between the party’s leaders (& ministers) and the rank & file is the fundamental weakness.” To which I replied, and it’s relevant here, “The disconnect is a massive weakness, and if the party democratised a bit – as per Ed Miliband’s promise – the party will change as it starts to reflect the rank and file, who in turn are better placed to reflect the real concerns of the governed.” The push for this is quite strong already within the party, but it could be stronger, and when the party starts to reflect the rank and file, and not just the Westminster politics of the day, it will be a site worthy of more left-wingers for sure. But it will take significantly more time if left wing activists find it more appropriate to have fewer disagreements with fewer people, than taking this fight to a place which, up and down the country, has significantly more political punch.
  2. Parties tend not have homogeneous politics anyway, which is politically realistic, but the Labour Party, with its rich history – as I have defended – is one of the finest examples of a political organisation with diversity of opinion. However I make no bones about wanting to drive to the fringes those right wingers who have lusted over privatisation and war; disagreements with the PLP (or more specifically the Blair-Brown era PLP) opinion is not enough, it can’t see it any other way that socialists of the country unite behind trying to win the argument against the Labour right wing entryists from within the largest democratic socialist party in the country. It disturbs me beyond belief how much the New Labour machine grew under the weight of a McCarthyite attack against the left, but it disturbs me even more that this remains a voluntary act by worthy leftwingers today.


With regards to your point that this is not a purity issue, this may be the case with you, in which case it is incumbent upon you to explain why voting green is more effective than voting a green Labourite (which I imagine they all are in some noble, try-hard way) on the whole I see the factionalism problem as precisely that. No doubt the Greens will have their own versions (I hear that there is still a small contingent of eco-fascists in there somewhere) of course – but I despair at having very similar politics to someone like yourself, but being in a party where your absence is far more severe.


11 Responses to A reply to Jim Jepps

  1. DA says:

    It disturbs me beyond belief how much the New Labour machine grew under the weight of a McCarthyite attack against the left, but it disturbs me even more that this remains a voluntary act by worthy leftwingers today.

    I don’t think it would be controversial to say this tendency in the Labour party is due to a loss of confidence by a large part of Labour party membership – they realise that they are much further left (and interested in politics) than most of the electorate, and so in an attempt to finally win an election and rid us of the Tories, they handed the direction of the party over to the Blair-ites who were supposed to have some semi-mystical understanding of middle-England and the swing voter, and thus held the key to winning power. The legacy of the Militant dispute and “Clause 4” has been Labour people don’t really trust leaders who tell them what they want to hear.

    A new relevant and popular socialist program is vitally needed, and the first thing we need to do is convince other Labour members that socialism is possible.

    • Carl Packman says:

      It’s very optimistic DA (David?) but I hope you’re right, indeed I do think socialism is possible and vital. I think trust will be commensurate with a vigorous democratisation of the Labour Party and the message should by now be a product of the very harsh political reality, forced upon us by an ideologically driven government. As an aside, the wisdom of the “squeezed middle” tag could prove rather vital a weapon in years to come.

  2. Jim Jepps says:

    Hi Carl, thanks for the reply.

    I absolutely agree that it’s up to those who support other parties to make the argument for those parties. I’m sure you’ll understand that in one post I only really had room to take on the specific charge of purism.

    On whether this is Labour’s politics. I can look at it’s record in government and it’s manifestos for a good idea of where it stands politically but I think it’s a bit of a myth that most members are cut from different cloth – those members are long now.

    If we look at the last leadership election the *members* endorsed David and Ed Miliband overwhelmingly. Diane Abbott got 2% was it? I can also look at the behaviour of labour councillors, who are far too numerous to control from the centre… now while respect all decent hard working councillors I don’t see any sharp political contrast with the leadership there.

    I certainly agree that healthy parties do not have homogenous politics. One reason why I would not join an organisation like the SWP et al is the insistence on one political line which you must accept or leave. I think that’s a position that’s guarenteed to keep them a minority party forever. However, just because the Tories are not homogenous I do not feel remotely inclined to join them. Likewise Labour.

    • Carl Packman says:

      Thanks for your response.

      Tomorrow I will be attending the Lab Rep Committee AGM which will give me at least a microcosmic verification that the Labour Party has a functioning socialist contingent still willing to organise against neoliberalism both in wider society and in the Labour Party itself – it would be textbook Leninism were it not for the fact that we were there first, before the Blairites, whose domination is coming to a close.

      I think the David/Ed example is the wrong way to look at this for a microcosm of the state of the Labour Party. A better way would be to see how many times Dianne was number 2 on the ballot papers, before a vote for Ed. In this we can see a strategic move (worse still I know of leftists in the party who voted for David Miliband because, for all his past misgivings, seemed the most confident and charismatic etc etc. Further, I know of at least one person who voted Dianne 1st then David 2nd. Work that one out?!).

      Many socialists couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Dianne because they wanted John McDonnell or nobody, as well as over the private school issue – and as much as I see this as an expression of, to utilise the phrase, inept purism, this fact can show us why the David/Ed example may do more to trivialise Labour rather than paint a perfect picture of it.

      On the point about the main two parties and homogeneity, of course it would be daft to adopt entryist tactics within the Tory party, but the Labour Party is essentially a progressive party whose cabinets have responded erroneously to the politics of the day, notably in the nineties and noughties. The politics of neoliberalism has been demonstrably horrendous, and it’s almost certain that the PLP will have to reflect this, and you can be sure that whatever the PLP is doing, the CLP is by and large politically to the left of it (in many cases). The Liberal Democrat write-off will help this out in the short term as well, but unfortunately constituency Labour Parties will still have a good portion of it’s natural vote taken by trivial smaller parties and Trot try-hards.

      The right in the Labour Party may have won the war, but they’ve never won the argument, nor is it likely they’ll be able to do so in the near future, but while the left vote and left activism is split so many times victory will still be there’s – for this it is difficult to blame them, the blame, therefore, will lay elsewhere.

  3. Daniel Blaney says:

    “If we look at the last leadership election the *members* endorsed David and Ed Miliband overwhelmingly. Diane Abbott got 2% was it?”

    no. if you look at numbers of actual votes cast Diane got over ten per cent, ahead of both Ed Balls and Andy Burnham. nobody ever mentions this because it doesn’t fit a narrative.

  4. Jim Jepps says:

    Nobody mentions it because it is isn’t true.

    Diane got 0.88% in the MPs vote, 2.45% in the members vote (this was the number I was remembering) and 4.09% in the affiliates vote giving her a grand total of 7.42%.

    To be a bit clearer this means 7.35% of the members who took part voted Diane for leader (because you need to times by three in each section to get how many per area). This was the least of all the candidates. She only out-polled Balls and Burnham in the affiliates section – which we weren’t talking about.

    More than two thirds of the members voted for David or Ed Miliband as their first preference for leader. The *members* wanted a Miliband (although in fairness more members wanted David than Ed, but that’s by the by)

  5. Daniel Blaney says:

    ok she got 7.35% in a five-way contest amongst the members. saying she got 2% is about as useful as saying ed miliband has a mandate with 9.9%. it doesn’t mean anything.

    to pluck 2% out of some breakdown and cite it fits a narrative, even but though its not fact. in number of actually ballot papers cast across the college, she came third. Fact. with that method of counting, she got over ten per cent. Fact.

  6. jim jepps says:

    No. I was talking specifically about the members and remembered the 2% number. I had the courtesy to put a question mark next to that because I had no time to look it up – my point that she polled very poorly among members was correct and did not rest on the exactness of the number – despite the fact that my estimate tallies with the way it was recorded officially – the left are a tiny minority of Labour’s members.

    In fairness and for accuracy I raised the fact that she got just over 7%. I didn’t have to do that but am committed to accuracy in debate.

    I repeat more than two thirds of the members voted for David or Ed Miliband as their first preference for leader. The *members* wanted a Miliband and that is a mandate. To suggest anything else is *thin*.

    “in number of actually ballot papers cast across the college[s], she came third. Fact. ” It’s a fact I’ve never contested, and it is *entirely* irrelevant to the point I’m making. I’m talking about Labour party members – which is only one of the three colleges, where she came last. Fact.

    You have consistently attempted to conflate the votes of non-members with members in a discussion about how the members voted. Fact. Is that because your ‘narrative’ requires you to do that? I think it might.

  7. Daniel Blaney says:

    exactly: you remembered the 2% figure because it fits a narrative. i havent “attempted” i conflate votes of non-members with members, i specifically did so because there is another way of looking at the result.

  8. jim jepps says:

    But I’m not looking at the result – I’m looking at what the political views of the Labour Party members are and used that specific college as part of the evidence to illustrate how few people in the Labour party are on the left.

    Your ‘evidence’ backs up my point by showing that non-members are to the left of party members. This isn’t much of a surprise to people who don’t use the word narrative.

  9. Daniel Blaney says:

    you can also look at other things like parliamentary selections when left candidates manage to get on the shortlist, or the results for the national policy forum or the national executive.

    there are various ways of assessing the internal dynamic of the party without resorting to daft and inaccurate guesswork regarding how abbott fared in a five way contest.

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