Ed Maltby surveys some of the the Labour Party’s political factions and campaigns.
The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy is the oldest group of the Labour left. It was founded in 1973 as part of a broader battle to force the Parliamentary Labour Party to obey the decisions of Annual Conference.
In 1960-1961, rightwing PLP leader Hugh Gaitskell had led a successful fight to overturn the democratic decision of Conference calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament. The immediate trigger for the formation of the CLPD was Harold Wilson’s decision to exclude from the 1974 manifesto the Party conference’s call for nationalisation of 25 large companies.
CLPD became more prominent in the early 1980s, when it campaigned (with some success) for a right for local Labour Parties to submit MPs to regular reselection, for a more democratic procedure for electing the Leader and for greater representation for women and ethnic minority Party members.
In addition to internal Labour Party democracy, the CLPD has policies in favour of some basic social-democratic demands, around the welfare state, pensions and public ownership. The CLPD opposes state funding for political parties and defends the Labour-union link.
The “cutting edge” of its campaign around Party democracy at the moment is the fight for the right of Conference and the party rank-and-file to amend National Policy Forum documents. At present NPF documents go to Conference in a “take-it-or-leave-it” form, so left-wingers cannot affect NPF policy short of persuading Conference to vote down whole reports.
The CLPD mainly functions by sending out model motions and policy recommendations to its members in the post and trying to get policy passed through the different committees and organs of the Party; lobbying for support; working in the unions to push CLPD policy, and so on. It has around 1,000 supporters, including affiliated organisations. Its secretary is Pete Willsman; its parliamentary liaison officer Kelvin Hopkins MP.
Through a network called “Grassroots Labour”, the CLPD is linked to other organisations on the left of the Labour Party. The main focus of “Grassroots Labour” has been agreeing a “centre-left” slate for the Constituency Labour Party seats on Labour’s National Executive. That slate has won four out of the six seats in recent elections.
The other main groups which have been involved in the Grassroots Alliance are the Labour Representation Committee, Save The Labour Party and Compass Youth (not Compass as such).
The LRC (Labour Representation Committee) was formed in 2004, taking its name from the original LRC which was the forerunner of the Labour Party in 1900-06.
The LRC has around 150 affiliate organisations, including Constituency and Branch Labour Parties, union branches and trade unions. Nationally, ASLEF, the CWU, the FBU, the NUM, the RMT and the bakers’ union are affiliated.
The LRC has around 1,000 individual members. It has local groups, in South and West Yorkshire, Cambridge, London (including branches in Lambeth, Islington and Hackney), Leeds and Liverpool. Non-Labour members and disaffiliated unions, like the FBU, can join the LRC. The LRC’s leading figure is John McDonnell MP. The vice-chairs are Maria Exall and Susan Press.
The LRC fights for socialist (left-wing social democratic) politics within the Labour Party, as well as for greater Party democracy. It is unambiguous about the working class being the major agency for social change, and supports trade union struggles.
Save the Labour Party
Save The Labour Party is a grouping launched in 2003 around Peter Kenyon and Ann Black, two left-ish members of the Labour’s National Executive.
Black was previously a leading figure in Labour Reform, a grouping which advocated Labour Party democracy without being, or pretending to be, particularly left-wing on policy issues.
It focuses on passing information and briefings between grassroots Labour activists, lobbying and passing motions in defence of the union-Labour link and Party democracy, in a broad sense. Both Kenyon and Black publish informative blogs which enable Labour Party members to know what goes on in the National Executive.
Save The Labour Party is focussed on restoring the health of grassroots Party organisations, membership, and functioning at the level of CLPs, in addition to restoring the role and powers of the National Executive. It doesn’t pretend to be especially left-wing.
Compass, launched in 2003, has a bigger public profile than the CLPD, LRC or STLP. Unlike them, it is “New Labour”, albeit disillusioned “New Labour”, rather than “Old Labour” (let alone something better).
Of its leading figures, Neal Lawson used to be a speechwriter for Gordon Brown and Jon Cruddas MP was a Downing Street aide for Tony Blair.
In the 2010 election, Compass advocated a sort of unity offensive with the Liberal Democrats, with the aim of constituting the Compassite wing of the Labour Party as the fulcrum of a “progressive alliance” (i.e. an alliance of nice people with good ideas).
In May I attended a post-election rally held by Compass in London (where entry cost £5). The audience appeared to be made up of young professionals, bloggers, and young researchers for MPs.
I spotted at least two right-wing Labour Students from the National Union of Students Executive, and a handful of former National Union of Students executive members.
Polly Toynbee told the audience that “we’re hardly the Militant Tendency” and numerous speakers gloated over an impending influx of young leftish Lib Dems into the Labour Party.
Billy Hayes spoke as a token trade union presence. He pleaded with the audience “not to forget trade unions”.
I realised to my dismay that from the point of view of the politics of working-class self-organisation and self-emancipation, Hayes, author of several sell-outs from the top of the CWU union machine, was the best speaker at that meeting.
Compass claims around 30,000 members and supporters around the country. It has an impressive, media-savvy organisation. Around 1,000 people are now registered for its 2010 conference, “A New Hope” (tickets are a steal at £25 unwaged, £37 waged).
Compass Youth, led by Sam Tarry, who is also chair of the (weak) official Young Labour organisation, is a shade more left-wing than Compass itself.
Progress and beyond
To the right of Compass, and lower-profile, are Progress (Stephen Twigg, Alan Milburn, etc.; founded by the notorious Derek Draper) and the magazine Prospect (edited by David Goodhart and aimed, so he says, at “a mature, educated, affluent readership, many of whom have reached the top of their profession”).
Beyond Progress and Prospect, the spectrum moves out of the Labour Party as such into the world of the think tanks. The biggest of those close to the Labour Party is the Institute for Public Policy Research, rather to the right of Compass, but still embodying the same spirit of watered-down liberal “social justice” delivered from above.
The IPPR is a slick organisation whose major activity is publishing copious and well-researched, academic reports on “policy” matters. Child Trust Funds and New Labour’s Flexible New Deal were products of IPPR papers.
It currently employs 42 people as full-time policy wonks, and is one of the Labour hierarchy’s hatcheries where future ministers are groomed for leadership. David Miliband started his career there, and Tristram Hunt and Patricia Hewitt are also alumni. “Lord” Neil Kinnock is a trustee. Co-director Carey Oppenheim previously worked as a policy advisor to Tony Blair and as head of research for the Child Poverty Action Group.