A brief comment on an article by David Pavett (more on the Labour Party civil war)

August 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

A friend forwarded me an article by David Pavett. I disagree with the argument of the article, which seems to be summarised in this passage:

No one in the current disputes denies a key role to Parliament. The claim anyone does is a figment of Freedland’s imagination. The argument is rather about whether all political debate should be judged by what will, all other things being equal, produce a parliamentary electoral advantage in the short to medium term. It is that sort of politics of narrow parliamentarianism that is in question and it is that narrow view that is defended by the anti-Corbyn camp and by JF.

I agree with the author that “JF” (Jonathan Freedland) is wrong to suggest the positions adopted by the two camps are pro-Corbyn=anti-parliamentary activity and anti-Corbyn=pro-parliamentary activity. But then the author suggests alternative positions which I think are also wrong: pro-Corbyn=pro-parliamentary-combined-with-extra-parliamentary activity and anti-Corbyn=narrow parliamentarism (pro-parliamentary-and-no-extra-parliamentary activity).

Instead, I think the concern of many in the anti-Corbyn camp is that keeping Corbyn as leader will mean that the left no longer has the option of parliamentary activity in a meaningful way, because the Labour Party will decline to such an extent that it will have no chance of winning a General Election and therefore will not pose a credible threat to the Tories. I feel that many in the pro-Corbyn camp are in denial about this, many others don’t understand the parliamentary/extra-parliamentary distinction, and many others don’t seem to care if the option of parliamentary activity is lost, perhaps because they take the position articulated by Robert Green in his comment on Pavett’s article, namely that parliamentary activity is “utterly useless for the pursuit of working class aims” except as a space to “propagandise for socialism.”

I see Green’s position as connected to the idea that there is no real difference between a Labour government led by anyone except Corbyn and a Tory government – in particular, the idea that there is no significant difference between how these two options (non-Corbyn Labour government, Tory government) would lead to worsening conditions for the working class/the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society/most people/a society concerned about inequality, life chances and social and environmental justice. I don’t agree with this. I do agree with Pavett that political debate should extend beyond a focus on parliamentary electoral advantage, but I share the concern of many in the anti-Corbyn camp that keeping Corbyn as leader may mean the Labour Party can’t engage in parliamentary activity as effectively as they might if they lose him now.

I agree with Pavett that JF is wrong, I agree with Pavett’s distinction between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity, and I agree with him that both are important and that narrow parliamentarism sucks. But I don’t agree with his analysis of what is actually going on in the Labour Party today any more than I agree with Jonathan Freedland’s.

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