By Rick Parnet
Tom Watson has set up a new “social democratic” group of Labour MPs and members of the House of Lords, Future Britain. Why?
Watson’s claim that his brand of politics can make Labour more electorally appealing looks pretty dubious in light of the electoral evidence.
And his appeal to pluralism is ridiculous both in terms of the historical record when his wing dominated the Labour Party and the fact that the right still dominates among the party’s elected representatives – despite its weak grassroots support.
There are aspects of monolithism and control-freakery about the Corbyn leadership, but they are almost always aimed against the more radical left and against grassroots members’ democratic rights, not against the right-wing parliamentarians, who really have nothing to complain about in this respect.
Above all: if the motivation for this new group is social democratic, what’s the point? Labour is a social democratic party. Its policies are social democratic. Moreover – and all this unfortunately from the point of view of The Clarion – its leadership is social democratic too.
Watson not only talks about “social democratic rather than socialist views” but sums up his caucus as “social democratic and democratic socialist”, as if Corbyn represents some kind of more radical or even revolutionary socialist alternative.
But the reality is that, far from going beyond social democracy, Jeremy Corbyn’s policies – the 2017 manifesto, for clear instance – are not even a particular radical form of social democracy.
Take a policy which is very far from some kind of radical socialist initiative: restoring trade union rights. As we have often pointed out, Labour conference 2017 voted unanimously to repeal all the anti-union / anti-strike laws – not just the 2016 Trade Union Act, but the ones introduced under Thatcher and Major too. This is a basic necessity for the labour movement to rebuild its strength and something Corbyn and McDonnell long campaigned for before 2015.
Have they, as advocates of workers’ rights and Labour Party democracy, argued for this unanimously agreed party policy? The answer is much, much closer to no than yes. They show every sign of evading the issue so they can evade carrying the policy out. Such behaviour only encourages the right wing.
For all the significant shifts in Labour policy, there are many similar issues, where Corbynism does not strongly challenge the neo-liberal consensus, let alone capitalism.
It seems very likely that what Watson’s group is about is holding the line against further leftward shifts in Labour policy, against left-wing policies being carried out and against further democratisation of the party so that what has been won so far can be gradually eroded. They calculate that under pressure the Corbynites will help them with that and, unfortunately, they might be right.
What defines Watson and co is not that they are social democrats – Corbyn and co fit that category much more comfortably than they do – but that they are very strongly loyal and committed to (modified) neo-liberalism, to an undemocratic Labour Party, to the institutions of the British state and to its militarism.
Corbyn and his allies are more shaky in those respects and many of their supporters less reliable still. Neither Corbynism’s general political weakness nor its failings over fighting Brexit and antisemitism eliminate that reality.
It’s easy for socialists to criticise the likes of Watson, but what is needed to defeat the Watsons is a further radicalisation of the Corbyn project, so it really does begin to challenge social democracy.
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