Activists who identify as being on the “soft left” of the Labour party have launched a new group called Open Labour that will aim to represent the views of “normal” Labour members. The group is overtly setting itself up as a rival to Momentum, the grassroots activist campaign that backed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid and is becoming an increasingly influential force within the Labour Party. Many people consider Momentum to be a “hard left” political organisation.
Here is the launch letter Open Labour published on their website”
Today we launch Open Labour, a forum bringing together activists to build a Labour left which is committed to a better quality of debate and political culture within Labour, while fo cussing on the question of how to win power.
Labour’s democratic left has for too long been defined by other currents in the party and has been without any form of organisation. The elections of Ed Miliband and now Jeremy Corbyn have not changed that. Now is the time for those who believe in equality, democracy, solidarity and the emancipating power of the left to come together. Open Labour believes that there must be a place within Labour to debate and shape these values in a respectful way free from the divisive and intolerant voices that have come to dominate Labour debate especially on social media.
The need for a renewed democratic left within the party is clear. This debate cannot be reduced to how ‘left’ or ‘right’ Labour is. It is about how we tie our opposition to austerity and concentrations of power to a strategy where we persuade those who haven’t yet felt the confidence to vote for us. Open Labour is a grassroots-powered organisation and will stay that way. It will argued for and practice a new style of left politics which is tolerant, forward looking and seeks power for a purpose. We urge anyone who sees truth in this letter to visit openlabour.org and join us.
Two things stand out from this letter. The first is the emphasis on changing the culture within Labour into a “new style of left politics which is tolerant.” This is a deliberate dig at the promises made by Corbyn during the election campaign to create a new “kinder politics.” Corbyn has been put under pressure from his some of his own MPs to distance himself from Momentum which has been accused of bullying and abuse.
The second thing that stands out from the letter is the lack of a clearly defined political ideology. Open Labour is being careful not to pigeonhole itself as a narrow political forum.
However, Open Labour published a series of opinion pieces on its website this morning that do go some way to defining what it believes in. In a post written by founding Open Labour member Jade Azim, she identifies the group as being “soft left” and attempts to define what that actually means.
“What was historically coined as ‘the soft left’ is actually Labour’s mainstream. It is the normal, the majority, where most members and MPs lie. It is the grassroots … The historical ‘soft left’, or the ‘sensible left’, must choose to be more than an interim, to be confident in its history and its arguments. It has to form its own base, an original base. So here we are.”
Azim’s post also compliments Ed Miliband, saying that he represented many of the of the soft left’s views. However his approach to implementing them was too “cautious.” She writes:
“But it [the soft left] shares a common thread; inequality, the injustice of fettered markets. A scepticism of the power of the private, of privatisation. And in the 21st century, a hostility toward a concentration of assets never before seen. Its solutions involve tax and land reforms, new forms of redistribution that overcome the voting population’s hostility to means-tested welfare.
All of this written word argues, ultimately, for a Left confident in its economic argument, of overturning the market consensus with popular consent. Something initiated by Miliband but perhaps found an advocate too cautious in practice to see it through, leading to an uneasy approach to fiscal responsibility but also a radicalism that never seemed to quite fit together, never trusted to its Left or to its Right.”
Azim’s post will resonate with many longtime members of the Labour Party. They are broadly sceptical of unfettered financial markets and privatisation, and they would like to see tax used as a way to redistribute wealth. However, they don’t identify with the activists in Momentum, many who aren’t even members of the Labour Party and instead belong to political parties such as the Socialist Party. Many of these activists hold beliefs that are often categorised as being “hard left,” such as wanting the government to nationalise whole industries.
There is a space for a new political movement that represents the large number of Labour members who are feeling isolated by Corbyn and his supporters, but convincing people to sign up to, and become active in, a movement that doesn’t have a clearly defined figurehead is going to be a tough task for Open Labour. It’s much harder to create an insurgent movement when you are already considered to be the mainstream.
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