Lessons from the Election: An End to Factionalism
This is the final post of three in my short series of lessons from the election. My first post focused on how the Labour Party must move from being a ‘party of protest’ to becoming a government in waiting. My second post focused on how we must stop blaming the media for our election defeat. You can find those posts here. In this third and final post, I will focus on why we must bring an end to factionalism within the Labour Party if we are to stand any hope of winning the next General Election.
The Labour Party has historically always been a broad church and will always continue to be. The Labour Party brought together a number of traditions on the left into a single, unifying political force. The history of the Labour Party is well-known and one blog post could not do it justice. Nor will I bore you with an explanation of the different factions within the modern Labour Party and the internal battles that have raged over the past decade. Instead, I will call into question the purpose of these factional disputes and argue that they are costing us the chance to govern the country.
I am a recently new member of the Labour Party. I joined the Party in 2017 after moving to London. I should really have become a member years ago. I have always been political and a supporter of the Party but for some reason I did not think that joining the Party would be for me. Shortly after joining the Party, my worst fears were realised. In fact, I almost left again straight away.
I attended my first local branch and constituency meetings and could not believe what I was witnessing. We had endured seven years of Tory austerity yet my local Party spent the most of its time on factional infighting and dealing with ridiculous procedural motions designed to frustrate. My current local party has spent much of the past year (election campaigning aside) debating the quorum for its meetings and the name of the branch. Where was the local activism? Where was the community spirit and shared Labour values?
Factionalism has divided our membership and made us weaker. My experience moving to my current branch is a case in point. The welcome to my first meeting was hostile to say the least. When I arrived a Momentum organiser on the Branch committee asked whether or not I was a member of Momentum. I told them that I did not belong to any faction but that I had enjoyed attending Young Fabian events. I was told that members of Progress were not welcome in this branch and that the Fabians were all Blairites.
I was not made to feel welcome at all. The factional in-fighting continued throughout the meeting and the tone was aggressive and unproductive. I didn’t go back for months and speaking to a number of members since joining the Party it seems that this is the case in a number of constituencies across the country.
Leaving aside the Momentum organiser’s questionable historical re-write of the role that the Fabians have played in the Labour Party, my experience of attending Young Fabian events has been the highlight of my membership. Young Fabian events are a space to debate real policies, to come up with new ideas and to discuss them with your peers in an attempt to get those ideas heard. Factionalism has been a notable absentee and the events have been more productive for it.
However, whilst factionalism has frustrated Labour activists across the country, it biggest impact has been to turn away would-be Labour voters. Rightly or wrongly, we cannot deny that Labour in-fighting made headlines across social media and the press during the General Election. Factionalism has been amplified by social media to the extent that if you are on Twitter you cannot seem to avoid the vile, daily pile-ons and #twitterstorms orchestrated by all factions across the Party.
The purpose of this article is not to accuse one side of being worse than the other but to call a truce. The in-fighting has to stop. If we cannot trust each other, how can we argue that voters should trust us to form the next government. In-fighting stops people from engaging with the Labour Party, it has led to a rise in hate crime against our members whether that be anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism or sexism. In the process we have lost sight of the unifying principle that holds our broad church together.
We have far more in common than that which divides us.
It is a simple mantra that the Labour Party has to adopt following the election. Despite accusations to the contrary, not a single member of the Labour Party wants a Conservative government. We all know how devastating that is for our country. We know how devastating that is for the people that need a Labour government most. We are all passionate about the future of our NHS, improving public services and ensuring every person in this country is housed, fed and given an outstanding education.
It is no coincidence that those principles are popular with the majority of voters in this country. They are unifying principles that will form the basis of our manifesto at the next General Election. By focusing on what we have in common rather than what divides us we can unite the electorate behind the Labour Party’s manifesto and attempt to form the next government in 2024.
That does not mean that our broad church needs to agree on everything nor will it ever. There will inevitably be arguments about how the Labour Party pursues its goals. But if we keep our unifying principles at the centre of everything we do, and treat each other with respect, our arguments can be far more productive (and may I say comradely) than they are at present.
The media would love nothing more than to report on another five years of Labour in-fighting. Let’s stop fuelling the fire.
Alex is an employment solicitor and a Young Fabian member.