The biggest issue anyone on the left (and I mean the proper left, socialism and all that) has to deal with is the one of compromise. It’s one I struggled with for a long time. How far do you compromise your ideals for the possibility of electoral success and power?
Articulating the reason I was happy to join the Labour Party whilst being a self described Socialist Anarchist was perhaps quite difficult at the time, and still can be. I’ve plenty of friends less extreme than me in their views who’d never consider compromising their views to such an extent as to join a political party – least of all the party of Iraq, privatisation and tax cuts for the rich. So why do so?
I think John O’Farrell’s piece in the Guardian provides a fair summation of the argument:
“Lots of us on the left like the idea of not conforming, of each doing our own thing. Another phrase for this is “losing elections”. Is that why the left has not built enough on past victories, because we are more comfortable protesting than governing? Just by having had turns in power the Labour party is seen by many as part of the establishment, and so purists keep themselves untainted by sneering at any party that could win and actually pass legislation.
“But I am in Labour because it is the largest party of the left that is ever likely to be elected to power. If the Socialist Workers party or Respect or People’s Front of Judea ever grew large enough to challenge for a parliamentary majority, they too would have to face all the same difficult policy choices and compromises to persuade moderate doubters to come on board.
“The compromises were massive in the past decade or so, understandably more than many could bear … But if you consider yourself to be anywhere on the left, you either work to secure a Labour government, or you are just a protester (which is fine if that’s your thing, but don’t expect us to give up trying to win actual power).”
John O’Farrell is standing for Labour in the Eastleigh by-election – a Tory / Lib dem contest. Funny, given that at the last election, many voted for the Lib Dems in protest at what Labour had done… whilst this by-election will see droves of dissaffected Lib Dem voters turn to vote Labour in protest, one would suspect. The taint of power is now all over the Lib Dems, and I hope this makes the left realise that their choice on election day is starker than ever: Vote Labour or else you’re a just a protestor.
I’ve always wanted to be more than just a protestor, I’ve always wanted to change things, build things, make power work for those without it. That’s why I vote Labour.