Labour on the Brink: What Future for the Party?

Labour roseWhoever wins the Labour Leadership election will face an enormous task. They will need to rebuild the Parliamentary party into a functioning opposition, overcome the rancour and distrust now prevalent in the wider Party and externally, and remake Labour’s political and emotional connection to the wider public.

Despite the growth in Party membership the leader will have to do this against a backdrop of alarmingly poor polling figures and a Conservative Prime Minister enjoying something of a political honeymoon.

With an unprecedented level of uncertainty about the Party’s future, the ILP is organising a conference at the Rose Bowl in Leeds on Saturday 15 October to discuss:

  • how and why we got into this crisis
  • what can be done to pull the Party together and avoid an interminable civil war
  • how our values of respect for co-existence, pluralism, comradeship and democratic participation can be re-asserted to stabilise the situation.

Labour faces an enormous challenge if it is to have a credible and sustainable future, so if you want to be part of the discussion, join the ILP on 15 October for:

What: Labour On The Brink – What Future For The Party?

When: 11.00am – 4.00pm, Saturday 15 October

Where: Room 408, The Rose Bowl, Leeds Beckett University, Portland Crescent, Leeds LS1 3HB

Who: Sessions will be introduced by Harry Barnes, former MP for North Derbyshire and Will Brown, ILP National Administrative Council

The event is free but you do need to book in advance by Friday 7 October.

Please click here to book online via Eventbrite.

Lunch will be available for £4 (pay on the day).


  1. Kenneth R. Curran
    18 May 2017

    On 8 May in a letter to the Guardian, Professor James Curran of Goldsmiths University of London stated that Labour had multiple problems. The most important being its failure to come up with a compelling democratic socialist alternative to global neo-liberalism and right wing populism. He tells us it is a shared problem that progressives, including both Labour left and right, and supporters of other parties, need to overcome.

    Myself and a number of close comrades share the view that Labour’s problems need to be seen on a far wider screen than that viewed by the Labour Party, which is narrow and parochial. We have to look abroad, and to Europe in particular.

    Over recent months we have witnessed a massive rejection of the Dutch Labour Party at the polls. The French left is in disarray and unable to present a coherent response to the problems of France as seen from France.

    On 5 May, in the regional elections in North Rhine, Westphailia, the German SPD suffered serious losses. North Rhine Westphailia is the traditional heartland of German democratic socialism. If one traces the coalfields of Belgium, northern France, Maastricht in Holland, Sarrbrucken and the Ruhr coal and steel belt, all of the old heavy industries have gone. In Antwerp and Rotterdam the former huge docking facilities have all been modernised and thousands of former dockers have been left without any futures.

    It is almost a mirror image of what has happened in the UK. Because the Labour parties and democratic socialist parties failed to produce a credible socialist alternative to neo-liberal economics, our former supporters are turning away from us.

    While the Corbyn manifesto is an attempt to address the fundamental problems facing the Labour Party it does not even mention the challenges facing us from neo-liberalism. Corporate capitalism is quite a different animal from the capitalism faced by the 1945 Labour government, which had been brought under limited control due to the need to fight the Second World War and the wisdom of John Maynard Keynes. Democracy can only survive by internationally agreed controls over the behaviour of the money markets. Corporate capital is in constant conflict with society, which needs rules and regulations in order to provide the services we need to live.

    We have to face up to corporate capital. The alternative is to allow ourselves and future generations just to be slaves to the market.

  2. Kenneth R. Curran
    26 February 2017

    The latest bye election results in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent highlight how far the Labour Party is away from its traditional support from the working class. It is in my opinion far to simplistic to blame today’s politicians for the current dilemma. I would suggest the seeds of today’s dilemma stem from a failure on the part of all of the Labour movement to understand how the modern post 1939-45 war world would influence the way we live today. There was this vague assumption that as long as productivity grew and generally the economy performed, we as a people we all share in the fruits of our Labour. We did not take account of the kind of difficulties that would occur for the workers and their communities as industries sort to modernise and further improve productivity.

    It was in the mill towns of Lancashire & Yorkshire which suffered as textiles began to be produced in India & Pakistan around the same time as Britain’s shipyards went into decline. Our huge workforce of dockers in ports from Glasgow down to Southampton, London & many more were losing their jobs during the 1960s gradually the docklands were deserted as the local communities withered away. It was in 1963 shortly after Labour had been re-elected as Harold Wilson that he addressed the Labour Party conference in Scarborough. This was the speech in which he called upon Labour to face up to the challenge of the white hot heat of new technology.
    While the speech was very well received by conference and the media of the day, I believe there was little understanding of the kind of challenges new technology could and would have upon society at large.

    In recognition of the challenges we as a people were likely to face Labour announced the creation of a new government department. The department of technology and research, Tony Benn was appointed minister. The Concorde aircraft was a joint Anglo-French project which emerged from that department. The tragic reality for Labour is the fact that apart from introducing redundancy pay nothing much has been done since the late 1960s to support working people who had been displaced in their employment. For many men and women who were in their late 40s were unlikely to work again. Apart from some redundancy pay which they soon spent they very soon themselves on benefits. The attitude of employers during the 1970s & 1980s was that carrying labour in your company was and still is regarded as a burden, not an asset. Labour since Harold Wilson made his famous speech on technology has depended upon redundancy pay to placate those thrown out of work because of technological and managerial change. Redundancy pay is a placebo to reduce the pain of losing your job. It is not a solution to the multitude of problems caused by and will become increasingly so by new technology. The old industrial workers are the grandmas & granddads of today’s largely unskilled population. These folk feel that Labour has let them down.

    For over 20 years I have been engaged in voluntary community work in a very working class area of Sheffield where 30 years ago Labour had a flourishing branch. Today it is just clinging on to existence. My views for this article are drawn from personal experience. Beyond redundancy pay former workers were left to spend their time as best they could, many died of sheer boredom
    feeling there was no longer any purpose in life. Labour failed to listen to these folk, New Labour was more interested in building its links with businesses & celebrities became more important than listening to former foundry men or working class mothers. If the current trajectory of voting continues in working class constituencies Labour is heading for the wilderness.
    Kenneth R. Curran Snr

  3. Kenneth R. Curran
    30 January 2017

    Labour’s future? My first contribution has dealt with the Second World War plus the period up to 1979, a period of 39 years during which the influence of Labour was reflected in the behaviour of capitalism in Britain. Labour’s thinking from the end of the First World War in 1914 was largely influenced by the writings and economic analysis of John Maynard Keynes. The work of Keynes, which had helped guide the British Treasury for almost 50 years, was dismissed almost overnight when Thatcher was elected. Ronald Reagan introduced Thatcher to the writings of a Chicago economics academic Prof Hayek and a free market guru Milton Friedman. At that point the two leading political Leaders of the western world became leading advocates of free market neoliberal economic management which has brought, not just the west but the world to the point of global mismanagement.

    How has all this been received by the democratic left? The Labour Party is confused, the party which was formed in order to tame the excesses of capitalism does not have a cohesive response. The capitalism of 1880 bears little resemblance to the technological revolution taking place today. The kind of measures Keynes recommended were tailored to meet the needs and challenges of his day. While trade during his life time had reached out across the world, the speed by which billions of sterling deals are done today is in seconds whereas deals took weeks and months 20 years ago.

    While our economy has changed, technology is changing our behaviour. In effect the party which was created to reform capitalism finds itself being influenced by the system it is supposed to change. Over the lifetime of Labour it has built support in every town and city, and its strongest support has been in those towns and cities which were in the vanguard of the industrial revolution. It is those places where Labour has political control of the local council that its dilemma is most acute. Since 1979 the degree of political freedom councils are able to exercise in 2017 is extremely limited. Indeed, the poorer the area is economically, the weaker it is in terms of the political action it can take to protect the local people from the combined effects of government cuts and an unstable economy.

    The most classic examples of Labour’s dilemma are found right across the northern heartlands. Labour has to find a way to try and protect those people who have for generations voted Labour. It is not acceptable for Labour councillors to become agents of the state, as they have become. The model being used by the Tory elite to regulate the population is little short of corporate fascism.

  4. Kenneth R. Curran
    29 January 2017

    Since the Rose Bowl conference in October 2016 there does not appear to be a ground swell of movement towards Labour. I regard the forthcoming bye elections due in Stoke and Copeland in Cumbria as very important for Labour. I have been in the Labour Party since 1946, while the Party has had many ups and downs over the years I cannot recall a time when my own confidence in the future of the Labour has been so low. While I have serious concerns about the quality of quite a number of members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, I believe that Labour’s problems are even more fundamental than the quality of our MPs.

    The Labour Party was formed in the hope that by creating what became known as a broad church, a coalition trade unions, socialist political groups from Marxists to democratic socialists, the Fabian Society and others, the conditions of the common people would be advanced by securing seats in Parliament and through legislation. In effect, the Parliamentary Labour Party would by legislation change the behaviour of all of society in order that everyone would be able to share the benefit of our created wealth by exercising democratic control over the economy.

    It was the Second World War that gave the trade unions the status needed and opportunity to convince the rest of society that only by Britain behaving in a democratic and collective manner we could win the war against fascism. It was those six years of war which gave Labour its first opportunity to reform the behaviour of capitalism. During its four years of government, Labour did regulate the behaviour of capital for the general benefit of the people. What Labour did was not supported by everyone, the middle class and the rich were always carping on about their loss of freedoms. By the time we faced our first real election test in 1950 a number of the factions which made up the broad church were beginning to question Labour’s direction of travel.

    In a sense capitalism in Britain was regulated in varying ways since the formation of the political coalition government after Neville Chamberlain, the Conservative, was forced to stand down over his disastrous handling of the first year of war. A number of leading Labour members helped form a new wartime government. Key members of that government were trade union leaders. Ernest Bevin was general secretary of the Transport & General Workers A former docker from Bristol, he became Minister of Labour and had such a command over his department and the co-operation of the TUC, the Tories were in awe of his authority. He was able to influence many key people in the City of London with his down-to-earth solutions that helped change the behaviour of the City of London.

    The foundations laid by those Labour members of the war-time government were used and built upon by the 1945 Labour government. Even after Labour was defeated in 1950 the legacy remained intact in the way capital behaved until the arrival of Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street in 1979. An era of relative calm and regulated conditions which had lasted from 1940 till 1979 were about to end. The era of political and economic common sense was about to be replaced by neoliberalism.

    Kenneth R. Curran Snr

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