30 January 2007
Towards a new working class party.
The Labour Party was established in 1900 as the political voice of the labouring, or working, class. For most of its history it has been an alliance of socialists and labourists. The former were mainly, but not entirely, middle class, and the latter were the party's working class core.
Today the party has shed its image as being the voice of the working class in favour of a policy that takes the working class vote for granted - on the principle that we have nowhere else to go - and which competes aggressively with the Tories and Liberal-Democrats for middle class support.
This has left the working class without a political voice and it has responded to this by disengaging from politics altogether. The problem here is that by doing so it only encourages the Labour Party to move further to the right and seek yet more middle class votes.
What working class activists should do is recognise that the old Labour Party coalition of middle and working class activists can never be bolted back together again. A new working class party should be formed, but one that avoids the mistakes of earlier attempts to create such bodies.
We need to accept that the British working class are not socialists and most of them never will be. Thus an attempt to set up a socialist party will more than likely go the way of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party and become yet another set of boring initials that most people are not interested in.
What is needed is a party that can bring together working class socialists and labourists. The party needs to have in the preamble to its constitution a variation of the old Labour Party's clause four. It should state that the aim of the party is to: Ensure the economic security of the working class via the collectivisation and democratic management of the British economy.
Social issues need to be avoided for the simple reason that they are divisive: economic ones are not. The party must keep as many people inside the tent as possible. It isn't that working class people are hostile to much social policy, but they are indifferent to it. Why create divisions within our ranks when the victors in any such faction fight are not going to gain any extra votes as a result of that victory?
Secondly, the party should make it a matter of tactical policy to attack and ridicule the middle class, as a class. The socialists will join in with gusto because they know that to destroy capitalism, the middle class which acts as capitalism's buffer, must first be destroyed. For the more pragmatic labourists, the tactic will make sense because the local middle class - the teachers, social workers and council officials - are already loathed and feared, anyway. Again, we play to our strengths and not our weaknesses; we unite our class and do not seek to divide it.
Leading on from this, the party should adopt as its symbol the sarcastic working class two-fingered gesture of contempt. For too long the Labour Party sought to educate and uplift its working class supporters: and the working class supporters just ignored them. Put another way the party sought to indoctrinate them into an acceptance of middle class mores and culture and it failed. Many of our new party's natural supporters will be working class by conviction and culture, as well as by income. We need to accept this, and we need to work with the grain of our classes' values and not against it.
For this reason, the party might want to consider inviting the likes of the great Bernard Manning along to give it a collective laugh at the founding conference. To do so would be to enrage the middle class, and thus increase the party's appeal. With luck, and a dose of press management, the very people that working class people loath will start to attack the party. The more they do this, the more the party can be expected to grow.
How can this party be got off the ground? Well, to a certain extent, the roots are already pushing through to the surface. Many housing estates already have a residents' group of some kind, the trick is to contact them and offer some kind of coordination. A founding conference is possible, if enough people agree to attend, but we have to accept that most members of these groups are too poor to pay for their travel and lodgings. It would make more sense to offer a conference online. A model constitution could be drawn up, and if a group accepted it, then that group would become the party's branch in that area. It is then up to each branch to recruit other members for their constituency.
It is probably too early to worry about a national leadership. What is needed first and foremost is to get everyone singing from the same choir sheet, more or less, and worry about who becomes General-Secretary after the party starts winning some council seats. We should remember that many candidates were elected as Independent Labour prior to the official creation of the Independent Labour Party in 1893. What is being offered here is simply a variation on that theme.
Finally, what should this party be called? Well, it will be the party that represents the British working class. The name should be simple, and it should state what the party is about. There is really only one possible name:
The Working Class Party