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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Have Labour given up on the democratic process?

There is an interesting article by Dan Hodges in yesterday's Telegraph in which he questions the direction of travel of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party in light of the protests outside the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

He says that over the past 48 hours, delegates, MPs, journalists and exhibitors who are attending the annual gathering of the nation’s governing party have been punched, spat at, kicked, subjected to racist abuse, sexist abuse and other general threats of violence. He believes that fascist street-craft is being deployed in the name of the progressive majority.

And although Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, and Jeremy Corbyn have both condemned the violence and intimidation, Mr. Hodges believes that is not enough. He says: 'It is not the Conservative Party that is under assault here in Manchester – it is democracy.'

He continues: Five months ago we had a general election, and David Cameron won it. His party secured 11 million votes. That is an inconvenient fact for some. But it is a fact all the same. That is how we resolve our political differences in Britain. Not with fists or boots or saliva. But via the ballot box.

Last week, at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, I was worried that the Labour movement was in danger of drifting to the political margins.

But at the Tory conference, I realise the real danger is that it is on the brink of removing itself from the democratic process altogether. It is not only losing touch with the British people, but also absenting itself completely from the basic electoral and parliamentary and political protocols which ensure a mature democracy can function and flourish.

The Left seems to be busily locking itself into a death spiral. It is a dance of the macabre that goes something like this: the Labour Party – which if you recall was established solely for the purpose of securing the Labour movement parliamentary representation – is saddled by the Left with a series of leaders and policies that make it utterly unelectable. So an election is held, and the Labour Party duly loses it.

At this point, the Left says “See, we told you. The ballot box is not the answer. We must take to the streets”. So the Labour movement takes to the streets. Whereupon it effectively reinforces the view that that Labour movement and its representatives are not a government in waiting, they are simply an unelectable rabble. And so the dance continues.

Just look at Len McCluskey. This man is not the villainous industrial brigand of media caricature. Many of his criticisms of the Trade Union bill are valid. It is indeed a vindictive piece of legislation. But last week he compared the Conservative Party to the Nazis.

Then, on Sunday morning, he claimed that it was the “duty” of trade unionists to break the law in defiance of the bill.

Then he marched his members up to the gates of the Conservative Party conference.

It didn’t take a genius to guess what was going to happen next. Nor does it take a genius to predict what will happen while Labour leaders such as shadow chancellor John McDonnell continue to say things such as “There’s three ways in which we change society. One is through the ballot box, the democratic process and into Parliament. The second is trade union action, industrial action. The third is basically insurrection, but we now call it direct action.”

Nothing the Labour Party has done over the past five years – not the deficit denial nor the welfare denial nor the immigration denial nor the Ed Stone nor the bacon sandwiches nor the self-affirming walks on Hampstead Heath – has done it more damage than the embrace of the direct action movement.

If you call for insurrection, insurrection is what you will get. If you call for law breaking, law breaking is what you will get.

Like Dan Hodges I support the right of people to protest. It is a fundamental democratic right. But violence and intimidation should not form part of that act, and if it does then the perpetrators should be prosecuted.

It is not the role of democratic political parties to call for law-breaking and insurrection, nor that of elected politicians to effectively encourage the sort of activity that has been witnessed outside the Tory Party Conference this week.

We live in a democracy, under the rule of law and we need to ensure that we abide by the conventions expected of us by those two institutions in expressing our views, no matter how frustrated or angry we get.
A more interesting question will be what happens if Labour gets a majority in the Assembly next year whilst the SNP get a supermajority in Scotland? Will Welsh Labour applaud democracy and Scottish Labour call for it's abolition?
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