I write in reaction to Guy Maughfling’s (Fragmentation or Unity, April 1 2021) article. Whilst the article started with a well-meaning highlighting of some poor logistical planning, it went on to make a number of far-fetched arguments from this.
Firstly, the author clearly believes in democracy, but still manages to become highly undemocratic, with it argued that ‘Labour hasn’t fully got rid of the Corbyn cult’, as if divergent views or opinions within a political party are not acceptable. The ‘Corbyn cult’ is not so much a cult, as a set of ideals as to where the nation should be heading that does not entirely align with the current leadership of the Party that seems to be lacking substance. Such a stance is entirely naive and clueless of the importance of differing opinions and fractions within a Party, especially in relation to the Labour Party which is supposed to stand up for Socialism and in doing so is a broad-church of different ideals of the ways and nature in which this may occur. Debate and democracy do not exist if there are no divergent opinions, you end up with the Conservative Party that is disciplined and authoritarian, leaving little room for members to prevent disastrous or poor policies, with it following the lone whims and wishes of the leadership, as seen with the current Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill.
Second, the mention of the SNP and Alex Salmond’s split is random. The SNP are so invested in Scottish independence they represent little else and Alex Salmond’s split with them will not weaken them massively, especially since his party is only focused on being a List-Party, which is where the SNP already do very poorly in the Scottish elections. It will simply damage the Scottish Green Party, once again threatening Scotland with the return of a Party (the SNP) that has destroyed their education system and is now pledging to shake-up social care in the same way they pledged to shake-up education, likely to lead to the same disastrous result.
The idea that the Liberal Democrats, SNP, and Labour should be a united team, is just satire. Yes, they need to collectively oppose poor bills put forward by the government such as domestic vaccine passports or the Police and Sentencing bill, but they largely do this already. It’s only when Starmer decides to appear as a ‘constructive opposition’, which is only ‘constructive’ to Boris and no one else, that this ‘united’ legislative opposition is broken. Otherwise, they have no need or purpose for uniting. The government is not ‘dividing and ruling’ against the opposition, the Tories simply have a majority, it is basic arithmetic!
In fact, it is the clamping down on dissenting voices and alternative views with this arrogant belief in ‘unity’ that is causing greater fragmentation. Starmer exacerbated divides in his party through sacking three shadow junior ministers simply for voting against rather than abstaining on the Overseas Operations Bill in September.
This whole concept of a united/national opposition coalition and tactical voting is absurd. Absolutely, events that have the same message should be better coordinated, but just the message of ‘Tories out’ is not a rallying cry for unity. It would be a misplaced unity, because once the Tories are ‘out’, the question of who takes over, who leads and in what direction, is not so unifying.
This whole concern over division is simply an ‘ahistorical’, ‘anti-democracy’, ‘classist’ trope. Throughout history there has been endless divisions, especially in politics and in democracy. It is easy to argue for unity if you are concerned for constitutional arrangements, but if your worries are about putting food on the table, the availability of a job, a roof over your head and your access to basic services such as water, transport, and energy, it is about WHO is really going to best fight for that and deliver on that. We certainly know Coalition governments do not deliver on that.
Furthermore, the wider idea that an Opposition Parties’ alliance could be formed solely on the basis of defending democracy, misses a major point. It is about ‘the economy, stupid’, you cannot wrench democracy from economics. Yes, the right to protest is a vital form of democracy and this government is hellbent on ripping up rights for all, but we have already failed democracy when key pieces of anti-Trade Union legislation was passed by both Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron, and a regime of privatizations of essential utilities (railways, energy, water) were imposed. Millions of workers are now economically disenfranchised and have little voice over their work and standard of living. Their freedom and ability to effectively bargain for a living standard has been squeezed from them. We cannot ignore the fact that the economic destruction induced by the Conservatives since Thatcher has led us to this point where key civil liberties (not democracy- this is already failing) are being threatened and most crucially (though so often not mentioned) the livelihoods of a minorities (notably the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller Community) are being endangered.
But we know the Opposition Parties do not share a common economic and social vision and thus in reality do not all stand behind the same form of democracy.
It is not about fragmentation or unity; it is about vision and action. We may all oppose the Tory government, but we do not all share the same vision or wish for real action beyond that. That is why there is no time to lose for the Labour party to genuinely step up and offer a revolutionary roadmap for recovery.
Ed: This letter challenging the original article’s views is published in the interests of impartiality.