A response to Roy Hattersley

Updated: Mar 26

Hugh Caffrey, Socialist Alternative Political Committee

Forgotten man Roy Hattersley (one-time deputy leader of the Labour party) has emerged from obscurity to do the left a great favour by revealing the real outlook of the right. The likes of Keir Starmer can say that they don’t want to drift to the right and the likes of Emily Thornberry or Lisa Nandy can don some shreds of Corbynism. But Hattersley makes it clear – if a left party leader is elected, then the right-wing MPs who dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party must do everything they can to undermine them and prepare to a split away from what remains of the mass membership.


Photo, Duncan Smith. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Some will dismiss Hattersley’s rant as the ravings of a has-been, who has supped too much Christmas sherry before putting poison-pen to paper. There is some truth in that! But there can be no complacency. This is part of a Blairite onslaught against Corbyn and anti-austerity and left-wing ideas more generally.

This is not the place for a rebuttal of all Hattersley’s nonsense. Suffice to say his description of Militant is as accurate as his description of Momentum: 100% inaccurate! In a democratic way through winning the political argument, Militant won mass support in Liverpool in the 1980s and in a number of other places particularly the seats held by Militant-supporting Labour MPs Pat Wall and Dave Nellist, alongside Liverpool Broadgreen’s Terry Fields. The corruption was all of the right-wing.

After Neil Kinnock’s “brilliant” speech of 1985 where he attacked the heroic Militant-led Liverpool city council, Labour went on to lose the 1987 general election, helped the Tories implement the poll tax (defeated by the Militant-led anti poll tax movement) and then lost the 1992 general election as well. New Labour eventually fell into government in 1997 as the Tories imploded. It was this government that lost Labour 5 million votes in its time in office. Unless the Tories collapse more quickly, then a return to Blairism in Labour’s leadership could again mean another decade out of government, and potentially the complete collapse of Labour like its equivalents in Greece or France.

Momentum has unfortunately not done most of the things of which Hattersley accuses it! It has done little to seriously fight the right and Momentum boss Jon Lansman has undermined Corbyn from the right. Hattersley repeats what all the right were openly saying in 2015 and 2016: they will not tolerate any shade of left-wing politics, even in the limited form put forward by the Momentum leadership.

We are not uncritical. The majority of leading Labour lefts have failed to actually mobilise a struggle against austerity or the Blairites, and instead attempted a compromise by adopting an equivocal position on Brexit and allowing Labour councils to continue implementing cuts. Long-Bailey, Rayner, Burgon and others have made these mistakes and more, and Long-Bailey, who looks set to stand for the leadership, lacks Corbyn’s background in supporting class struggle.

However, we support a left ticket because it is another opportunity for left ideas to be raised, and an opportunity for the transformation of Labour into a genuinely mass anti-austerity party if the leading lefts will learn the lessons. However, there is still no indication from these figures that they have learned they crucial lessons from the 2017 general election. The ranks will need to help them do so by organising, mobilising and discussing independently.

Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of left-wing Corbyn supporters will want to try and hold Labour to the left, and we will go through this with them while advocating what we believe needs to be done. Corbyn himself argued after the election that the working class needs to be put at the centre of the Labour party and that Labour needs to stand alongside working-class communities which the Tories will now attack. Translating this into clear policy points means the bottom line for a left leadership ticket is:

· No retreat from the pro working-class policies of the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, and the more left-wing policies passed by Labour conferences since Corbyn was elected. Any retreats open the door to more retreats which in turn pave the way for disaster, as we tragically saw with Corbyn over the Brexit referendum and council cuts and then the 12 December debacle.

· Mobilise a struggle against austerity, starting with active support for a massive demonstration in the New Year over the threats to the NHS, and mobilising Labour’s mass membership in support of the next climate strikes and university workers’ strikes.

· Labour councils to stop acting as local agents of Tory austerity. They can either fight austerity and win support, or implement austerity and lose support. That is the clear lesson of the last two general elections and the recent rounds of local elections too.

· Oppose the Blairites and all the anti-Corbyn MPs, base the left leadership on the ranks and mobilise a struggle to transform Labour into a democratic mass party, starting with votes of no-confidence in the right-wing MPs, committing to 100% anti-austerity policies, and passing mandatory re-selection at Labour’s 2020 annual conference.

We urge Constituency Labour Parties where these are led by the left to discuss the lessons of recent weeks and years, and resolve in support of a left leadership bid based on these policies. Where CLPs are run by the right then the left needs to organise independently to engage the Labour membership and make the same arguments.

The whole movement must urgently convene ‘conferences of resistance’ in every locality to learn the lessons of what has happened and prepare to fight back against the Tories and their capitalist pay-masters in the New Year and beyond.

With capitalism now threatening the very future of our planet – a fact which has mobilised millions of young people around the globe – it is not only necessary to resist the rush to the right, but to fight boldly for the only real alternative to climate chaos. We need to organise to fight for socialist change – for a society based on public ownership of the big monopolies that dominate our economy and pollute our world, and for a democratic plan of production – to ensure a bright and sustainable future for humanity. If you agree, join us.