They Don’t Call it a Struggle for Nothing


John Carson writes an appeal to fellow left-wing activists looking to leave the Labour Party in the wake of the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey…

Emotions are running high since the sacking, on June 25th, of the Shadow Education Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, by Labour leader Keir Starmer, but, whatever your strength of feeling on this, we can surely all agree that the resignation of good comrades is not the right response.

For a long time, many socialists have been immensely uncomfortable with the journey of the Labour Party. Many, having lived through the Kinnock, Blair and Miliband years, finally achieved absolution with the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. This was a vindication for many comrades who had endured – and endured is probably the right word – those long years of left retreat. It was also a great spur to a whole new generation of political activists, like me, who wished to consolidate and then build on the new position of left advance.

When I helped establish the Scottish Labour Young Socialists (SLYS) in 2015, it brought together some of the best of young left talent who wanted a better, more ambitious future for the Party. It wanted a leadership and youth movement dedicated to powerful ideals, rather than the machine politics that serviced decades of dominance in Scotland, and 13 years of UK Governance.

Since 2015, those activists who came together in SLYS have gone on to do terrific things as dedicated Party campaigners, community activists and Trade Union officials. Many have run successful campaigns on a whole range of issues and have made real changes to peoples lives. For many of those like-minded, talented, young left activists now to consider walking away – and for us to be deprived of their ideas, talents and dedication – just because Rebecca Long-Bailey has been ‘stood down’, would be, in my eyes, a heavy price to pay.

There is, unfortunately, a realisation that needs to take place for many of us on the young left: it is that, whilst we came of age at an opportune moment for radical change within the Labour Party, the sharp edges of British democracy cut very deep, and we do not have an inherent right to lead or dominate the Labour Party for eternity – even if we believe we are eternally on the side of the angels – especially after comprehensive rejection in the 2019 election.

For some, who may feel this setback is too much, please keep in mind how you young left activists have been instrumental driving forces in making real change and building many dynamic and ambitious campaigns. We only have to consider the Green New Deal for this to be true; as well as the defeat of austerity thinking, and the victory – and the new consensus – of our positive programmes for change, especially in public services, investment in jobs, and real Labour and socialist ideals in so many areas of policy.

It does not matter whether an idea or campaign belongs to Corbyn or RLB or Momentum: what matters only is if those ideas or policies can stand up on their own merits. As such, it would be a mistake to abandon Labour just because one tendency has lost control, or one person has been demoted; the ideas and policies are so much more important than the personalities behind them.

It is this fundamental understanding that can drive the Labour Party forward, regardless of who is in charge, and will achieve real change in the future. Our society is full of competing priorities, it will be necessary for us to compromise – our duty is to make the best, possible. This is why I urge every activist to continue to play their part whether as trade unionists, community activists or elected members, and make their strong case within the Party.

Undoubtedly, progress may be slow, there will be setbacks, disappointments and frustrations, but that is the necessary difficulty of democratic socialism. It is true, that the ‘Militant’ or the ‘Trade Union Socialist Coalition’ or the ‘SWP’ will try to offer all the purist policies that socialists and trade unionists may desire…but those groups have failed and will continue to fail because they are factional, sectarian and minority parties. The virtue of their attraction is the cause of their ultimate failure. It would be supremely foolish for Trade Unions and Party members to abandon Labour, and weaken their own wider credibility, in pursuit of such political self-indulgence. Socialists and Trade Unionists have universal values relevant to all in society, our task is to give them the widest, rather than the narrowest, appeal.

My appeal may have limited effect, and many comrades have unfortunately already made their decisions. I wish them well in the future. But, there is still a lot of work to be done, and change will only come if we continue to strive for it – though we must do this pragmatically and strategically. Labour needs its left – our future will be filled with difficulties and tough challenges: but they don’t call it a struggle for nothing!

John Carson is Assistant Branch Secretary for Glasgow and District Amal. and the Political Lead for Scotland.  He writes in a personal capacity.