People keep asking me and those associated with it,” what is the soft left and what does it stand for?”. They ask, “what is the alternative to Corbyn?”. Many consider the only alternative to this clusterf*ck of a leadership is ‘neoliberal orthodoxy’. Yes, the only thing standing in the way of decades more of Thatcherism is a man who refused to attack Iain Duncan Smith.
You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t feel very much defended by the Labour leadership. You’d have to excuse me if I cry at the thought of the only thing standing between me and unfettered global markets is Jeremy Corbyn.
It’s simply not a reality. There is an alternative. It doesn’t have to be Full Blairism.
So, what does the soft left stand for?
Kinnock, regardless of where you’d think to place him on the party spectrum, summarised it at last night’s PLP meeting in two words: parliamentary socialism.
In those two words, it distinguishes itself from the hard left’s revolutionary socialism, one that begrudges Parliament and the Labour party’s mobilisation for the establishment of a parliamentarian presence; and Blair’s ‘social-ism’ and European social democracy that abandoned trade unionism.
It is, and has always been, the champion of parliamentary socialism. I suppose, really, you can also add the Old Right to that, too.
But for me, the soft left is about achieving the representation of its people in Parliament via the recognition that with a good leadership and strong priorities, you can be far more radical than when you wear it on your sleeve. I see it as the John Smith or Bank Manager theory, Clement Attlee’s complete lack of grandeur, Wilson’s smoking pipe. You don’t have to wave placards to be a radical, or call for -in abstractions or dogmas that are, as they say, “irrelevant to the real needs”- the end of capitalism as boldly as so.
That does not exclude the attendance of rallies, but it does not revolve around them either. It distinguishes a social movement and a party; arm in arm but working for parliamentary representation of its people.
And it achieves that by basing economically transformative policy in the everyday lives of people. To be the radicalism of the workers.
We can talk about economic overhaul without talking about Trident. We can talk about council housing and wage suppression and rent control without the Falklands. We can talk about a sensible foreign policy without flirting with Stop the War. We can even, maybe, outline what exactly ‘anti-austerity’ means beyond its sloganisation.
Really, just being boring and sensible and British but transformative without being techoncratic or managerialist or abandoning commitment to an economy that works for everyone and our on-the-ground mobilization of the people via a partnership with the trade unions. This, the most British of socialisms, is where I think most of the British public are. It’s also where decades of soft leftism has always been -from Compass to Tribune, the Bevanites (the language of priorities is the religion of socialism) to Smith.
My belligerence against Corbyn is not socialism -I am a socialist- it is his adherence to believing he is above British politics and British socialism, that our morals are infinitely superior to both the public and our Labour descendants’ presumptions about the public, and people will one day become conscious of that and ignore the centuries-old British small ‘c’ conservatism regarding leadership and join those rallies on Parliament Square.
To recognise Britishness and Parliament is not to abandon our principles; it is to embrace everything that is and always was the Labour Party.
When we have, to our left, rallies shouting obscenities at Parliamentarians; and to our right, some that are ready to lunge and call for a break with the trade unions, it is the soft left that has to step up and defend what the Labour Party is and what it was and always will be.
Whether that is through a growing Open Labour in the style of Tribune mobilizing itself and those that may come to find an allegiance to it, that solid majority of the PLP that finds themselves neither in Progress or the Socialism Campaign Group, or members and voters who simply feel politically homeless in Labour right now. Those voices need to have the courage to clearly define where we are, and to put forward a third alternative. That being, parliamentary socialism.
If the soft left does not find courage now, if it is not definitive and strong enough to stand on its own two feet, Labour will be doomed.