Tribune leader, 7 August 1992
For some on the left, the lessons of Labour’s leadership contest and John Smith’s distribution of Shadow Cabinet and front-bench posts are clear. “The triumph of the right is now complete,” declared Ken Livingstone in the New Statesman last week. The genuine soft left has to cut itself free from the Brown, Blair, Cook, Straw ‘realist’ wing, recognising that in everything but name, these people are now on the right wing of the party every bit as much as Jack Cunningham.” The left of the Tribune Group of MPs should line up with the Campaign Group and run a joint slate of candidates for the next set of Shadow Cabinet elections, he argued.
Few have expressed themselves so directly and publicly, but a version of Mr Livingstone’s position is shared by plenty of other left MPs. In the medium term at least, left unity in parliament is a high priority, they believe.
Up to a point, it is difficult to disagree. Labour is insufficiently radical and is in danger of getting even worse. The idea of persuading radicals in the Parliamentary Labour Party to work together is an attractive one. If, instead of squabbling, left MPs could come together on a common platform, the chances of putting Labour on a radical course might be increased.
The problem is that it is increasingly difficult to define the Labour left as a group of people with a common political platform. Of course, the left has common values. Anti-militarism is one; the sense that labour should be empowered against capital is another. The left believes that people should have more control over the decisions that fundamentally affect their everyday lives.
So one could go on – but these common values do not yield agreement on the great issues of the day. On these, from the European Community through electoral reform to the importance of Green politics, the left is deeply divided. Most important, on the economy, where once there was left consensus on the neo-Keynesian protectionism of the Alternative Economic Strategy, there is not one left position but a raft of competing ideas, with fundamental disagreements about devaluation, the possibilities of European alternative economic strategies, nationalisation and much more besides.
Add the continuing arguments on the left about toleration of Leninist entrists in the Labour Party and about the future of the block vote at Labour conference, and it is difficult to see how a comprehensive platform could be devised to bring together the left rather than divide it.
It follows that it is not always very easy these days to define who isn’t on the left. Abandoning principles in the pursuit of power is all too familiar a phenomenon, and it is just about possible that some or even all of “the Brown, Blair, Cook, Straw ‘realist’ wing” of the soft left have sold the pass on everything they once believed, as Mr Livingstone claims. But the evidence for his assertion is patchy, to say the least.
Unless serious signs of apostasy appear, the energy that Mr Livingstone would like to see spent on realigning and rebuilding the left would be better used simply to encourage open no-holds-barred debate on Labour’s future, no one in the party excluded.
BOSNIA NEEDS ARMED INTERVENTION TO SURVIVE
The six weeks since Tribune – then alone among British newspapers – first argued for limited military intervention to save Sarajevo from the bloody siege by Serbian irregulars should have been used by the governments of western Europe to make the necessary military preparations and then to send in the aircraft and troops.
Instead, the British and American governments have resisted all calls for military force to stop the siege, taking refuge in hand-wringing and hoping against hope that sanctions and peace talks will yield some result.
Meanwhile, the crisis in Bosnia has developed precisely as any intelligent observer knew it would. The Serbs have consolidated their positions and continued the grisly programme of “ethnic cleansing”; and the Croats, at first hesitant about getting in on the act in Bosnia for fear of what might result, have pitched in with a vengeance. The carving-up of Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia is now well advanced.
It is not too late to rescue the situation. Sarajevo is still holding out – just. However emboldened they have been by the criminal prevarication of the British and American governments, the Serbian militias are still not in a position seriously to resist what the big powers could throw at them; the same goes for their Croatian counterparts. But in another couple of months it will be too late.