Two decades is a short time in politics

Posted on February 14, 2011 at 10:13 am,

I’ve been attending the Coventry Against the Cuts campaign meetings for a while, and one thing that’s been something of a feature of most meetings is the sniping between the Labour Party types and the Socialist Party types. After the most recent meeting, I went to the pub with the Socialists and, following conversation there, I’ve realised why the disagreements between them often seem to be emotionally charged. The reason is, essentially, that the relationship between these two groups is exactly the same as it was two decades ago.

The story starts when the New-Labour dominated Labour Party expelled the Militant Tendency (a Marxist faction within the party). One of Coventry’s MPs at the time – Dave Nellist – was a Militant member, and a large chunk of the party campaigned to help him get re-elected as an MP. In the event, Nellist lost by a small margin and his supporters were expelled from the Labour Party. However, some of the reasons why they were expelled were somewhat on the petty side – one member was told that being at a rally where Nellist was likely to be was sufficient grounds for expulsion. The ex-Militant people subsequently formed the Socialist Party.

It’s quite clear that the animosity between the two – which is clearly far deeper than simple disagreements about policy – has continued to the current day. The local election battle for St Michaels Ward, where the Socialists consistently hold somewhere between one and three seats, is always intense, heated, and allegedly dirty – which you wouldn’t expect if the two parties viewed each other as being broadly on the same side.

Labour, for the most part, seem stuck in the mindset that the only way to defeat Tory policies (including the current big issue of cuts) is to elect a Labour council/government, and that that should be the aim of left-wingers. They are also solidly New Labour in their political outlook. The Socialists consider Labour to be collaborating with Tory policies such as PFI schemes and the cuts (tomorrow, Labour are expected to vote through a council budget which does almost nothing to mitigate local government cuts). In short they think that Labour have sold out.

The moral of the story is that, whilst the “a week is a long time in politics” cliché is sometimes true, politics often moves at a glacial pace. Labour and the Socialists in Coventry are still fighting the same political battles with each other (and with the Tories) that they were fighting two decades ago, and there’s no prospect of that changing unless the political scene in Coventry suffers a significant shake-up.

Note: if you are a member of either local party and think I’ve misrepresented things, please correct me in the comments. This post is simply the impression I’ve picked up from observation over the last couple of years where I’ve actually been involved in local politics, and isn’t intended to denigrate anybody on either side.