The original mistake?

ILP logo encircled by male symbol

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the founding of the Labour Party might have been a mistake from the start?

I have spent a large part of my political time over the last decade on campaigns arguing for workers’ rights and women’s rights. The Labour Party has been, to put it generously, a fair-weather friend. It became more useful on workers’ rights during the Corbyn leadership, and under Corbyn, a report was put together that demonstrated what a problem the party could be for women, for black people, and for anyone from the socialist end of the political spectrum. The struggle to bury that report has been a problem for the party establishment ever since.

Looking back through history, that has always been the case – a swift moment of attention tends to give you the impression it is ‘minority groups’ the party is disadvantaging but please think a little longer. What proportion of the population are black, or female, or in the economic bracket that needs decently paid work in order to survive?

Pretty much everyone

The Labour Party would appear to be disadvantaging just about everyone.

At a Trades Union Congress in 1900, socialist groups such as the ILP came together with trade unionists to form the LRC, which began forming into the organisation that was to become the Labour Party. The more radical of the political women in the country were already busy working on both poverty and women’s suffrage, but did not find the early movers of the official Labour movement particularly helpful. As Christabel Pankhurst put it, “The LRC invites the support of women’s unions, but what has it to offer in return if it does not intend to press for the representation of women’s labour?”

 At the time, Christabel’s more radical sister, Sylvia, was at work on the decoration of Pankhurst Hall. As a working artist, her ambition was “to beautify the struggle for socialism”. Imagine her feelings when it transpired that the branch of the ILP that was to use the Hall for its political work did not allow women to join.

Sylvia Pankhurst was a revolutionary socialist.

Sylvia Pankhurst by Katherine Connelly book cover
The information above comes from Sylvia Pankhurst: suffragette, socialist and scourge of empire by Katherine Connelly, one of the Verso Revolutionary Lives series. It’s well worth a read, if you just think of Sylvia Pankhurst as ‘a suffragette’.

In a Facebook thread the other day, halfway through a conversation about the TUC’s Demand Better campaign, someone said “what is the class struggle?” The culture of this country, after the Labour Party has been in existence for over a century, still allows people to grow up needing to ask that question. It’s like this: the vast majority of us – something like 98% of us in fact, need to work for money, or else depend on someone in the family having paid work, to keep them fed and safe, and keep a roof over their heads. The other one or two percent of us are born into families that have the resources to keep them fed, safe and nicely housed without ever doing a day’s work.

The country is largely run by that one or two percent of the population. Sometimes, they have been generous enough that most of the rest of us can live somewhere near decently. Other times, they have not. The struggle by the 99% to get the 1% to leave open the possibility of the 99% earning enough to live decently is the class struggle. Do not forget that. It’s something close to 99% v 1%.

Splitters and distractors

So, the revolutionary idea that the 99% should be represented in government was the idea behind the formation of the Labour Party. Why? Why did they not say, “the working people” means practically all of us. We should be the focus and the operators of almost all of the government. But they didn’t. They formed a separate party for the 99%, but the trade unions were pretty grudging for a long time about including what they called unskilled workers, and most of them, most of the time, were not giving serious attention to women (over half the population) let alone your actual minorities, such as black people.

Looked at like that, the Labour Party have never been more than splitters and distractors. To revisit the Pankhurst family for a moment, Sylvia’s mother, Emmeline, responded to the rebuff from the ILP by calling some of her female comrades together and founding the WSPU – the militant suffragettes. They were then criticised as splitters and distractors.

Women, and any too-noisy minority groups who organise outside the establishment’s left, are still called splitters and distractors to this day. Maybe they should not have formed a ‘Labour Party’. Maybe they should have taken over government in its entirety, on behalf of just about everyone, and set aside a little paddock for the ‘too rich to lift a finger’ minority. After all, most of everyone is working class, and most working-class people are either a woman or a member of one of those pesky minorities, or both. We are far too big for such a paddock. Let them have one, and if it’s okay for Unite to not give executive power to Community members on the grounds that they aren’t workers, we should ask ourselves whether those whose inherited wealth means they already have all they need for a lifetime should get to vote on issues that matter deeply to everyone else.

Now we’re civilised and modern

Of course, the LRC and other lefty groups (fondly known as the beardy bros) are proud to include women these days, so long as those women are not too vociferous about the significance of being adult human females, and the Labour Party is proud to include black people, so long as they don’t do too much of that rowdy Black Lives Matter stuff – and working people can indeed be influential in the Labour Party, so long as they are earning enough to afford Kier Starmer’s swanky dinners, or the Labour Women’s Network’s glittery London soirées.

I think the formation of ‘The Labour Party’ may have been the founding error.  Off to do some politics with my favourite women’s group, now. I hope the tiny minority of men who understand this problem have somewhere to do politics…. Oh look, there’s somewhere!

Facebook post by Nicholas Davies

See ya later!


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2 responses to “The original mistake?”

  1. Having voted labour all my life, except the first time when I placed my cross without thought or consideration for my family’s deferential Conservative vote, and then proceeded to disgrace myself ever after. With hindsight, I chose to vote for the dismal least worst, for there was no best and then they chucked me out for being a socialist. Thank you Kay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • have to admit, I just read it though and realised it needed one more point: “We are far too big for such a paddock. Let them have one, and if it’s okay for Unite to not give executive power to Community members on the grounds that they aren’t workers, we should ask ourselves whether those whose inherited wealth means they already have all they need for a lifetime should get to vote on issues that matter deeply to everyone else.”


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