A non-partisan journal of the left.

The British Left Needs a Respectable Voice: Lindsey German talks to the London Progressive Journal

Fri 15th Feb 2008

Democracy is weak in today’s political climate as the two major parties, squabbling for electoral credibility, merge closer to becoming two faces representing the same conservative ideology and agenda. To encourage vibrant political debate, the left in Britain is in dire of need of strong, solid representation.

Respect is one of the more prominent, albeit still fledgling, leftist political parties in Britain today. Lindsey German, who is most notable for her founding role in the Stop The War campaign, is Respect’s candidate for this years’ important and highly-anticipated London mayoral election.

Ms German correctly points out that “democracy can be served by encouraging the existence of organisations which represent the opposite views of the mainstream parties, and who usually receive little publicity or media coverage”. However, the encouragement and promotion of parties critical of mainstream politics is hardly in the selfish interests of Labour and the Tories. It is these selfish interests that make the presence of left wing minority groups to scrutinise parliamentary policies absolutely crucial.

Over a decade of Blairism, and the constant reminder that Labour is no just ‘Labour’ but ‘New Labour’, has left a devastatingly deep hole in the political left. The defeat of the miners’ strike in the 1980s, and the Labour’s progressive abandonment of its working class constituency, caused many former members and supporters of the left to become either knowingly disillusioned with politics or unconscious in their apathy to the vast array of serious class and social inequalities in today’s British society.

This means that ideological and political boundaries are not longer being pushed in Britain. Strong voices from both sides of politics are needed to maintain the social balance that democracy promises. The conservatives have their agenda supported and promoted by both major political parties. At present, the left has no strong voice. This has caused a lack of political debate and discourse, which is necessary for a true democracy to flourish.

Can the left survive this difficult period? The answer must be yes. The challenge for the left is to once again awaken and engage the consciousness of the public. Confidence in potential electoral success is the easiest platform on which to invoke wide-spread support from the public. For instance, if Respect can win 5% of the vote across London in the upcoming mayoral election, it would get a seat, and with that seat, political credibility.

To do this, the a party like Respect must be vocal, consistent and vigilant in putting forward policies that people can believe in. It must not appear opportunistic or militant in its approach to policy making or political agenda, otherwise it risks further voter alienation.

Further, left minority groups such as Respect must struggle against infighting and facionalism. According to Ms German “the problem with such disagreements is that they are often unintelligible to those not directly involved, and they reinforce the view that the left is always divided”.

It will not be an easy task for the left to meet, particularly with trade union support firmly behind New Labour. Ms German says: “The trade union leaders criticise New Labour but remain committed to it. It is extremely hard for small parties to intervene in the electoral arena, since most elections are stacked very much against them”.

Even so, Ms German remains optimistic about the future of the left and therefore of democracy in Britain. The campaigns and rallies centered on opposition to the Iraq war have offered Respect and other left wing political parties a focus and strong political base: “I am very optimistic about the future because I came into politics in the great wave of struggle in the late 60s and early 70s and there is still much unfinished business from then if only we can unite around the issues about which we can agree and minimise the difference which divide us”.
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