'Left alone' - Why the left can't get unified?

Image used under creative commons license (Neil Cummings)

Post-election, we’ve seen the inevitable flurry of analysis from left-leaning political pundits, politicians and commentators about why the Labour Party drastically failed to win a majority. What went wrong, why the party failed to engage voters, and vague suggestions of what to do about it, mainly centred on the need for reflection and new leadership.

Electing the right opposition leader to present a real challenge to the Tories is certainly a priority. But what of civil society? The community groups, trade associations, charities, NGOs, social enterprises, think tanks, and individuals who don’t agree with Tory cuts that are increasing poverty in the UK, who marched against austerity last weekend to demand an alternative, who want to see a fairer society for all. What are they doing to improve the chances of power being in the hands of a more progressive government? Unsurprisingly, there are lots of individuals and groups calling for change and action, as well as some actually doing something about it, but not in a joined up way. And herein lies the problem.

Journalist Sunny Hundal published a piece on Labour List last week called, “Why the Left keeps crashing and burning, and what to do about it”claiming that activists on the Left tend to lose momentum and let their campaigns fizzle out because of  a lack of strategy and planning beyond protests, leading to in-fighting, poor timing and weak implementation. He makes three simple suggestions for what to do:

  1. Build infrastructure and fundraise
  2. Avoid clichéd and lazy messaging (a la UKIP) that alienates potential supporters
  3. Get young people voting

All good suggestions. So how do we get there? When I tweeted Sunny to ask when he was organising an event or discussion to decide how to put his words into action, he half- jokingly suggested someone else should do the work. But who?

Though twitter is alive with debate, I haven’t seen a show of hands to take this forward. Beyond protests - which certainly have their value - we need someone to grab activists by the scruff of the neck, sit them down and facilitate a structured and clear conversation designed to generate a broad agreement on why the movement is failing, what can be done about it, who can do it, and how. Many of us are familiar with this process when mobilising campaigns and movements, so it seems crazy that we can’t get it together for ‘the Left’ as a whole.

From what I’ve gathered, the main problem is that no one is really sure who exactly the ‘Left’ is or should be, and don’t feel they have the energy, money or time to tackle the differences that have divided people in the past. 

But I think this is where the ‘right’ have always had us. They know the left is divided, poorly funded and thus badly organised. They feed off it. They also have differences of opinion, as we can clearly see amongst front and backbenchers of the Conservatives and with the rise of UKIP, but when it comes to crunch time i.e. an election, they pool together and unify their messages, presenting a stronger face to the voters.

We cannot let this go on. Mass mobilisation isn’t easy, but with so many savvy digitalists, campaigners, thinkers and organisers around, it shouldn’t be impossible. We just need to take the first step. A discussion: a room, some tables, pens and paper, the internet and a few laptops. I’m in, and willing to help organise. Who’s with me? 

Natasha Dyer