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Understanding Britain’s Political Left

Both of our political parties are coalitions. That became obvious in the Conservative party during the referendum campaign but the divisions in the Labour party are even more pronounced as the disagreements between Jeremy Corbyn and a majority of his parliamentary party continue to undermine party unity.

There are several ways to explain these disagreements. One is to differentiate those committed to purity of socialist principle from those who want to keep the party electable so they could win the next election. The other is to distinguish between the socialists and the social democrats. Tony Blair led the party into Government in 1997 for thirteen years in office by scrapping some of its more left wing policies to capture the political middle ground. Those on the socialist wing of the party abhor those compromises and for them ‘Blairite’ has become a term of abuse.

Jeremy Corbyn is unambiguously a socialist. Momentum, the grassroots organisation set up in 2015 to support Corbyn’s leadership, seeks to encourage local groups across the country to work for socialist aims and includes members of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and other Trotskyite groups. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, accused Momentum of being the conduit whereby Trotskyite entryists had infiltrated the party and were influencing younger members. Corbyn dismissed this as ‘baseless conspiracy theories’ but other MPs have criticised Momentum for lobbying them to support Corbyn’s unilateralism in the Trident debate, contrary to the party’s agreed policy and manifesto commitment.

More serious than individual differences on policy is the bigger strategy that Momentum and Corbyn have to capture the Labour party. Corbyn refused to resign when a large majority of his parliamentary party supported a vote of no confidence in his leadership. He said his authority came from the 60% who elected him, not the MPs. He has since said that he would not resign even if Labour lost the next election, for the same reason. His aim is to build a social movement that will eventually control the party and this movement would work to deselect moderate Labour MPs. In an article for The Times last October, Oliver Kamm described Momentum as an entryist organisation “that is parasitic on the Labour host “, in a classic Trotskyite manner.

Leon Trotsky was one of the leaders of the Russian revolution who claimed to be an orthodox Marxist in contrast to the Stalinist alternative that controlled Russia for most of the 20th century. There are at least three Trotskyite parties in Britain today who support the idea of a non-violent social revolution through working class mass action. The strategy that Corbyn and his supporters are following appears close to that model. The Referendum results in Labour’s heartland constituencies suggest to Labour MPs that their traditional supporters are not on Corbyn’s wavelength, though he probably takes the opposite view.

It is not my purpose to take sides in this matter but to urge all Christians to be like the men of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do”. (1Chronicles 12:32) Christians who opt out of any political involvement are failing to fulfil the responsibilities of their dual citizenship – of the United Kingdom and of the Kingdom of God.

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