I'm Factionless Get Me Out of Here!

Understanding the arcane nature of the Labour Party has always been tricky, and never more so than when it comes to its internal divides and factions. Unless you’re well versed in the history of the party, the tribes of Labour can be incredibly confusing. Navigating the party when you initially join is the biggest hurdle in your immersion among the membership and internal party debates. Some of the many cliques include Blairites, Corbynites, the soft left, the hard left and every possible grouping in between. But these factions themselves have overlaps and disagreements within them. Either way each are defined by their core ideas and beliefs. Most labour activists will find themselves clamouring to find the faction that fits them best. However, sometimes members will find themselves unable to identify where their beliefs align and possess differing beliefs from a variety of factions. This is understandable due to the vast all encompassing beliefs of leftism and labour ideologically and the toxicity that faction fights create.

Labour Twitter is an often fun environment to be involved with from debates to hot takes to engage with. However, recently we have seen the toxicity of twitter discourse among the membership reach an all time high. This seemed to commence after the leaked dossier further igniting existing tensions and rifts among the membership. Soft left activists frequently squabble about whether we should support marxism/leninism and the previous actions of Russia under communism. While some members of the hard left seem to put a vast amount of energy into criticising Starmer and his newly formed cabinet instead of holding the Conservative government to account.

This toxic environment had led to many members, including myself, distancing themselves from the aggression and divides we see hyper-factionalism create. The main reasoning behind this distancing is due to the hypocrisy we see these factions possess. Often quick to call out other groups for actions or behaviours while defending similar actions made by those representing their respective faction. This is wholly unhelpful and not only disadvantages us but makes us as a party look like squabbling children. How can we expect to engage new members and invite the general public to vote for us when we invest our energy into internal arguments rather than achieving a Labour government irrespective of who's in charge? We see some members who have spent their efforts undermining Corbyn for the last 5 years rather than legitimately criticising his leadership begging for unity because they are fond of Starmer. The same goes for fans of Corbyn who are now quick to criticise Starmers every move as they deem him ideologically too right wing. It all just seems incredibly fickle, when valuing internal party politics over progress and change we can expect to see ourselves struggle to mobilise our movement and increase support. This was one of our biggest failures in 2019, not only struggling to identify the wants of our core voter but in addition inadequately conveying our message to them effectively.

Not all members of the party are like this though, a vast majority want to put our differences aside and focus on getting a Labour government into power. These members will support whoever our membership decides on democratically and rally behind this individual regardless of their faction. However, these hyperfactional members seem to want everything to fit within their ideology and disagree with anyone with a differing worldview. If you refuse to support the party and its democratically elected leader, you shouldn’t be in the party. This goes for everyone of all factions, at any point in our history. As the dossier revealed, we are often our own biggest enemy, only when we can unite and come together will we thrive.

We see this pattern of blame being shown time and time again, regardless of who the leader is and what their ideological position is. We saw this happen under Foot, Corbyn and many others leaders alike. We will continue to see it happen again and again unless we change and try to do something. There will always be an element of disagreement, debate and varying ideas within the party. That comes naturally with politics. It’s healthy and shouldn’t descend into the toxicity we see today. But instead we see it spill over into talk of purges, ideological purity, and branding members as “real Labour” and “Tory-lite”. This tactic of resorting to bullying and harassment must end, people will not vote for a disjointed, split party. If we don’t make the conscious choice to end unhealthy factionalism, then factionalism will end the Labour party.

Megan Cole

2 Jul 2020

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I'm Factionless Get Me Out of Here!

Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn in Brussels. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters