Saturday, April 1, 2023
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We exclude the Labour left from British politics at our peril

He will turn 70 in May, shortly after the local elections, which will be handy for his political obituarists if Labour does as poorly as polls currently suggest. The Labour left has been othered. In recent weeks, MPs at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party have reportedly applauded the Independent Group breakaway, despite the immense damage it has done to the chances of a Labour government. Despite, or, rather, partly because of, all the panics about the Labour left, it has rarely been dominant in the party. “Labour leaders tremble at the relentless advance of Benn’s army,” warned the Express in May 1981, after Benn launched his famous bid for the party’s deputy leadership. And yet, in large part because the press othered him so effectively, as a kind of foreign demagogue – “Ayatollah Benn”, according to the Sun, after Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini – he did not win. He co-founded the SDP partly to block it. Last month, at the launch of the Independent Group, Leslie caricatured Corbynism in almost exactly the same way. Does it matter that so many people don’t want British politics to include a left of any significance? Even if you’re not at all leftwing, recent British history suggests it does.