Alex Sobel, who was Labour’s Parliamentary candidate here in Leeds NW in May, is Organiser of the new Labour left forum, Open Labour, and co-signatory of the letter launching it today. Neil Walshaw, Labour Councillor for Headingley, is also among the 60 signatories in today’s letter to the Guardian.
Open Labour is explicitly a forum for the democratic left ‘a place within Labour to debate and shape these values [equality, democracy, solidarity and the emancipating power of the left] in a respectful way, free from the divisive and intolerant voices that have come to dominate Labour debate, especially on social media.’
It is a new forum for people who believe in politics which are open, modern, and socialist. It is not based around think tanks or Parliament, but around regular members and supporters of the party, Party affiliates, and the common roots and values we share in our local communities.
Open Labour is stridently anti-austerity, and committed to a Labour electoral victory. It is positive about working with other strands of Labour thought and keeping Labour welcoming.
“Open Labour will seek ideas that can move the country out of the austerity era. But policy ideas or campaigns alone are not enough. Without the right foundations, no particular path can inspire people to get active, or gain the wide support Labour needs in the country.
The culture of any organisation is key to success. Labour is no different. We should pride ourselves on vibrant democracy, diversity of views, and open debate. We should concentrate on meeting future challenges for the left rather than enforcing old formulas. We as a party should emphasise beliefs we share and where we can work together, debate how to reach and persuade the unconvinced, and respect the views of others in the hope of winning them over.
Open Labour will use these principles to seek insights which are serious and strategic when it comes to winning broad enough support for Labour to win. Though sometimes overlooked, this is a basic need.
But it is right to say that politics is more than elected office. Labour must be about changing the terms and structures of power enough to end years of ‘me first’ politics. To secure a better society, the country needs a new rulebook. Open Labour would love you to help write it.”
Alex, who is also a Labour councillor here in Leeds and Chair of Leeds NW Labour party, summed up their forward-looking and open aims: “Low national ratings for Labour are something which still cannot be ignored. We have a lack of engagement with modern ideas around technological change, inequality, the constitution and issues such as climate change which we desperately need to tackle. Labour members must keep our eyes fixed on the future. Open Labour believes that common ground can be found on these issues between the Labour left and mainstream public opinion. That is where our movement needs to head.”
Open Labour stands in the tradition of the ‘Tribune group’,and thus with a history stretching back some 50 years, including luminaries such as Robin Cook. It stands for the ‘sensible left’.
The forum is run by volunteers and transparently funded by small donations. You can find their full launch statement below, and you can sign up as a supporter by joining their mailing list – http://openlabour.org/sign-up
“Open Labour is a Labour forum aimed at creating a kinder, more active and more equal society.
We seek a politics where power and wealth are more widely distributed, and in which we work more cooperatively to make sure that power, wealth and opportunity are for all of us – not just those who already have them.
We are part of the democratic left that believes that Labour governments are vital for achieving a country in which all citizens flourish. A Labour Party true to its values and fit for the 21st Century must be both radical and electable, built on a foundation of community, and around a culture which is modern, open and tolerant. Serious about fundamental change, it must also be honest with itself about the challenges it faces.
The political challenge
The national and global politics of the democratic left face unprecedented challenges.
The start of our century has seen the evolution of a global system based on debt not productivity, and on the concentration and restriction of ownership and power. Since the global banking crisis this system has failed in its own right and now risks failing even more seriously. It has also failed the people it serves, restricting aspiration for workers and their families with waves of seemingly endless austerity. Globally, inequality and climate change contribute to war, crisis migration and starvation – but this economy based on concentrated power casts responsibility aside merely to serve the few that accumulate ever greater capital.
In the UK, our economy is structurally unable to reduce income inequality, as the post war age did in developed economies. It fails to provide good work and balanced lifestyles, and lays innovation to waste in a digital age which calls for cooperation and open rights but instead delivers more competition and exploitation.
These rapid developments are creating ever more disconnected lives, breaking down natural communities and their innate power to enhance lives. Instead, community and solidarity are replaced with consumption and a ‘me first’ society, from our politics to our pastimes. Unregulated markets are distorting and dismantling the very civic and democratic values that create an equitable state and civil society – and as they recede, power seems even further away from the hands of citizens. ‘Me first’ ends up being bad for everybody.
But where are the alternatives? How can they evolve if the Conservatives are allowed to dominate? Labour seems ill equipped to meet these very modern challenges without a culture of open debate and tolerance, or without realistic strategies for persuasion and governance.
Open Labour understands that the Labour Party is a necessary part of positive social change in modern Britain. We believe that this means understanding, occupying, commanding and transforming mainstream opinion and institutions, engaging with and shifting the centre and persuading mainstream voters to ally with our party and programme.
We also strongly believe that this cannot be done if Labour defers to establishment consensus rather than changing it. We want to ally the natural public instinct for social justice with a deliverable programme of reform – uniting “common sense” with the common good.
Our economics should recognise the role of workers as the creators of capital and that economic power must be more widely distributed throughout society. This means Labour should be investing in research and creating the skills and jobs which will tackle the great challenges of the 21st Century, and harnessing the new technology of the online age. But it must challenge power with democracy, ensuring that compassion, fairness and sustainability are built in. This is the natural role of Labour’s modern left.
We seek a renewed political settlement for Labour – focused on the future and based on first principles:
• • Equality – people deserve much more equal access to wealth and power.
• • Democracy – debate and accountability make us richer and build bridges between
• • Solidarity – working with trade unions, civil society and international sister parties.
Empowering marginalised groups in our politics and in our culture. Fostering equal societies, democracy, and respect for human rights both at home and internationally.
• • Emancipation – the democratic left is about freeing us to be the people we want, making sure that freedom is something everyone can have access to.
We seek a new political culture within the Labour Party, freeing and empowering members to give these values a shape as policy and campaigns. From this, we seek to build the power to make those things real. Open Labour will bring people together from community level upwards, and will focus evenly on debate and learning alongside activism and doing. We welcome support and participation from everyone at every level of the Party equally.
We are proud of the wider Labour family in the shape of trade unions, cooperatives, campaigning groups and community organisations. Civil society should be at the heart of what Labour does. We will fight for the party to give democratic powers back to members and the communities that we serve, and to operate in a way which is accountable and transparent. We will welcome new members, supporting their involvement and seeking a politics which can inspire, a party which can empower, and a movement which respects us all.
We hope that you will join us.”