Why can’t the left get unified?

The right have differences of opinion too, but are much better at coming together when it matters



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.

Hundal 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 is head of the London office, DHA Communications. Follow her on Twitter

29 Responses to “Why can’t the left get unified?”

  1. stevep

    Good article. Precisely what I`ve been thinking and saying for a while now.

    Three types of people are needed to build anything: Thinkers, who analyse given situations, solve problems and formulate plans.

    : Doer`s, who deal with the bricks and mortar of a situation and get things done.

    : Organisers, Perhaps the most important role as they get the thinkers and doer`s together and make them function.

    We need all three types, for thinkers aren`t often great organisers or doer`s. ( I`m a tolerable thinker, mediocre organiser and a poor doer.) and vice-versa. It really does need to be done by the young as it is their future at stake, with respect to the wisdom and experience of the older amongst us .

    it also needs to be done using the internet to bypass mainstream media and speak directly to a generation much more likely to use social media to get and distribute information than read The Sun or Mail.
    The 2015 Dimbleby lecture is a must-see.


  2. swat

    The Left actually enjoys tearing bits out of each other, rather than attacking the enemy the Tories. Its a kind of righteousness mentality, that their particular brand of Leftyism is much purer than the other bloke’s brand of Leftyism. I can only compare it to the absurd situation of Islam where Shiites abhor the Sunnis and vice versa, and Al Quida, the Taliban and IsIs hate each others guts and try to outdo each other.

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  4. Jennifer Hornsby

    The left’s problems must be blamed on a shifting centre of gravity: the electorate has moved towards the right. Why? Largely because of a constant stream of lies and concealment of truth on the part of Tory
    politicians and the media they feed (including the BBC, thanks to recent Tory threats). Ed Balls and others assumed an electorate whose mindset had shifted—as focus groups would surely have revealed it had. Even before the campaign, Labour should have worked hard to eradicate false assumptions. How about the simple message: “Over 13 years, Labour decreased poverty and decreased the debt. Then the banks failed. Conservatives now have Britain’s poor paying for corrupt bankers’ greed.” Let’s think what the messages should be, have the organizers determine how to convey them, and the doers get them across.

  5. Bret R

    This is not a new problem. The left has been fractured and at war since around the
    Hungarian Revolution in ’58 when the simple notion of a peaceful revolutionary road to liberation died.

    The simple fact is our job on the left is a hell of a lot more difficult than that of the Right.

    The fact is we on the left are trying to change things, to wrench power from the always powerful, to fundamentally remake the world. That makes our job a whole lot harder than the Right’s. They are already in all of the positions of power, they already enjoy all the privileges, they already dictate the agenda whether it be through the laws of the land, the media or the education curriculum. Not just that but they are fighting to defend their privilege. So in effect they are fighting to maintain their absolute power and get to use their absolute power to do so. They just have to hold the line. Resist progress.

    The left on the other hand is trying to change the system without having any actual power. We have very few people in powerful positions who can use that power to make dramatic and lasting change.

    As to the reasons for our constant divisions. Its important to understand that the Right are defending a world that exists. This world. They can point to reality and say ‘Look, see, this is the way life is supposed to be, because this is the world that exists.’

    The left can’t do that because this is the very world we want to change. We’re working from ideas of a world that don’t yet exist, a future world, a fantasy world. This is where it gets really complicated because what we want is change, but change is subjective. One person’s radical reform is another person’s tinkering around the edges. The left is made up of particular interest groups. We’re united by our desire for change but utterly different in what we think must be changed. Each group privileges certain causes and prioritises certain outcomes. Why? Because we all have a different analysis of what is wrong with the
    existing system and from that a specific solution. A Feminist analysis will inevitably privilege female emancipation/liberation to the detriment of class based solutions. A Marxist will inevitably privilege a class analysis and its subsequent solutions to the detriment of race, gender, evnironmental and sexuality solutions. There are many such divisions across the left. This means conflict is inevitable.

    So now we look to our divided movement. Why can’t we work together? Because Labour has a fundamentally different analysis to the Greens, who have a fundamentally different analysis to the Trotskyists, who have a fundamentally different analysis to the Communists and on and on.

    We can’t agree on what the problem is, we certainly can’t agree what the solutions are. We ignore our own traditions failures whilst deeply distrusting the “obviously” failed doctrine of every other group. Everyone else suspects Labour of betraying the movement by collaborating with the Tories and big business. Everyone else suspects the Greens of being Middle-Class Liberal Democrats in disguise, everyone else suspects the Trotskyists of being infighting totalitarians and everyone else suspects the Communists of being nostalgic Stalinists. Its not hard to see why we don’t unite. We don’t trust each other and most significantly of all we don’t agree with each other. Its easy to overlook the last point but it is crucial. What we have in common is a desire to replace the people in power with something else. Where we differ completely is in what should replace it. That is more than a small problem and it won’t be overcome by any amount of shared stage time at a rally, or watered down, shared, temporary manifesto’s that satisfy nobody.

    Solutions: find a way to agree where we satisfy everybody or, as is more likely, accept that the left is just too broad a church to find common ground and take more of a “you push at your end and we’ll push at our end and we’ll talk again when the wall has crumbled’ approach.

  6. wj

    Labour, it’s in the title – where in this article, apart from the mention of “individuals” is there any mention of manual workers; these are the people who have been hit the hardest by both parties’ policies.

    To the person on the street NGOs, think tanks, charities, and other enterprises have become anathemas – in our cities we see different bodies setting themselves up and awarding each other hard-needed funds to produce services that only exist in their own hive-like minds.

    It has been suggested quite a lot recently that Labour should drop its name and become a Social Democratic/Progressive party – I agree with that as it will release the Labour banner to be taken up, once more, by the C2s and Ds that have been trodden underfoot.

  7. Keith M

    The problem is factionalism, instead of fighting each other we need to fight the common enemy and show discipline and a United front.

  8. Bret R

    You make it sound so simple but how can we do that when we don’t agree on how broad a definition of “enemy” we should use and what sort of changes we might want to make?
    Are Bankers the enemy? Are “bad” business people the enemy? Are our bosses the enemy? Are the Tory backbenchers the enemy? Are Tories, in general, the enemy? Are right wing politicians of all hues the enemy? Is the BBC the enemy? Is Parliament the enemy? Are Capitalists the enemy? Are unreconstructed non-Feminists, who aren’t comitted to ending patriarchy the enemy? Are Union bosses the enemy? Are the big unions the enemy? Are Political parties fullstop the enemy? Are the Tory voting middle-class the enemy? Are people who don’t devote themselves to the liberation of LGBTQ people the enemy? Are people who don’t fight for the disabled the enemy? Are people who don’t recognise white privilege in every single institution the enemy? Are people who don’t embrace full-on environmentalism the enemy?

    Ask ten lefties, get ten different answers. It doesn’t help our cause to underplay the sheer scale of difference that exists.

    When Labour people stand shoulder to shoulder with, say, Feminist-Environmentalists the level of agreement is going to be slim. the two can work together but only ever to a limited degree.

    You can waste a lot of time trying to solve this problem but the simple fact is the left are a very broad church. The right wingers are defending a very specific thing. This state of affairs. Left-wingers are fighting for something quite different, the entire rainbow of possible other worlds. Its no wonder we seem fractured and disunited. We are.

  9. Bret R

    So people who don’t agree with your politics have a righteous mentality? Would you accept that from a frustarted Liberal Democrat who couldn’t understand why people like yourself didn’t just swallow your pride and vote for them? Because obviously to this Liberal Democrat “we all want the same thing” and “the Liberal Democrats best understand how to make that happen”.

    Of course you wouldn’t. We all have our own anaylsis of society and the problems therein. This leads us inevitably to what sort of struggle we think we should be committed too.The fact is the difference between a centrist Labourite and someone on the hard-left in say, for example, the SWP is going to have a very different sense of what society is, what the problems are and what solutions would fix those problems.

    Its got nothing to do with righteosness or petulancea or immaturity.

    We disagree. Thats the reality.

  10. swat

    I can understand why Lib Dems feel frustrated: it must be pretty frustrating to face both ways. And Lib Dems have my full sympathy for not being appreciated by the electorate for the splendid work they did in Coalition and then the Tories go and deliberately shaft them, and take all their seats away from them. There was no ‘common understanding’ And you need ‘understanding’ to make a coalition work We agree to disagree. If only the splinter groups of they Left would adopt that approach, then there might well be more Lefty Govts in future, or even Left Centre Coalitions with the Lib Dems. But take it from me, Lib Dems are demonised by both Left and Right Parties generally, and I’m not quite sure why.

  11. JohnRich

    And in particular by the impact of uncontrolled immigraton !!!

  12. Bret R

    I only used ‘Lib Dem’ as an example it wasn’t really revelant to my point, I am not, never have been and will never be a Liberal, Democratic or otherwise.

    The point I was trying to make is that the disagreements on the left are real and trying to deny that by claiming people are being ‘righteous’ is just daft. Attempts at forced conformity have been tried before and they didn’t go well. We have to acknowledge that there is a wide divergence of views on the left and areas where we can work together will, naturally, be limited to areas where we can “agree”.

    What does this mean? Well for a start notions like the “mass party” or the “mass movement” are probably relics of that past. I don’t “like it” any more than anyone else but I don’t see what we can do about it without shutting down peoples right to their own beliefs, conscience and protest which would be a very dangerous road to go down.

  13. Bret R

    Don’t agree. Sounds too much like a division of Labour. If you can’t ‘Do’ then learn how. If you don’t understand theory, then ‘Learn some’. If you don’t know how to organise, then for god’s sake learn or you’ll be someone else’s lackie.

    You can’t remake a society premised on the Divison of Labour by organising along the lines of a Division of Labour. Doing things this way is how you end up with remote, professional politicians who listen to remote, barking mad academics who both see the Do’ers as another species good for nothing but delivering leaflets, putting an X in the box and doing as they’re blood well told.

  14. AlanGiles

    The problem is “the broad church”. The Blairites, both in the PLP and outside throw vitriol at Jeremy Corbyn and those who support him, and the Cooperites, Burnhamites and Kendallites can’t even see that you cant get a sheet of Bronco between them, in real terms, and if you dare admit to bei ng a Green, then you get abuse from all of them. Take a look at LabourList to see what I mean

  15. AlanGiles

    This is Britain you idiot. If you are going to spam the board at least adapt dollars for sterling

  16. stevep

    With the greatest of respect and all the best will in the world, it doesn`t work like that. I wish it did.
    People who possess all three talents are rare and should be co-opted to the cause and treasured.
    Ultimately we have to utilise what talents people possess, yes, training a thinker to become an organiser or doer is possible, but self-defeating.
    For example, If I want an extension to my house I could visualise and conceptualise what I wanted and could probably learn how to build it. But I know from experience that it would be better to hire someone who actually knew how to build houses. That`s because I`m not a very good doer.
    I`m not advocating a wilful division of labour, nothing is set in stone and there are thinkers who can organise, as there are organisers who can do and doer`s who are pretty good at thinking.
    It`s great that we are having this discussion at all and that so many people on this page are animated about unifying the left. I see it as an urgent priority in the UK.
    I`m a thinker. if anyone on the left can make use of my fuddled, often-irrational but intuitive mind, I`m up for it.

  17. stevep

    Who the “enemy” is depends on what sort of society you are living in. Our current Capitalist society probably sees collectivity as the enemy as it is opposed to private greed, which is the current doctrine.
    The society I would like to see in the future is one based on collectivity and social responsibilities but with room for individual expression within that framework. A truly democratic society based on fairness and decency. Ensuring every citizen had the right to housing, warmth, food, clothing, education and a decent standard of living.
    A society where technology, the means of production and finance are in the hands of the citizens, not a privileged few.
    if I had to define the enemies of such a society I would have to say free-market Capitalists and anyone who puts profit and greed before people.
    It is difficult because we all live in a Capitalist society at present and like it or not, are shaped by it. We all possess faults and hypocrisies as do people living in all types of societies.
    The difference between people who want to build a fairer society and those that accept society as it is, comes down to recognising what those faults and hypocrisies are and how we deal with them.

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    The left cannot get united because it has a lot of facist anti semetic Islamic apologist dictatorial bastards pretending to be socialists in its ranks. Some of the same pricks in the past gave credence to Sinn Fein IRA who killed workers.. However this has nothing to do with the Labour Party, just a usual left problem. Position normal. Sorry for insulting a prick.

  20. robertcp

    A major problem is the first past the post system. Many people in the centre and left do not like the Labour Party but they know that standing against the Labour Party only helps the Tories. We had a chance to reduce the extent of this problem in 2011 but most of the left did not seem to be interested in campaigning to change the voting system.

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  22. CGR

    Just watch Life of Brian. “Splitters!”

  23. treborc

    I was thinking of becoming a professional like you, but the sex change operation would cost more then I make.

  24. AlanGiles

    Nothing to do with this article, but could I appeal to LFF moderators to police the board to remove the half-witted spammers who infest the threads with nonsense about they earn so many dollars by clicking on dubious websites. If anybody clicks on one of these links it is more than likely they will infect their computers with malware.

    One of the halfwits (yes I am talking about you, Shery baby) even typed her crap in bold to draw even more attention to her b******t.

    You notice they start with a few random words before the con, but even when you flag the comment they are allowed to remain.

    I frankly consider this an insult to the people who contribute – I might not agree with many of them, but they deserve to have their contributions untainted by this fairy tale advertising crap

  25. Cole

    Pointless rubbish. Hadn’t you noticed the right endlessly squabbling about the EU?

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  28. stevep

    Yes, consensus is the way forward.

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