John McDonnell for Leader?

17/05/2010

With a leadership election looming the question all Labour Party members and members of affiliated trade unions are asking is: who am I going to vote for? I suggested in a recent blog post, without feeling the need to develop the argument, that the only suitable candidate for the hard left to endorse is John McDonnell (unless Michael Meacher or another suitable MP should announce an interest in doing so).

Such a position seems to have attracted opposition from some other hard left bloggers (link, link). Andy Newman claims in a particularly pessimistic blog post that support for John “is a potentially dangerous distraction” and that such a contest will damage the standing of the left.

The distraction argument, implying a “vote John, get Dave” scenario, seems rather disingenuous. The leadership election takes place on an Alternative Vote basis, and it’s fairly safe to assume no McDonnell supporters will be putting David Miliband down as second preference. Neither is there any good reason to assume that a leadership campaign from John will in any ways compromise the anti-Blairite mainstream candidates – if done well it could even serve to amplify the distrust of Dave by the voters.

Of course John McDonnell will not be the next Leader of the Opposition, neither, given his political track record, is he ever likely to become Leader. Andy Newman is right about one thing and that is that McDonnell has failed to build up a serious mass movement around the left of the Labour party and remains fairly isolated on the backbenches. (Although given the eagerness with which the Compassites seem prepared to sell out to Blairites and Whigs it’s perfectly understandable that he wouldn’t be prepared to put tactical necessity ahead of principles).

But the past is the past and there is still much to be gained from a leadership campaign – a platform to put across the socialist alternative. Such campaigns afford us the opportunity to test the mood within the Party and to build up the activist networks necessary for future organisation.

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