Reclaiming the soft left this conference seasonby Emily Robinson / September 27, 2016 / Leave a comment
What kind of left do we want to build? That was the repeated refrain at Sunday’s meeting of Open Labour, a new group committed to recovering the soft left tradition within the Labour Party. The answers came back: one that is open, and tolerant, in which we recognise that we are all on the same side. One in which we stop fighting the battles of the past and start thinking about how we can shape the future. And one in which we listen to those we disagree with, and ask searching questions about how we have arrived at the current situation. As the divisions of the summer give way to calls for unity from both the leadership and (many of) their opponents, this is reflective of the general mood music. But does it offer anything more?
The significance of the new organisation lies in its explicit reclaiming of the soft left tradition, with its democratic, participatory and pluralist culture. The decline of this strand of politics has not only left a gulf between the right and left of the party, but has also left us without the kind of tolerance that could bridge it.
At Sunday’s meeting, Peter Hain regretted the way in which the organisational roots of the soft left had been allowed to wither during the New Labour years, when its former leaders (himself included) had been distracted by ministerial office. Writing in the spring edition of Renewal, another soft left veteran Paul Thompson (who was a founding Editor of the journal) made a similar point, warning that this tradition was now far stronger among intellectuals and commentators than activists.