The two big challenges for #occupyLSX and the Labour party


1:22 pm - November 7th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


      Share on Tumblr

How should the Labour left and the broader left respond to Ed Miliband’s call to take seriously the aims and sentiments behind #occupyLSX?

Owen Jones says it represents a “victory” for #olsx – a sentiment I mostly sympathise with.

Some, including Graham Linehan on Twitter, said the call didn’t go far enough, while others accused him of trying to co-opt the movement. These reactions were entirely expected too.

But by far the most worrying reaction for me was the triumphalism and hubris of some, who dismissed the offer as the start of the collapse of the existing order.

There are two main reasons why I think this is worrying.

The political weather is not necessarily favourable to the new anti-capitalist, anti-establishment sentiment
People may have sympathy for their sentiments (as they did on the cuts) but it doesn’t mean they will favour such an option (a majority of people still think the cuts are necessary).

In fact, looking back at British history during times of strife and economic upheaval, it was usually the right-wing (incl far-right) parties that prospered. After the 1930s crash – the Conservatives won the election with a landslide. The same story repeated itself during the economic upheavals of the 70s.

The Labour govt of 1945, looked upon by many on the left as the height of the glory days, only came one on the back of a yearning for optimism and a new direction. The same applied to most successive, popular Labour governments.

My point here isn’t to say you should work for a Labour govt, but only that the outcome of this period of uncertainty and growing feeling of crisis could easily lead to a majority Conservative govt, as history has shown, which would lead to an even bigger attack on workers rights and public services. The shift in the political climate could easily go the other way.

#OccupyLSX itself isn’t even close to sealing the deal or has much time left
To a large extent they have been lucky in the controversy over St Paul’s – it has kept them in the spotlight while keeping the issue of inequality alive because the Church focused on that too.

But this won’t last forever. Soon, the media will either start ignoring them (as it did with the Parl Square protest) and/or start getting more overtly hostile. Then the debate is likely to become about civil liberties, squatting and/or the right to protest. Then the main message becomes diffused and lost.

The public have some sympathy, but it doesn’t mean:
– people will support their right to camp out there indefinitely
– people will agree on the extent of the problem or the solutions (which are? That isn’t very clear).

This is why I think triumphalism at this stage is dangerous and far too early.

The #oslx movement needs allies.

For the past few weeks, #olsx has been camped out in front of an institution that isn’t known for enlightened views on abortion rights or gay rights. And yet #olsx didn’t antagonise them – they put on a charm offensive to get St Paul’s on side. They needed an ally and eventually they got one.

Now – I’m not suggesting they should also ally with the Labour party. Clearly that would split the movement. But rather than rejecting Miliband’s offer out of hand – I suggest it should be seen as a challenge.

Ed Miliband says he is serious about moving Labour away from the orthodoxy of the last 30 years. So we should hold him to that challenge. This is merely a start and anyone who was expecting a full manifesto this early is being far too eager. Political parties don’t and can’t move as fast as protest movements and online campaigns.

It’s not even clear whether Labour’s new direction will resonate with the broader public yet. But this is a beginning of something Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were too scared to offer to the public. So there is a long way to go.

But intrinsic within the demand that Ed Miliband now press ahead with his promise, the challenge for the left is to keep finding innovative ways to press that message about growing inequality.

It is the job of the left to find ways to win over public opinion, not just the Labour leader, and create the space that political parties are forced to fill. Otherwise we may soon find ourselves trying to defend even basic rights we take for granted, like the minimum wage.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,The Left ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


Yes, there is the danger Occupy will just fizzle out. Maybe best to plan to leave at Christmas with the promise that the camp will be back if concrete action isn’t forthcoming.
As for Ed M – the centre of gravity in the Labour party is still very much about material answers whereas the Occupy movement is more aware of the weakness of our democracy and about the spiritually bankrupcy of a system that values everything only by the price tag that can be tied to it. I don’t see Ed Miliband being able to drag the ’42” flat screen TVs for every household’ wing of the Labour movement with him, even if he wanted to.

Dear Sunny

You raise important questions. #OLSX are too. We like to think our branch of the Labour Party did too in the run up to the 2009 Common Council elections. There are open questions about whether we will be able to do so in the 2012 CC elections.

Of particular interest to us is the impact of the City of London (Ward Elections) Act 2002 on the representativeness of the business vote, previously dominated by partners and directors.

It offers a potential route into a wider public debate about capitalist democracy.

As reported on Facebook, City of London Labour Party officers have put out a request to its members to attend an #olsx general assembly this week.

This BLP has operated a strategy of political engagement by seeking election to Common Council. The branch is consulting its own members about a campaign in 2013. It will be interesting to hear reactions from #olsx supporters if the issue comes up at a GA.

Oops, there is a typo in my earlier comment – the next CC elections are in 2013, not rpt not in 2012.

Oops, there is a typo in my earlier comment. The next CC elections are in 2013, not rpt not in 2012.

This is absolutely spot on, both in its content and tone. Whatever the protesters say, and I am 100% behind them, they will slowly need to get some solid, political support.

Ed Miliband is tentatively providing it, whilst probably recognising the need not to get too close for fear it blows up in his face (if violent clashes with the police or who else ever take place).

This is the great dilemma though of those opposed to the coalition’s cuts at all costs agenda: how to safeguard the state’s necessary safety blanket, and support for society’s most vulnerable, whilst also rejecting the view churned out ad infinitum, that all this is necessary because of over-spending in the good times.

The public need to be convinced that such an aggressive cuts policy is, and will continue to, hurt so many of us. Except, less we forget, those who live parallel lives, rarely in contact with the essential services provided by the state.

It’s getting the public to believe this, with example after example (and there will be many), so show why there is another way. And why the reforms that are badly needed are not those currently being pursued, but those being called for by the Occupy movements in London and beyond.

One historical point to make. In the case of the 1930s depression, Labour did not make enough of a criticism of the existing order and did little about unemployment. The communist party was actually one of the beneficiaries of this and saw its membership increase drastically over the decade.

After the 1930s crash – the Conservatives won the election with a landslide.

No they didn’t. A National Government was formed, first under the leadership of Ramsay Macdonald and then Stanley Baldwin, and it was this that won landslides in 1931 and 1935. The Conservatives didn’t fight an election on their own until 1945.

That’s a bit picky, because the National Govt was overwhelmingly Conservative, but whatever it represented it wasn’t a dramatic swing to the right. Look at the history of the Mosley-ite New Party for example – it was explicitly sold as a moderate force, designed to exclude the right of the Tory Party. Harold Macmillan damn nearly joined it.

Public sympathy for them is on the way out. Pissing off poppy sellers, painting graffiti on St Pauls and shitting on the steps will not win you friends.

On a wider point, why do protesters have to become permanent residents these days? Eventually you are bound to piss more people off than you bring on side with this tactic.

The question is, are we trying to return to a pre-2008 economic situation, in which case rebalance the budget, prop up the city and wait for the private sector to recover- what the Tories are doing now and what they did in the 1930s. Of course it didn’t work then, it took a decade of depression and a world war to realise that a new way was needed and that economic order lasted until the 70s. Labour won the 1945 election on a new vision, partly because the previous 16 years were such a disaster that the necessity of a new system was obvious. The occupy protestors are sure a new system is needed but don’t know what it would look like, the Labour party don’t know if they want to make real changes or just cut slower in an attempt to return to pre-2008

@8 – source please

Sadly, I’m afraid Labour are just as much part of the corrupt establishment as the Tories, the police, HMRC, the banks, the media companies and maybe-but-they’re-not-quite-sure the C of E.

EM pretending that he isn’t is just an exercise in what my American wife would call “blowing smoke up my ass”.

@11 Dear Eric

I’ll remember that next time I’m out as a Labour Party member campaigning for a living income, bankers’ taxes, improved democracy – I’m part of the corrupt establishment. Yeah!

Peter Kenyon
secretary, City of London Labour Party

Sorry Peter, nothing personal and not saying your beliefs aren’t sincere, but I think Dave C or Nick M would say they believe in the same things. I see nothing that gives me confidence in any of the pillars of establishment, Labour Party included.

Maybe it’s my old school Labour-family-for-generations background but to me Labour have spent the years since 1997 doing everything possible to distance themselves from their history to the point where now they are Democrats to the Tory Republicans – 2 peas in a pod. Friends in high places, parties on yachts, money talks. Triangulation, innit?

A few good people knocking on doors doesn’t change the facts at the top, and the personal characteristics it takes to get there. You only have to look at Blair post premiership,and compare his actions to his ‘beliefs’ pre-premeriship to see the process of power corrupting in action.

Not particularly wishing to add fuel to the ‘are labour part of the establishment’ fire, here, just came across the following stats (via monbiot) with relevance to Sunny’s appeal on a blog a few weeks ago – wanting data for the UK similar to that published in the NYT re: the US from 1950-2010, showing how while the richest fifth saw their incomes grow faster than everyone else since 1980, while this hadn’t been the case previously. I thought “I’ll post these on the most recent blog so they’re more likely to be picked up”… Of course, they’re extra relevant here, in that they also present a difficulty for the Labour Party, who to really engage with the occupy movement would need to accept and ackowledge their role in/failure to address rising income inequality…

“Four fifths of the total increase in incomes over the last decade [1998/9 to 2008/9] has gone to those with above average incomes and two fifths have gone to those in the richest tenth”

According to: Housesholds Below Average Income, DWP, cited here: http://www.poverty.org.uk/09/index.shtml#g2

(There are a few references to further studies and data worth looking into on this. I hope someone with time to look into data going back a bit further and covering the last few years will appear at some point)

Apologies, just discovered Sunny had posted a UK graph here, and that I should have posted under that. http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/11/06/graph-how-the-1-have-prospered-not-the-rest/. Much as I wasn’t attempting to launch labour-baiting, I still think it’s a valid consideration.

Buy Miliband a donkey jacket for this weekend and help Labour get rid would be the right thing to do. There is jumping on a passing bandwagon and then there is Ed Miliband – the least effectual Labour leader since records began. This government needs a proper opposition.

Ed M. can try to co-opt the movement all he likes. Nobody is fooled.

He and his Fauxcialist Labour party are as much a part of the problem as the Tories (if not more: at least the Tories don’t pretend to be left wing then carry out the interests of big business).

Labour out. Tories out. Libdems out. End the corruption.

Let’s build a real democracy (both politically and economically) in their place.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Janet Graham

    The two big challenges for #occupyLSX and the Labour party http://t.co/t8yH3f5s

  2. Janet Graham

    Ed Miliband's article and the two big challenges for @occupyLSX and Labour – http://t.co/IOlYlkNi

  3. sunny hundal

    Ed Miliband's article and the two big challenges for @occupyLSX and Labour – http://t.co/IOlYlkNi (me, earlier cc @Glinner)

  4. Richard Murphy

    RT @sunny_hundal: Ed Miliband's article and the two big challenges for @occupyLSX and Labour – http://t.co/SmL5kMGG > worth reading

  5. Manisha

    IA, hope #olsx achieves something >> The two big challenges for #occupyLSX and the Labour party | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/6x8duERl

  6. sunny hundal

    @OwenJones84 – partly in response to you: Ed Miliband's article and the two big challenges for @occupyLSX – http://t.co/IOlYlkNi

  7. Gagging Order

    Ed Miliband's article and the two big challenges for @occupyLSX and Labour – http://t.co/IOlYlkNi (me, earlier cc @Glinner)

  8. Lanie Ingram

    Ed Miliband's article and the two big challenges for @occupyLSX and Labour – http://t.co/IOlYlkNi (me, earlier cc @Glinner)

  9. Janet Graham

    Ed Miliband's article and the two big challenges for @occupyLSX and Labour – http://t.co/IOlYlkNi (me, earlier cc @Glinner)

  10. Owen Jones

    @OwenJones84 – partly in response to you: Ed Miliband's article and the two big challenges for @occupyLSX – http://t.co/IOlYlkNi

  11. sunny hundal

    @hopisen good blog, and somewhat echoes what I said too yesterday http://t.co/IOlYlkNi – but I have two issues

  12. The Euro crisis could set back the left for more than a generation | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] because history points in that direction. As I said earlier: in times of financial crisis Britons have elected Conservatives to steer them through. Labour gets […]

  13. sunny hundal

    What happens after Spanish Indignados protests? Right-wing party about to win http://t.co/6ezGKujz (same danger here http://t.co/IOlYlkNi)

  14. paulstpancras

    What happens after Spanish Indignados protests? Right-wing party about to win http://t.co/6ezGKujz (same danger here http://t.co/IOlYlkNi)

  15. Steve Preston

    What happens after Spanish Indignados protests? Right-wing party about to win http://t.co/6ezGKujz (same danger here http://t.co/IOlYlkNi)

  16. For the Tories and Labour, it’s keep calm and carry on. « Sam Boyd

    […] than they do the coalition’s economic mismanagement. Sunny Hundal at the Liberal Conspiracy blog has also noted that history suggests Britons, in any case, tend to choose Conservatives to steer us through times […]

  17. For the Tories and Labour, it’s keep calm and carry on. « sam boyd | politics

    […] than they do the coalition’s economic mismanagement. Sunny Hundal at the Liberal Conspiracy blog has also noted that history suggests Britons, in any case, tend to choose Conservatives to steer us through times […]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.