The Labour Party in a New Colour – A Preliminary Response; By Jaye Gaskia

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Comrade Gaskia

DID you see Kayode Komolafe’s article in ThisDay today? Labour Party in new colors.

The article by Kayode Komolafe on ‘The Labour Party in New Colors’ which appeared today makes for very interesting reading. It is incisive and insightful, and it is written by someone who is not only a respected journalist of immense experience, but also a ‘stand well well’ comrade of long pedigree. What is more, he is also one of those few whose writings and political interventions have influenced me in my own evolution.
The article offers a fresh perspective on the saga of the entry of Peter Obi and Pat Utomi, and the potential influx of their crowd into the Labour Party; and offers a perspective shorn of the bright eyed and uncritical adulation of those excited by this development as a game changer! Nevertheless, as one who have been part of a process of persistent and conscious engagements with both the NLC and TUC, and the Labour Party, towards a project of workers recovery of the Labour Party, it is important to offer a narrative and perspective that builds on the very important caveats that Comrade KK (as he is fondly called) himself introduced into his narrative.
Both KK’s article and this response should be seen and read as part of a necessary informed debate not only on this recent development in the Labour Party, but also on the future (at least immediate future) of the Labour movement and its political project.

The referenced article rests on some assumptions that are not exactly correct: first that the current leadership of the Labour Party are social democrats and committed to social democracy; second that the current leadership of the Trade unions centers are social democrats and committed to social democracy; and third, that following on this, both leaderships will be committed to holding and nudging Peter Obi in the direction of abandoning neoliberalism and committing to Social Democracy.
Peter Obi’s coming into the Labour Party, includes the coming of Pat Utomi, and the crowd around both of them – the significant majority of whom are neoliberals by conviction. So this is beyond convincing Peter Obi and Pat Utomi to commit something close to class suicide. Add to these the immense majority of their followers are simply committed to the individuals, admire these individuals and everything they stand for, and many of them loathe Labour and are disdainful of the working class, or the idea of class politics. In these circumstances therefore, it seems more probable that the Peter Obi crowd will influence the Labour Party and its trajectory, rather than the other way round; and as such the brackishness of the mixed ocean and river waters would be closer to the fresh water that it is to the saline water of the ocean, that is, if not nearly entirely saltless as to be indistinguishable from the fresh water.
It should be noted that concern about healthcare delivery, public education, housing, infrastructural development, poverty eradication, service delivery, job creation and employment; not exclusive preserves and concerns of particular ideologies and social systems – capitalist, neoliberal, social democratic, socialist, or revolutionary socialist! All social systems and ideological formations share these concerns, and all organise to address them; the fundamental difference is in the structural and essential component and content of the proposed solutions and methodological approaches for addressing these problems. And this is inherently influenced by class interest and class loyalty.
Would we strive to achieve universal health coverage that excludes no one and that is cost free at the point of use and access? Or would the approach be to leave everyone to their own means, and or to try to approach it through the private sector, that is through health insurance, which then leaves out the vulnerable? Would the model be an improved version of the British NHIS; or an improved version of Obamacare; for instance? The former is public sector led, and offers coverage to nearly the whole population; while the latter is private sector led, and exudes a significant section of the population. And who pays for these social services? And ditto for public education, public and social housing, public transportation, etc?
Would the rich pay more taxes than the poor? What will be the policy on taxation? Progressive or regressive?
What is the policy proposal on privatisation of public enterprises and on the public sector, rather than the private sector as the engine of economic growth, in accordance with chapter two of the constitution?
What is the policy on energy? And making energy accessible, affordable, and available? Etc, and etc… The recovery of the Labour Party by workers as a project requires an enduring and not episodic strategy. Are there any assurances that the Peter Obi and Pat Utomi crowd will remain in the Labour Party beyond May 2023, if the Labour Party does not win? And even if it does, are there any assurances that they will remain beyond their inauguration, or beyond their tenure?
More importantly given where the Labour Party is now, given that it is not fielding candidates for all or even a majority of seats across the country, and given that the people flocking to the party and picking the tickets for the few seats.being contested, are from disparate backgrounds, do not belong to the same political movement or platform, and are in the Labour Party only because they want to use the party to contest elections; how does the Labour Party and Peter Obi intend to govern in the event of an electoral victory in the presidential election?
Any serious movement, and the ideological character of the movement matters little here, any serious movement – including the Peter Obi movement and Pat Utomi NC Front would have, or ought to have a clear strategy for engagement, ought to have been ready to field candidates from its movement for several strategic positions, and would have constructed a more or less stable alliance of similar political parties, ensuring that the alliance is based on a clear cut political program and manifesto, and that each party to the alliance fields candidates from those parties or from the movements, so that they can run a unified and nationwide campaign.
For the Labour movement as a whole, including it’s workers and working people’s political formations and movements;, the strategy for engaging the 2023 general elections would have been such that a limited but profoundly transformative objective for the Labour Party, for the Labour movement, for the political formations and movements of the working people, and the mass of the working people would have been set.
Field candidates for strategic posit, including the presidency, and mount a disruptive nationwide political campaign on the basis of your ideological program; and use the campaign to revive workers and working people’s interest in the Labour Party, use the campaign to mobilise and excite the social base, use the campaign to place the workers issues and workers alternative firmly on the front burner of the national agenda.
Then if you lose, you emerge as a consequential force in the political arena and in society.
And if you win, you have a mobilised, excited, agitated, and politically active social base that can actively support and protect the minority government that the election victory would have enabled.
This alternative is alas not available any longer towards 2023; but the alternative of mounting a robust disruptive nationwide political campaign, and utilizing it to rejuvenate the movement, such that it can emerge as a consequential force, and be prepared to resume the project of workers recovery of the Labour Party, post 2023 election, still remains on the cards. This is the task before us now.
The current Labour Party and its candidates will provide enough opportunity for us to engage, because of their likely political and policy trajectories. And we can retain the autonomy to criticize and expose them for who they are, what they stand for, and what their visions are.

Comrade Gaskia is of TPAP-M Secretariat.

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