Slightly irked by suggestions that admittedly excellent Caroline Lucas is the only anti-austerity MP in the Commons, we spotlight the hardy dissidents on what remains of the parliamentary Labour Left.
Here is a tellingly short but heartfelt list of the Labour MPs we’d happily vote for. Since the 1990s, the Labour Left has all-but evaporated as a visible, vocal political force, particularly in Parliament. That’s been fairly catastrophic, because in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was a vibrant, boisterous presence in British politics, pointing the way towards an radically more equal, democratic and infinitely nicer kind of society. People like Tony Benn stood for just the type of pragmatic radical socialism that we desperately need back (albeit with a much greater focus on the environment).
But now, its impact is negligible, reflecting the decline of the mainstream radical left more generally. The Labour leftists that are still kicking about are far from perfect – often just as ferociously tribal as the Labour right, despite the emergence of parties far more in line with what they believe in than their own. But even though they’ve been politically marginalised, and just as ignored by their own leadership as by the press, a small hard-core of Labour MPs continue to thanklessly hammer away at austerity, rampant inequality and the all-round horror of neoliberalism. So here they are.
John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington: chair of the Labour Representation Committee, the last bastion of the Bennite Left in parliament and a tireless left-wing activist.
Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North: somewhat of a Bemolutionary favourite, and one of the most rebellious MPs in Labour Party history. Writes a weekly column in socialist newspaper The Morning Star. Once described his beard as a ‘form of dissent’ against New Labour.
Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover: the legendary Beast of Bolsover, still going at 83. In addition to being a veteran socialist, he’s also made numerous principled stands in favour of gay rights and a women’s right to choose during his parliamentary career.
Ronnie Campbell, MP for Blyth Valley: another veteran left-winger and member of the Socialist Campaign Group, the last of the Bennites in parliament.
Kelvin Hopkins, MP for Luton North: jazz clarinettist, another of Labour’s most rebellious MPs.
Katy Clark, MP for Ayrshire and Arran: a Labour left-winger who was somehow allowed to become an MP in the Blair years. Very prominent in the People’s Assembly movement. Recent contender for deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party as part of a left-wing ticket with Neil Findlay. Scottish Labour went for Blairites Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale instead. Murphy will, very satisfyingly, probably lose his seat. Sadly Katy probably will too.
John Cryer, MP for Leyton and Wanstead: son of two left-wing Labour MPs, Bob and Ann Cryer. One of 16 signatories of a recent letter calling on Ed Miliband to renationalise the railways, end austerity and restore collective bargaining. Currently chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, and Grahame Morris, MP for Easington: three left-wingers first elected in 2010. All signed the anti-austerity letter mentioned above.
And then there are some others whose views are definitely left of the Labour leadership, but who we’d be a little more cautious about supporting.
Neil Kinnock once described Michael Meacher as ‘Tony Benn’s vicar on earth’. Unfortunately, he’s also a millionaire with a large property portfolio.
Diane Abbot is a long-time Socialist Campaign Group member and signed the anti-austerity letter from left-wing backbenchers, but was notably quiet about mentioning any of her more radical inclinations when she unsuccessfully stood for Labour leader in 2010. She’s also become a bit of a media darling, known for her double act with Michael Portillo on the BBC’s abhorrent This Week.
For about five minutes in the late 2000s, Jon Cruddas looked as though he might become a figurehead for those who wanted a more radical orientation for Labour, but has since become mired in the occasionally insightful but often just socially conservative Blue Labour phenomenon.
There are probably others who aren’t too bad lurking in amongst Labour’s two hundred-odd MPs somewhere. There might even be some courageous radical leftists who’ve escaped our attention. If we’re very lucky, a few more might slip through as part of Labour’s 2015 intake next week. But it says everything that out of hundreds and hundreds of Labour MPs, we’d struggle to name twenty we’d vote for happily rather than tactically.