How can Labour claim to be able to transform Britain, if it cannot democratise its own opaque and moribund structures? A mass membership party should aspire to create new social, communicative and material capacities, and to do so at speed.
Between 2015 and 2019 the left in the UK contended for national power with a very particular strategy. Labour in Parliament was to be kept as united as possible and the structures of the party were to be kept more or less unreformed. The leadership team would develop a social-democratic policy platform while addressing concerns about affordability and fiscal responsibility. The special conditions of a general election would then create an opportunity for a kind of radical disenchantment. The interlocking fantasies and demobilising fictions that keep Toryism in place as the political default would be disentangled sufficiently to permit the election of a Labour government with a mandate for far-reaching change. A mass membership, supported by new media resources and the charisma of a transformative programme, would be enough to achieve cut-through.
In 2017 the approach seemed to have a great deal to recommend it. We will never know exactly why a strategy that worked well once failed when tried again. There are too many variables, too many unknowns. But we should avoid the easy route of blaming the leadership. The Labour Party didn't lose: it was beaten. Whatever flaws Corbyn had, whatever mistakes his team made, were trivial compared to the overwhelming power of his opponents to malign Labour and exonerate themselves.
Nevertheless, we have to be honest about what the election tells us. It is clear that the Labour Party in its current form, operating in the current structure of communications, cannot win on a social-democratic prospectus. It had a manifesto that was equal to the challenges we face as a country, the climate emergency above all. It had a mass membership mobilised to argue for this manifesto. But it could not overcome a relentless campaign against Corbyn and the party he led, a campaign that encompassed large parts of the media and some former Labour MPs, as well the Conservative Party and its allies in the economic elite.
After the defeat Labour Party faces a choice. It can give up on the Green New Deal, the re-nationalisation of key sectors of the economy, the restoration of workers' rights and expansion of democracy. It can accept that its role is limited to that of a moderating influence on British capitalism, and then wait until the Conservatives are so exhausted in office that the guardians of capital and their media auxiliaries are willing to allow a chastened opposition to occupy Downing Street. This process will take years, if it occurs at all.
Or the Labour Party can finally accept that, if it wants to transform the UK, it must first transform itself.
The urgency of party reform
This alternative, though much...