Over 100 people attended the rally to launch John McDonnell's leadership campaign in Manchester last Thursday. The platform included Tony Benn, Alice Mahon and Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ.
John McDonnell was eager to dissociate himself from the Blair-Brown punch-up going on simultaneously in Westminster. McDonnell described these events as "contemptible", the product of careerists fearing for their seats or angling for positions in a post-Blair government. "It is appalling that there is no mention of principle or policy at all. It is about naked ambition."
His campaign, in contrast, was "about raising the level of political awareness in the Labour Party, trade unions and the country", a debate not restricted to the current Labour Party membership. He also made a joke about contacting Tony Blair to tell him that he wanted an election rather than "an orderly transition from Blair to McDonnell."
The campaign can act as a catalyst, not just in the Labour Party, but in the trade unions and for all those campaigning on issues that have brought them into conflict with the right-wing policies of the Blair government. It is not enough simply to urge people to rejoin and become active in the Labour Party, as was shown at the rally where several speakers from the floor (including one union activist who had been involved in the Socialist Alliance) said they were possibly thinking of rejoining but were doubtful unless there were real signs of a possible shift to the left. There will also be many activists for whom the Labour Party is tainted by its actions in government.
John McDonnell is clearly willing to have an open campaign. However I was worried coming away from the rally by the absence of any proposed structure for organising. This was reflected in the concern of several speakers at the rally who mentioned that it had not been well or systematically publicised. Those at the rally were told to pass on their names and addresses to be kept in touch with the campaign, but, with no local coordination there is a danger that people will be left to 'do their own thing'.
Local campaign structures are necessary – whether under the auspices of John4Leader or the LRC doesn't matter. They would help take the campaign into the labour movement and also provide a space for discussion on the politics of the campaign.