Factions in practice

Nick Barlow
4 min readAug 26, 2020

This is a follow-up to my previous story on Liberal Democrats and factions, as there were some comments and questions about it that got me thinking and it felt worthwhile to expand on them in a linked post rather than letting them disappear into the Twitter ether.

One of the main objections and challenges people had to the previous post is that they’ve seen how bad factionalism has been in the Labour Party, and so because of that they don’t want to see any factions in the Liberal Democrats. I do understand where that argument is coming from, but I think it’s taking the wrong lesson from the situation.

Let’s continue the analogy from my previous post, where we look at factions as playing a similar role in the internal politics of a party as the parties themselves play in the politics of a country. To say that the problem with Labour is entirely down to its factions is like saying the problem with British politics is entirely because of political parties. While there may be some problems with the parties, the bigger problems are with the system they operate in, and the same applies to factions at the lower level — a lot of their behaviour is determined by the system they are working in.

Now, I’m not an expert on Labour’s structures, so I’m open to correction here, but Labour’s organisation is very centralised and very majoritarian. Whoever is in control of the NEC has significant power over the party, and because internal elections are done as multi-member FPTP, it means blocs and slates of candidates get elected. Labour’s not a fully democratic centralist party, unlike some on the harder left, but the system means that factions are in a battle for control with each other, because even if none of the factions contain a majority of the members, the structures and institutions of the party make it possible for one of them to win on its own.

Now, you might have noticed some similarities there between how Labour works and how the British political system works, which were entirely intentional on my part. Parties are somewhat shaped by the systems they…

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Nick Barlow

Former academic and politician, now walking, cycling and working out what comes next. https://linktr.ee/nickbarlow