A new left-wing party has put socialism fully back on the political agenda. But unlike the current Labour and Green parties, its approach is entirely different. Because member-led democracy and mutual aid are at its heart.
A “genuinely grassroots” party
The Harmony Party UK formed last year. It was founded by John Urquhart. They are also the party’s general secretary and interim party envoy. The party says it is “genuinely grassroots”, and that it believes:
in democracy; in inclusiveness; in socialist solutions, gifting, and mutual aid; in compassion and suffering-focused ethics; and we believe in openness.
So, as part of the #MeetTheMovement series, The Canary caught up with Urquhart to discuss the party, its foundations, the vision and what they would say to members of the Labour and Green parties who were looking for a new political home.
The “pressing emergency” we face
Urquhart told The Canary there was one defining reason why they launched Harmony Party UK:
The number one reason is actually the climate crisis, although social injustice & inequality are really a very close second.
The climate crisis is such a pressing emergency now. However, I feel that under[class] or working-class people can’t just wait around for those who already have the resources needed to effect change to get around to actually doing it. We’re going to bear the brunt, aren’t we? So we’d best get some soil under our nails together soon, or we’re all in big trouble. Because I don’t think we have time to fight the war necessary to reform Labour to a place where it can be the vehicle people need.
The way the idea dawned on Urquhart is apt, given the party’s overall focus:
I came to the realisation back in March 2020.
I’d started a mutual aid organisation called Cymbal. While handing out soup on the University and College Union [UCU] picket lines back in February and early March people kept asking about what Cymbal was, what it was for, and so on. By the end of every conversation was what I at first assumed was a joking question of “when can we vote for you then?”
I realised that people weren’t joking. People were desperate for something that would amplify their own voice. And the precariat today are not just working class but also middle class.
Socialism and more
Trying to appeal to both the middle and working classes is no mean feat. And there’s still a centrist muddying of the waters when it comes to what other political parties stand for. Harmony Party UK has a clear goal. But it’s also one that is somewhat fluid. As Urquhart told The Canary the party’s overall aim is:
Socialism: to each according to need, from each according to ability.
But as they then noted:
That’s probably too broad! Okay, so: to be a vehicle for the voiceless first up. Because our approach, our ethics, as a party, are “suffering-focused”. Which is why a lot of our early focus has been on the rights of groups like Black and Brown people, women, LGBTQIA+ people, disabled people and so on.
We are the groups who are suffering, as are the working class generally (many of us are, after all, working class). Intersectional is a good word.
In 2024, we really want to be a surprise that no-one is surprised by. But if we have to build more slowly than that, we can and will. We’re understanding of reality but hopeful of achieving better than looks likely.
We have other goals, too: around educating on socialism, syndicalism, communism, anarchism, & environmentalism – and building local structures to help facilitate and indeed carry out mutual aid in communities across the country.
The idea of a political party having a focus on mutual aid is perhaps crucial. Because it is still the poorest communities who have been disenfranchised from politics. Only 53% of people in social grades DE (the poorest, most deprived people) voted at the 2019 general election. And it seems Urquhart recognises this. They told The Canary:
We want to build trust not just with pretty words but also by communal good work and activism. That will mean spawning organisations with similar ethics and structures to ourselves. In some cases it may be that internal working groups or societies actually “bud off” from the party. It’s conceivable we’ll establish a special body for helping this happen, where it’d be useful in terms of praxis.
We’re also working on supporting completely independent parties in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. They will share ethics and a constitution with us, but generate their own consensus.
We will follow their policy decisions with regard to those countries. So, if Harmony of Scotland, for example, should decide in favour of independence, Harmony Party UK will follow.
Each of these parties – the UK party and the three national parties – under current plans, will be establishing special bodies that will cooperate with each other where interests intersect. These special bodies will produce consensus across the parties in various combinations on those particular issues – such as, for example, on Trident.
So, it seems not only will Harmony Party UK engage with the poorest communities, but it will do this across the UK too. It will also have an intricate and thorough organisational structure. You can read more about that here.
Just the beginning
It’s still early days, but membership of the party is already gaining momentum. Urquhart told The Canary:
It’s been six months and three weeks since membership opened. 29 June 2020 the first member joined (which was me). Actually I think we had our first members join that day too. And we were in double figures within a couple days… I’m extremely surprised if I’m honest.
But if I think about it, at the same time I’m really not surprised at all. It’s the very beginning of the right moment. It’s also in so many ways I think precisely what a lot of people want.
But maybe they shouldn’t be so surprised. Because the movement away from the main political parties seems to be growing. The Canary already spoke with new group the Young Socialists as part of its #MeetTheMovement series. Then, former Labour MP Chris Williamson has helped launch Resist.
The “Balkanisation” of UK politics?
Urquhart told The Canary they believe that new movements are the way forward for UK politics:
If you look at both the left and the right, there’s been a Balkanisation of politics in progress for decades now.
Many believe we need to call a halt to “division” on the left. But if you look closely, most of the reasoning for that is rooted in centre-left thinking. This is why people like Keir Starmer and Joe Biden call for unity so often.
But those of us further left surely know that division is in our blood. If we’re arguing, it ain’t because we’re enemies – it’s because we love rationality. Rationality requires dispute!
The second answer is more Labour-centric; I think it’s increasingly clear that Labour is doomed as a left-wing party. This is because the Fabianist “iterative” approach to socialism has only, in practice, been anti-praxis. Labour has slipped to the right for decade upon decade, and its democracy is broken beyond simple repair.
We don’t have time for that fight and we don’t even need that fight. It just isn’t efficient.
We need PR
Proportional Representation is any voting system in which the share of seats a party wins matches the share of votes it receives. There are many different systems of Proportional Representation, but they all aim to make sure seats match votes.
The UK currently uses the primitive First Past the Post voting system – which causes severe problems for voters, our politics and our society. From its definition alone, it’s easy to see how Proportional Representation solves the problems of First Past the Post.
For organisations like the Harmony Party UK to succeed on a national level, PR would probably need to be implemented. But that may be some way off.
Growing the movement
So, Urquhart says Harmony Party UK’s first priority is growth:
Our first priority right now? Really, growth and filling in the structure the constitution marks out for the party. Also alongside that, developing on from the platform of policy we’ve produced so far.
We’ve produced two main pieces of basic policy – the Plan for Pause, which is some zero COVID strategising, and the Policy Framework, which set out some core focuses in policy for the party moving forwards.
The Policy Society is hosting… weekly meetings on Thursday nights on policy. We’ve got a few left before we move onto the next phase. The next one will be a general discussion to get things going again post-Christmas…
The next phase will have webinars mixed in, hopefully with more expert voices… We’re in the process of reaching out all over the place for that right now.
Elections in its sights?
Harmony Party also has the local elections in its sights. Urquhart said:
We’re aiming to stand candidates in the local elections in May. But I can’t go into detail on that as we are very new – and very intent on being honest. And I do not wish the party or myself to make any promises that we can’t keep.
It’s possible we’ll stand just a few candidates in the locals in May. But we may manage something altogether more splashy.
I’m afraid you’ll just have to keep a close eye on us and find out.
Outside of the upcoming elections: I am looking forward to seeing the party’s internal structure continue to fill in.
Last but very much… most important to me personally: I want us to build or help build, depending on how much we can grow our own participatory body, networks of support throughout the year. I’d love it if we could, as a wild example, make movement toward… a school uniform coop to help parents afford clothing for their kids next year. There’s a lot of ideas like that about. And we want Harmony to teach about socialism in society by just doing it.
Harmony beginning to flourish?
The Canary asked Urquhart what they and Harmony Party UK would say to former or current members of other, left-leaning political parties. Their response was pertinent:
For former Labour members we’re an opportunity. And really, the Labour Party just doesn’t offer those to ordinary members much. In Harmony, any member can suggest an initiative and we can talk it over – and we might well do it. In Labour, you have to spend years building up connections to have any hope of that – or get incredibly lucky.
We especially for them… offer a lack of argument on petty stuff. There are no old fights here. And although democracy does always have disagreement, so far we’ve had very amicable, cheerful discussions about absolutely everything. Breath of fresh air, honestly.
For some Greens I think we offer a great opportunity. I know there are a number of socialists who went Green in recent years and over the decades because they, like myself, put the climate crisis first.
Harmony does too – but we’re unabashedly socialist. And it’s written on the heart of the party, not just the secret wish of some members.
The Harmony Party UK is indeed a “breath of fresh air” on the political landscape. It has the potential to become a new home to countless disillusioned members of other parties. But more importantly, its goal of embedding itself in the UK’s poorest communities is both commendable and needed. So, the upcoming local elections could see a shift in the political landscape. And by the next general election in 2024, maybe we could finally see some harmony begin to flourish in UK society.
Featured image via the Harmony Party UK