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The soft left is a faction within the British Labour Party. The soft left began life as one of the more centrist factions in the party in the mid 1980s, but with origins in the historic left of the party.
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The distinction first became evident when left-wingers such as Neil Kinnock abstained from voting for Tony Benn in the election for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 1981. The term came to be used in contrast to hard left, who were more explicitly socialist in rhetoric, remaining associated with Benn.
The parliamentary group which came to be associated with the soft left was the Tribune Group. The Tribune group was formed around the newspaper of the same name and had represented the party left as a whole until Benn's allies formed the Socialist Campaign Group. The Labour Co-ordinating Committee grew to become the soft left's main factional organisation in the 1980s, despite having begun its life as a Bennite or "hard left" body.
Figures identified with the soft left in the 1980s included Michael Foot, David Blunkett, Robin Cook, Bryan Gould and Clare Short. The 1980s soft left did begin to diverge over time, for example some figures (such as Blunkett) become loyalists to Tony Blair by the end of the 1990s. However, activist figures such as the National Executive Committee member Ann Black and a range of MPs have continued to work as part of the broad left.
In recent years, the term "soft left" has been used to describe politicians such as Ed Miliband or Lisa Nandy, who are ideologically on the left-wing of the Labour Party, but are perceived to be more willing to make political compromises than their "hard left" counterparts in Labour.
Contemporary soft left
The term was occasionally used during Labour's period in government from 1997 to 2010 to describe Labour politicians who were positioned to the left of New Labour, but to the right of the Socialist Campaign Group. The phrase has been used to describe the views of Miliband as well as Sadiq Khan and those politically close to them.
In 2015, Neal Lawson, the chair of the think tank Compass, identified the organisation as a successor to the soft left. Compass disaffiliated from Labour in 2011 in order to open up their membership to people belonging to other political parties. The activist group Open Labour was launched in 2015 with the aim of developing a new forum for the soft left political tradition within the party, which it hopes to recast as the "Open Left". In the 2017 UK general election, several Open Labour activists were elected to Parliament including Open Labour Treasurer Alex Sobel, Emma Hardy and Rosie Duffield.
- Ganesh, Janan (3 August 2015). "The soft left is the real threat to Labour". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
- Lawson, Neal (24 July 2015). "Without the soft left, Labour is doomed to splinter". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
- Wintour, Patrick (9 December 2015). "Labour activists launch new group on party's left". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
- Azim, Jade (9 December 2015). "More than just an interim".
- What is the Democratic Left?.
- John Carvel and Patrick Wintour. Kinnock wins accord on defence switch Guardian. 10 May 1989.
- Field Guide to the American Left.
- Labour activists launch new group on party's left.
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