Can someone well-versed in Labour politics explain to me the difference between the Soft Right and the Soft Left? I think I understand the fault lines between the soft and hard left, and between the soft right and the Kendallesque Blair fanatics, but what's really the barrier between Labour left and right? Is it rooted in specific issues, or is it mostly cultural or identity-based?
The Hard/Soft Left distinction is rooted in the politics of the 1980s; the Soft Left were those who backed Healey against Benn (or abstained) in the Deputy election, the Hard Left were those who (duh) voted for Benn. The leading figure in the Soft Left was Neil Kinnock and he formed an alliance with the Right (which by this point was almost entirely 'workerist'; the middle class element had almost all buggered off to the SDP) in order to cement his personal control over the Party with the aim of making a Labour win in a General Election feasible again. Throughout the 1980s there was a steady drip of defections from the Hard Left to the Soft Left, but the Soft Left never really organised itself as a faction (unlike the Hard Left which was organised at Westminster in the Socialist Campaign Group and in the CLPs in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy) and has remained more of a tendency than anything else.
And the Soft Left is where you have to start in order to understand the splits on the Right; Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both on the Soft Left when first elected but moved rightwards in response to the political turmoil (domestic and international) of the late 80s and early 90s. The same was true of most of the other leading figures in New Labour, from Blunkett to Beckett. They came to believe that the market could be used to achieve the old socialist goals and to heal the damage to the social fabric caused by Thatcherism. Because of their background on the Soft Left they were also socially liberal and they soon came to resemble (in one of Labour's greatest historical ironies) the intellectual Right that had been driven/had driven itself out of the Party in the early 80s. Disagreements between Blair and Brown over the direction of domestic and European policy saw this group fracture into the Blairites (who are grouped around the Progress organisation these days) and the technocratic grouping around Brown. The latter has often made common cause (at least at PLP level) with elements of the Soft Left; this is the best way to understand Ed Miliband's positioning. Note that (and very unusually for Labour) these are mostly 'elite' factions; they are comprised almost entirely of people who work in politics or used to. The major part of the Labour Right these days is the same 'workerist' Right (often referred to as the 'traditional Right' or the 'Old Right') as existed back in the 1980s and as has existed since the beginning of the Cold War. We're talking people who are firmly socialist, often as keen on State planning and hostile to the market as those on the Left, and frequently active trade unionists, but who are usually pro NATO, nuclear weapons and so on, and who are primarily political pragmatists. Almost all Labour members on the Right in the CLPs are like this, at least outside London. The traditional Right has always preferred organising behind closed doors which means there isn't the same laundry list of organisations that you'll find on the Hard Left: even 'Labour First' has until recently been a vehicle to get people elected to the NEC with no other real function, although this has changed of late.