With Love To You All

Another summer, another massive mobilisation of new members, the most predictable result since Brexit (at least for those of us who’d been canvassing). The only surprise was that this year’s Groundhog Day managed to be duller than the last one. As each candidate battled to see who could elaborate the most parochial policies that will be irrelevant by the time of the next election, it was as exciting as watching a debate between two Andy Burnhams.

Here was a chance for Owen Smith to rise above the squabbling of recent weeks, to ignore the in-fighting and lay out a vision of how the country can deal with Brexit. A perfect opportunity to reach out to ‘leave’ voters, some of whom are starting to realise Brexit is not what they thought it was, and at least give some confidence to the millions who voted to stay.

Let’s leave aside the breath-taking silliness of suggesting a second referendum, which will work for the moment to mobilise LibDems but otherwise successfully alienates anyone who wishes to abide by democracy. His decision to use his campaign to attack Corbyn personally, succeeded in winning over thousands of the undecided either to Jeremy, or, for those who had wanted to get rid of him, to leave in disgust (as many did).

And here was a chance for Jeremy to lay out his vision of how Labour should rebuild Britain in our new-found situation on the fringes of a Europe currently sleepwalking towards fascism. Instead we remained entrenched in our favourite comfort zone, we’ll save the NHS and railways, Tories are mean and nasty, we don’t like people who don’t like immigrants, no more bombing foreigners. It was a rerun of Ed Miliband’s five-year campaign as leader, only without the need to convert people who have stopped voting Labour.

And still I look at both main parties, and see the Tories are far more split than Labour. Once you take out the personal rancour (a big ask, I understand), there really is not a lot to choose between the views of Jeremy Corbyn, Lisa Nandy and even Harriet Harman.

Some may point to Chuka Umunna’s recent intervention over Brexit, which saw him appointed as Labour’s latest Controls On Immigration Mug. Chuka suggested that we need to start listening to the Brexit voters who are leaving Labour in their droves.

His choice of language was, to be kind to him, not helpful. But the fact that he was able to do this reflects the vacuum at the heart of Labour, since neither leadership candidate dared to venture into areas where they don’t like what they see. It’s easy to get why. Many of us are uncomfortable at the idea of engaging with people who appear to have abandoned our liberal multicultural outlook and adopted views that we thought had become extinct.

Chuka’s intervention is not a reflection of a disagreement on policy but on leadership. At least he’s addressing the one question Labour is too scared to ask – how do we deal with the toxic issue of immigration – and all the nasty side-effects that have turned people away from us, such as racism, asylum, globalisation and freedom of movement for labour? Do we “listen to people’s concerns” (which to many in Labour sounds like Cameron’s disastrous pandering to xenophobia), or do we slowly, painstakingly attempt to build a notion of what kind of country we are, the country that changed forever not after Brexit but after the murder of Jo Cox?

Corbyn and Smith both had two months to articulate this problem, and both shied away. But, we are where we are. And, with a small injection of self-confidence, we should be capable of moving ahead and searching for the answer.

I have a simple request for each side, which is to concentrate on what you do best. PLP, you are not the Tories, thank God, but it does mean you’re rubbish at coups. Most of your plotters didn’t even know a coup was happening. Stick to attacking the Tories. They are an easy target. Remember every time you plot you look like Ian Duncan Smith. He actually got the Brexit result he’s been craving for 25 years, and he’s still angry. Winner or loser, sour grapes is a bad look.

Non-Corbyn voters, please don’t leave now. I left in 2002, I thought I was being principled. I realise now I should have stayed.

New members, you have your man in charge, now give him and the PLP time and a chance to heal the wounds.

Yes I know that’s not going to happen. At Westminster plotters gotta plot, it’s how they survive. Meanwhile on the ground, the prospect of seeing your Corbyn-opposing party workers, Councillors and MPs replaced by people you agree with will be too tempting to let go of. Unlike last year, when it was almost impossible to engage new members with local party activity, I suspect the new intake will stay interested at least up to the point where anyone who disagrees with them is culled.

But there is another option. When I was a teenager in the 1970s, the biggest threat, every day of my life, was racists on the street, at school, at the football matches I went to. I found a fellowship among the loose knit but passionate band of far left and anarchist groups who dedicated their lives to fighting fascism in all its forms.

True, the Revolutionary Communists hated the International Socialists more than Tories, the International Socialists hated the Workers Revolutionary Party, and the only reason nobody hated the Marxist-Leninists was because there weren’t any in Leeds at the time. But as soon as anyone got a sniff of the National Front organising a march, they buried their differences and mobilised hundreds of people to demonstrate against them. I’m not saying we were responsible for their defeat, but we certainly put off the kind of people who may have considered joining a demo, but thought it would be safer in the end to keep their racism to themselves.

What greater service could groups like Momentum perform than to mobilise thousands up and down the country, whenever they hear of Britain First demos or attacks on Poles? Instead of attacking people in your local party who largely agree with you, look outside your door and do something about the increasing numbers who are carrying out racist attacks under the excuse of Brexit. I realise it’s not the whole answer but it’s a better place to start than reliving that infamous mug.

Being the leader of a left wing party these days is a massive ask. Sometimes it feels to me like it’s both 1933 and 1945, the leader has to combine Attlee’s vision of rebuilding Britain on a budget, with the Churchill who focused single-mindedly on saving Europe from fascism.

That’s the party I want to belong to, and we now have the numbers both at Westminster and on the ground to achieve it.

Who’s in?

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Farewell (Until Next Time)…

I’ve not been writing much about this leadership election.

For one thing, everything I wrote last year still applies. As I said then, our leaders lack the confidence to attack this incredibly vulnerable Tory Party. And, as happened last time, no leadership candidate has been able to articulate the depth of Labour’s current problem in a language people might understand, let alone begin to suggest any possible solutions.

The other reason I’ve not been writing is, what’s the point of attempting to open out a debate when the vast majority have already made up their minds? It may seem logical for this to be an internal debate, but as with last year all that shows the wider electorate is you’re incapable of appealing to anyone beyond your core fan base.

No amount of evidence of what you see with your own eyes makes a difference. Across the country, activists on the doorstep are hearing what’s become a mantra – “I’ve been Labour all my life, but I can’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn” – and his fans have responded “Well if only the PLP would support him he could do the job properly. After all, everyone knows nobody votes for a divided party.”

But is that true? Since 1990 the Tories have won two of the six elections outright, and in one they were the biggest party. They have been divided throughout that time in a far more serious way than Labour. And for those who complain about scheming anti-Corbyn MPs, let’s not forget Ian Duncan Smith, who has been plotting against his bosses for 26 years. It’s what he does. Every day he gets up, then briefs against his leader. He did it to Major, he did it to Cameron, if his own tenure as leader is anything to go by he probably did it to himself.

The Tory split is right down the middle of their Parliamentary Party and it’s about a subject – Europe – that under May is already causing deeper splits than ever happened in those innocent Cameron-Major times.

We are not so much back in the 1980s as 1992. For a good couple of years after Norman Lamont crashed us out of the ERM, the Tories were government and opposition. If Tim Farron can find a way to channel the anger of Remain voters we may yet end up with a non-Tory opposition, either way it means Labour will be watching from the side-lines.

What then is Labour’s problem? There are so many, I’m not sure where to begin, but I’ll start with this list, in no particular order:

  1. We’re brilliant at stuff that doesn’t necessarily translate into votes. We’re good at caring for the most vulnerable in society, much better than the Tories at welcoming immigrants and asylum seekers, and at managing local government, making those ever-shrinking budgets stretch as far as possible to help those most in need.
  2. We don’t have a ‘thing’. Nobody really likes the Tories, even many of their voters. But because they look and sound like our bosses, we kind of subconsciously accept they’re the ‘in charge’ people. We don’t have nationalism, the dangerously seductive narrative that allows other parties to talk poetically of a chance to dream of one day wresting control of our lives back from the evil London/Brussels-fixated regime.
  3. We lack confidence. I know I keep banging on about this. We’re not trusted with the economy but then neither are the Tories, they just have better PR. We have a fantastic body of achievements dating back to 1948 that no other party can match – the NHS, welfare state, race relations, sex discrimination, human rights and freedom of information legislation, comprehensive education, devolution, modernising the public domain. What have the Tories ever done for us? Their big two achievements, selling off council houses and privatisation, have probably damaged our country more than anything else over the last 40 or so years, and who knows where their Brexit non-strategy will lead us?
  4. Across the world, this is a rubbish time to be a progressive.
  5. Our core activists – MPs, councillors, the newly joined mass membership – are generally pro-feminist, anti-war and comfortable with multiculturalism. Outside of the cities, our core voters are generally not.

None of these are problems of the magnitude of those facing the Tories. And a return of confidence would resolve most of them. Yet we’ve managed to talk ourselves into believing that the differences between one bunch of largely feminist anti-war anti-racists and another are enough to split the party.

What are we going to do about it? Don’t ask me, I only said I’d articulate the problems, I’m not the person who’ll make any difference. As the million or so Iraq war demonstrators discovered, being in the right is not enough.

I know what the wrong thing is. Instead of concentrating our energies on solving the above problems, most of us at local party level will be spending the next year either holding our representatives to account for not being socialist enough for Jeremy, or battling on behalf of those representatives to make sure they can get on with their work.

For me leaving is not an option. That was a luxury I took advantage of, radical socialist I am, even before Iraq. I look at the Blairites and centre-leftists and ask, why did they stick around when, according to them, the wrong Miliband won? What did they know that I didn’t? I’ve come to understand that their commitment to Labour as a Parliamentary force for change is more important to them than whoever’s in charge.

One thing that Jeremy Corbyn has made me do, and I mean this sincerely, is think seriously about his call for a kinder, gentler politics. Like many of the new members, I always instinctively loathed the Blair wing. By failing to support Jeremy I have, now, become similarly loathed.

I totally get it. That’s part of how we’ve always done politics in this country, the two party system practically enforces it. I still completely disagree with the right and centre of my party, but I no longer hate them. Whatever Jeremy Corbyn achieves, I’ll always be grateful that he forced me to challenge my own prejudices.

I shall carry that thought with me, and express it during every rowdy local branch meeting that lies ahead. And, whoever you vote for now, I genuinely look forward to seeing you there.

To quote my blog at the end of the previous election: “And if anyone starts being rude and angry towards me, so help me, I am going to blast you with such enormous amounts of civility, openness, love and generosity that you’ll be begging to remove the Tories just to get me off your back.”

 

What If…

There can only be two results in the leadership election. Either Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith will be the next leader of the opposition.

If Jeremy wins, Owen will have to act like the leader he’ll never become. Acknowledging defeat, he will have to accept its totality, or risk a civil war that will split Labour in two. Really his only option will be to tell the PLP to hold their breath, admit defeat, and agree to serve Jeremy, right up to the point where they face possible deselection.

He has no choice really, since if Corbyn is as bad as everyone in the PLP thinks, then they really need him to own the project, which must stand and fall on his competence alone. Corbyn hasn’t felt the need to address the competence issue during this campaign. He’s learned from Brexit that when the people who matter are on your side (in this case the membership electorate), any criticism can be dismissed as media scaremongering.

If Corbyn wins he has two choices. He can do what he did last time – start with a divisive topic like Trident to immediately trigger a split in the party, although at the time wiser heads (I suspect John McDonnell and Jon Lansman) pulled him back from this.

Or he could develop a long-term strategy, that attempts to bring the sympathetic left MPs back on board. McDonnell will presumably ask him to offer some kind of olive branch to the many left-wing MPs who backed Owen, if only to split them away from the centre.

However, emboldened by his second victory, he may decide he’ll never be in a better position than now to rid the party of its so-called ‘red Tory’ element, in which case the split will be inevitable.

If Owen wins, we’ll have a properly angry, yet seriously deflated mass membership. Many of Jeremy’s members are not so invested in Labour, and I’m guessing a lot will drift away, and deselection may not happen. But with the NEC largely pro-Corbyn, and McDonnell almost certain to launch a legal challenge to the result, the PLP and non-Corbynite councillors will not just be fighting the Tories.

Either option does not look great for Labour. However, to use the language of days gone by, if I may be allowed to offer a third way…

How about if they abandoned the leadership contest now, and agreed to run the party as joint leaders?

I know – it’s the most ridiculous, stupid, crazy idea imaginable. It couldn’t possibly work. But, in the absence of a better alternative, what else should we do?

A party in which Smith stands for the PLP and Corbyn for the members would be forced to bring those two currently opposed groups together. The two men would have to thrash out some rules under which the PLP would have to accept working with Jeremy as their co-boss, but he would have to make sure the membership allowed them to get on with their work.

Pro-Corbyn members argue that MPs shouldn’t be allowed to continue if they oppose Jeremy’s views, but even Corbyn understands that for Labour to succeed he has to find a way of reaching out to at least some in the party who disagree with him. Ironically his leadership has done more than any other in recent times to unite all the wings of the party from right, centre-right, centre-left and left, albeit in opposition to him. A mini-SNP if you like, only without the far left.

Above all it will force both sides to listen to views they disagree with, and hopefully will finally shut those people up who say ‘nobody votes for a divided party’. The Tories have been split down the middle since 1990 and yet have spent exactly half those years in power.

And the most important fact we all seem to have forgotten, is that for 10 of the remaining years, Labour was ruled by a man whose bitterest political enemy was also his next door neighbour.

 

BREXIT OF CHUMPIONS

Another day, another policy. Today Owen promises to renationalise the railways. The day before Jeremy pledges to restore the Education Maintenance Allowance.

The biggest turn off for me during last year’s leadership election was policies. Andy, Liz and Yvette had them by the pink van-load, costed down to the nearest penny with meticulous Balls-like scrutiny.  At the election the Tories had a few breezy offers that nobody believed, but nobody cared, all they knew was they didn’t want Nicola Sturgeon telling Ed Miliband what to do.

There’s only one policy that matters at the moment, and for the entire duration of the next Parliament. It’s Brexit. I hate that word and was hoping never to have to see it again after June 23rd, but we’re stuck with it.

Brexit goes to the heart of everything. It’s about the end of austerity, the survival of the European Union, the worrying return of fascism in Europe, the war in Syria, Labour’s lost voters and the end of the Tory Party. When you look at that list you wonder why Smith and Corbyn are not spending every minute of the day focusing on how to deal with the phenomenal fall-out from the Referendum that should never have been.

I understand why Corbyn is avoiding this. The perception of him as lukewarm about the EU, and the subsequent twisting and turning over article 50, have not played well beyond the faithful. I’m more surprised at Smith’s response. At this moment, calling for a second referendum seems a pointless response, designed to wind up all those UKIP-friendly Labour voters we’re supposedly keen to win back, when there are so many other points he could be making.

What continues to amaze me, weeks after the whole shameful, shambolic debacle, is that nobody from Labour is holding the Tories to account for Brexit, the fault of which can be laid entirely at their door.

Every day the Tory party offers up a dozen free hits, and every day we choose not to take them. The most incredible things have happened to the Tory Party in the last three months and yet look at us, preoccupied with shouting at each other about who’s being rudest to who on Facebook. Exactly like last year, lack of confidence is shrinking the vision and insight of our candidates.

Let’s start with David ‘I’m not a quitter’ Cameron, who quit minutes after the Euro vote went against his wishes. He will be remembered by history as the prime architect of Brexit. He could have held his nerve and refused to cave in to his party’s Ukip wing. He’d had the opportunity back in 2007 to solve the Tory EU crisis and he bottled it. The ramifications of his stupid decisions will be felt for years. Why isn’t he being held to account?

Then there are Theresa May’s appalling choices for handling Brexit. I understand why she’s selling this as ‘nothing to do with me guv, you Brexiters made the mess, you sort it out.’ Delighted as I am to have been spared Johnson as PM, there’s only one worse job he could be doing instead and that’s Foreign Secretary. Appointing him as the country’s figurehead abroad, days after his mendacious campaign as spokesman for a cause he never believed had been exposed to the nation, sends a message to the EU that May is not serious about wanting the best result for everyone from Brexit.

Meanwhile putting Fox and Davies in charge of negotiations gives a message to the Eurocrats who will be dealing with them – they’re sending us two guys who couldn’t negotiate their way out of a paper bag. All three appointments are an insult to everyone who voted remain – we’re not just leaving, but we’ll be leaving with a terrible deal. But it’s also an insult to those who voted leave in good faith that the Brexiters had a plan.

And now, look at the result of the Cameron Catastrophe – the Tories are even more split than they were before Brexit. Their split is far worse than Labour’s. Their membership remains tiny but their Parliamentary Party is split down the middle, with what May calls ‘the nasty party’ ready to threaten her tiny majority as soon as there’s a sniff that the exit is being fudged.

We need Smith and Corbyn to address this now, because there’s a chance that one of them could be Prime Minister before the year is out.

Seriously.

Here’s how: Theresa May, over-confident as the Labour leadership result ends in predictable mayhem, calls a snap election to secure her position. Instead of walking it as predicted, the Tories implode over Brexit. Ukip target the Tory remainer MPs, not enough to win seats but just enough to let Labour in, placing Jeremy or Owen as Prime Minister, almost certainly in coalition with the SNP.

What are you going to do about Brexit? What kind of deal do you want?  Who will you appoint as your key negotiators? Which symbolic figure will you appoint as Foreign Secretary? When would you trigger article 50?

I’ve no idea what the answers are, I’m sure you don’t either, but I’d much rather hear you discussing them, instead of fighting each other for the ultimately irrelevant accolade of Britain’s Biggest Socialist.

 

 

Well here we are then

A year ago I published this occasional blog about the Labour leadership contest. My favourite choice for almost the entire debate was ‘none of the above’. I thought Jeremy Corbyn was the only candidate to sound like a normal human being, but I wasn’t convinced he’d developed his socialist thinking beyond the 1980s enough to entice new voters in.

With hindsight, there’s almost nothing I would change from the previous entries in this blog. The only conclusion I would reach is that, while my lonely analysis may have been totally at odds with what everyone else was saying, and while I feel most of what I said at the time was correct and still stands, the stats showed that hardly anyone gave a stuff about what I said.

So why am I starting this up again? Perhaps inspired by the same streak of masochism that keeps me staying with Labour despite everything, so I have an urge to try and work out for myself where I think Labour should be heading.

I’m keen to write this not as a supporter of Corbyn or Smith, but as a Labour member who still believes a relatively small change in perception, even at this acrimonious stage, can be enough to bring the Tories crashing down, and that we can still realistically expect to deliver a professional, talented, socialist Labour government in 2020.

All that’s lacking at this moment is a bit of self-confidence. Just because we’re really good at navel-gazing, dissecting our faults and trying to work out where we went wrong, doesn’t mean we need to concentrate solely on that. Just because we’re really bad at the kind of ruthless coups that delivered Major and May as Prime Ministers doesn’t mean that kind of ruthlessness is good for a party. On the contrary, the Tories have been split down the middle since 1990 and if anything their post-Brexit coup has made things worse.

I’m not interested at this stage in hearing what each leader will do for the NHS (we won the NHS last election but it’s not enough), plans for buses or trains or education. We know how to produce fine detail about policies, now is not the time to hear them. What I want now is big vision, language that connects with human beings. I’m interested less in who wins the leadership election, more how they plan to move on after.

I  promise not to be rude, insulting, Blairite, Trotskyist, entrist, Brexist, sexist, subjective, uncollective, deselective, anti-semitic, over-analytic, prophetic or pathetic. Above all, I steadfastly REFUSE to hate you just because you disagree with me.

(I am right though.)

One More Thing…

When will Labour’s central office learn? Telling people how to vote doesn’t work.

They used that tactic in Scotland in 2011 and it put the SNP in power. Telling the Scots how to vote failed so badly that they did it again in 2015 and it all but wiped Labour off the map.

Instead of shouting at these people for not being committed Labour supporters, we should be welcoming them. Ken Loach? Mark Steel? Please. If we are going to exclude ‘Independent’ writers on the strength of their animosity to Labour then John Rentoul’s relentless five years of Miliband-bashing would put him at the top of that list.

These are not evil people. They are not Al Qaeda or ISIS, they are not organised in cells and are not attempting to bring the Labour party down from within.

They are people who for £3 can vote for a Labour leader, and most are the same people who sign online petitions for human rights and ecological change and against corporate takeover of our public services. They support on their computers what we do on the ground.

The internet allows people to engage with politics at a certain level. Having elected Corbyn, most will probably go back to the internet to be angry again. You may think this is a good thing, I don’t. I want them on my side, but instead of arguing with each other on social media I want them to go to their local Labour councillors (and there are thousands of them) and Labour branches, and I want them to say ‘what can we do for you? How else can we help to get rid of the Tories?’

We need to reach out, even as they are shouting at us on social media for not agreeing with them, and as we are shouting at them for daring to vote for the one human-sounding candidate.

A few of those who have (re)joined will cause problems. I have personal experience of a member who used to turn up to local meetings just to voice the view that there was no point doing anything because when the revolution comes we won’t need to sit in boring meetings and discuss how to help those who need it most.

Some of those who joined will want to go back to the 80s, but they may find it hard. The old sexist left, for instance, whose macho approach alienated so many from Labour (me included), may find that the long-term result of all-female shortlists has turned Labour into a much more constructive party. That’s certainly true at my local branch.

I’m going away soon. So this really is my final piece, quite possibly until I swear my vow of allegiance to my new leader, whichever bearded sixtysomething it may be.

I set this blog up about three months ago, because I was frustrated by the lack of debate. I still am. What does ‘Labour’ mean now? What is the nature of work? What can we do, in our communities, every day, to help those struggling with this government? What can we do in our communities, every day, to speed up the end of this government? Not one of the four leaders has offered anything amounting to a vision.

But this is where we are. I realise the answers to those questions won’t come from the leaders. They will have to come from our communities. If, at local level, we can build solid organisations to attack the Tories then whoever is next leader will be forced to respond.

You may wonder how I manage to maintain this consistently optimistic tone in the face of all the evidence from everyone else, everywhere. It’s because I spent the last two years helping my local Labour branch return two new Labour councillors and a new Labour MP, who won with a 20% swing from the Lib Dems.

It was often hard work, and sometimes messy, but it was nearly always civil, and the weird thing about it was this: not one of us had any idea where any of the rest of us stood on the political spectrum. Our urge to win for Labour was so much more important than our individual views, which were completely irrelevant.

I want that to be our future, not our past. And if anyone starts being rude and angry towards me over the next five years, so help me, I am going to blast you with such enormous amounts of civility, openness, love and generosity that you’ll be begging to remove the Tories just to get me off your back.

2020 Vision – A Report Back On The First Quarter

As Labour is now supposed to be the business-friendly party, perhaps we should start presenting quarterly reports. I know I am only one shareholder in the organisation, but this is my personal attempt to hold the company to account.

The last three months have been, we’ll admit it, challenging. Since the resignation of our CEO on May 8 we have neglected our two core responsibilities: namely, to hold our competitors to account, and to offer suitable alternatives.

Even where we have succeeded, this has been perceived as failure. Many of our carefully-worked out plans from the manifesto have been introduced, including the abandonment of the previous government’s disastrous austerity policy, and the proposed implementation of our minimum wage. Our failure to take the credit for these successes can be put down to a lack of confidence.

Our other big success, the recruitment of thousands of new members, has been tempered by the fact that we have yet to recruit them to work on the ground, where they are most needed, to help us get rid of the Tories.

Meantime we have been distracted by the world’s worst job application process. Instead of setting a new agenda, each of the applicants has in their own way followed the Tory one – itself largely discredited by their own failure to get more than 25% of the vote, and their abandonment of most of their economic policies in favour of ours.

The main areas of the new agenda for the next five years, so far studiously ignored by all the leadership candidates, are:
1. The democratic deficit. How do we work with our rivals, even UKIP, to address the unfairest result in a modern election in terms of votes translating to seats?
2. Climate change. Given that the government has no policy, what can we do, away from them, to work on this issue now?
3. Multiculturalism and feminism. Most of us are comfortable with both of these developments. How do we make them attractive to old school Labour voters?
4. Building an anti-Tory alliance. Setting up local groups whose interest is to look after the people abandoned by the Tories – Firefighters Against The Tories, Nurses Against The Tories, Businesses Against The Tories – hell they’re so unpopular we could probably establish local groups of Tories Against The Tories. And how do we rebuild public services, knowing that people want them but are not yet ready to pay more for them?
5. Redefining ‘labour’ – addressing how work has changed and is changing, getting unions, the CBI, workers and the unemployed together to navigate the new world of work, and make it less about economic growth and more about personal and national wellbeing.

Hopefully, once this interminable leadership debate is out of the way, whoever wins may finally address the above issues. We still have another 19 of these glossy publications to publish, let’s hope report number two shows some development.