One of the first things I did on joining Welsh Labour recently was to seek clarification on where my Labour MP stood on the current leadership mischief being created by Labour MPs.
I sent her this brief email:
|The country is in crisis, now more than ever we need the Labour party to be united in order to ensure the Tories don’t use Brexit as an excuse to erode the rights of workers and migrants. To this end, I have today rejoined the Labour Party for the first time since my membership lapsed in the 1980s.
Please support the call of grass-roots members for party unity, and in any way you can stop the irresponsible coup by PLP members which betrays both the party membership and the electorate.
Remain loyal to the democratically elected leadership so that we can effectively take the fight to the Tories.
Her reply is covered by the this relatively standard clause : The information contained in this email is private and confidential and it is intended solely for the use of the addressee. If you have received it in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete from your system. Any unauthorised use, dissemination, printing or copying of this email is prohibited.
However, my response is not covered by such constraints and you will be able to infer Madeliene’s position clear enough from this!
Thank you for your carefully considered response. It is, however, a deeply flawed response that gives rise to serious concerns on various fronts and at various levels.
Having examined your voting record in some detail, alongside your remarks below, you clearly identify as a Blairite. It is, perhaps, no surprise that you therefore seem to share Tony Blair’s capacity for self-delusion and disregard for the Party’s true heritage. You also seriously misjudge Jeremy Corbyn’s ability and appeal.
Let me share my own political journey with you. I was first involved with the Labour Party in my home town of Gravesend, in Kent, in the early 1980s, in response to Thatcher’s election. It was another tumultuous time and there was a similar battle for the heart and soul of the Party that ultimately led to the Gang of Four creating the SDP. I took a serious look at the SDP at the time. Michael Foot was floundering and the whole zeitgeist of the time was against left wing policies having any common appeal. Being young and impressionable, I left the Labour Party and joined the SDP briefly, but soon realised the error of my ways.
Leaving party politics for many years, I did however become heavily involved with my teaching union, the NASUWT. From this vantage point I watched with growing optimism as Kinnock looked to ‘modernise’ the party and close the gap on the Tories, while remaining discernibly democratic socialist in character (his true character had yet to reveal itself!). But for personal circumstances, I would have rejoined Labour in the run-up to the 1992 election. But, of course, it went horribly wrong.
John Smith was beginning to lure me back with his continued but cautious reforms (I supported the removal of Trade Union bloc votes in favour of ‘one member, one vote’, for example), but his tenure was, of course cut tragically short. Little were we to know that his untimely death would also mark the death of any socialist pretensions within the party. This was destined to be with the accession of Tony Blair.
The writing was very clearly on the wall with the the trashing of Clause 4 in 1995. The ‘Third Way’ manifesto that accompanied the 1997 triumph was a ‘centrist’ manifesto that the SDP would have been proud of. None of us read it, of course, as it was simply a matter of getting the Tories out. Their time was well-and truly up (Black Wednesday being the final nail in their coffin). Blair quickly mastered the art of spin and media manipulation (the lack of which did for Michael Foot, more than anything else) and he was going to win no matter what. This massive ‘triumph’ turns out to have been a tragic catastrophe in the making.
I, of course, voted for Blair in 1997. We were all euphoric to see the end of 18 years of Tory mis-rule. But I could never like him personally. He looked like a Tory, sounded like a Tory and ever-increasingly espoused Tory policies. After the 18 years of ultra-Tories, Blair recognised that Tory-lite was the best way of getting the Conservatives out of no.10. “What counts is what works” I remember him saying. Ideology was an outdated basis for modern politics in Blair’s world.
Blair continued to drift the party rightwards with policies like tax credits to subsidise the inadequate wages being paid, but finally revealed his truly neoliberal imperialist soul when he effectively sold that soul to GW Bush and undertook the Iraq War (no need to go into that any more – I take it you have digested Chilcott by now!). Despite all the advice and briefings to the contrary, despite 1.5 million taking to the streets, he was going to stand by his buddy George ‘no matter what’. You were not in Parliament until 2005, but you consistently voted AGAINST investigations, have consistently voted for Trident replacement and voted for the Syria airstrikes. There can be no doubt that you would have backed Blair’s illegal war, and therefore should be held in the contempt that that position brings with it.
I quickly learned to despise Blair as much as I had ever despised the Tories. My left wing beliefs were homeless. The Lib Dems opposition to the Iraq War attracted me, and I liked Chrales Kennedy. He was very evidently and significantly to the left of Tony Blair, and the Lib Dems were discernibly the only major Party evenly remotely aspiring to be left of centre. I joined after their big advance in 2001, but never got very involved (having a young family demanding most of my time by now). Then of course, Clegg arrived and took the Lib Dems on a Blair-like leap to the right and that was the end of that.
By 2010, I was working in Bridgend with long-term unemployed people. I was encouraged to try to educate my clients about the stances of the different parties in the run-up to that year’s General Election. The vast majority had no intention of voting at all, even though there was a family history of being Labour supporters in most cases. We used sites like “Votes for Policies” and the “Political Compass” to help identify which parties came closet to our core values and beliefs. Below is a screen shot of where the parties stood in 2010. Of the 30 or so clients I put through this programme, a small number came out closest to the BNP, but just about everyone else was in the green quarter somewhere. Some were close to Plaid Cymru, some were close to the Greens. Several, including me, were right in the bottom left hand corner. Many resolved to vote for either Plaid Cymru or the Greens as a result. Some of us actually decided we should join the Green Party, which we duly did, only to find that there was no branch in Bridgend. We set one up by the end of the 2010.
Ideologically, the Green Party remains a pretty good fit for me. I identify more firmly than ever as an ecosocialsit. I suspect that if you were bold enough to give it a go, you may even find they are a better fit for you than New Labour (perhaps). Over recent years, while involved with the Green Party, I challenged a lot of my friends and acquaintances within the Welsh Labour Party, including elected councillors, to join an ecosocialist party rather than continue to prop up a completely out-of-touch Blaitite Tory-lite party. Surprisingly large numbers are prepared to acknowledge that the Party is not the same as the Party they joined (30+ years ago in many cases) but that they believe in remaining loyal and fighting for some socialist principles from within than join a perhaps more avowedly socialist party like the Greens (or even, Plaid Cymru) that are so far from having and power to implement anything. I have spent years ridiculing their imperceptible efforts to drag the party back to its roots, while they pick up their Councillor stipends in seats as safe as houses.
I gave up on the Green Party after its inept performance in the 2015 election (all chronicled in my blog). Wales Green Party are utterly clueless, even if their hearts are in roughly the right place. I was thinking I was done with party politics yet again as there seemed no hope of electoral politics being able to deliver any sort of meaningful move towards the left – despite the desperate need for it, as big sections of society become increasingly victimised by the establishment – an establishment that Labour have very much become an irrevocable part of since the accession of Blair. But then a fresh beacon of hope emerged last September. That beacon of hope is personified in Jeremy Corbyn.
You and your Blairite colleagues are utterly wrong and ridiculously out-of -touch in your evaluations of Jeremy Corbyn. Hundreds of thousands have been drawn to the Labour Party purely because he has a clear and easy to to understand vision; he has unstinting energy; he has the personal dynamics that allow him to connect with ordinary people; he articulates loudly and clearly the worries, concerns and experiences of ordinary people in this country today.
You are right in one respect. I disagree when you say that he cannot bridge the cavernous divides in the country and that he cannot reach out to communities. But you are right in that he cannot heal the divide in the party that you and your parliamentary colleagues have opened up. You bandy meaningless numbers around comparing Corbyn and Blair’s levels of support. The fact of the matter is that he was elected on an overwhelmingly strong mandate of the Party membership. Blair never had 60% support. Corbyn is bringing in support and membership on unprecedented scales. That should, in itself, fill you with joy and pride in your party, were you genuinely respectful of it. A leadership contest between Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Eagle will be the most one-sided landslide in the history of British politics. She was only the fourth choice for deputy a year after all. Any attempt to exclude Corbyn from the ballot will be foolhardy in the extreme and spell the near-certain end of the party you pretend to care about.
You simply have to accept that the Blairite chapter is over. History will see it is an aberration in the Party’s history – albeit a temporarily successful one in electoral terms. It will be seen as the period in which the party lost its soul and very nearly its entire raison d’être. The Labour Party was always meant to be a socialist party that represents the interests of workers and the oppressed. It has always been something of a broad church, ranging from the neo-marxist to the democratic socialist. Neoliberal, right of centre (however you want to label it) was never going to be a long term option.
Times, they are a-changing. People across Europe and beyond are waking up to the realities of unsustainable economics, the inbuilt inequalities and environmental catastrophes that are intrinsically part of globalised neoliberalism. Witness the resurgence of the Left in Greece, Spain, Portugal. Eastern bloc countries are set to follow suit as their initial freedom to drift right begins to yield the same realisation of the neoliberal realities.
You ought to be thanking your lucky stars that after the lame (to be kind) Milliband years, the party was presented with an unexpected opportunity to reclaim its heritage, revitalise itself from the roots up and finally tackle the challenges head on, rather than meekly be complicit in pursuing the same unsustainable path.
This has been underlined by the Brexit vote. There can be little doubt that this was first and foremost an anti-establishment vote. It saw people being prepared to vote contrary to purported self-interest because people no longer trust politicians to stand up for their interests. That is the biggest indictment of what Labour has become than anything else I can think of. The Leave strap line about taking back control was the telling one – not so much in terms the right wingers vision of what this could mean for them, but in terms of people wanting to feel than could take back some measure of control in their own lives.
This is fundamentally intertwined with what is happening in the Labour Party. After years of feeling alienated from what should be their party, the left-leaning people of the country are finally sensing an opportunity to take their party back. It is invigorating and exciting like nothing else I have experienced in politics. There is an irresistible force palpably building that is going to overwhelm you and your now anachronistic Blairite pals. Chilcott is the final nail in the coffin. There is no way back.
It seems to me that you have two reasonable choices and one unreasonable one from which to choose. It would be quite reasonable for an elected representative to fall into line with the people to whom you owe your position – party members and the electorate. It would also be perfectly reasonable to maintain the power of your personal convictions, recognise that those are no longer compatible with your current party and clear off to another more compatible party (or follow the Gang of Four’s example and go create your own new party – the Gang of 172?). It would not, however, be reasonable for a you to be part of a gang of elected representatives that have no regard for democratic process and that hold the overwhelming wishes of the Party membership in contempt. This can only rip the party apart, and this will be your epitaph (not Corbyn’s) if it comes to pass.
You are absolutely right when you conclude that the future of the Party is at stake and that it is much bigger than one individual. Wake up and smell the coffee. It is not about you!!
Hopefully we can all now be crystal clear where both I and Madeleine stand. It is going to be interesting!