This column first appeared on Labour List:
I talk a lot about the fear I find among the more die hard New Labourites in the party. The fear, driven into the souls of a generation of party modernisers by the devastating defeat of 1992, has crystallised into a dogmatic fear of anything that veers even slightly to the left-of-dead-centre. I have seen this fear destroy good campaigners ability to run good campaigns and passionate politicians constrain themselves to turgid technological arguments in the mistaken belief that it is this that makes them “credible”.
What I’d forgotten when I chastised people for having the fear is how easy fear is to fall into.
The Labour Party is by its diverse nature a party which has disagreements. In the 1980s, those disagreements became nasty infected factional wounds that damaged our party for a generation and as much as anything else, kept us out of power. I was young then, but I remember those battles, I remember members screaming at each other with a fiery hatred over issues both real and trivial. I vowed never to let that be me.
So while I am happy to contribute to a critique of New Labour, I don’t want to destroy those who believe in its tenets. While I think that the marketisation of public services is the wrong approach, I want to defeat ideas of markets with ideas of communities, replace the objectification of competition with the championing of solidarity and find the threads that unite us in our common belief in democratic Socialism. I want to work with all members, who – by their joining of Labour – I know I share common beliefs and values with.
Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes I am not the example of my values I would like to be.
I remained loyal to my party, even when it did things with which I profoundly disagreed. I feel the Labour Party is closer now than it has been for some time to being a truer vehicle for my values. But even when it was a challenging ride, I didn’t let go. It was always worth staying and fighting the Labour cause.
I’m very happy with the direction that the Labour Party is currently taking. I think we are doing the hard work – the long, slow, unrelenting slog – of building a party that isn’t simply a credible opposition, but that when the time comes will have a viable, exciting programme for government. Back to the drawing board is hard. But it can be the most rewarding thing you can do. I believe in our long game and the way we are playing it.
But I need to accept that there are others in the party who are not happy. Almost by dint of my being satisfied, those who were satisfied when I was not will not feel we are on the right course. They of course have a right to feel this way. I admit when I first heard about The Purple Book, I was pretty hacked off. Like Luke Akehurst and Johanna Baxter, I felt the timing was inappropriate and the tactics and quoted language gauche at best. But despite these misgivings, I now feel that my initial reaction – anger at what I felt to be an ostentatious display of disunity – was the wrong one. It was a reaction born of fear. It was the same reaction I accuse others so easily of having to me and to the policies and strategies I champion.
So I offer today two apologies. Firstly I apologise for jumping to conclusions about the motivations behind the Purple Book. Even if my conclusions were right, I was wrong to dismiss the need of those behind the project to be listened to, if not necessarily agreed with.
But more importantly, I apologise to those whom I have judged for their fear. I still disagree with your analysis, conclusions and strategy, but I am wrong to dismiss how easy fear is to fall into and how hard it is to escape from. I will not stop challenging you, I will not stop promoting the things you fear, but I will try to be more collegiate in my doing so, and to be more understanding that fear happens to the best of us, and to me.