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Why Are You Labour?

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By Emma | 5 comments

I’ve been a member of the party since I was 15 years old. I have stuck with it, as I have the sense to understand that it is when the left splinters that the right wins. I also know that it’s not about political parties winning and losing a giant chess game, but about the people the parties represent and the competing visions for Britain that our parties  – at their best – represent.

I stuck with Labour in Government, through Iraq, through arms sales to Tanzania, through control orders and 90 day detention, through ID cards and being extremely relaxed about the rich” because I knew that on balance we were doing good. I was critical internally but loyal to the party, because i know that a civil war in the Labour Party will only hurt the people we are supposed to protect.

There are people int he party who differ from me. They do see the whole thing as a game, and there is definitely more than one opponent. They are playing games with the stability of the party, threatening war, rather than engaging in conversation. As Labour goes into a long process of policy making, they don’t want to stick around supporting the party through the result. They see how far we are from a General Election and, hooked on the adrenaline and testerone they overdosed on during first the election campaign and then the leadership, they can’t stop campaigning. They have decided to wage an addled permanent war with anyone who might make the Labour Party look vaguely different from the mould they set in 1994. They are also, to be charitable, scared. There are other kids playing with the toys they used to claim were theirs alone. They are worried about where they fit in a post New Labour future. Where once they were kings, now they are members.

Red Ed is – in reality – anything but. He’s a social democrat with some considered and nuanced positions on civil liberties that move the party beyond the Blair years, but he’s not Michael Foot. What Eed seems to be intent on doing, if having a conversation with the party, the unions, the Socialist Societies about how we develop a new raft of policy. He’ll get some of that wrong (and we’ll all disagree on exactly what he gets wrong, as we will all have our own ideas) but if he really listens to the whole party, he’ll also get a lot of it right.

The Milburnite Militant Faction will have to learn that their role is to be like the rest of us. Not better, not worse. We are here not to beat you but to converse, convince and hopefully convert you. Convert you back to being a democratic socialist who understands that

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. That it believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

Every time you lash out, you wound not the leader but the party. Every time you engage in constructive dialogue, you convince a few more people. Sometimes we will convince you. Sometimes you will convince us. But you will not convince me or anyone that your sniping and backbiting is done for the good of the Party and more importantly for the good a country cowering under the treat of horrendous Tory cuts.

The Party is at a good place in the polls. We are ready for a coherent policy process alongside a demonstrable fightback against this coalition. We have a leader and we aren’t going to have another contest anytime soon. Do you want Labour to win the next election? If so, and if you really think we’re going so badly wrong, get into the process, have your voice heard. But if you continue to brief against the party, knowing that it will lead to electoral defeat, you are the new Militant, and your nihilistic destructiveness will not be forgiven. Not by the party and not by the voters.

Grow up.

 

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Dear Andy, David, Diane, Ed & Ed,

As you set of on your hols I thought I’d give you a few thoughts to chew over. I know you’re getting advice from every quarter at the moment, but with all of you expressing a greater commitment to listening and to party democracy, I thought I’d add my twopence worth.

I’m a fairly ordinary Labour Party member. I am probably a bit more active in national bodies than I am locally, but I am not important or influential in the party (hands up who stopped reading at that point), I have no money to donate (still with me?) and no strong faction to bring to the table (hello?!). But I understand the Labour Party and its members. I was born into the Labour Party and my parents – especially my Dad – are the kind of grassroots members who keep us going and whose intervention and shoe leather stopped us falling all the way off our cliff in May.

I live and breath Labour politics. I discuss endlessly with my colleagues,  friends and family how Labour could win again, could be better and could win/win back the support we don’t currently have. From these conversations, and my own observations I offer you the following pieces of advice:

1. Be a leader, not a fighter.

You will have plenty of colleagues who will be able to take the fight to the Tory coalition. You will need to be a figurehead who is see as above that. Yes, attack at PMQs will be important, as will rebuttal. But wherever possible, you must delegate this, and use your platform to inform and inspire. The more you can be seen as a real embodiment of a positive Labour message, the better.

2. Give up some of your power

If you want to have the ultimate authority of becoming Prime Minister, what you really need is a strong team behind you. Not just the bright young Oxbridge Grads that scoot around after you as you go from husting to husting, but the army of Labour members, who may understand they are the foot soldiers, but still want to play a vital role in policy making and in steering the direction of the party. Let them.

Sure, we may end up with a few policies you think will harm us in the Daily Mail, but then we are never, ever going to win over the Daily Mail. We will definitely end up with a considerably more energised and committed party willing to fight and fight hard for a victory they really believe in.

3. Use the resources the Party has ignored for too long.

One way of doing this is to be more sensible about how the Labour Party utilises the resources it has. One great example of this is the Socialist Societies. These are single issue groups full of people who really, really know and understand both their policy areas and the way these impact on the core Labour values of fairness and justice. As the party currently lacks money for research, this vacuum could be filled by these groups, providing not only a wealth of expertise, but also a great way of offering to members a way of getting engaged in the issues they really care about.

4. Ensure CLPs are properly engaging in their communities

I have been banging on for years about the value of changing the CLP meeting structure and getting people out on the streets, cleaning up graffiti and litter or painting dilapidated play spaces or eyesores. I suspect you as leader could be far more influential in changing our meeting culture to that of activism as well as policy engagement.

5. Chill out!

The coalition may well be here to last for 5 years. Relax and stop obsessing over the polls. Be Labour in the face of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express while in opposition, and you will be able to govern with a strong agenda and mandate. Also lead by example with your work life balance. Get a hobby, take holidays and enjoy your families. You need to be a person as well as a politician.

6. But don’t be someone you are not.

When I say get a hobby, don’t – for Gods sake – focus group it. Do something that interests you, not what a clever pollster tells you the public want you to do. If you actually have terrible taste in music, that’s actually OK, no one will vote for you on the strength of your music taste (though I am impressed with your love of the Wedding Present Andy!).

7. Read something you disagree with every day.

It will raise your blood pressure, but will also keep your skills of argument sharp. I make a point of reading Conservative Home and Lib Dem Voice regularly. Knowing what the other side are talking and arguing about can only make you stronger.

8. The “other side” is never your own party except Frank Field.

The Labour Party is a broad church. You won’t agree with everything and they won’t all agree with you. But that’s not the point of leadership. Never attack your own members. But you should cut Frank Field loose. He’s an embarrassment and we need better party discipline from our MPs.

9. Cut out the dead wood.

This will be really difficult, as it is natural to turn to our predecessors for advice, but the following people need to be nowhere near the Labour Party for the sake of cleansing our brand for the foreseeable and indeed distant future: Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, James Purnell, Charles Clarke. The following should be left on the back benches: Jack Straw, Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears, Caroline Flint. I’m sure they are interesting and have much to offer, but the hard political truth, and what they would be advising you were it 20 years ago, is that talent is no match for the stigma they bring.

10. Don’t forget each other’s good ideas

There have been plenty in this leadership campaign. Remember to be both magnanimous and sharing in victory, then coldly pinch all that was the best about your combined talents!

I hope this advice is helpful to you. I promise here and now I will continue to work and fight hard whoever wins, and I hope you all do the same.

Yours in Socialism,

Emma.

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In my last post I expressed a desire to move on from the hardnut policies on crime, security and justice. Because it is political expedient, because the timing is right and simply because it’s the right thing to do, we need to move away from the knee jerk reactions we have seen from Jack Straw and Alan Johnson on prison reform and the dropping of Section 44. I am however encouraged by Ed Miliband’s view that we shouldn’t “try to out-right the right on crime”. I hope other leadership contenders will start to think in the same way, and support reforms where they could make a real difference, while continuing to push and scrutinise to ensure these aren’t just budget cuts that forget the more important rehabilitation role in the rush to reduce spending and state involvement in people’s lives. he’s right that it’s electoral advantageous to us to do so too – win/win!

So I applaud Ken Clarkes moves to reform the justice system in favour of better rehabilitiation and will push for this to be done in the best possible way.

However, other reforms I find both deeply insulting and upsettingly baffling. The most obvious is the granting of anonymity to rape defendants.

I accept that there are liberal arguments about the anonymity of all defendants, but this is not that (There are also good societal arguments that we need to bring forward corroborative evidence which can only be done without anonymity). This is one crime, a crime with an already appalling conviction rate – largely because the burden of proof and distrust already falls disproportionately on the victim. There are many excellent arguments against this here.

This proposal was in neither coalition party manifesto, and therefore has no democratic legitimacy. It singles our a group of victims already significantly less likely to report the crime and adds an additional sense of belief that they are lying. It also makes it harder for victims to come forward to support each other.

Were the coalition interested in strengthening the protection of all accused of crimes I would listen, but this is not that. It’s a nasty small-minded attack on the rights of women. In the words of Tory MP Louise Bagshawe “singling out rape in this way ministers are sending a negative signal about women and those who accuse men of rape”.

Well if this government want to ride roughshod over the rights of women, maybe it’s time we started to play dirty too? So here’s my question: What’s the urgency, and who has what to hide?

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This post is triggered by a few blogs I have read by Lib Dems some of which are linked to here.  This post here - for example – is one of the most laughable pieces of rhetoric I have ever read. Whining that opposition politicians are daring to oppose your Government (or in fact the bit of your Government it suits you to claim) is as pathetic as it is ridiculous. Honestly, it’s such a caricature of all the worst traits people complain of in Lib Dems, that if Nick Perry didn’t exist, the Labour Party would be accused of inventing him to make them look bad.

More thoughtfully, Mark Thomson has laid out his thoughts 0n the betrayal narrative here and here. But I think Mark too misses the point. In both of these posts, Mark writes as if Labour’s calls of betrayal are about a sense of betrayal felt by the Labour Party. I can’t speak for all of my party, but I didn’t feel the Lib Dems betrayed Labour, but vindicated what we had been saying to their left-leaning voters. And that’s the point. It’s those voters who are feeling betrayed or are likely to feel betrayed over the next few months and years. I’ve already met several Lib Dem voters of my acquaintance who have sworn “never again” and it’s exactly those kinds of voters who Labour can and should be appealing to. Will this bleeding of voters be the  cost to the Lib Dems of being backed into the corner they have been fighting for all these years? The result of the inevitable mixed feeling that coalition government will bring?

The problem the Lib Dems have is that they have always been two rather different parties one of liberals and one of social democrats forced into an alliance purely for electoral advantage (which is probably why the one thing that unites them is an over-prioritisation of voting reform). The party leadership – as happened with Labour – is increasingly to the right of the membership (a huge percentage of whom identified themselves as Left of Centre before the election) which I can tell you from experience leads to disaffected members and ex-members pretty quickly – particularly when you enact right wing policies. For Labour it was our civil liberties agenda and the war, for the Lib Dems it likely to be the cuts.

The Lib Dems may soon find that they consist of two groups. the economic liberal wing – led by Nick Clegg and their remaining leftist partisans led by Simon Hughes. Lib Dems often accuse me of partisanship, and it’s true. But it’s just as true that the Lib Dems have partisans too.  But “my party right or left” is only going to remain true for the rump of supporters who will always be there, not the millions of voters who felt the Lib Dems were the left wing alternative to the Tories in their area. These supporters are a good target for a reinvigorated Labour Party, and focusing on an appeal to them will help keep Labour fresh and moving on from the worst of New Labour authoritarianism. Moving beyond – for example – the tough justice stance of Alan Johnson and Jack Straw to the more nuanced position being heard from Ed Miliband.

Let’s be honest. The Lib Dems were faced with a complete Hobson’s choice after the results of the election. Going into some form of coalition with the Tories was probably the only thing they could have done. But having decided not to opt for confidence and supply, they will have to realise that they will be judged on the whole actions of the Government.  In the first of his posts I linked to, Mark had this to say of the Labour Leadership Contenders: All the main contenders are very closely associated with the previous discredited government. Which is true in parts. But if Liberal Democrats are going to say that any member of a Government should be judged by all the actions of that Government, they need to realise that will be true of them too, and can’t simply try to claim credit for the “good” parts of the budget.

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