Ungag our party and breathe life into it
Saturday 15th October 2014
IN an excellent article on the LabourList site, Jon Wilson says that ordinary Labour members as well as MPs have caused the current leadership crisis within the Labour Party. Why? Because we have allowed successive Labour leaders to have, or appear to have, sole power over our party.
As a Labour Party activist I have to agree wholeheartedly. Back in the 1970s and ’80s the Labour Party housed a myriad of opinions from centre-left to militant and we — activists, prospective party candidates and MPs — all aired our views, roared our opinions and fought at conference to get our say on policy.
At times it that felt there were so many opinions and so many views they could not possibly fit into one Labour Party.
But when we came into the 1990s and had spent so many years sitting on the opposition benches, Tony Blair and the doctors of spin — good name for a pop group! — felt the Labour Party needed total reorganisation.
In 1994 when Blair gained the Labour leadership, a process began of gagging the activists, halting MP dissent and a new presidential style of politics took over. The vision was a Labour victory in 1997. We got it of course and subsequently two further election victories, but the cost to both the party and the wider political arena has been huge and often detrimental.
What we have now is a party that is gagged by spin. Any other ideas emanating from grassroots activists or MPs are filtered through the spin doctors’ sieve and analysed like a dissected rat before being presented to Ed Miliband if they are considered fit for him to see.
The cautious back-room team, hell-bent on getting Labour elected in 2015 on a 35 per cent “just over the line” approach, allow nothing to come to the leader’s ears that has not been chewed over continuously.
The strategists and the spin doctors are so woefully out of touch with working-class Labour activists, so out of touch with anything happening outside of the Westminster bubble, and so cautious about keeping the 35 per cent target in sight, that some bewildering “barely there” policies have been presented to Labour Party members.
A whole party therefore has policies made for it by a tiny percentage of out-of-touch apparatchiks, making the party look afraid of its own shadow on many occasions.
No MP is permitted to put their head above the parapet and challenge the official party line, unless they have no personal political ambition within the party.
Debate with the left of the party and trade unions is scaled down as worried spin doctors have no answer to the right-wing press harping back to the “bad old days” of 1970s strikes and nationalisation.
A constant worry of appearing to be a socialist party has succeeded in alienating a loyal core working-class vote, which has looked to Ukip to provide answers, something the back-room boys had not anticipated.
But we are at fault. It is our Labour Party.
Instead of tearing our membership cards up in annoyance at the way the party is going, we need to be more active and more vocal and act to shape our party.
We moan at MPs who have gone straight from university to politics and have no idea of the way ordinary people feel.
Then we need to sit down in our constituency Labour parties and elect more diverse parliamentary candidates, more working-class, more ethnic-minority, more disabled people who live our lives. So what if a candidate doesn’t have the in-depth political science knowledge that we have come to expect from potential MPs?
We no longer need identikit MPs. We need MPs who passionately believe in the issues affecting ordinary people and seek to work to improve the lot of the working class.
We moan that we no longer feel able to debate policy at conference. Then we need to make it known within our constituency parties that we want to change our stage-managed conferences and debate the issues and set policy the majority of the party want to see.
We don’t have to keep matching the Tories in the way we import political styles from the US.
We don’t have to put up with being the equivalent of the Democrats. Our party is still as diverse as it was 30 or 40 years ago and still has a myriad of views that need airing.
But we need to wrest back control to Labour activists. Let’s hear personal opinions from our MPs, instead of them looking cautiously over their shoulders in case they speak slightly differently from the official party line.
I have heard people from our own number criticising some candidates as they “don’t have the in-depth knowledge required.” Maybe not, but they will learn soon enough and can let their own life experiences be their guide.
The front-benchers have their speeches written by back-room media staff. Let’s have some personal input and some of their own soul put into their speeches. Let’s hear their opinions and not a soulless, gutless party line, devoid of life and colour.
It is our Labour Party. Let’s ungag it, breathe new life into it, own it, campaign for it, shape it and fight for it.
Its leader should lead it on behalf of us all, representing all the different shades of red within it and welcome its unique diversity and sell it to the electorate on that basis.
In turn we get behind our leader and do all we can to ensure he is elected as the next Prime Minister. His loyalty to us will ensure our loyalty to him.
Labour has edged away from the neoliberal policies of Tony Blair but while its support for a publicly owned rail operator is a step in the right direction, the party is still a long way away from the progressive stance it took on public ownership before Blair became leader in 1994: here.
LABOUR will lose the next London mayoral election if its candidate is a “glass puppet for the party machine,” Diane Abbott yesterday told the Star as she prepared to announce her candidacy for mayor. The firebrand left-winger will make “a firm declaration of intent” to delegates at Labour’s London regional conference tomorrow: here.
John Haylett speaks to comrades of the Hackney Labour left activist John Kotz about a life dedicated to working-class advance. John Kotz, who died last month of leukaemia aged 84, joined the Hackney South Labour League of Youth in 1945 and never wavered in his commitment to his class and his party: here.