After quite a bit of shadow boxing we finally got the list of Labour leadership candidates yesterday and with Jeremy Corbyn making the final ballot with seconds to spare adding to the drama.
From my previous posts you will gather that I have not been too impressed so far with the level of debate. I got pulled up by a few former collegaues for being so negative. I know it’s not normally my style so it perhaps showed how low the mood is in the camp after our disasterous election result in May.
As the campaign progresses and more is actuallly said I am sure I will post more detailed thoughts but today I wanted to share some thoughts on why I thought it was good to have Jeremey Corbyn on the ballot paper. I know his presence is not universally welcome.
All political parties are a combination of different ‘wings’ of ideological perspectives. As we are seeing inside the newly formed Tory government those right-wing anti Europeans are about to have a great time playing with their own government to achieve their higher ideals – whatever the cost of damage to their own party in the short term. They will be convinced that that they are fighting in the long term interests of their party. Clearly the Lib Dems are almost a ‘franchise’ and as we saw in 2010-15 the right of their party feels very at ease with their Tory friends. So Labour is no different. Our internal battles have usually been between left and right, but during the Blair years we added in the Brownite faction, which all seemed to be personality based.
Although I am deeply tribal for Labour I was never able to be pinned down to a particular faction within the Party. This was probably why I never progressed far (as well as being talentless). Because I wore a suit and tie from an early age and used some modern techniques I was identified as a Blairite. At no stage did I self identify with Blairism. My problem has always been that I hold traditional left wing views, but have recongnised these are not yet the views shared by the majority of the British people. The choice has always been between maintaining an ideological ‘purity’ whilst remaining out of power to put into effect any policies that would counter the dominance of capitlalism and the market or making compromises with our language and policies to get to a position where we can win elections to put into effect social democratic policies. In general I have favoured the latter – to look and sound social democratic to effect change – rather than tutting or shouting from the sidelines whatching people suffer the consequences of Tory led capitalism. I am sure to many this makes me a traitor or sell out to many on the left. Such is the strength of the feelings and anger felt by some on the left.
When I entered Parliament it was pretty obvious I didn’t quite fit because of this slightly nomadic approach to all things political. We had won on the back of the modernisation of Tony Blair and we had rejected symbolically our Clause 4 and the nationalisation of the economy. As a student I had submitted an essay supporting the nationalisation of the top 200 companies. A few years later I had realised just how naive I had been. If I had to be put into a faction it didn’t quite exist. I was not a full on Blairite, but supported the need to modernise. I supported quite a bit of what the Campaign Group said but didn’t like their oppostionalist approach. In 1997-98 a group of us under the leadership of Robin Cook MP did try to create some space for more thinking around the soft left position of the Tribune newspaper at the time. We didn’t want to create another faction, but felt there needed to be space in the soft left to put forward our arguments. I am still sad that we never really got this off the ground and the middle way inside the party!
So back to Jeremy Corbyn. I saw the aricle by Dan Hodges yesterday that suggested Corbyn being on the ballot paper shows the Party is still as mad as ever. To some degree I accept that outsiders may see it this way. But I disagree on a number of fronts. For starters people may not agree with the political positions taken by Jeremy Corbyn, but at least he is engaging almost charming in the way he puts across his message. He comes across as reasonable and likeable, not hectoring or shouty. The humerlous John MCDonnell was a disatser last time. He had no credibility outside his small group. I have been happy to share platforms and Westminster Hall debates with Jeremy on such issues as nuclear non-proliferation. For me the main reason to have Jeremey on the ballt paper is to ensure the left of our party feels it has not been stitched up and so when it loses can spend the next 5 years undermining the elected leader. I am not convinced they will still accept the defeat of their candidate but at least they can’t complain it was unfair. This is important in itself. I follow or have various friends on social media who cover the whole political spectrum. I have been struck with the depth of feeling of those on the left who actually do believe we lost because we were not left wing enough! I would love us to be able to be much more left wing but this is not a political reality in the UK at this time in history if we want to be within a shout of ever winning a working majority again. Think political parties are a coalition. Creating a national coalition of voters to form a government has to be even broader. As somebody famously moaned once – we have to get Tories to vote for us! The electorate is much less tribal as each generation breaks from the traditional party loyalties. For Labour this is hard because some break to the Tories who talk more about the aspiraion they feel and others break to UKIP beacuse of our London centric view of the world.
I would never vote for Jeremy Corbyn to be leader. It would be the end of our party electorally apart from the hard core of those on the left. We have to face it that our country might just have a progressive majority but it is nowehere near ready yet for a Socialist future. We can blame capitlism, the system, the establishment and the media (rightly) but at the moment they are winning the Class war! As I have said repeatedly during this campaign I will be voting for the best person to lead us to victory in places and seats like my Loughborough constituency. We need to win this back to be within a shout of having a working majority. I can assure people that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t that person! That leaves me with the choice of Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper. They have all started canvassing & emailing me. It is great not having to declare my support as an MP with a nomination as I can now make a really considered decision. I will be really following the debate closely because I like each of the candidates personally. But my test will be. Can they look and feel like a potential PM by 2019. Do they understand what it takes to build a coalition of voters in seats like mine (where I did need Greens, Left Labour voters as well as former Tories). Now they have their nominations they have to appeal to the 240,000 Labour voters to win – I accept that. But the one for me who will stnd out is the candidate who starts talking to the country!