To the Parliamentary Labour Party
Some years ago, pounding the streets of my local town, trying to get Labour elected we frequently despaired of the PLP and the establishment media. The former gave us nothing to doorstep with: even deeply unpopular policy like the spare bedroom tax remained unchallenged until the end of the parliament, many MP’s had voted for a ‘welfare’ bill that was cruel and damaging – and what did the Labour leadership do? Nothing.
Meanwhile, the establishment media disembowelled the Labour party and because our supporters aren’t tax-avoiding millionaire peers, there was no prospect of counteracting the stories (or lies) that passed for news. My fellow canvasser and I were convinced that the only way to win people over to Labour was to build a grass roots Labour movement based on socialist values, and the conversations we had with people on the doorstep. We needed to offer help, but have a framework and an ideology (if you will) to deliver the help that was needed.
I never voted for Tony Blair – much of that was down to being cussed, but I was also overseas through the greater part of his incumbency (which included being in Dubai when he bombed Iraq. Nobody in the ME gave any credence to the WMD btw). I remember being excited that we finally had a Labour government, but successive years of governance showed Mr.Blair’s Labour to be a chimera: we had a mandate for change and the country had an appetite for new policy, but all the Labour party gave them was the same old same old. Capitalism and big business did bloody well out of UK plc, the Labour party gave the poor ‘compensation’ and “stuffed their mouths” with tax credits. I loathed Tony Blair by the end of his stay in power, didn’t have much time for blundering Gordon and was heartsick about my Labour party.
I voted for Ed Miliband and hoped for the best, but he lost his political fire so quickly I wondered if it had ever burnt at all. He was destroyed by the press of course, but also by a Labour party that no longer understood what it was there for.
Let me be clear, we are not about giving capitalism the reins and making life a wee bit easier for the poor and left behind. We are not about dismantling the social security system in cahoots with the Tories. We should be happy to re-nationalise utilities and transport (we know that nationalised power and transport can work, as we have several other country’s nationalised power and trains making money over here) and we should make sure that the NHS remains free – free to use and free from the taint of privatisation. This is self-evident to me, but I couldn’t see any evidence at the last leadership election that these were the core values of the candidates. Kendall, Cooper and Burnham all filled me with despair: Andy at least was prepared to countenance mentioning re-nationalising the railways. Kendal simply stated that she was not a Tory (while giving no evidence to counteract this impression), Cooper appeared to say, I’m a woman so I must be Labour.
I wondered if there was an alternative to voting Labour – but of course there is none. I prepared to put a peg on my nose and vote for the least awful option.
And then Jeremy Corbyn snuck onto the ballot. I remember a talking over a cup of coffee to a friend. We discussed the horribleness of the line-up and the late appearance of a traditional socialist on the ballot. This is how we framed it at the time – we know he can’t win, but god, it would be tempting to vote just to see what would happen.
As the numbers improved for Jeremy, I decided to vote for him. I didn’t know anything about him other than his left-wing politics. I knew he was a dedicated constituency MP and a rabble rouser and it was that combination which sealed it for me. Kendall would never rouse a rabble, Cooper wouldn’t know a genuinely socialist policy at 3 paces, Burnham would always follow the crowd.
Jeremy won. I was happy to support the Labour party again. I knew that the settling-in period for Corbyn would be tough, but I assumed that he would be given a grace period and help from the rest of the PLP.
How wrong I was. From the start he was briefed against, plotted against, rubbished by his own party, and the whispering campaign was supported by the left/liberal press so there was few voices raised in his support. It was horrifying to see how far adrift the PLP were from the people who did their legwork, knocked the doors for them and paid the dues that got them elected. The PLP seemed to think that losing 2 elections was some sort of ‘victory’ for how they ‘did’ things – as opposed to a damning indictment of their misunderstanding of the voters.
The voters wanted credible, passionate politics and they wanted change. The PLP seemed to think that this meant the same sh*t in a different suit.
And then Brexit came along. The Tory’s great big, enormous pile of steaming division and an open goal for a united Labour party. But the chicken coup happened instead. And the PLP even screwed that up.
After Leadership election 2 – the PLP is now obliged to shut up, put up and work together. If they fail to do so we will not win another election in this decade. And it won’t be because of Jeremy Corbyn, it will be because the party is divided amongst itself, cannot accept (with grace) a democratic decision, rubbishes the membership, takes their money and bans them from voting, and plays all of this out with the help of friendly media moguls. (Who will of course stab them firmly in the back in the event of another general election)
PLP members point to dire polling and say Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable – and sure, we couldn’t win an election today. But really, who’s fault is it? A losing PLP which cannot change and believes that it’s their way or the highway, or a man who’s only real fault is that he represents ‘old’ style Labour and socialism. You can talk about the abuse and the anti-zionism, the misogyny and the hate, but anybody in the Labour party could tell you that was a ‘pre-existing illness’ pre-dating Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
But there’s been numerous people talking about what is wrong, here’s a few ideas about how to get it right.
Stop dissing the leader now, give him the help he needs to foster a good impression in parliament and elsewhere, and act together. I’m not advocating Stalinist putting down of dissent, just a mature appreciation of how sh*t you look when you’re squabbling.
Understand Brexit: it was a roar of pain from parts of the UK who feel forgotten. Many of whom now believe that it’s OK to be racist. They wanted change – some sort of change, and much of their information came from a press hostile to the EU and foreigners. The Labour party has not done much to counteract the anti-immigration message and bugger all to take racism off the agenda. We need to make it clear that racism is still something to apologise for, and ultimately ensure that those ‘left behind’ understand that it was white men in suits at the head of UK/ multi-national corporations, and bad government under white men in suits that made their lives precarious. We should not say “I feel your pain” about ‘Immigration’ – it’s a nonsense, and dangerous.
Be passionate about your politics, don’t focus-group your beliefs into sound bites, make your case, take on the arguments, keep it brief but don’t patronise. Politics isn’t science, it’s an art, it should be about gut feelings and yes, even anger. (but always ensure that you have the facts at your fingertips). Anger is a difficult emotion and hard to manage – how do we know? Look at Brexit. But righteous anger (free from the taint of violence and bullying) can power change as various human rights movements can testify.
You have the policy framework: green energy, nationalised utilities and transport, the NHS and social security system (NOT Welfare), a great education for all, devolution of powers to the regions, redistribution of wealth, strong unions representing a strong, fairly paid workforce and so on. We don’t need new policy. The above are tried and tested, you lot – the PLP – just have to argue for them. Take the Overton window and drag it over to the left of the political spectrum. Oh, and get rid of Trident for chrissakes. Have you never heard of the ‘turning swords to ploughshares’? Of course jobs will be lost, but money for re-investment will be freed up. And it’s vile anyway. Should you be making your daily crust making weapons of mass destruction? Of course not.
Want a slogan? Labour. Just Fair