Time to dig in not opt out
With wearisome regularity, the weekend brought more despondency from people who feel Labour has lost its way. I don’t share that view or the pessimism that accompanies it.
Last week it was Barbara Ellen (http://bit.ly/1LIcaBB) and Robert Webb (http://huff.to/1Q7ZaeY) Will Hutton weighed in too, in an otherwise superb article (http://bit.ly/1ScKla5 ). This week, my good friend Roger Darlington wrote of the” despair of a Labour loyalist” (http://bit.ly/1XCAewK )
Well let’s just hang on a moment. Let’s look at the facts, the background, and the context. Is the argument that Labour would be doing better under a different leader? Few people are explicitly saying that but is it not an inevitable consequence of the concerns being expressed?
But to be blunt here; the other three candidates probably wouldn’t be doing any better. No disrespect intended, but we have just lost two general elections. Going into a third with a message of “more of the same” seems to have poor portents. In any event, it is all somewhat academic. We have a leader and he won by a huge margin. Indeed, he won under rules drawn up explicitly to increase the franchise, partly following a row over how Ed became leader.
And although the Syrian crisis seems to have precipitated the current and in my view most serious of internal debates, isn’t Jeremy Corbyn actually asking the right questions? Is his caution not also backed by The Observer (http://bit.ly/1l1Mnj8, possibly no surprise) but also the Mail (http://dailym.ai/1QOWODb) and the Telegraph (http://bit.ly/1lpt8PW)
Let’s not pretend everything is rosy. The recent comments of Ken Livingstone and Diane Abbot (on 7/7 and Mao Tse Tung respectively) were at best naive. But no politician is gaffe-free and no party consists entirely of the virtuous. Part of the human condition is that we are all – all- capable of improvement. So I’m sure lessons are being learned on a continual basis. Maybe we won’t see the Little Red Book used as a parliamentary prop again.
But what Corbyn’s Labour is trying to do is to mobilise the previously disengaged. If this approach is right, we can and will harness the support of literally millions of people who have never-voted, or have leant a “protest vote” to a party other than our own. And if we do that, then we will win in 2020. Well Oldham on Thursday will be an early test, but it would be a very brave pundit who set too much store by a winter by-election.
That is of course a very different approach to those who believe that it is the Labour voters who have defected to the Tories who we need to win back. And it means a different sort of politics.
So here is the dilemma for Labour loyalists: What to do?
It isn’t enough, as I have heard some say, not to oppose but not to support either. Observing from the sidelines really isn’t an option.
A young councillor in the North West described to me recently how his constituents were devastated by a Tory victory last May and needed a Labour Party that would stand up for them and win power for them.
Waiting for the perceived storm to pass over before resuming some sort of “business as usual” does not help those we describe as “our people”. As Will Hutton described, this storm is a hurricane ripping through society. Changing forever what is “usual”.
So this then turns into a debate about how we can be the most effective opposition possible. We have the talent. We have the ideas. We have the people. Joining up these three elements has to be an absolutely key criterion for success. In a world with too many “Sodom and Gomorrah” values, it is never going to be easy – which is why we must try all the harder. Intemperance and disrespect – from any quarter – have no place in a united effective opposition. Standing back and letting Labour fail means we all fail.