24th February 2016
Things can only get better (but first they will get worse)
OK, I doubt that I will win many friends with this post and I might even lose a couple. But someone has to say it.
On Thursday last week it was announced that Momentum or Corbyn-friendly candidates had won all 18 seats available on Young Labour’s national committee and youth positions on the party’s regional boards. If that isn’t alarming enough then the turnout should send shockwaves through the moderate wing of the party – around 3.5% of those eligible to vote bothered. Out of 14,000 members in Gtr London just 436 voted! It has to be assumed the rest simply didn’t care enough or didn’t know the elections were taking place. We aren’t talking about 16 year-olds who had better things to do… for reasons best known to itself the Labour party defines youth as 27 and younger.
So some of our brightest hopes for the future, some of those entrusted with keeping the moderate flame alive failed. They failed to organise. They failed to get their vote out. Or perhaps they simply don’t have a vote to get out. Perhaps they have had it easy for far too long and don’t know how to organise or fight.
But forget that for a moment. Forget the failure and look at the reaction. Yes – they blame Momentum. They blame Corbyn. They blame an influx of left wingers – but look again: a 3.5% turnout! They weren’t beaten by a resurgent left. They were beaten because they didn’t fight. And you can’t blame Corbyn or Momentum for that.
What it means for the wider party is even more alarming. With a few notable exceptions (mainly Labour First and Progress) moderates have retreated into a comfort zone of Corbyn-blaming, hand-wringing Twitter activism. Daily they scream for a coup. It is all so unfair, but when push comes to shove they leave it to others.
So when people criticise and laugh at the fact that Liz Kendall only managed to get 4.5% of the vote, don’t cry. Save your tears because it will get worse before it gets better.
And for this you can’t blame Corbyn. You can’t blame Momentum. At the moment every test they face they sail through, mainly unchallenged but even for them victory on a 3.5% turnout will be worrying – where is their huge army of supporters?
Max Shanly only needed 60 votes to romp home clear of the field and secure a place on the South East Regional Board. In his moment of victory he claimed Momentum-backed candidates did well because “they organised the unorganised“. Remember hearing that before? Yep, the same group are going to sweep us to power in 2020 – in Max’s region – all 60 of them.
There are of course battles taking place in some CLPs with moderates facing down the extreme left but these are rarer than we’ve been led to believe.
What does all this mean? It means that moderate Labour MPs need to keep their heads down. Sadly, the moderate membership aren’t prepared to fight – yet! Of course we have the street fighters. The Dughers and McTernans of the world. We have an abundance of talent in the PLP. We have the ideas and the vision. But ideas and vision without power are nothing.
Corbyn can be blamed for the bigger political hole that the Labour Party finds itself in. He can be blamed for leading us into the wilderness. But we have to accept that unless we organise, unless we fight back, we also must accept some of the blame.
I look around and listen. Do I hear the sound of people organising? Are message boards and forums alive with the chatter of people ready to fight? Nope. They are full of nonsense about votes at 16 and calls for a different voting system.
Remember, many of those calling for these things couldn’t beat an opposition on a 3.5% turnout.
But it is wrong to blame them and them alone. The Labour Party under Ed Miliband forgot how to organise. It became a debating society where fluffy ideas took precedent over the politics of winning. Maybe it became a vanity project. Possibly the new breed of Blairites are just suits and no politics.
And before Miliband, my generation won a battle against militant and the hard left. We delivered a Party fit for government. A government that achieved so much… but…
But we also failed, we thought we had finished the hard left off – we hadn’t. They were resting, licking their wounds and waiting.
All of this saddens me because the people we seek to represent, those who need us to be in power, are suffering at the hands of this ruthless Tory government and that suffering will continue until we learn to organise and fight again.
And of course until we do that Corbyn will remain as leader and the party will drift yet further into the wilderness and there is a possibility that it will never return.
By Tim Carter
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