28th March 2016
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It’s Not The Taking Part That Counts, But The Winning
The Labour Party’s NEC met in November last year and late on in the meeting around half of the members left to attend the England/France football match. A proposal was suddenly pulled out to be voted on, and it was to boycott the security firm G4S over its links to Israel. G4S provided security to Labour Party conferences and provided employment to many GMB members. The NEC voted by twelve votes to four, even though the party holds a long-standing opposition to such boycotts, and despite the lack of advance notification for the proposal itself.
Then on 9 March of this year, G4S announced that it would be selling its Israeli business. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was triumphant that their campaign was working and other similar examples have been highlighted.
Hang on, I thought to myself as I read the news, has BDS really won here? The politics and policies of Israel will not have changed one iota. Everything will carry on as before, but with another company carrying out the same security work for the Israeli government instead.
As a supporter of Israel I will acknowledge that at least campaigners for BDS have the opportunity to feel good about themselves for a while and celebrate, whilst the rest of us can query the “victory”.
I was immediately reminded of 1990 and the resignation of Margaret Thatcher. How so many of her political opponents celebrated then, and how many Labour supporters in particular were jubilant that the long years of Thatcherism were over.
And how they were all about to face the cruel realisation that nothing had really changed at all. John Major took over as prime minister and we were in for almost seven more years of Tory mismanagement and people who had suffered continued to do so, until Tony Blair gave us true cause for celebration.
John O’Farrell wrote about it in his 1998 book “Things can only get better”:
“A handful of socialist workers turned up and occasionally burst into chants of ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Gone! Gone! Gone!’ But apart from that it could have been any other Thursday night in Whitehall. Why out of 50 million oppressed subjects had only me, Pete and a few socialist workers turned up to celebrate her departure? This was my VE Day but the British public at large didn’t seem particularly bothered, as if nothing much had changed. The trouble was they were right of course. The Tories were still in power.”
I cannot help but think back to a week last Friday as well. The delight on Twitter when Iain Duncan Smith was gone – followed by the sheer horror that Priti Patel might take over!
You can always feel better about yourself when you are holding a set of principles dear, and not sullying yourself with any kind of compromise that will actually help you to win and achieve any of your objectives. At least the Labour Party of the 1990s came around to the idea that winning elections was the priority, and May 1997 brought the euphoria that comes from being in power and making things better with decent principles at the heart of decision-making.
In respect of the EU referendum, I keep hearing Labour members say that we should not be campaigning alongside the Tories to remain in the EU. They say we need to learn the lessons from Scotland and recognise how we lost so many seats in Westminster because we worked with the Tories on the independence referendum, and the Scottish electorate punished us for it.
However, I would urge parties to work together to remain in the EU and I welcomed a recent photograph which showed Nicky Morgan, Emma Reynolds, Lynne Featherstone and Caroline Lucas sitting together at a Stronger In phone bank. Four parties, one common cause.
In 2011 we had the referendum to change our voting system from First Past The Post to Alternative Vote. I wanted to keep FPTP and remember being amused by the fact that we had a debate on the subject at our CLP meeting. Only four hands went up to keep FPTP; mine and those of the three most left-wing people in the room! The only time we had managed to agree on anything during a debate.
AV lost on the day of the referendum, and I noted that only a few areas seemed to vote in favour of it, including pockets of North London. Many went on to write about why the campaign had failed, but the absence of UKIP was noticed by some commentators. It seemed that in their eagerness to remain pure, those on the left who wanted AV had failed to convince a broad enough section of the voters. Had Nigel Farage been allowed to have a role, then AV would have gone beyond being a cause of the Guardianistas, and some of those on the right would have been more likely to take the campaign seriously.
Of course, many in the Labour party of today would prefer to feel pure and good about themselves. The party being a “proper” socialist party is more important than getting the Tories out of office. The last few polls have either put us level or even ahead of the Tories, but by very little. So, sadly, we do not have a good chance of even convincing the Corbyn devotees that change at the top is desperately needed.
There has been much speculation about a possible Labour leadership election in advance of the annual conference. Moderates supposedly realise that it could be their only chance before any possible changes to the rules. The key is that we would all have to unite around one candidate, and a number of names have been touted over the past few months including Hilary Benn, Angela Eagle and Dan Jarvis.
I am unconvinced that we would be able to pull off an election to rid ourselves of Jeremy Corbyn. The vast majority of our members will vote to keep Corbyn in place even if the party does badly in the May elections, as these members either voted for him or have become loyal supporters urging for unity.
But let’s just say that this contest does take place. To stand any chance the moderates would have to choose someone who was agreeable to the soft-left and who had remained faithful to the leader supposedly elected with a mandate. They would not have refused to serve on the shadow front bench or made themselves unpalatable to many by voting contrary to the leader’s views on issues such as air strikes in Syria against ISIL.
For me, I am sorry, but this excludes Benn, Eagle or Jarvis on this occasion. So, if we are to have a new leader in the summer then we need someone like a candidate who is on the front bench and who voted against the air strikes and who has an excellent reputation for standing up for causes that are popular within the party, such as the NHS.
So for me, in order that the Labour Party comes out of this a winner by any description at all, that candidate has to be Andy Burnham.
By Paddington Baby