30th March 2016
Bitterites And Waiting For Red Velvet
Much has been written about the current state of the Labour Party and at times Twitter and the blogosphere appear to be awash with social media activists from the various sides of the debate prodding one another with pitch forks, screaming abuse in the belief they are advancing their cause.
But look away from social media and the political press and it is pretty much business as usual. For all the bickering and infighting nothing much has changed. The Tories are still in power and Jeremy Corbyn is still the Leader of the Labour Party.
Now and again someone from the leaders team will say or do something stupid (or leave a list in a bar!) or a Corbyn critic will say it is time for Corbyn to go. The latest being John Woodcock ably supported by his neighbouring Bitterite Jamie Reed after which the predictable abuse and pitch fork prodding started and will continue until the next ‘thing’ happens.
But maybe this time it is different. Maybe Woodcock and Reed are the conscience of the Party, whispering in our ears.
Kevin Maguire, writing in the Mirror, was quick to condemn Woodcock warning that ‘treachery wears a modern mask’. He was quickly followed by a Labour giant, John Prescott and his son, David, telling the ‘Bitterites’ to shut up. I first remember Prescott using ‘Bitterite’ during a Party a Conference in Manchester in 2008 about Charles Clarke. He used it again to attack the few critics of Ed Miliband five years later.
Above: JP wrong since 2008 (from BBC)
The warnings from people labeled as Bitterites have been correct and perhaps whenever Prescott utters the word ‘Bitterite’ we should all stop and listen to the person he is attacking!
Back in 2013 in quiet corners of Westminster bars, private meetings or on occasion publicly, Labour MPs (including shadow ministers) would admit that Miliband (Ed) wasn’t up to it and we would lose the 2015 election. By 2014 I believe most of the PLP and many activists knew things weren’t going to plan but still they remained silent. This isn’t to detract from the many talents of Miliband; he simply didn’t appeal to the electorate.
Whether people speaking out now is through guilt or shame of not speaking out before bothers me not. The important thing is that we must learn from our mistakes.
I remember reading newspapers in the aftermath of the 2015 defeat, and senior figures wringing their hands saying how they knew we were heading for defeat but said nothing. Perhaps people like me should’ve agitated more rather than sulking. Perhaps the Prescotts and Maguires of this world should have taken off their blinkers rather than urging loyalty. But all of that is in the past.
There are those who refused to serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet, possibly because they couldn’t support some of his more extreme views but it is equally likely that they remember humming the leader’s tune knowing we were heading for defeat and don’t want to make the same mistake again. Their experience and skills are missed but others who agreed to serve are (with a few notable exceptions) doing a good job in difficult circumstances.
I guess I would probably be described as a critic of Corbyn and some would put me on the core group negative list, but that doesn’t tell the full story. I was hugely supportive of his attempts to change PMQs. I don’t want to see Labour fail, not because it is ‘my team’ but because I believe it delivers a fairer and more prosperous Britain for all. I understand Corbyn’s mandate. The huge numbers that flocked to his leadership meetings impressed me. As a leader I think he is lacking but he needs to be given time to demonstrate he can grow into the role and broaden his appeal. That does not mean he should be given a free pass to the next general election if things don’t improve.
So what to do? I don’t think there should be a leadership challenge this year BUT I do think the likes of Woodcock and Co should keep reminding the leader he has to deliver or go. If he doesn’t show real signs of improvement then he should walk or be pushed in late 2017/18. We cannot indulge a loser again.
Signs that something is happening, or at least that MPs are not prepared to let history repeat itself are starting to surface and an article by the usually loyal Jon Ashworth caught my eye. He warns that ‘Labour isn’t going to win by shouting slogans’. True enough, but for me the fact that he has said it is a signal that the PLP will not follow a leader into obvious defeat again. The whole article is worth a read and you can find it here.
But we cannot wait until 2017 to prepare. The preparations must start now and I believe they have and perhaps the Ashworth article is one of the first signs.
If and when the time comes there can only be one challenger from the mainstream, moderate base of the party. Someone who can unite the Party and excite the electorate.
Until then cover will be provided by the likes of Umunna and Jarvis with media favourites such as Creasy and Benn dragging attention away from the real potential candidates.
Tom Watson needs to stay as deputy leader to ensure continuity and discipline. He must also use his party knowledge and skills as a political organiser to deliver the membership. A huge task, but he knows the Party inside out, has retained strong trade union links and can assemble a formidable team when needed.
People tagged as Blairites, Brownites, Bitterites or simply Labourites need to come together to save the Party from oblivion. The obvious names will be involved, former cabinet ministers, current shadow cabinet members and activists throughout Britain will quietly mobilise and if a coup is needed the plan will be enacted. And we will have our party back.
So the next time John Woodcock, Jamie Reed or Michael Dugher speak, listen and cheer, for they are reminding us that we must not repeat the mistakes of 2013.
Who is being groomed for the role? Rule out those who have stood before. Ignore those who stood in the deputy leadership campaign last year. Dismiss those making most noises. They will have a role to play but not that of leader.
I believe the challenger is already being prepared and it will be one of the talented women in the current shadow cabinet, with a strong backstory and when the challenge comes she will be unstoppable. For now I will refer to her as Red Velvet and when the time comes we will once again have a leader and a Party fit for government.
It won’t be the return of New Labour. The policy platform that suited the 90s is not suited to today. It will be the return of a forward thinking Labour Party that will win the votes of those in our heartlands and just as importantly in the rest of Britain. To do that we need to offer practical and affordable solutions to today’s problems. At the heart of everything we do we need to restate our commitment to support those in need but at the same time understand aspiration and give people the opportunity and assistance, where necessary, to improve their lives.
Perhaps most importantly, as Jon Ashworth rightly pointed out:
“We’ve got to persuade people to look at us, because people moved away from us at the last election, people who had voted Labour in 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005, but moved away from us in 2010 and 2015. We’ve got to win them back. The route to power is by persuading people who voted for us before to vote for us again.”
So my advice is that until Red Velvet is ready, we should continue to support the leadership when we can but we must never be afraid to criticise or to urge change. The future of the Labour Party and more importantly the country depends on us being electable again.
Viva Red Velvet!
By Tim Carter
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