I attended a meeting held by my local Labour Party yesterday and immediately regretted it. I have been a supporter of the party for most of my life and have always been fairly active politically although, I tend to listen to all points of view rather than assume the rigid dogma of the “working class” party. Ideologically, I’m a Social Democrat, never ever desired to be a member of a Trade Union although I fully support the need to protect workers from exploitation by their paymasters. However, this noble aim was abandoned long ago by the Trade Unions in favour of battling with the government of the day to increase their own members pay packets whilst unprotected workers are left to do menial and often dangerous work which doesn’t even pay a living wage. We talk about a divided Britain as if it is all the fault of The Tories but Labour Party supporters have their own class prejudices too and it was apparent at last night’s meeting. In a room of over forty local Labour Party members, some of whom had been members for fifty years or more, there was very little consensus over how the party should proceed following its’ dismal showing in the recent general election. The chair expressed her own admiration for Harriet Harman which, considering some of the things the deputy leader has said since the election e.g. “Some Labour supporters were glad Tories won” explained why the general mood contrasted starkly with the private party that was going on elsewhere in the pub where our meeting was being held. In response to Ms Harman, I wasn’t happy to see The Tories win and I don’t know any other Labour voters who were however, I can see how little the result would actually affect Labour’s Deputy Leader.
It’s all very well reflecting on where things went wrong for Labour in May 2015 but we have to get back on the horse and challenge the new government at every turn, clear every hurdle and negotiate each obstacle as it appears over the next five years. However, in order to stay in the saddle of a horse that is clearly going to be put through its’ paces by the Conservatives backed up by the right-wing media, the Labour Party is going to need an exceptional jockey. Not being a gambling man, I’m not at all familiar with jockeys although, I believe that they tend to be rather short in stature and wear a lot of bright colours which is worrying. The last Labour leader I met, Ed Miliband, was tall and wore a nice dark blue suit, a description that would also fit Tony Blair, John Major and Nick Clegg only one of whom was a Labour leader but you get my point. So, who is going to lead Labour to possible victory in 2020 or more importantly, which one of the four candidates vying for the leadership would be the best jockey? Could it be Liz Kendall who when asked for her views on the economy replied “I think our economy is really important ” [Interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show], Yvette Cooper, architect of the “Home Information Pack” which despite costing millions of tax-payers pounds to devise, never even got past the starting gate, Jeremy Corbyn who surprisingly found time between meetings held to discuss every triviality imaginable to actually put his name in the hat. Which only leaves us with Andy Burnham as a real contender for the post but is he up to the job? He has certainly impressed me in the past with his dedication, subject knowledge and ability to engage with the public. However, I’m not sure that Burnham has the charisma of say, Tony Blair or even Harold Wilson and unfortunately, it will take someone of that calibre to make the Labour Party electable again.
One of Labour’s problems is that whilst soul searching over lost opportunities it fails to recognise it’s own successes. Had it been the Politics Olympics in May the party would have been proud of its’ Silver Medal status and a smiling Ed Miliband would have been punching the air and later, when all the cheering had faded away, promising to bring home the Gold next time around. As it was, Ed, Harriet, Yvette and whoever, simply sloped off and probably enjoyed a curry somewhere whilst awkwardly trying to avoid mentioning what had just happened. When finally, senior members of the party agreed to talk to the media they each came up with a variety of reasons as to why Labour had failed to win the election but whatever they said, none of them got it right. Harman said that the message delivered by Miliband was the wrong one, that people saw Labour as supporting people on benefits but not those in work – wrong, wrong, wrong! The mistake that Labour made was to allow The Tories, under Cameron’s direction, to repeatedly undermine them as a party incapable of managing the economy. Each and every Tory and some Lib Dem ministers attacked Labour with the same jibe over fiscal probity or lack of and with the support of nine tenths of the media behind them, the mud stuck. It didn’t matter that the accusation was a lie, that the previous Labour government had in fact overseen a much stronger recovery in Britain’s economy which the Coalition had failed to maintain. The Tories made a virtue of managing the nations debts in the same way that a family manages its household budget but that isn’t how it works. Nations borrow money on the strength of their economies whether or not they can afford the repayments. The United States for example, has the largest debt of any developed nation but no one is likely to be calling the bailiffs in anytime soon. As Clinton used to say, “It’s about the economy, stupid” and no one doubts America’s ability to make money. Britain’s economy however, is failing to grow, largely because the bankers refuse to invest in new businesses preferring instead to simply move money around the global stockmarkets buying and quickly selling stocks, shares and commodities with no consideration given to the long term consequences of their behaviour.
Despite the Labour Party’s insistence on calling the May election campaign a total failure I believe that there were a number of successes that the party should build upon. First of all, there was Ed Miliband’s personal rating which saw him move from obscurity to someone that the public wanted to see more of in just a few short months. In my opinion, had the party introduced Ed to the general public a year earlier then the result may have gone their way and Ed would have learnt what not to eat whilst being followed by press photographers desperate for an embarrassing shot. The afore-mentioned Andy Burnham as shadow Health Minister made a good impression especially as The Tories could hardly deny that the NHS was in a crisis entirely of their making, although they did. Andy’s attacks on both Andrew Lansley and then Jeremy Hunt were backed up by Unison’s most senior official in the North West, Angela Raynor who went on to be elected as Ashton-under- Lyne’s first female MP in more than 180 years. In her acceptance speech, Angela spoke of being the only member of the house to have ever worked as a carer, to have known the insecurity of zero-hours contracts, to know what it’s like as a young mother [she became a mother at 16 years of age] to struggle to make ends meet and to be told that she’d never amount to anything. We heard a lot during the 2015 election campaign, mainly from Mr Cameron and Co. about aspiration but for a 34 year old, former care-worker to be elected to Parliament, that’s real aspiration for you and Angela Rayner is not alone within Labour’s ranks. There are many similar stories behind a number of Labour MPs which shatters the myth that its’ supporters are not inspirational. The truth is that the underlying motivation for the majority of party members and their supporters is the desire to help create and then sustain a fairer society than the one that they inherit which is in itself a truly aspirational ideal.
On Saturday I will be attending the Labour Party Leadership hustings at my old stamping ground, Elland Road, home of the once great football team, Leeds United. There I will hope to form an opinion on who best to award my all important vote [joke] in their attempt to become leader of the party. However, I’m almost at that point where most people would say, What is the point? Andy, Jeremy, Yvette or Liz – what is the difference? Well and this is only my opinion, three of them would make excellent deputies whilst one of them would, if elected, guarantee that the Labour Party went the same way as the Liberal-Democrats did in May 2015. However, that is not what is on offer, the deputy leadership is not on Saturday’s agenda although, I’ve already made my mind up on who should hold that position [Caroline Flint]. No; when I set off from my home on Saturday afternoon to drive the sixty miles to Leeds where I will listen closely as four individuals set out their visions for the Labour Party, I will be the quintessential tabla rosa in search of enlightenment. However, being a behaviourist by profession I will be looking for evidence that the candidates are expressing themselves honestly as I could never rely solely on what I might hear as proof of what someone may have said. I will be looking at body language, personal affiliations, speech patterns, mannerisms and which candidate would look the best whilst dressed in the Labour Party’s colours sitting astride a three year old racehorse – it’s not going to be easy.