The dust has settled after the recent electoral battles. While local elections should be about choosing local people to deal with local issues, pretty well the world and its brother looks on them as a barometer for showing which political parties are ascendant or otherwise.
For Labour it has not been a joyous occasion – decent results in Wales and many of the mayoral elections not withstanding. The obvious lesson to be learned is that for the most part the more left wing candidates have done better and the centrists, notably including Keir Starmer’s parachuted-in choices, have fallen flat on their faces. So how has the nation’s media responded?
The more extreme right wing press has rejoiced in “Boris’s” triumph, while the “liberal” newspapers have echoed the response of the centrist Labour grandees in blaming the Labour’s shellacking on the left. The BBC even repeated the nonsense about the “long Corbyn effect” – without the inverted commas!
There’s no need for me to repeat all the statistics demonstrating Labour’s decline since the 1997 landslide – and of course the Corbyn phenomenon bucking that trend – if you’re reading this piece it’s a sure bet you know all that. For all Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Margaret Hodge’s bleating that Labour cannot thrive as a left wing party, it’s pretty damn obvious that the public has no interest in a “middle of the road”, “neither one thing nor the other” party either. That way oblivion lies. The SDP breakaway party quickly withered and died. The TIGGERS evaporated even faster. Yet Keir Starmer and a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party (but a distinct minority of the party membership I’d be willing to wager) appear hell bent on the party following that self-destructive course.
For maybe the first time in my life I’m going to agree with something Tony Blair has said. “The Labour Party needs total deconstruction and reconstruction to revive.”
The party faces a paradox. In order to bring about change it needs to win power, but it cannot win power while it’s riven by division. The obvious elephant in the room is that it isn’t the much quoted “broad church” so many politicians blather on about, it’s two separate parties sharing little more than a name.
I jumped ship after Keir Starmer sacked Rebecca Long Bailey. That was the final straw for me, though in truth I feel rather ashamed for not leaving when the party’s duplicity about the anti-Semitism issue came to light. I know so many good people who have remained members to fight the good fight and reclaim the party for the progressive left – but for me, I believe the party’s fortunes have to get a lot worse before they can get better again.
Like so many, I joined the Labour Party almost as soon as Jeremy Corbyn became leader. There were all sorts of reasons why, as a distinctly left-leaning person, I had never been a party member before that. Why? Well, you could reel off a long list of Labour Party leaders going all the way back to Harold Wilson (who actually had my grudging respect). Not being political party-savvy, I didn’t realise quite what a phenomenon Corbyn becoming leader was. What an utterly freakish alignment of heavenly bodies brought that about. And I also didn’t quite grasp that in spite of Corbyn becoming leader that actual party was very much the same as it had always been. Same rules and regs, same control freakery, same apparatchiks.
Organisations cannot function without a certain level of bureaucracy, but from what I could see that was frequently being used to thwart change rather than enable it. Maybe factionalism and personality clashes are endemic in any political organisation, but having successfully avoided working in organisations all my life I wasn’t prepared for what I’d stepped into – albeit on a very low rung.
To all those doing great work in different tiers of councils, and keeping CLPs ticking along, great respect, but to all those determined to maintain the status quo, fie upon you. Things must change.
But first things will continue to deteriorate. It’s monstrous that the Tories are able carry on their orgy of destruction with the assent of a large portion of the public, but Starmer and his associates are doing precious little to oppose them. Meanwhile, eyes on the ball, Campbell, Mandelson and Hodge… and all their cheerleaders in the PLP, are urging a continuing shift to the right. I don’t think they can be stopped and maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe Labour has to slide into irrelevance before a credible left wing political force can rise from the ashes.
One thing that a few commentators are belatedly pointing out is that Labour needs to reconnect with its voters. Duh. Which is why Angela Rayner is being mentioned in dispatches all of a sudden: a bona fide Red Wall person! Well, she’s blotted her copybook as far as the left is concerned, but there’s a lesson to be learned. Make politics relevant to communities, don’t talk down to people, and don’t take voters for granted by head-office beaming down completely unsuitable candidates from the other end of the country.
(Labour’s tenuous connection with working class people – however one wishes to define that – must be rebuilt. I come from a bohemian middle class background, that’s obvious as soon as I open my mouth, so it sometimes felt odd my canvassing in traditional working lass areas – such as Newport West a couple of years ago. The only time is was mentioned was when I was given the nickname “Champagne Sherpa” (a posh-sounding old man willing to climb steep hills to knock on doors) by my fellow canvassers; it isn’t that Labour needs fewer people like me, but it needs more people not like me.)
I see Labour sinking, the powers that be are all colluding with that, but what happens when it reaches ground zero? When the centrists have good and properly ****ed it? That should give the left, and I mean the broad left, the opportunity to regroup.
Rebuild with a coalition of progressive voices. The good parts of what had been Labour, minus the likes of Jess Phillips, Stephen Kinnock, Andrew Adonis… plus Socialists, Greens, Communists… anyone willing to support a grand coalition of the left in order to get the Tories out of power and bring about a complete realignment in British politics. Tribal loyalties put aside. Change politics and change the voting system. Make votes count.
That would naturally be in the face of a media onslaught, but what if all the activists the left has lost were reanimated, plus more inspired to joint their ranks? Jeremy Corbyn has the right idea with the Peace and Justice Project, but bring it to people’s streets and doorsteps, about issues that affect their day to day lives. People going out in their neighbourhoods to talk about what’s important to people in their own communities? I know various groups are doing that now, but maximise it. Coordinate it. Multiply it.
Some people are completely lost to the left: many of those who bought their council houses, started their own businesses, or learned to play the stocks and shares embrace the neoliberal economy. They’re all right, Jack. Some remain content to blame minorities for their poor living standards, and some will always be susceptible to stories about square fruit and red buses and actually believe the advent of food banks is a great achievement.
But communities helping themselves, breaking free from corporate tyranny, building sustainable, more localised economies, getting representatives who actually represent them rather than vested interests – now that should be one hell of a draw.
A coalition of the left might achieve that. But if Labour is ever to be reborn, it will have to shed the centrist dead wood and learn to live with like-minded progressive groups. Ditch first past the post. Cooperate.