Tuesday 5 September 2006

First off the Starting Blocks in Launch of National Leadership Tour

Now the Sun has been kind enough to inform us of the timetable for the departure of the Prime Minister and the schedule for the process by which a new leader of the Labour party is to be elected I am launching my national leadership campaign tour at a publc rally at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester on Thursday night. Joining me on the platform will be Tony Benn, Alice Mahon, Jeremy Dear NUJ General Secretary and Dave McCall Regional Secretary of TGWU.

We are to be the first off the starting blocks in the election campaign to determine the future leader and therefore the future of our party.

We are following this up with a barrage of fringe meetings at the TUC next week at which I will launch my Trade Union Manifesto and calling for support for a series of policies including:
the trade union freedom bill,
an end to privatisation and restoration of public ownership,
protection of pension rights,
increased state pension and restoration of the earnings link,
a new health and safety regime and quality of life at work legislation,
a peace programme including withdrawal from Iraq, justice for the Palestinians and scrapping of Trident.

I just want to get on with the political debate.

I have to say though that I found it nauseating watching New Labour MPs turn on Blair.Most of them owe their whole existence to Tony Blair and have sycophantically supported often in the most degrading terms every policy he has introduced. They were motivated not by any policy or philosophical disagreement but simply to save their own political skins. Many of them were hand picked by Blair and were parachuted into their seats by the New Labour machine controlled under Blair. They served as his boot boys in Parliament or in the media whenever grovelling sophistry was needed to crowd out real debate.

They still haven't got the message though have they?

The reason Blair is unpopular is not the individual but the failed policies that he stands for and the style of government New Labour has introduced where trust has been coroded by spin and dishonesty. A change of leader without the fundamental break with New Labour, its policies and its politics risks not just the loss of office but the potential of a party broken and in the wilderness for a generation.

Many Labour MPs cling to the hope that they can pull off the same strategy as John Major after Thatcher i.e. changing the leader and clinging on to office at the subsequent election.

There are a number of fundamental flaws in this comparison.

First no recent poll has suggested that a change of leader to Brown or Reid or any cabinet member would lead to a lift in support.

Second Major had the odd advantage of relative anonymity and hence a significant avoidance of guilt by association with the worst excesses of Thatcher. Brown and Reid and others are all irrevocably tainted with New Labour.

And third the opposition to Major was Neil Kinnock, who was never seen as a popular or competent alternative. It is a truism that oppositions do not win elections but governments lose them. Then all oppositions have to do is to be seen to be a safe pair of hands to catch disillusioned voters. Cameron is following exactly that strategy.

My fear is that all sorts of grubby manoeuvres will be attempted to prevent members of the party being able to participate in the political debate about our policies and future in Government. I will do all I can to lay the foundations of this critically important process of political engagement. I urge all party members and supporters to become involved but also to make it clear to MPs and others that we demand an election for the leader which enables this debate to happen and not some one candidate election reminiscent of past Stalinist regimes.

Come along to Manchester if you can and have your say. See you there.