Friday 5 January 2007

Swimming against the Establishment Stream

Straight back on the campaign trail last night and at long last I was able to get to the open meeting convened by Birmingham Trades Council that I missed in December as a result of train delays.

This well attended meeting was an enthusiastic discussion of current government policies and the alternative political programme rank and file members of our movement want to see implemented by a Labour Government.

What is clear from this and all the other meetings of activists I have attended is the huge contrast between what grassroots members are experiencing on the ground and the analysis and statements made by the Labour Party elite in Westminster.

If you listen to members of the Labour and Trade Union movement and members of the general public they tell you straightforwardly that what is turning them off the Labour Party as evidenced in poll after poll is the policies. They were promised so much, expected so much and hoped for so much but have been disillusioned by the delivery of so little.

Like any other representative of the Labour Party I can recite from Labour Party briefings the long list of achievements under Labour but it just doesn't wash any more. Iraq, privatisation, health cuts, public sector pay and job cuts, pensions, housing costs, presures and long hours at work, insecurity and fear of crime and many other issues crowned by allegations of sleaze are just thrown back at you.

Rank and file members can see this, why can't the Labour elite?

Instead yesterday we witnessed three stereotypical reactions to the perceived sleepwalking of Labour into electoral crisis.

On one extreme in testing the water for his putative leadership challenge John Reid presented us with the classic argument that it's not the New Labour policies that are alienating our support but the fact that we haven't gone far enough with them. This "if in a hole keep digging" strategy somehow doesn't inspire.

The other response is portrayed in the approach taken by John Cruddas' campaign and reflected in the article in today's Guardian based upon a poll commisioned by this extremely well funded campaign. This policy free aproach seeks to avoid upsetting anyone politically by concentrating on the organisational collapse of the Labour Party, the decline in Labour membership and the lack of activity of the party on the ground. This approach avoids virtually any reference to policies for fear of rocking the policy boat or being exposed as having voted for them or being seen within Westminster or the media to be anything but "mainstream."

The argument that the malaise of the Labour Party is mainly organisational not political just reverses the reality.

Labour Party membership and the commitment of Labour Party has declined dramatically because of the immense disillusionment if not anger of Labour Parry supporters with many of the policies voted for by Labour MPs and implemented by a Labour Government which they fought so hard to have elected.

To adapt the Clinton campaign slogan "It's the policies stupid!"

Even the muted and much coded response from the Brown camp seems to admit that there is a need for policy change with references to being in a policy "rut" over issues like Iraq. Nobody gives any credibility to these attempts at triangulation as Brown's role as the architect and advocate of these New Labour policies is blinding obvious to everyone except the occasional trade union general secretary desperately casting round to justify their personal support for Brown.

At last night's meeting in Birmingham a member of the Labour Party expressed his support for our campaign because, as he said, this campaign is the only one explaining the need for policy change and offering an alternative policy programme.

That's what we will continue to do and we will continue the programme of meetings for activists around the country to engage rank and file members of the movement in development of policies and campaigns.

Of course it is frustrating not gaining as much coverage as we would like in the national media but this will always be the case. We are not part of the establishment, not part of that Westminster dinner party circuit of MPs and media. We never will be.

Also we do not offer the safe option to allow the safe channelling of members frustration to allow them to let off steam to no effect.

Our campaign is a direct challenge to the ideology, the policies and the centralised organisational dominance the New Labour estabishment. It is a serious project for developing a strategy for 21st century socialism in Britain. That is what makes it exciting but of course makes it all the more challenging. Of course we are swimmming against the establishment stream but all the evidence demonstrates that we have majority support in the grassroots of our movement. We need to give people more confidence in that support. Steve Biko once commented that the most effective weapon of the oppressor was the mind of the oppressed.

A key role in the coming months is to explain to members of our movement what a gigantic opportunity and what power they will have in their hands very shortly through this leadership campaign to reclaim our party and reunite the government with its supporters.