Thursday 31 July 2008

Stop the Plotting and Have an Honest Politcal Debate.

In all the media melee on the Labour leadership issue the Left must rise above all the personality politics and backroom plotting. We have always held a principled position that open political debate and democratic elections based upon politics not personalities should always be the method of operation for a socialist party. The Guardian's Comment is Free website asked me my views and so I wrote the following so that people know where we are coming from.

Comment is Free Guardian Thursday 31st July

Why is New Labour so worried about elections?

Before the degrading spectacle of candidates coyly jockeying for position gets worse, the party needs to invite open debate on the leadership with voters

John McDonnell MP

I've kept my head down over the last few days since the latest round of Labour leadership election fever broke out. Trying to get a rational debate going about the politics and policies needed to address the issues our country and indeed our planet are facing just isn't possible when all the media wants you to talk about is who is stabbing whom in the back.

What is it about New Labour and democracy? Why is everyone so worried about democratic elections? Last year I was urging everyone in the parliamentary Labour party to lighten up and to allow a range of candidates to come forward for the Labour leadership election, so that we could have an honest and good-natured debate that genuinely reflected the wide range of views of our party members and supporters.

I thought then, as I do now, that this would have shown Labour politics at their best. We could have the type of open, creative debate that British politics desperately lacks at the moment. After that we would have been in such a better position to unite and defeat the Tories.

Before the final nomination process last year, I toured round the country for a year speaking to meetings large and small, in community centres, trade union branches, church halls and workplaces, talking to people who just wanted to talk about the politics of their everyday life. It was just fascinating to listen to people. Most felt completely alienated from party politics and cynical about politicians.

You can't blame them. They feel that they are mostly ignored by government. They rightly see parliament as largely toothless and the media as a small, self-obsessed clique. If the current Labour leadership debacle plays itself out in the same way as the last few weeks cynicism will increase not just at a cost to the Labour party but to politics as a whole.

It just becomes embarrassing and a bit degrading to watch candidates for the Labour leadership slyly position themselves to either bring about or opportunistically gain from the fall of the very person they so sycophantically rushed to nominate only 12 months ago. You have to feel for Gordon Brown having to rely for his future on such colleagues.

If Miliband, Harman, Purnell, Johnson or any others fancy their chances as leader of the Labour party why don't they just explain why and have a go? Writing articles, holding press conferences and having your friends brief the media are clearly designed to stake a claim for the leadership, so why not be straight about your intentions?

What has also become obvious from all the manoeuvrings so far is that the debate about the leadership is devoid of policies, so let's hear some politics rather than have the party being forced into some media fashion show.

The best process for the Labour party would to accept that there is a need for a debate about the future of Labour in government and to invite an open publication of the political programmes advocated by the different factions within the party and to get out and about around the country to openly debate these ideas. This is no big deal. It doesn't have to be divisive. Most social democratic parties across Europe have a similar sort of open democratic process for deciding their political futures.

No matter how hard people tried to make the Warwick mark 2 process more engaging, it has come across as a traditional internal party stitch-up and has hardly produced a political programme that will set the world of British politics alight.

Instead the Labour party could also learn a lesson or two from the new social movements that have emerged in recent times, like the Climate Camp. Last Saturday I was at the Climate Camp conference on opposing Heathrow expansion. It was just exhilarating to get involved in such a creative and exciting discussion not only about policy issues but also about the action needed to change policies.

Increasingly I believe that the Labour party will only survive and succeed if it rediscovers its roots as a social movement,a mass movement for social justice, of course, but also inherently democratic. Why not start this process of re-democratising the party with a democratic election for the leadership and political programme of the party?

There just can't be another coronation for the leader of the party. Our members and the electorate just wouldn't put up with another one. I am up for a leadership election at any time but it has to be about beliefs, about a political analysis of the world and about the political solutions we can promote to regain control over the destiny of our planet.