Saturday 6 June 2009

Labour Leadership Infighting: What do they think they are doing?

This is the full text of the article I wrote for Comment is Free on the current Labour leadership debacle, which is summarised in the main Guardian today.

What have they done to our party?Ambition and self-interest have become more important to many in the Labour hierarchy than the struggles of Britain's people
Comments (108)

The Labour party was founded to transform our society. Men and women of ideals came together to give a voice to the large mass of ordinary people, who until then had no consistent or effective voice in the politics of this country. They had such ambition for their class and for the whole country. The party wasn't just about providing the jobs, homes, schools and health service our people so desperately needed. It was also about releasing the talents of so many who had been held back by class, gender and race-based inequality. They were inspired to create a new society.

Reading past Labour party manifestos you get a real feel for the idealism and commitment of the millions of Labour party members, who over generations worked selflessly, often in the most difficult circumstances, without thought of personal reward to advance this cause. Each generation held in trust the party and its ideals that it had inherited from the previous generation of activists. Undoubtedly, disputes broke out in each era and were often bitterly fought but they centred on the basic policies and political direction of the party. Personal ambitions were of course often present but overridden by the overall crusading ethos of the party.

Given this history of a party created and motivated by the highest ideals, founded and motivated by the self-sacrifice of generation after generation of its members and supporters, party members have looked on aghast, in disgust and anger at the self-interested, self-serving political faction fighting among ministers and MPs over the last week. Ambition and naked self-interest have taken over from any sense of political purpose. Saving seats and manoeuvring for cabinet or prime ministerial office seem to have become more important to many in the Labour hierarchy than the suffering being caused to so many of our people who are losing their jobs and homes in this recession.

Handing over power to the Tories, whether in local councils or national government, at a time when our communities need to be protected from Tory policies of public service cutbacks is just unforgivable. What could a Labour cabinet minister responsible for local government have been thinking of when she resigned 24 hours before council elections? No fit of personal pique is worth the sacrifice of a single Labour councillor's seat.

It says it all that as ministers has announced their resignations to the media, not a single policy difference has been mentioned. Typically, the response from Number 10 has not been about identifying and tackling any political issues dividing the party, but to resort to covert media briefing and counter-briefing.

Lacking in political purpose, the infighting within the Labour hierarchy is about personalities not politics, about who can save more of their seats from the potential disaster of the next general election. Candidates who are publicly declaring loyalty to the prime minister and an unwillingness to take on the role have recruited and mobilised their leadership campaign teams.

For the sake of the party we are all supposed to be members of, and more importantly for the sake of the people we are meant to represent, I appeal to this leading clique to stand back and look at what they are doing to the party and to the supporters who have stuck with us through thick and thin. If Labour is to continue in government and have any chance at the next election, the debate about how we use the next 12 months in office needs to be open to all our potential supporters in the party, the trade unions and beyond into the various progressive campaigns and it needs to be about the policies and political behaviour of our government, not the personalities. Bouncing through a cabinet reshuffle simply to tie down potential rivals or plotters can only be a temporary fix.

Over recent years people have been alienated by the policies of illegal and immoral wars, privatisation of public services, attacks on civil liberties, unfettered greed in the finance sector and among the political class, and above all else by being lied to and by being ignored by political leaders. A first step to at least restoring some confidence at least to our own members and supporters could be setting in train a recall Labour party conference – one that is properly open to all our members, supporters and progressives – at which we can debate the policies, democratically agree a new way forward and motivate our supporters once again with the high ideals that our party was founded upon.