There is little doubt after Labour’s disastrous defeat in the election just gone that soon they will be choosing a new leader and already candidates are threatening to put their hats into the ring when the process officially begins. I am not a Labour Party member, although a long time ago I nearly was, and I don’t know enough about the likely candidates to comment well enough on their qualities and so may not be considered a credible voice to offer a view. Yet I have been following Labour Party developments, high and low points, since my childhood and if things had turned out differently may have become a member rather than a wannabe Labourite.
The Labour Party
My first 13 years on this earth coincided in a period of what Harold Wilson described as 13 years of Tory misrule. Like many young people then and now (it seems) my politics in my teens was much to the Left and my hero was Harold Wilson. My parents were Labour supporters as were most on the council estate where I lived, at a time when people’s political affiliation was done much on class lines. I always remember my first memorable reason for voting Labour when my time would come came from my mother. She used to get irate at the Conservatives when they proudly claimed they were the party to end rationing, after winning in 1951, following Labour’s 1945 post war landslide. Her point was that it was alright for the rich who could afford the price hike that went with doing away with rationing, but not the poor. Which brings me to Labour’s current strapline that didn’t quite convince and a Conservative one that did.
Casting my mind back on Conservative leaders in my lifetime, none of them I particularly liked. While I will stick my neck out by saying that Margaret Thatcher was a needed corrective at the time, her legacy of division does not auger well. As for Winston Churchill, his greatness was achieved before my time, i.e. as a war time leader. Labour do a little better. As I say, I liked Wilson, although am not sure I would feel the same today knowing what I know now. I also had a liking for some of those close to him in the leadership: Jim Callaghan, Dennis Healey, Barbara Castle and even Tony Benn, perhaps the most principled politician on either side I am aware of. Things went downhill after Sunny Jim, with the election of Michael Foot, whose most memorable achievement was to make Labour unelectable, only to be reversed some years later by “modernizing” Tony Blair, who I did not like. The only other Labour leader of note was the best Prime Minister we never had: John Smith.
Jim Callaghan – another hero of my youth
Tony Benn – a most principled politician
Having heard some of the rhetoric from possible leadership contenders, I am worried, both from an ideological and pragmatic point of view. What Labour achieved under Blair was to become electable by appealing to Middle England voters. Present Labour with its progressive pretentions clearly did not appeal to its Northern heartlands who were not fooled by its wish list of what to do in power, did not like the prospect of a Marxist, terrorist sympathizing Prime Minister in Jeremy Corbyn and were outraged they had been contemptuously betrayed by Labour over Brexit and the way they behaved in Parliament ever since the 2017 election. If they don’t recognize this when choosing their next leader, I predict an even longer period in the wilderness than up to the next General Election, if they don’t learn lessons from their history.
I will be taking note of what likely contenders, some / many up to now I have been barely aware off, or can identify, have to say. I have been unimpressed by Keir Starmer the arch Brexit betrayer. I have been mildly impressed by Jess Phillips in her analysis of where Labour currently are and have mixed feelings over Emily Thornbury, who I recently put in the same irritating woman category as Nicola Sturgeon. She clearly has ambitions as she cleverly blames Labour’s defeat on bad advice by Corbyn’s senior advisors and depressingly made her case over how she would have approached Brexit. But when I listened to her story that included earlier more menial employment, I was strangely warmed. And there are many more!
We will soon know and I have little doubt Corbyn will soon come to a view and made to come to a view that he needs to go sooner rather than later. I fear the few Labourites reading this, even if they agree with me, will be able to withstand the Momentum madness that has afflicted Labour in recent years and appeal, as once did Blair, to Middle England (and now Northern heartland) voters who are more inclined to social justice while insisting on sound governance and a government that answers to the people. It was the Boris soundbite as much as anything that won the election for him but if backed up with sound economics and pragmatism Jeremy’s dream could yet become a reality. While I doubt I will ever now join a political party, I welcome a sensible Labour group, combining idealism and pragmatism, if for no other reason I doubt the sort of social justice concerns raised by my mother will otherwise be addressed.
What do these wannabe leaders stand for?
A nice idea but what does it entail?
Update 07/01/20: I was intrigued when I friend posted a link to an organisation / campaign that presumably seeks to do what it writes on its tin, although begging the question what “reclaim” means. The blurb is promising: “In December 2019 the Labour party suffered its worst defeat since 1935. The public’s rejection of Corbynism has opened the door to the most right-wing Tory government for a generation. We cannot let this happen again. The only way to rebuild a credible Labour party and provide effective opposition to Boris Johnson is to elect a new leader capable of bringing us back into the mainstream of British politics – and taking the country with them. We need your help to do this. Join the Labour party and have a role choosing the next leader. Join us #ReclaimingLabour and help rebuild a Labour party that can beat the Tories and win the next election“. Having listened to supposedly more moderate Jes Phillips being interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this morning, while she said some good stuff it was not enough to make this wannabe Labour supporter an actual one. But I have little doubt that we need an effective opposition and while I still have hopes for the Brexit Party should the two main parties not deliver, the only political party that could fit the bill is the Labour party. We now know the time table for choosing the next Labour leader, and can expect things to hot up, and while the outcome should not be so significant, whoever wins will signifcantly dictate the future direction of the Labour party. While I am doubtful that Labour will be able to re-occupy the middle ground and become a formidable force again politically any time soon, I hope I’m wrong. As for me, a lot needs to happen that delivers economic and security sanity as well as socially justice and right to get me off my fence.
Working out what is needed for this to happen?