(with apologies to Leon Rosselson)
Keep off the grass,
No litter, No bottles
No cycling, no scooters
No dogs, No horses or ponies
No alcohol, No picnics, No smoking, No spitting
No motor vehicles, No motor cycles or mopeds
No burger vans, No ice cream vendors
Only food from authorised vendors may be consumed.
No skating, No skateboards
No organised games, No ball games, No running
No professional trainers or fitness classes
No sunbathing, No nudity
No loitering, no soliciting, no importuning
No swimming or fishing in the boating lake
No unauthorised boats in the boating lake
No portable stereos or beatboxes
No musical instruments, No transistor radios
No fires, No fireworks, No camping
No model aircraft, No Frisbees or Boomerangs
No unaccompanied children
No prams, no pushchairs, no buggies
Remember at all times this is public property.
© Peter Russell 2016
About eighteen months ago, my father (then aged 85) had a bit of stomach trouble and so he went to his doctor. The doctor prodded his stomach and found something very dodgy (later confirmed by ultrascan) – an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. He needed to have a heavy-duty stent fitted pronto, which was obviously a serious operation, with no little risk, especially at his age. The alternative would be to risk the aneurysm bursting, which would have been fatal.
The reason for this story is to justify the nature of Bad Year Blues Parts 1 + 1½, which was various described by others as “self-flagellation” and “depressing.” This is quite correct: like in my father’s case, the patient needs to know the choice – a serious operation or death, or in Labour’s case, to change or to become extinct. Likewise, the remedy in each case is not without risk, but the alternative is still worse.
So what are the steps that Labour could take? The main radical procedure required is essentially a matter of Leadership – the person and the post.
As described in Bad Year Blues 1½, it is clear that Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of filling the post of Leader of the Opposition. It is worth remembering that he has never sought such an office (or any other) in 32 years as a career MP; that he did not expect to win the leadership election; and that he his lack of experience or expertise was horribly exposed by the pure fiasco of his first Shadow Cabinet reshuffle.
He is the wrong man in a job he did not want at any time; when Labour is a critically ill patient, he is adding to the illness. However, it is also worth considering that it may not be the man that is wrong – it is equally likely that it is the post.
The membership of the party is by definition not representative of the electorate: it may not quite be Neil Kinnock’s satirical “sign of extremism, obsessiveness or a failed love life” to do so, but to be a member of the Labour Party remains an anomalous behaviour. Therefore to be elected by the membership is to represent a group already at a disconnect with electorate.
It is true that some Labour leaders have managed to overcome the gap between Labour members and ordinary people, notably John Smith and Tony Blair. However, there would be few people who would honestly compare the personal political skills of Jeremy Corbyn to those of Smith and Blair – even amongst his admirers.
On the other hand, there is a large and influential body of Labour members who are by definition more representative of the voters, and indeed whose job it is to be connected to the wider electorate: the Labour MPs who comprise the PLP.
One of the prime causes of the current Labour illness is that the head (those MPs) is at least partially disconnected from the heart (the membership). Members supporting Corbyn must remember that few Labour MPs wanted him as their leader and that even fewer of them have ever, in his 32 years as an MP, looked at him and thought “there goes a future great reforming Labour Prime Minister.” His floundering with his reshuffle is a symptom of this rejection of Corbyn as a parliamentarian of any standing at all, as well as of his unelectability; otherwise, MPs would have been expected to flock to serve in his Shadow Cabinet.
There is however, a way to deal with the illness which also gives place to both the electoral mandate of the PLP and to the decision of the members to elect Corbyn. It is the solution chosen by other socialist and social democratic parties in Europe, for example, the Partie Socialiste, and its practicality in the UK is proven by its seamless use by the SNP – and indeed, the Scottish Labour Party.
The time has come to divide the leadership of the Labour Party from the leadership of the PLP, and the responsibility for appointing the Party’s Parliamentary leadership should be “repatriated” to the PLP.
The PS has a First Secretary (currently Jean-Christophe Cambadelis), who if necessary stands down from that post when seeking high legislative office while François Hollande is President of the Republic; Willy Brandt became Chairman of the SPD after having been replaced by Helmut Schmidt as Bundeskanzler . Nicola Sturgeon is Leader of the SNP while Angus Robertson is the party’s Parliamentary leader; and Scottish Labour Party leaders had not been members of the Westminster parliament until Jim Murphy’s short tenure.
The distinction between Party leader and PLP leader would have a number of benefits. First, it would bring increase the leadership resource available; secondly, it would better define and develop the purposes of the party in and out of parliament; thirdly and as a consequence, it would for the first time formalise the relationship between the two (linking heart and head).
Above all, it would re-establish the formal sovereignty of MPs and of Parliament in Labour’s constitution.
In addition, the National Leader could have responsibility for organisation and for elections strategies, and should welcome the role formerly played by Herbert Morrison, George Brown and (to some extent) John Prescott – of the embodiment of Labour and election cheerleader. In the current circumstances, such a post would suit Jeremy Corbyn far better than the ill-fitting role of Statesman In Waiting.
It is easy to see a dynamic and progressive relationship between a figure such as Hillary Benn and Jeremy Corbyn – a long way short of Brandt and Schmidt, but nonetheless a far better arrangement than what we have at the moment, which satisfies no-one, except Labour’s opponents.
The combination of party in the country and party in Parliament would also be better equipped to develop policies which are radical and practical, and which will attract popular support. In the face of the threat of “programme exhaustion,” Labour’s new programme for the 2020s needs to be developed in response to both heart and head.
The other question which needs to be asked is how such a change is to come about. This could be in a number of ways, but if necessary, I would urge the PLP to take definitive action in this direction.
- Option 1 would be to gather around the proposal and present it as an offer to Jeremy Corbyn.
- Option 2, if this fails, would be for a substantial group to go ahead anyway, as they will be tempted to do if the current position of unelectability persists. Such a move would not be without risk, and may not succeed in saving the patient. However, as in the case of the AA Aneurysm, it needs to be tried: the choice is between certain risk and certain extinction.
(Incidentally, such a substantial group – e.g., 70 or 80 MPs would become the Third Party in the Commons, at the same time deposing the SNP from that position.)
As Bad New Blues Part 1 set out, if Labour fails and dies out, there is no guarantee that the next opposition to the Tories will be progressive – indeed, the evidence of Scotland is that our successors would be populists and other identity politics parties. We have a duty as social democrats to do all that we can to prevent that from happening: drastic action is needed and needed urgently. This proposal could be a bold first step in the direction of doing so.
(follow-up following Shadow Cabinet Reshuffle Fiasco)
…Labour therefore has a responsibility to offer an electable alternative to the Tories.
If we are going to live up to that responsibility, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is a good place to start, for which there can be no better example than the appalling mess of the post-Christmas Shadow Cabinet reshuffle.
Every politics-watcher in and out of the Labour Party will have their favourite car-crash moment, for instance, the wish to sack Hilary Benn for the cardinal sin of advocating the confrontation of fascism, or the actual sacking of Pat McFadden for the suggestion that terrorists should be held to account for their own actions, or the appointment of Emily (“I don’t know why”) Thornberry and the end of any pretence of impartiality in the defence review. These all show a vindictive and narrow political dogma at work, and indeed the mantras of Corbyn’s fan club in the country will be familiar to anyone with knowledge or experience of the far left.
The declaration of primacy of the Corbyn mandate is not only designed to shut down argument, but also gives away his supporters’ adherence to Leninist democratic centralism. They believe that if the Party cadres elect a central authority, in this case the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership , it has absolute and exclusive authority, and any opposition is treachery – including that of MPs.
This is, of course, totally at odds with the principle of parliamentary democracy, where MPs are selected by CLPs and elected by non-party voters according to a manifesto based on policies decided according to the Labour Party constitution. On no issue is this clash of political philosophies clearer than that of the renewal (or not) of Trident and the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
In this case, the party has a clear policy to renew decided by conference and confirmed as recently as last September. Likewise, all Labour MPs were elected in May last year on a manifesto commitment to “a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.” In contrast, the Corbyn leadership now seeks to impose on those same MPs (and their constituents) a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, based on a faction-driven internal party process alone. Put simply, the Labour left is seeking to boss the electorate against its will, leaving MPs with responsibility without authority: a definition of political and personal hell which few should be willing to tolerate.
If possible, the other signal given to voters by the reshuffle is still more damaging: it was drawn out and dithering , did not achieve the ends trailed by the leadership spin team, and caused more problems than it solved. In short, it was incompetent.
In its wake, the leader himself was not prepared to do the round of press and media justifying its conduct. Instead he sent out his henchmen John McDonnell and Ken Livingstone to do so, and to smear his critics as “extreme rightwingers” and “Blairites” (which must have made Brownites like Michael Dugher smile.) This incompetence and unwillingness to take responsibility of course only confirms that Jeremy Corbyn has no experience of any front-bench, leadership or managerial position, either in politics or outside. However, it must be an eye-opener for voters who might imagine that such experience is essential to be considered suitable for the post of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Above all – and this goes back to the Tories’ recurrent dominance of British politics – voters want to be able to trust their country’s security and economy to representatives who appear competent to look after them. Anyone looking to the reshuffle for signs that Labour can recover will have been disappointed, to say the least.
By this token, any leader who cannot run their own party is seen by the electorate as not fit to run the country. The reshuffle fiasco can only have confirmed this view in the eyes of voters where Jeremy Corbyn is concerned.
RICHARD Mowbray (Letters, December 31) should not worry too much about the SNP and its endemic and fanatical anti-Englishness.
In the end, it is self-defeating: to emphasise the imagined differences between England and Scotland, the SNP needs a Tory government, and long as there is a Tory government, there is no chance whatsoever of a further referendum.
And if there is a Labour revival at some point (for example, on that great and glorious day when Jeremy Corbyn admits that Tony Blair was a great reforming Labour Prime Minister), it must include significant gains at the expense of the Nationalists.
Either way, Mr Mowbray can sleep soundly in his bed.
Peter A Russell
As the Rev I M Jolly used to say: “So that’s the old year over.” Indeed it is, and as even the good Rev might not have added: “The worst year in the history of the Labour Party. Except for 1931.”
The list of disasters is quite short, but each of them was devastating:
• losing a General Election that was there for the winning
• in that election suffering losses to the SNP on swings of up to 30%, indicating a permanent loss of traditional support
• electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader, despite his having no experience of running anything since the Public Works Committee of LB of Haringey Council in 1982
• Corbyn’s election having set the Parliamentary Labour Party in direct conflict with an expanded and radicalised party membership
And what was even worse than these: the manner of the way in which they came about: a General Election programme and campaign conducted in the prose of government rather than the poetry of opposition; and a leadership campaign where the most competent candidates avoided inspiration and idealism, and capitulated to Jeremy Corbyn, the least competent and least electable candidate.
The combination of these disasters appears, as the New Year begins, to signal catastrophe for Labour, and potentially our extinction.
It is wholly possible that Labour has had its century of history and it is all over. The original programme set out by Keir Hardie has been largely achieved (Home Rule/devolution, welfare state including free healthcare, shorter working hours, pensions) or have been superseded (temperance) or are now repugnant to socialists (anti-vaccination hysteria, anti-immigration prejudice.)
If this is the case, the Labour Party may be suffering not just from a slump in support, but from what management theorists call “Programme Exhaustion.” If so, and if all of the great battles have been largely won, it is also possible that voters in future will wish to see someone else running the services and institutions which we fought for and established.
For example, one of the features of the General Election in Scotland in 2015 (and in the independence referendum which shaped it) was the ownership of the National Health Service by the SNP. The NHS may have been born out of the Labour movement (the miners’ mutual arrangements in Tredegar), established by 1945 Labour government, and saved by the Blair/Brown investments following the 2001 Labour win with a mandate to increase NI contributions to double and triple investment, but it was the SNP to which the people of Scotland turned at the ballot box to protect it.
The conclusion to be drawn is that people may value what Labour has achieved, but do not see us as the best party to actually run things. This has long been the case with the Tories, who even if they were intensely disliked in the Thatcher-Major years, were seen as more competent than Labour. This is of course ended with Black Wednesday and the loss of their economic reputation, coupled with the emergence of Tony Blair’s New Labour and Gordon Brown’s burgeoning authority at the Dispatch Box.
Seen in this light, the Cameron-Osborne administrations are the resumption of business as usual: the public see the Tories as the party of competence in government, or once more as the natural party of government.
This position has been periodically challenged, and it is useful – especially for Labour – to see how political progress has come about over the past century or so. This has not been a steady and sustained linear progression, but a series of cycles: an up-spike of reform and progress has been followed by a longer period of consolidation and assimilation, when the radical and the innovative become the bipartisan norm.
This is what happened to the achievements of the Asquith-Lloyd George administrations either side of the First World War; to the Attlee-Beverage settlement post 1945 (later becoming Butskillism); to the enlightened liberal innovations of Wilson and Jenkins in the 1960s; and finally to the Blair/Brown revolution, which has now been adopted in part by Cameron and Osborne.
In this last case, we can see that the big achievements of the Labour governments from 1997 are intact: the centrality of the NHS, the value of pensions, the National Minimum Wage and redistributive Tax Credits. In the end, the aims of the Tory/LibDem coalition and the current Tory government may be seen as “Small State Blairism.”
The other conclusion which we can draw form this analysis – sort of a modified micro-Schumpeter/Kondratieff thesis – is that although things seem entrenched at the moment, they will not stay so forever. I can recall the late Professor Bernard Crick describing the fall of Gladstone’s Liberals when it appeared they would be power for ever; likewise it seemed that the Tories would not capitulate in the Thatcher Years; and Tony Blair’s mastery of the political scene appeared at last to have established Labour as the natural party of government.
At the same time, however, there is no guarantee that Labour will be in any position to benefit when the current cycle ends. The bottom line is whether we will even exist as a major party by the time 2025 or 2030 comes around: we have no right to existence, and there is a real and present danger that we will be a vestigial remnant like the ILP or non-LibDem Liberals in 15 years’ time.
Even more worryingly, there is no guarantee that the baton will pass from one progressive force to another as it did from the Liberals to Labour in the decades after World War One. The current trend, as seen in Scotland and in the increase in UKIP’s votes in Labour seats in England, is that we would not be supplanted from the left, but eclipsed by identity-led populism and xenophobic chauvinism.
Such is the state in which Labour finds itself as 2016 opens. We need to fight for our lives. Just why and how we might do so will be the subject of my next blog.