It’s our party, so forgive us if we cry if we want to

Labour Party


For all I know, the Social Democratic Party (“SDP”), which was founded on 26 March 1981, never actually formally died. The SDP was founded on 26 March 1981 by four senior Labour Party ‘moderates’, dubbed the ‘Gang of Four’. The four left the Labour Party as a result of the January 1981 Wembley conference which committed the party to unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the European Economic Community. They also believed that Labour had become too left-wing, and had been infiltrated at constituency party level by Trotskyist factions whose views and behaviour they considered to be at odds with the Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour voters.

Last week, 172 Labour MPs voted ‘no confidence’ in the leadership of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn MP. I’ve voted Labour all my life. In fact, my 42nd birthday was on June 18th 2016, four days before what would have been Jo Cox’s. I was devastated at Jo’s murder. It was a reminder how brilliantly MPs work for their constituents in such a devoted way, not seeking media publicity, but driven so strongly by values such as social justice.

I’ve been fortunate to attend the Labour Party conference on-and-off since 2010. I’ve had good memories of the event too. I remember once asking Jim Naughtie about how once he accidentally had used the C word in introducing the current Secretary of State for health on the Today Programme. Even to this day, I am intensely proud to be a low-down-in-the-foodchain member of Labour. A few years ago, I met Grahame Morris MP, MP for Easington, for the first time. A wonderful man, clearly a devoted constituency MP, and also who served meticulously on the Health Select Committee.

I use this background to front load how let down I have felt by the behaviour of a ‘gang of 172’ Labour MPs. I am not a “Trot”, nor a member or activist within “Momentum”. I am ambivalent about Momentum. I can see the merits of a grassroots ‘organising’ movement within Labour, but I happen not to be part of it. I am not counting the number of Momentum posters at Jeremy Corbyn rallies. I understand Paul Mason’s argument that some people who feel politically motivated encourage friends to pop along if they happen to be around, such is the depth of feeling. And, after all, we wanted people to become politically engaged didn’t we? I remember going to meetings in the fringe of the  Fabian Society talking about “lost voters”, at roughly the same era the Fabians were looking into “Southern Discomfort” And of course, this Southern Discomfort soon became Scottish Discomfort, and North East Discomfort, and so on.

I was once given some advice by John Prescott, which turned out to be very good. In that same year, his son David Prescott helped me across the street in Manchester, as he recognised me, and saw I was physically having difficulty. That is either manners, or solidarity, as three years’ previously I had come out of a coma due to meningitis. It’s why I fundamentally believe that anything can happen to anyone at any time. It’s why I think the welfare state is important – not an albatross round the taxpayers’ neck, but an essential lifeline for some. I am physically disabled, and remember when my DLA was taken away for no reason overnight. I understand why some of my disabled Comrades committed suicide, allegedly, under the pressure of it all.

There is an argument that austerity is a political choice, not an economic one. To give you an example, Stephen Dorrell, previous Secretary of State for Health under a previous Conservative administration, felt that the ‘Nicholson efficiency savings’, first proposed by McKinseys, would be unprecedented. And we have seen the pressure of these savings in the context of budgets negotiating, for example, private finance initiative loan repayments. Jeremy Hunt has never implemented the NICE safe staffing guidance, and some hospitals are able to hide behind a cloak of lack of transparency in freedom of information ‘for commercial reasons’.

There’s some of us, who are not Trots, or ‘Momentum activists’, but who are Labour voters, and are not particularly happy the way things went in New Labour. New Labour ‘successes’ are substantial in number, such as the introduction of the national minimum wage, introduction of human rights legislation to harmonise us with Europe, drastic improvement in performance of the NHS early on, to name but a few. But clearly Tony Blair, whom I respect, may have become dazzled with personal ambition to become EU president in 2008, and helped to introduce a raft of legislation such as the NHS Act and Public Contracts Regulations, and so on, which helped shore up the notion of economic competitive entities and a free market in the NHS. The late great Tony Benn used to warn that once such legislation was laid down in parliament it was subsequently hard to get rid of it. And also he used to warn that if you really want neoliberal policies to be introduced with relative ease in parliament it’s a good idea to get a Labour government to do it.

Tony Benn’s argument was that he became disillusioned with government once he realised that government was about doing things more efficiently rather than fundamentally doing it better. And of course Tony Benn was involved in not an inconsiderable number of policy disasters himself, such as the wages policy of the Callaghan government. But even Tony Benn had his moments.

Believe me, I am not a Trot when I say that the work of Barbara Castle on equality, which predates our membership of the EU, was brilliant. Or that I agree that the money potentially we could get in tackling tax avoidance and evasion, which arguably Dame Margaret Hodge has not been that successful at, could help to fund parts of our infrastructure rather than help to subsidise tax cuts for the high income or corporations? Or that the ambition to build social housing, rather than see the State organise a small supply of ‘affordable housing’ to flog off to the private sector, to solve a housing crisis, is much needed.

These for me are not particularly ‘left wing’ policies. I never felt that Heidi Alexander made much headway as Secretary of State for health in clarifying clearly policy on the NHS ‘free at the point of use’ – in other words no clear policy on the use of PFI, the argument against alternative funding apart from general taxation (e.g. copayments). I never felt Alexander was particularly vocal about insisting on the NHS being funded on a more solid footing, but the argument against this is that this is a Treasury matter. I felt there was some populist posturing, which did not, expectedly, include the picket line, but I don’t wish to go down this route. So when she resigned I was not devastated.

I continue to adore the work of Andy Burnham on the other hand. I am not air brushing Mid Staffs out, to which I felt New Labour’s target driven culture, market ideology, and the rush for Foundation Trust status may have contributed. I am confused about the privatisation of NHS Logistics. But the introduction of the NHS Preferred Provider policy, whilst a big no no for me in simply tinkering with a market philosophy I don’t agree with, was at least part mitigation against a free for all liberalisation of the market which was subsequently to come with bells on with section 75 Health and Social Care Act 2012. But social care continued to suffer, as it had done in the 1990s, under New Labour. Privatisation was clearly not the answer – and if it had been the solution, what had originally been the problem? Above, whole person care, as advanced for the UK, in my professional view, was the right policy in the right place at the right time.

I must part company with the recent commentary from Westminster lobby journalists about the ‘wilting’ of Jeremy Corbyn. I think, for a start, when a seleb journalist chucks the boot into Jeremy Corbyn, rather than it being a “deal breaker” it becomes a “badge of honour”. I think Jeremy Corbyn’s mis-speak when he says “I have a mandate”, a worse version of the “I have a dream” of the charismatic leader Dr Martin Luther King, was a vague attempt by Corbyn to establish himself as a leader. But of course some people are as fed up with the perception of Jeremy Corbyn’s followership as a personality cult, not a social movement, in the same way some of us look at the followership of Tony Blair at Progress with an equal sense of bafflement.

But the ‘wilting of Jeremy Corbyn’, a framing of the problem by Westminster journalists, is as unclear as the general criticism of Corbyn. There is a strong consensus that Corbyn’s leadership and teamwork skills could be much improved, along with overall strategic direction. The communications, including the famous ‘Seumas, I don’t think this is a good idea”, could be better. But many people like me buy into the vision of , say, tackling social housing problems, and so on.

And take last week for example. The argument from the Conservatives was that the UK economy is doing well post Brexit. As a result of Labour MPs being whipped to tour the TV studios and to cry on camera at their disgust of Jeremy Corbyn, nobody put up the ‘in the alternative’ argument. And that was Sterling was at a 31 year low, and that £ had been artificially sustained due to massive recapitalisation from the Bank of England. This, reasonably foreseeable, had shoved up temporarily the national debt, which meant of course there was no way on earth that the Conservative Party could meet their fiscal surplus economic rule. So – surprise surprise – Osborne scrapped this rule.

For all the sense of bereavement about the EU membership, blame laid at the foot of Jeremy Corbyn, more % wise voted remain in Labour than in the Conservatives,  and possible future Conservative leader to be, Theresa May, campaigned for remain with equal magnificence an Jeremy Corbyn arguably. And there is a concern, unaddressed by the #Labour172 resignations, of immigration – repeatedly said to be a “good thing” by Corbyn – lead to a perception of insecurity amongst some Labour voters. It’s notable how so many Labour areas voted in favour of Brexit, including Dame Margaret Hodge’s constituency of Barking and Dagenham. The implementation of Brexit, in terms of the demands of free movement of people and the single market, may address this in part, but if the Conservatives and  Labour effectively adopt the positioning of not opposing the result of the EU referendum not opposing a drastic limit to immigration could become legitimised for short-term political gain.

These are problems which a future Labour Party, whoever leads it, must face. The economic benefits of EU membership were made, but to give Corbyn credit Labour unlike the Conservatives had made a case for social merits of immigration too. The starting point must be surely that, particularly if Gove and May don’t want a ‘snap election’, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act must play out such that there’s an general election on the first thursday of May 2020. It will suit the Conservatives to have this national election then as the full boundary changes will have been implemented to their benefit.

So there was no hurry to register the ‘Angela for Leader’ or ‘Saving Labour’ websites, arguably, in fact. Or no hurry to ring around to activate a coup which had been planned for months. A party, had it been big on the socialist principles of planning and solidarity, might have changed gear from carping and demoralising to one of improving massively teamwork and leadership of the Corbyn organisation. The argument that the Corbyn office is impossible to work with is totally negated by the continuous plotting and criticism since day one, even with resignations of Labour MPs who had not even been invited to serve in the shadow cabinet.

No – apart from some names which spring to mind, I’m pretty disgusted by the current bunch of Labour MPs, but the membership historically is more important than the MPs in parliament. It’s a given that MPs represent all the constituents, but it’s also a given that the party is supposed to represent in parliament the working class needs of society, as explained here by Prof Geoffrey Alderman.

We in the membership feel as if it’s our party – so please forgive us if we cry if we want to.