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Dear Tories

While you are pointing and laughing at Ed Miliband’s attempts to reform the Labour Party and ridiculing him as weak, I’d suggest you take a look at how well your glorious leader’s mission of modernising the Conservatives is going. Bang up job he’s doing on the evidence of this week:  food bank users are feckless and have only themselves to blame; UN rapporteurs are part of a left wing conspiracy and; Ed Miliband can’t be as patriotic as David Cameron. We’ll draw the veil of charity over the latter’s performance in Prime Minister’s Questions for the time being.

And, what of the Big Society? How’s that developing? Well, the food bank movement gets used in all sorts of ways by your party depending on the point you want to make and charities and the third sector have never been busier. On the other hand, your party is rushing through legislation that will silence charities during election campaigns. David Cameron in fact said that these organisations were fronts for trade unions. I expect the Sue Ryder charity and the British Legion will be enchanted to be described in these terms.  Essentially, then, the Big Society can do all the work but can just keep its trap shut.

Point. Laugh. Mock.  But Labour is changing while the Tories resort to type. 


Dear Upper echelons of the Labour Party….

I have spent a good half hour thinking of ways to start this blog, my research taking me from John Stuart Mills to Baudelaire.  I have decided, though, that pseudo-erudition will be wasted since no one else may ever read this and it may deflect from the simplicity of my message:  ‘Labour, sort it the fuck out.’

Anyone who is involved in party politics, even at a peripheral, grassroots level, has good days and bad days. There are the monumentally bad days like the day after the 1992 General Election and trivially bad days like a small poll drop for Labour.  Nothing much happened yesterday on the face of it but I haven’t been so depressed with the party for years.  I am referring less to the Falkirk incident and the fallout from the GMB action earlier in the week, than to the party’s reaction to them.  Instead of a unified response, we had Twitter awash with accusations, counter-accusations, petty bickering and the sort of corrosive infighting that made me momentarily think of abandoning my day’s doorstepping on the basis that there seemed to be no point in my wasting shoe leather when senior Labour personnel were airing arguments in public that – in a moment – were undoing the work of the foot soldiers. Of course, the temptation to stay in with a good book and a glass of wine passed, but I have seldom felt such a sense of utter futility.

Think about it. Over the past few days, we have had some appalling news emerging about the current government that should be gifting Labour its ammunition. We won’t get many spells where a major government project is proven to be thoroughly flawed, we hear that not only are Accident and Emergency Units in crisis, but that the public blames Tory cuts for the crisis and that the DWP is apparently signalling a return to the ‘poverty is a choice’ narrative by proposing to sanction the low paid for ‘not working hard enough.’  There has been a half-hearted flurry of commentary from the Labour press office and the odd minister has weighed in with a tepid attack on the government. But we have essentially allowed ourselves to be drawn into navel-gazing about the unions (which is a gift to the Tories and their media cheerleaders) and which, with a bit of thought, could have been used to create a powerful message about Labour being the party of evolution and of everyone and about the strength of our leader.  I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I thought that the union issue was such a point of principle with the critics but I believe that a large part of the criticism is generated by petty, residual resentment about which Miliband became leader. This impression is only reinforced by the drip of bile emanating from the John Rentoul, Dan Hodges and David Aaronovitch critical coterie. The ill-timed intervention of Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell on the Syria crisis only serves to increase the perception that there is a Blairite/Miliband the Elder agenda that is doing its level best to unsettle the current leadership even at the cost of the party and, in my opinion, the country.

So, from my humble position as a Labour activist, Labour voter and passionate believer in Labour as the only possible One Nation party, I think that:


1.  The Parliamentary Party needs to get over the outcome of the leadership election.  Not only is it now Labour history, it is pure delusion to imagine that the other Miliband would have been any more appealing to voters than he apparently is to former colleagues.  Why did they think that someone they couldn’t stand on a personal level, who had offended them and who they admit was distant and unapproachable would entice voters?  I hate to say it, but charisma can’t be transplanted. Britain isn’t going to start loving its technocrats.  I also hate to say it, but Labour is being naive if it thinks that Iraq wasn’t an issue in the 2010 election. It was. I know numerous people who just didn’t vote in the last election because of Iraq. Labour also lost voters who thought that we had become more or less indistinguishable from the Tories. Would Miliband Elder have done anything to reverse this disenchantment? I really doubt it. The other leadership candidates are deluding themselves if they think they would be that much more appealing to voters. Until  Umuna and Reeves come of their political age, I think we have to accept that there isn’t a better, more popularly appealing, alternative to Ed.

2. The Party needs to start emphasising the positives of the leader. When last did a leader not only take on Rupert Murdoch but also question its relationship with a key funding partner? Can you see Cameron doing either? I am sure there will be mumbles  about whether he has been politically naive in taking on such behemoths but can we not get behind or at least promote the idea that we have a great reforming leader who is not only prepared to take on his party’s own history but the press, which has such a corrupting influence on all areas of our national life?  There are comments about the lack of emerging policies but we need to argue that only a fraud could develop full mandate policies that could claim to be a fix when a) the extent of the mess being made by the Tories is unknown and b) we have come through a crisis that asked questions that only Labour is prepared to confront while the Tories are carrying on as normal as if the definition of madness weren’t repeating what you’ve always done and expecting a different outcome.  For example, a staggering proportion of people believe that utilities etc were better for the majority of people when they were nationalised. The Tories haven’t stopped for a solitary beat to query whether its headlong rush to privatise the NHS and the Post Office may not be good for anything other than extremely short-term gain for relatively few people.  The difference is that the Tories seem to think they can conjure a better Britain through ideological equations. Labour is accepting that its policies may have to be drawn from various places, not just Hayek and not just Keynes. Putting policy and people before politics. How radical is that?  It shouldn’t be, and it says much about how cynical and jaded we are as a nation, that stopping to think rather than carrying on as before because that is the way it has been, is seen as a defect. This is no doubt the sort of notion that Cameron would call politics of the JCR. But think about it:  why are people of all political colours getting so disenchanted with politics? Trust me, it isn’t because we are sticking like barnacles to the old ways whether they worked or not. The message should be that Labour is taking this disenchantment on. Because apparently no one else, since Nick Clegg became a Tory, cares.

3. We need to use Ed properly. He is actually subtantial and impressive when articulating his views and he impresses people, especially when given time to expand his argument. Cameron is the reverse. He can provide the soundbite but is catastrophically bad when he is forced to deal with a fact or a detail. This works to Cameron’s advantage in PMQs where braying and barracking like the Gallowgate End after a home defeat are the norm and where ‘I’d rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown’ is thought of as a rather brilliant comment. No. Really. It is. If this is what is what we want in a leader and the country thinks of as rhetorical brilliance, then my little nieces have a brilliant future in politics since at 6 and 4 they are already tossing  ‘I’d rather be a poopy head than a stinky bum’ responses around rather fluently.  Except, I think politicians of all hues delude themselves into thinking that the public likes their behaviour in parliament.  PMQs are really only useful for the political commentariat because I have literally never met anyone outside that class who didn’t think PMQs were anything other than horribly embarrassing. Think about it. Hundreds of adults cheering and booing at a debate which is being held against the backdrop of children being gassed to death. Think about it. Hundreds of adults cheering a policy that is acknowledged to be apt to hurt some people and is said to be regrettable but truly necessary because austerity demands it. If it isn’t the ideology you are cheering, why on earth would any intelligent, humane and civilised person cheer a policy that will certainly stop some intelligent young people from going to university or that will result in one child, let alone hundreds of thousands of children, in Britain in 2013 being dropped into poverty?  Let me add that I have spoken to Tory voters about this and they agree, even when their glorious leader ‘wins.’  Think about it. The Prime Minister addresses Parliament once a week and instead of giving the nation answers, he responds by attacking the previous government.  Labour needs to use this to Ed’s and its own advantage. It can’t be beyond the wit of party mandarins to find a way of doing this.


4. The 2015 campaign has already started. Thinking about what this awful government has done without a mandate or a majority, it chills the blood to imagine their activities if they win a majority in 2015.  We can’t let this happen. We just can’t. Labour, talk to the unions. Explain your thinking. Find some common ground. Unions, bear in mind how Pyrrhic the victory will be if Labour lose the election. You may have your issues with Labour but, by Christ, they are your very best hope at work and elsewhere in your life (for example, when you want your children to have NHS treatment).