Following from my post yesterday “It’s not about left and right…” I’ve now received this message from Labour First into my inbox.
Although it reflects some of my own thinking about the need to unify the party at this difficult time, it does little to offer any solution or new alternative other than the need for power. Ironically, it seems to criticise different organisations for having ideas that, God forbid, may be different.
My point yesterday was that, yes, there are many millions of people who rely on a Labour government in this country and yes it is important that Labour is in government for those people.
But at the same time, there is no point in being in government for the sake of it. We need to find purpose and unity around powerful ideas and we need to find balance in discussion. This email, sadly, offers few of those ideas and little recognition of the need for that discussion.
We need to know not that Labour should be in office (and please, please let’s stop calling it “power”), but why…
Message from John Spellar MP – based on a speech given to The Black Country Labour First Group
All To Play For
Labour First and its predecessors have always been in conflict with the defeatist tendencies in the Party. The formation of the SDP was based on the proposition that Labour could never win power again and could not change. That heresy was proved overwhelmingly wrong at the 1997 General Election. Meanwhile, elements of the Hard Left have always gravitated towards the easy attractions of opposition and would far prefer to pass resolutions than legislation.
Once again we are facing twin pronged defeatism from within our ranks. Some would seem to prefer to lose power than win under Gordon Brown, while the Hard Left seem to have taken satisfaction in resigning themselves to a return to opposition. They both share the view that Labour has its turn in government to try and rush through progressive legislation before running out of steam and public support, leaving the natural party of government, the Tories, to resume control. We have always rejected that pessimism believing that Labour can and should be a party of government not just of insurgency. We also reject the delusional view that what is needed is a ‘New Workers Party’.
We are particularly concerned because both tendencies seem to accept the inevitability of defeat at the next General Election which is not based on the data. We should firstly remember that the Tories currently have less MPs than the Labour Party under Michael Foot after the 1983 General Election – 193 v 209.
So let us look at the arithmetic of the next election – there are currently 647 seats in the Commons, so to have a majority requires 324 MPs (Labour currently has 351) and the Tories 193. So, for the Tories to have a single seat majority they need to win 131 seats. It’s fair to make an assumption that the boundary changes that are coming into force in the next Election will give them an extra 10 seats so we can make a working assumption that they need 120 seats for a majority.
That’s where their problems start. Even in 1997 we only gained 147 seats across the whole of the UK, 132 of them in England. In Scotland the Tories only have one MP and they have little expectation of making gains there. In Wales they have done a bit better, but only have four MPs out of 40. In Northern Ireland the Tories have entered into a bizarre alliance with the Ulster Unionists whose sole MP, Sylvia Hermon, doesn’t go along with the arrangement and there is little realistic prospect of it making gains there.
As a consequence the Tories have to make nearly all their gains in England. That is against a background of stickiness in the polls. In the European elections while the Labour vote dropped the gains were made by minor parties, the Tories only went up by 1%. This is clearly not 1997 territory. It would appear the Tories realise this and are becoming increasingly desperate. We have the demand for an instant General Election and now Cameron is predicting riots on the streets if Labour win.
The danger is that we defeat ourselves, particularly if we become a divided party and an undisciplined rabble. The fault will not be in our stars but in ourselves. History shows us that the public heavily punish divided parties. The reality is the next election is all to play for. We have a good record to fight on and can point to real changes and improvements in our constituencies. At the same time the Tories and Lib Dems have incoherent polices and are making mistakes. These are the messages we have got to get across to the public. At all levels of the party we need to focus on winning by pulling together and putting Labour First.