Every now and again there comes along an article that gets us all talking.
Sadly, what we’re usually saying is “Why are you Labour?” or even worse “Why aren’t you a Tory?”. These articles are either yet another swipe at Ed and his leadership or a policy proposal, the content or presentation of which puts us both on the wrong side of our shared values or on the wrong side of the electorate.
Some of the authors of such pieces have served the Labour Party for many years, though they spent much of that defining themselves against the membership of the Labour Party. In 1987 there was more justification for such a stance. But the worst salesmen for the continuation of the best of the New Labour strategy are those who still cling closest to the label. Those who have allowed “New Labour” to crystallise into a dogma of its own rather than the rejection of dogmas that exemplified its early years.
Worse, some of the authors appear to have made a conscious choice to define themselves as cankers. Stars have risen on this basis. Reputations must be fed and controversialists must remain controversial.
But for those of us who would like to present a more balanced picture of the views of the Labour Party and the membership beyond the Westminster bubble, a reaction as reactionary as the original pieces is just creating more noise.
The problem is that screaming “Tory” at Labour members who don’t agree with us about the direction of the party from the right is about as helpful as those who shout “Trot” at anyone who questions us from the left. It’s destructive and self-defeating. It leaves you with nowhere to go and no argument to have. It allows the argument, not the policies, to become the focus, and leads to endless playing of the man and not the ball. And our own men at that. While the opposing team laugh their heads off at us.
Most of all, it’s not the kind of nuanced response that best articulates the democratic part of our democratic socialism. Collectivism is a Labour value I hold dear. It’s one of the principle reasons I support the leadership taking their time with the policy reviews and listening to as many members and experts as want to feed in. I’m genuinely hoping that the Leadership get a myriad of ideas from my left and from my right, and that they and we on the NPF pick the best and brightest from wherever they emerge to build a strong, coherent, radical and electable platform for Labour.
We cannot do any of this if we close down debate. We cannot do any of this is we simply reject as Tory any ideas put forward without making it clear why they don’t match our value of putting power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few. I can have those arguments. I can do so from both sides. I’m as likely to believe that some of the policies put forward by the hard left are as unelectable as I am to believe that some of the policies put forward by the ultra right are contrary to this aim. Like most Labour members I want to strike the balance between being electable and being elected for a purpose beyond beating the Tories.
Yesterday, fed up with yet more disconnect and discontent I tweeted the following:
“Labour Right Blog Formula: 1. Insult members. 2. Praise Tories. 3. Something vaguely sane. 4. Something off the charts dumb 5. end on a joke”
It was a response to how tired I am of reading what essentially boils down to the same article from the usual suspects reproduced in a variety of places. But it was deeply unfair to the majority of the Labour right wing who are loyal to the party and are making a far more interesting and nuanced contribution than those who give them the poor reputation. If they feel anything like the way I did about some of my fellow travellers on the centre left during the years Labour was in power, I know that they are probably find these interventions even more frustrating than I do, less able are they to shrug off the hurtful words of those they are close to.
I don’t like reading endless criticism of the party and the leader. I find it dull and repetitive, aimed at creating a poisonous atmosphere for the vast majority of Labour members in order that the privileged few can continue to play their power games.
But even more than this, I don’t like the response to these articles that I read. Dismissing someone as a “Tory” is not to defeat their argument. Reaching for hyperbole leaves you with no place to go. Equally, it gives those who share the majority of our values but offer different prescriptions no place to go. It isn’t right for us in the centre ground of the party to dismiss either our left or right flanks. We need them both for balance and inspiration. We also need to be a party that can be grown up and inclusive. We need to be able to agree to disagree, but also having disagreed, to move on.
If we don’t we are all – me included – giving the Tories a free and easy ride. And if we can agree on nothing else, we can surely all agree that we can’t have that.