The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all

March 30, 2012 3:56 pm

In Labour circles George Galloway’s byelection victory was greeted with complete and utter incredulity. I lost count of the number of tweets I read from people saying they simply couldn’t believe he’d won. Activists were shocked, stunned, gobsmacked. But they shouldn’t have been.

Byelections are furious, competitive affairs packed with high drama. It’s always a bumpy ride and the golden rule is that playing safe is probably the most dangerous thing in the world. This was Labour’s cardinal error.

Buoyed by Cameron’s calamitous week of petrol and pasty mishaps, and the backlash from Osborne’s disastrous Budget, we thought we could take our feet off the pedals and freewheel to victory. As soon as it emerged that Galloway was standing we should have known it was never going to be plain sailing.

When I got off the train in Bradford to join the campaign it resembled something like a training session with activists going through the motions. Rather than fighting for every vote we were simply focusing on holding on to our majority. This just invited a very dangerous opponent in Galloway to not only pitch his tanks up on Labour’s lawn but fire his cannons at us too.

We should never have let Galloway build up such a head of steam without him being challenged at every step. Avoiding debating with him at hustings was a mistake. So too was adopting a machine-like approach of pushing out a message of Coalition failings.

Despite the Coalition’s unpopularity we should not lose sight of the fact we were voted out of office at the General Election. There’s still a lot of work to be done to win over hearts and minds. Making politics exciting and relevant is the challenge facing us all.

And of course theatricality is Galloway’s stock in trade. We all know he puts on a good show. And he likes an audience. But he also carries a fair amount of baggage and has more than a few weaknesses. Hardly anything was done to remind voters of this, allowing Galloway to settle into a comfortable mythmaking groove and quickly build up an unstoppable momentum.

I’ve never subscribed to the maxim that opposition parties don’t win elections, Government’s just lose them. This thinking breeds dangerously unhealthy complacency. And as the Coalition lurch from one fiasco to the next there’s always the temptation to sit back and enjoy their misfortune. We shouldn’t and we can’t. Otherwise there’s no guarantee we’ll return to Government.

This byelection is a reminder of that. We need to capture the imagination of voters, not merely remind them of how poor the other parties are.

Voters want to see a real appetite for office, a hunger for change. Galloway showed that. Labour is nearly two years into a policy review now and while we’re making steady and encouraging progress we’d do well to remember the words of the former Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru:

“The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.”

Simon Danczuk is the Labour MP for Rochdale

  • Amber Star

    Thanks, Simon, for is the best ‘commentary’ about this by-election which I’ve read.

  • Cllr Chris Maskell

    Dead right but try telling that to our leaders and betters who think they always know best.

  • Paul Halsall

    I just watched Galloway being interviewed on the BBCNews.

    They asked him about his election, blah blah.

    And then they asked him about the fuel lorry drivers’ strike.

    He said something like: “The only thing working people have to sell is their labour, and they have a right to negotiate to improve conditions for that.  I have been a proud member of that Union for most of my life.”

    Now, why oh why, can’t a Labour politician say that?

    • treborc

      Did they cut the bit out when he told the young lady doing the interview to not be silly when she asked him again about the strike, it stopped her dead, brilliant

    • UKAzeri

      My hope is that they are waiting for more Coalition failures before bringing out their true positions. ‘Hope’ being the key word in the sentence :)

      though if i continue like this I might have to develop a far more productive relationship with faith :))

    • dave stone

      Because that would be totally alien to Labour’s Westminster elite – it is beyond the experience of many of them and the absence of democracy within the party prevents the membership from giving them a kick up the backside when they need it.

      All they recognise is the similarity between themselves and other professionals living in the S.E. of England, which, of course, is why they make that area their priority.

      • Mike Homfray

        I’m afraid you could be right here. Their points of reference do seem to be their southern work base rather than their constituencies

    • madasafish

      I would welcome Labour supporting a strike which hits the non unionised majority.

      It would help reduce Labour’s credibility as a Party to appeal to anyone but their paymasters. 

      • Paul Halsall

        The reason the non-unionised majority is non-unionised is the massive attack on unions launched by Thatcher, and her willingness (compare France which still has large scale industry) to close down massive parts of the British manufacturing economy to destroy unions.

        Moves to a a job market in which people are individuated (cubicles!), deliberately put on rotating rosters of non-full time work (ASDA etc), all have worked to reduce union power.

        And Labour did nothing to help: it did not adopt all EU Labour Laws, it did not role back anti-union laws, and it continued the process of privatisation.

        And yet for all that, people today who get 4-5 weeks paid holiday, the right not to be fired because a boss is having a bad day, etc, have those rights because of what unions have in the past and still fight for.

        If you want a comparison look at the US, where hire and fire predominates, there is no real secure healthcare for the bottom 1/3rd of society, and you are lucky if you have two weeks paid vacation in a year.  The only workers in the US who have any decent rights work for unionised industries.

        • madasafish

          You are confusing cause and effect.British trade unions actively campaigned against modernisation, and against wealth creation. See Scargill, SOGAT, etc.

          The results are deserts with no work or areas where non unionised work exists.

          Labour often has MPs who have been in position for 30-50 years in these places and they have presided over decline and no rebuilding..

          See UNITE and Mc Cluskie: a wonderful advert for trade unionism to be removed.

          Comparisons with other countries are meaningless .

          Labour has been excellent at job creation for immigrants whilst keeping the Brits quiet by unaffordable benefits.. which most here deny .

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          “The reason the non-unionised majority is non-unionised is the massive attack on unions launched by Thatcher,”

          Not true in every case.  My decision never to have anything to do with unions is about self-reliance and personal pride, not what Thatcher did in the decade before I ever came here.  But I do accept that will be a minority view, and your argument may well still be true.

          It won’t be popular on LL, but I genuinely feel that unions which are very largely in the public sector can be a divisive force in a mixed economy.  At this point in time, I do see them as being divisive, with increasingly militant leaders like McCluskey and Crow.

          None of the above is an argument for increasing unionisation in the private sector to balance the current bias to the public sector. If people wish to form unions in the private sector, than they will. My own observation is that a total workforce that is heavily unionised would be like throwing several handfuls of gravel into the engine of the economy.

          There is often mocking commentary on LL about “we’re all in this together”.  Well, I feel that the unions and their thinking breach that rule.  They set themselves apart from the majority in the country, and try to use threats of economic action to bully the rest of us into agreeing unreasonable demands.

          • Mike Homfray

            Of course you are entitled to this right- wing individualist stance but surely you can see that it is entirely incompatible with the LABOUR party – which strongly supports the existence of trade unionism

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas


            no doubt about it:  I tried to make clear above that mine was an individual view, and would not be popular on LL.  I then offer some personal opinion, which seems fair to me.

            On a technical point, my views on unions cannot be categorised as “right wing”, as collectivisation and individualism are properly measured on a different axis.  The left – right axis is used by economists to gauge the ownership of  assets and the workings of markets.  It is however a common mistake, leading to such fallacies as calling fascists and parties like the BNP “right wing”, when in fact they are economically left wing.  

  • Nick Lightowlers

    Absolutely spot on. Voters actually want to see what differentiates us from the Government and saying “the same as them only not as much” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

  • Tonystrad

    George’s policies and analysis are right and Labour’s are wrong. When the people get a chance they reject the centerist lies

  • Brumanuensis

    Excellent points, Simon. Love the Nehru quote – now there was a leader! I think the crucial issue is Galloway’s ‘theatricality’ – as you put it. The man is a brilliant orator, whatever we think of his politics. I suspect if Respect had nominated anyone else, they would have bombed (no pun intended), with the exception of Salma Yaqoob (who I will confess to quite liking).

  • jonathanmorse

    The Tories seem to have seen the threat of industrial action over road fuel as an opportunity to be exploited, a little panic can only help them get re-elected, if people will only blame the unions for the crisis the Tories have created. Do you think Ed M’s indecision nationally, his need to check with everybody before he comes out with anything, has meant a failure of Labour to make this point and through it back at them?

    Thwe Tories seem to know Labour’s weaknesses. They knew Brown wouldn’t argue for inheritance tax, because Brown ducks any argument he can’t win by bullying, so they blocked that election, and now many are blaming the unions and Labour for something entirely engineered by the Tories.  How do we rid ourselves of this tiresome leader?

    • madasafish

      many are blaming the unions and Labour for something entirely engineered by the Tories”

      So the Tories engineered a strike threat?

      What an interesting view of the world…


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