Sometimes I can be a bit of a gloomy bugger. When it was all kicking off at Victoria Street, I wrote what was probably one of the most damning pieces of my blogging career so far. I stand by that piece. It was an accurate reflection of how I felt then and how others with the same concerns were feeling. The process was a mess and it was badly handled. Victoria Street was in chaos and everyone seemed to be publically fighting each other and leaking those fights to websites Order-Order and Labour Uncut. It was my sense that the authority of the new General Secretary – whose appointment I had supported – was being undermined.
But I would be being dishonest if I allowed that piece to stand alone; to be my last recorded thoughts on Labour’s operations. The sunshine has come out just as the Party completes the move to what I am told are lovely new premises at Brewers Green, and with the sun and the move, has come a new optimism in the Party about the Party. With the announcement that 100 candidates be in place by next year and 200 organisers will be in place by 2014, great wins in the local elections and a new sense of momentum behind Ed and the Party, there is a real relish for the challenge of making Labour a one-term opposition that was perhaps lacking by the end of last year.
Of course, I should have had more confidence in my choice for General Secretary.
Iain’s not a man who does showy or grandiose, so I was perhaps overwhelmed by the spectacle of the loud opposition to his changes and their spectacular nature. But one of Iain’s greatest strengths is a quiet determination. He’s a soft-spoken man with a black belt in karate – the perfect metaphor for the man and the way he has quietly but assuredly started pulling the Labour Party back together following our dreadful defeat in 2010. So while some elements in Victoria Street were exploding, and those like myself were commenting on the worst of the public display, Iain seems to have got on with things, waiting until the time was right to start unleashing his own plan to rebuild the Party key constituency by key constituency.
It’s public knowledge that Iain wasn’t Ed’s choice for General Secretary. But this doesn’t seem to have fazed either of them. Ed seems to make a habit of surrounding himself with those who didn’t support him for leadership (Jon Cruddas being the latest example), so maybe it’s just something they’re both comfortable with. Certainly both are getting on with it.
I haven’t been to Brewers Green yet, but I’m told it’s a lovely space: airy and light with floor to ceiling windows. Working spaces matter and they do affect morale. Labour has a newly consolidated poll lead, and a reasonably new leader and General Secretary. The sunshine also seems to have delivered us a new and sunnier disposition. It’s not complacency, and from every experience I have had with both Iain and with Ed, it will never be allowed to become complacency. But it’s a sense that we are moving beyond self-flagellating gloom to a place where we can offer the British people some answers.
The self-confidence will come and go. My optimism will wax and wane. There will always be things about the way the Party behaves – either organisationally or politically – that I disagree with. I wouldn’t be a blogger if I didn’t want to write about those disagreements, why I felt them and what I felt ought to be done.
But I wouldn’t be being an honest broker with the Party I love if I just left it at that. There are people at the top of our Party who are doing a really good job. Who are turning around, slowly but surely, our ailing machine. Who are bringing their understanding of the enormous changes needed to our structure and our organisation and are making real changes to them.
It’s a long slow process. We’ll have moments where mistakes are made. We’ll have other moments where the pyrotechnics crowd out the progress. But progress is being made. And we owe a debt of enormous gratitude for that to Iain McNicol. We don’t say it often enough in politics, so I’m going to take this chance now: Thank you Iain.