“Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
– Yeats, The Second Coming
It’s fair to say that the Labour Party has had a bad couple of weeks.
No – that’s a terrible understatement. The Labour Party has had a hair-rending, smashing its head into a desk, disembowling itself sort of week. The election result was a painful shock to the party, but the fact that it was a shock tells us all that we need to know about how far we’ve gone wrong. As Jon Cruddas wrote earlier this week:
“Our relationship with you was so weak that we didn’t even know you’d chucked us until we saw the exit poll on the BBC.”
Quite simply, the Labour Party as a whole had no idea it was about to get a thumping from the electorate until after said kicking had been delivered. Cruddas now needs to back up his warnings today and make his review a success – and the whole party needs to feel part of that.
And so from the depths of political despair, a leadership campaign began.
Just days after I’d stood outside Labour’s Brewers Green HQ wondering how bad the election results could possibly get, I was sat on the wall outside waiting to see what the length of the leadership contest would be. Fortunately a short, sharp contest was avoided. That’d have been a disaster. To extend Cruddas’s metaphor, the British public chucked us like a spouse whose been drinking too much, so us shambling up the drive again six weeks later, breath smelling of tic-tacs and claiming that we’d changed would have been barely credible. Yet still this contest has already seen Dan Jarvis withdraw, and Chuka Umunna join and exit the race almost in the same instant.
And then – to add to the slow-motion, anarchic, car-crash feel of the last ten days in the Labour Party, Jim Murphy faced a no-confidence motion, won it narrowly and resigned anyway.
Today the Labour Party stands at a crucial juncture – either we realise how bad our defeat was, learn from that and advance. Or we deny the scale of our electoral, cultural and emotional rejection by the British people, curl up into a ball and, slowly but surely, slip out of existence.
That would be an abject and criminal abandonment of the millions who voted Labour just 10 days ago, the millions who’d consider voting for a better Labour Party in future, and the party’s historic mission to shift power away from the powerful centre and into the hands of the people. Because right now to many people – divided by geography, class, gender, race, religion, age and wealth – all know one thing to be true. They feel ignored. And the Labour Party, which should be best placed to hear and act upon their concerns, grows more distant by the day.
So how does the Labour Party move forwards from here in the midst of leadership, deputy leadership, London mayoral and Scottish leadership contests? By doing two things that may seem contradictory, but which are essential.
First, the Labour Party must have a no-holds-barred debate about where the party stands and where its future lies. That might be brutal, it might be “bruising” and it might not be nice to look at. But after Ed Miliband pursued “unity over clarity” for five years, the time has come for a moment of clarity.
The second task for Labour is to stop playing in the shallow end of politics – the backwards looking, small-minded politics of the past. If this campaign is conducted through the frame of Brownite, Blairite, Old Labour, New Labour then we’ll drown in that shallow end. The party needs not only to present itself as something different, but to actually be something different. Rooted in our communities. In touch with the people we claim to represent. And moving beyond the bullshit bingo that is our current political lexicon.
Perhaps by doing that, we might realise how and why we got chucked by the electorate.
And how we can win back their trust.