Focus, comrades! It’s the Tories we need to be attacking, not each other

Barry Gardiner
© Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

Tonight will be like old times. The lobby correspondents gathering outside Committee Room 13. Ears pressed to the oak doors to catch the mood of the meeting: quiescent or querulous? Compliant or rebellious? Adulatory or defenestratory? Because tonight’s the night the Parliamentary Labour Party has its meeting.

Well, it won’t be entirely like that of course, because Keir will not actually be in Committee Room 13 and nor will the PLP. It will all be on Zoom. But the selective leaks from inside the “virtual room” and the free commentary from different groupings afterwards to various journalists, lasciviating over the slightest glimpse of conflict, will no doubt be the same. So here’s a message of solidarity to my parliamentary comrades: shut the fuck up!

No, of course not in the meeting. I mean about the meeting. If there is one thing the past little while should have taught us as the labour movement, it is that running down your own side is never a good electoral strategy. No, it doesn’t matter whether you are the right attacking Jeremy Corbyn or the left attacking Keir Starmer, the result is always the same: Labour loses. And, comrades, there is no political virtue in that.

The interesting thing about being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is that her Majesty makes it very clear what she expects of you. Your job is to oppose Her Government. That’s it. Only sometimes we get confused and start to oppose each other. Sad, really.

But when we rush off to the press and say we don’t like each other, guess what happens? The public listens to us and says, “Well, if you don’t like each other, how the hell can you expect us to like you?” Don’t do it! Focus, comrades! It’s the Tories we need to be attacking.

After a week that saw a Queen’s Speech so thin Her Majesty could have rolled a spliff in it, we really have a lot to attack. Even Ruth Davison described the government’s plans to “enhance democracy” with the demand for photo ID at elections as “totally bollocks” (and yes, Keir, I am charging her for the franchise on that phrase!).

We can oppose this government in two different ways. One way is to say they are a sleazy load of politicians who seem constantly on the take, led by a liar who seems constantly on the make. Now I’m not saying that any of that is false. But as mature politics goes, it is elevated only fractionally above the gutter – and besides, when you sling mud, some of it tends to stick to the hand that slings it.

The other way is to focus on policies.

  • Care in old age. Families who are being ripped apart by dementia and the challenge of caring for loved ones need to see policies from Labour that relieve the burden, financially and emotionally, and that will give the mental health support that they desperately need.
  • Security in employment. Workers fired! Told they have lost their jobs but that they can have them back the next day if they accept lower wages and conditions. They need to know that Labour will make it illegal to fire and rehire anyone (unless she is the deputy leader of the party, of course!). 
  • Safety in your own home. The government has just rushed through an Act that leaves millions of leaseholders in this country trapped in homes with fire safety defects, unable to sell or move on with their lives and facing bills of thousands of pounds. They need a champion, and Labour must be that champion, demanding upfront money from government to get the defects sorted and then a windfall tax on the industry who built and sold these firetraps in the first place to ensure that those responsible pay up.
  • Training for the cleaner future. Creating the skills programmes to retrain workers whilst they are still working in the old industries (oil, gas, automotive) to meet the new demands of the green industrial revolution. Environmental and emissions targets without the skills base to deliver them will not keep our children safe.

How much more ammunition do we need? 4.3 million children in child poverty. An 88% rise in the use of independent food banks. Seriously, comrades, we are not short of material. So tonight, let’s remember that we are the Labour Party. Our job is to attack the Tories and we march under a banner that says: unity is strength. Let’s believe it.

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