The folly of defeatism

by Alex Shattock

Whenever we talk about Labour’s chances of winning the next election, there is always an elephant in the room that nobody wants to speak about. We thought it would go away, sort itself out. It hasn’t. Frankly, we can’t ignore it anymore, because it’s beginning to hurt our chances of success in a very visible way.

The elephant is the vocal minority in the Labour party who don’t believe we can win with Ed Miliband as our leader. It’s time to talk about the problems their defeatism is causing, and why it is misguided.

The MPs in our diverse shadow cabinet have done an admirable job in maintaining party unity. Their success is not, however, reflected by everyone in the party. The vocal minority who don’t believe in Ed Miliband are making their presence known, whether it is an unnecessary intervention by a former leader, or a (not so) subtle swipe at a pressure group conference. Their murmurings are becoming louder, and the media is starting to hear.

Their main criticism is that Ed has a “charisma” problem: but we all saw Ed’s fantastic One Nation speech. He can give a great performance when it counts. I suspect their discomfort runs a little deeper than that. The charisma problem is really an ideological problem: We’re not polling better because of the direction Ed is taking us.

It sounds to me like the defeatists don’t believe a centre-left platform can ever win a UK election. Perhaps they don’t believe it ever should. “Labour just isn’t connecting with business”, someone told me last week. “I mean, look at Ed’s speech about predators… He isn’t showing businessmen he wants to help them make money.”

Well, good.

The Labour party wasn’t created to help businessmen make money. There is a place for business in Labour’s vision, of course there is: but our primary concern should be building a better society.

Labour politics is about businesses as employers, the poor as deserving, inequality as a problem. We should not sacrifice our beliefs on the easy altar of populism. We should make the case for our beliefs in the public domain.

Am I suggesting that Labour should become a rallying point for militant socialism? To hell with public opinion, as long as we have our principles? Of course not. Public opinion matters, and we should listen and respond to it. But as the centre-left party in UK politics, we shouldn’t be afraid to say things that are (just sometimes) a bit centre-left. We should criticise predatory businesses, or businesses that don’t pay their taxes. We should stand up for the poorest in society. We should defend Europe when it is in the interest of Britain’s workers. Ed Miliband is doing all of these things, and rightly so.

Even if you don’t agree with Ed’s direction, it is undeniable that if we want to win the next election, we need to maintain a united front. Just look at the Conservatives: they are publicly consuming themselves, which is destroying their credibility with the general public. But even more damaging than their in-fighting, is the fact that the party members don’t respect their leader, which undermines his position with everyone else in the UK.

David Cameron doesn’t have a hope of convincing new voters to put him in charge if he is incapable of maintaining the support of his own party members. We cannot afford to turn our leader into a similar joke figure, our party into a similar circus.

Labour’s poll lead was highest when our small, inconsequential divisions were not displayed in public, and when there were fewer barbed comments about Ed Miliband from Labour figures who should know better.

There is room for disagreement in the Labour party- we are a broad church, and our diversity makes us stronger. But if you don’t create space for measured disagreement, under the broad banner of party unity, then factionalism is inevitable.

Contrast the Tories’ auto-cannibalism with the Labour party under Tony Blair. Those on the left muted their criticism of New Labour’s liberal excesses, and all credit to them for not falling into the trap of destructive internal division.

It is time for the vocal minority today to follow suit, and be a bit less vocal in their criticism of our leadership. Such public, crowing defeatism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Alex Shattock is a Labour activist, Co-op member and Young Fabian. He blogs here.

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5 Responses to “The folly of defeatism”

  1. BenM says:

    We need criticism of course.

    Though there are some “critics”, late of this parish, who have turned themselves into a running joke.

  2. Alex Harvey says:

    Hear hear!

  3. Robert the cripple says:

    The secret is look back at the History of Miliband, look back see what he has spoken about in speeches, look back and see what he has said which can be classed as out spoken. Look back and see what he said while in the Labour party about anything, very little.

    Now he has said a few things since coming to power, sadly I do not believe them because he jumping on what he sees the public want to hear, the wars were wrong, you did not say that at the time, Immigration was wrong, band wagon.

    Then when he’s asked he uses an excuse to say nothing example would you get rid of the bed room tax, answer cannot say.

    Sorry he not giving us anything to vote for.

  4. John Reid says:

    Robert when you say the public want to hear,I take it you mean e,certain part of the public in both those case the guardian types and then the sun types for immigration, Ed probably mistaken when he fells that saying innocent people’s DNA should be kept he thinks he’s appealing to a certain part of the electorate, but what part, the Mail don’t want innocent people DNA kept, nowhere do th e police,

  5. a says:

    I don’t think the people who realise that Miliband will never be in number 10 are anywhere close to being the ‘minority’.

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