A little dignity and a little pride from Labour’s MPs would be welcome

by Rob Marchant

While Labour has not had a brilliant last couple of weeks in the election campaign – its barely-coherent policy on the NHS being a case in point – the jury is still emphatically out on who will win, thanks largely to this parliament’s highly unusual electoral arithmetic.

With things so tight in the polls, a big part of winning for both main parties is surely about their MPs keeping their heads down and their eyes on the prize. In other words, it is as much about thinking that they will win and convincing others of that fact, as pounding the streets of Britain on the “Labour doorstep”.

So discipline is vital. The Tories, now battle-hardened after “holding the line” through five years of government, seem to be making a reasonable fist of it (even Boris Johnson has had the good sense to absent himself abroad, rather than be a distraction to the Tory campaign).

Labour, well, not so much.

Not only does there seem to be something of a downbeat mood in the PLP but, in some cases, things have moved further.

To wit, there is little less edifying a sight than frontbenchers deliberately putting themselves in the newspapers, as ways not of promoting Labour’s election campaign or manifesto, but themselves. As candidates in a future leadership election, for which a date has not even been set and which may not happen for another five or ten years.

What kind of message does that send, exactly? It says, I know we have already lost. I am going through the motions. I have one eye on the aftermath and the spoils of war.

And it is wrong. It is wrong for two reasons. One is obvious: we have not lost and there is all to play for. There really is.

The second is because, well, we can have all the debates we want in peacetime. MPs should be able to disagree amongst themselves and win arguments internally. They are party representatives, not automatons.

But when we get to election time, the pendulum swings and they too must swing behind the party which put them there. They are not ordinary party members. We can enjoy the luxury of dissent; they must sing from the same hymn-sheet, or be damned together.

If we are going to win, fantastic. Whatever our differences, a win is a win is a win, and we should be proud that we have managed to do it under very difficult circumstances indeed, one-term oppositions not exactly being the norm in electoral history.

If we are going to lose, we lose with dignity and then look for the leadership battle to come, assuming that that is what the party wants.

But it is difficult to see any pride, or dignity, in jockeying for position while we are ninety days out from a general election.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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10 Responses to “A little dignity and a little pride from Labour’s MPs would be welcome”

  1. Michael Worcester says:

    Planning to a win by default is neither dignified nor something to be proud of

  2. Mike says:

    I keep hearing this troupe that one term opposition is not the norm. It has happened much more often that a Government gaining support from one election to the next. There were one term Governments in the 1970’s. But you have to go much further back tio find a Government increasing it’s share of the vote. Thatcher and Blair lost support from one election to the other (Thatcher very little each time, but it happened). So the Conservatives start at 37% and can only go down. UKIP goes from 3% to lets say at least 10%, taking therefore at least 3-4% from the Tories. Labour started at 28% and the Lib Dems shed >10% which means Labour should easily be ahead. They are not so the Conservatives are actually doing pretty well. If as some theorise that the polls are slightly biased to Labour (see UKpollingreport.com) and the Tories gain another 1-2% during the real campaign and a Conservative lead of 5% and back to close to 37% is actually very good for them.

  3. Seymour says:

    MPs should be able to disagree amongst themselves and win arguments internally. They are party representatives, not automatons.

    They should represent their electors not their party in internal debates. Internal debates inform the parties position. If all they do is parrot Ed & Eds lines then they are representing no-one.

  4. I agree with the first 3 comments

  5. “It wasn’t me guv!”

    Is Rob getting his alibi in early? As Rob’s fellow Blairites, New Labour defenders and Progress members are the main culprits I suspect so.

  6. Stephen Hildon says:

    “To wit, there is little less edifying a sight than frontbenchers deliberately putting themselves in the newspapers, as ways not of promoting Labour’s election campaign or manifesto, but themselves.”

    Occam’s razor would suggest they (no examples are cited) are doing so raise their public profile with a general election on a few months away. Or if you are more cynical, to secure a cabinet post. They are not doing it with a future leadership election in mind.

  7. @Danny: Culprits for what – Labour’s leadership polling? Hahahahahahaha….

  8. Danny Spwight, why would labour uncut,be the culprits, if as pointed out, that there’s swing back to govts near elections, and that winning by 35% is nothing to be proud of, if labour lose why would it be critics who’ve pointed out that not trying to keep the centre ground is important,

  9. So Blair and Mandelson attacking Labour policy as being too far to left; Milburn and Hutton’s pro-NHS privatization comments, (understandable with their private health sector salaries I guess); Liz Kendall’s statement to the press just as Burnham was setting out Labour policies for the election; and let’s not forget the attempt to replace Miliband with Alan Johnson, (who at least did have a bit more dignity than most over the affair); these are not the the people you were criticising Rob?

    Apologies if I got that wrong. I couldn’t believe you were seriously looking for reds under the bed Rob. I’m not sure if your Doctor Frankenstein laugh shows some sort of mental problem but maybe it all ties together.

    And John, I too disagree with any 35% strategy, but seeing this seems to be coming from the arch-Blairite Douglas Alexander it would be hard to lay it at the door of let’s say Cruddas. There’s a higher percentage of the vote to be had if the party could stop the Progress naysayers and take a more radical position on the likes of rail ownership. In the meantime while even our core vote leaks away to the Greens, SNP and UKIP your answer is to move to the right and be even more like the Tories.

  10. John. Reid says:

    Danny Speight, you’ve mentioned 5 people who’ve disagreed with labour a pilicy, although, there was a list from 15 labour MPs the other day, saying we weren’t left wing enough, and as Liz Kendall is in the opposition, her position on certain NHS policies, is hardly disloyal, but if labour do lose, it’s hardly going to be a few comments, on the NHS it was one of 3 policies we were more popular than the Tories on in 2010 and one of two now (the other currently being pensions)

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