Ten hard truths for Labour

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. After that bombshell poll, here are some about the party itself from Rob Marchant.

1. The Labour Party has not merely just lost an election after five years of drift; it has been getting worse since. It has now fallen deep into an existential crisis of purpose, with a large portion of its membership worryingly in denial about what the British public will actually vote for.

2. The current leadership election is symptomatic of that crisis. Like in the early 80s with Healey and Benn, many in the party are no longer expecting to get the best candidate, merely looking to avoid a disastrous one.

3. For those who believe Liz Kendall was over-egging the pudding in saying that Labour has “no God-given right to exist”, and that it has earned a permanent place in the British Top Two of political parties, some reading about the Liberal Party in the 1920s is required.

4. A Corbyn win would immediately present such an existential threat to the party. In short, the situation is far worse than the leftward drift that led to the Foot years, because (a) the country has moved right since then and hence less sympathetic, (b) Foot was a principled man who did not apologise for fanatics and (c) we hadn’t just been wiped out in our Scottish heartlands just before he was elected.

5. Labour needs to wake up and realise that Unite already represents an existential threat to it and does not have the party’s best interests at heart. It will at some point destroy itself through its increasing irrelevance to both Labour and its own members, but it could well take Labour down with it. It must not be allowed to.

6. The subset of members which attend local party meetings is far too weighted towards public-sector workers and the retired. Many private-sector workers are either put off by the boring meetings or the political prejudices they encounter there, or cannot attend because they often have less sociable working hours. This skew helps make the active membership unrepresentative of the party at large, let alone society at large.

7. Whilst Miliband’s reforms of leadership elections and the party’s relationship with unions were positive and necessary, the job is not yet complete. Parliamentary selections are still largely subcontracted to unions and good candidates are unwittingly excluded.

8. While we’re on the subject, All Women Shortlists are patronising, unfair and an unacceptably blunt instrument for equal opportunities. The public does not like them, either, including most women.

9. The party’s open espousal of identity politics on race and gender is slowly killing it in the eyes of the public and making it a sitting target for UKIP. It has become perilously tolerant of entirely unacceptable views in a few of its activists and MPs, such as racism, anti-Semitism or apologia for terrorism.

10. We are now a historical inflection point. Labour now has a matter of weeks which will decide whether it faces a difficult-but-plausible recovery, stagnation, or meltdown.

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


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26 Responses to “Ten hard truths for Labour”

  1. Eli says:

    I’m voting Corbyn. Deal with it.

  2. steve says:

    Oh dear, ‘communication consultants’ like Rob are being left high and dry.

    Things have moved on an those who cling to the certainties of yesteryear will be marginalised and eventually consigned to oblivion.

    It happened to Murphy in Scotland (who no doubt Rob supported) and it’s happening to Kendall (who no doubt Rob supports) in the leadership election.

    Well Rob, dreams don’t always come true so perhaps it’s best if you relinquish the tattered shreds of your comfort zone and look for a career elsewhere.

  3. john P Reid says:

    thanks Rob,i think if Cooper or Burnham win they’ll have a terrbile time,it sounds partonising ,but hte only two groups apart form students we tried to woo,at the last election was Public sector workers and pensioners

  4. Joe Public says:

    Point 6 that implies public sector workers don’t work unsocial hours is utter tosh and belies the author’s prejudice against public sector workers. Ask a nurse, firefighter, police officer, paramedic, 999 control room operator, residential care worker, hospital cleaner etc if they work unsocial hours.

    A weak and uneducated point about public sector workers that demonstrates the overall paucity of depth in the whole blog post.

  5. NickT says:

    This is exactly the sort of content-free blackmail masquerading as analysis that turns people off the Labour elite. Corbyn may very well be imperfect and flawed as a future leader – but at least he does people the courtesy of saying what he thinks without threatening them with disaster if they disagree with him. I am sure that Labour isn’t getting any voters back from UKIP by following Kendall into a new outbreak of Blairism, while Cooper and Burnham seem to have nothing to say for themselves. Parties that stand for nothing tend not to fare well at election time – and Labour has failed to stand for anything much for most of the last decade.

  6. Matt says:

    Fantastic analysis Rob. I only wish one of the leadership candidates had the courage and charisma to accentuate these 10 points.

    If Labour is to become a party of government again rather than some Die Linke/Green-style protest party then activists need to stop talking amongst themselves and start talking to (and not at) an electorate that just delivered the first tory government in 18 years and even more worryingly gave almost 4m votes to UKIP.

    Points 6 and 9 are particularly important. Too few Labour MPs have experience of working in the private sector (over 80% of jobs are now in the private sector) and are too eager to jump on social justice bandwagons most of the electorate either don’t like or don’t care about.

  7. linkshund says:

    Really enjoying #3 and #4, where the Liberals getting screwed from the left by Labour, and Labour getting screwed from the left by the SNP proves Labour needs to hurl itself rightwards because that’s where the votes are. Fascinating ideology, Blairism.

  8. Matt says:

    Fantastic analysis Rob. I only wish one of the leadership candidates had the courage and charisma to accentuate these 10 points.

    If Labour is to become a party of government again rather than some Die Linke/Green-style protest party then activists need to stop talking amongst themselves and start talking to (and not at) an electorate that just delivered the first tory government in 18 years and even more worryingly gave almost 4m votes to UKIP.

    Points 6 and 9 are particularly important. Too few Labour MPs have experience of working in the private sector (over 80% of jobs are now in the private sector) and are too eager to jump on social justice bandwagons most of the electorate either don’t like or don’t care about.

  9. blair says:

    @Eli: as the good John Rentoul has pointed out, thank you for your detailed and persuasive contribution to the debate.

    @JoePublic: The fact that, in a ten-point piece on the dangers facing the Labour Party, the best you can do in response is to infer some implied slight on nurses, is idiomatic of what the piece is all about. Anything, anything, but engage with the issues and try and find a response. Instead, cry foul, cry victim, everyone’s fault but yours.

    @NickT: Ditto. You guys must have incredibly thin skins if you perceive criticism as “threatening you with disaster”. If you don’t agree with the points, rebut them.

  10. Robert says:

    Yes, the Labour Party is in a crisis and that is not surprising after the disasters of the New Labour era. Labour recovered slighly in England last May but the damage had already been done in Scotland. I will be voting for Corbyn first, Burnham second and Cooper third. I hope that one of them will do a good job of leading Labour but I know that Kendall would be a disaster.

  11. Dirk S says:

    I’m coming to this a little late, but I want to address some of the Jeremy Corbyn supporters here and tell them my story.

    I am not a Labour party or Trade Union member and yesterday I did what the Telegraph has been urging its readers to do. I registered as a Labour supporter so I could vote in the leadership elections.

    But I did so, so I could support Liz Kendall and give my second preference vote to Yvette Cooper.

    Here’s why: My four year old son is disabled and will probably require life long care.

    That care won’t be up to much once Prime Minister Osbourne has won in 2020 and 2025, which he will be if Jeremy Corbyn or Andy Burnham are elected.

    Sure, a party headed by Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper will involve talking to people who didn’t vote Labour in 2010 or 2015. Isn’t that what political parties with aspirations of Government are meant to do?.

    But the overall direction of the country will be different. Leaving the Iraq disaster to the side for the moment, Britain 10-15 years ago was a better place then than it is now.

    I have no doubt activists intending to vote for Jeremy Corbyn are deeply committed to social justice and want to help the vulnerable. Unfortunately I’m fearful that the vulnerable, such as my son, won’t benefit from his victory.

  12. Josh says:

    I’m disabled myself and that doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would you be looking at Liz or Yvette, those that abstained last Monday, as your possible saviours. They were part of 184 MPs that abstained allowing the bill to pass. We hear often now that Harman’s worried about being seen as party of welfare and that doesn’t bode well. And there’s Rachel Reeves which already said she’d be tougher on welfare than the Tories (great(!)). If you’re looking at the Blairite Labour as your saviour, I think we’d be sorely disappointed because they already said they would be continuing cuts and savings. We’ll be screwed either way with the Tories of Blairite Labour.

  13. John P Reid says:

    Joe Public, in all fairness,in Havering the CLP secretes For Hornchurch & Upminster(my successor), Romford and Rainham all work for the police, and get flexible hours to attend meetings, plus the majority of other members work for the NHS and are are social workers,or are teachers,and can re arrange shifts to attend

    Thanks Dirk S

  14. Tafia says:

    Joe Public “Point 6 that implies public sector workers don’t work unsocial hours is utter tosh and belies the author’s prejudice against public sector workers. Ask a nurse, firefighter, police officer, paramedic, 999 control room operator, residential care worker, hospital cleaner etc if they work unsocial hours.”

    The vast bulk of public sector workers work mon-fri, 9-5. The majority of private sector workers don’t. It is common practice in the private sector now not to be paid unsocial hours formula in your pay, it is is commonplace for all requests for flexible working to be rejected. More prevalent in the private sector now as well is irregular hours contracts whereby bank holidays/public holidays are no different to any other day and if you are on shift, you just get the normal rates of pay. Again becoming more commonplace now is having your holidays allocated by shift and if they aren’t the holidays you want then tough, find someone who will swap with you or you know where the job centre is.

    There is very little sympathy for public sector workers amongst those in the private sector. And the reason is that as the private sector was being torn to shreds over the last two decades (and more), the public sector ignored it. Well the boot is on the other foot now.

  15. NickT says:

    @blair

    “If you don’t agree with the points, rebut them.”

    How would you suggest one refute claims based on no sort of fact whatsoever? I see ten assertions based on nothing but the writer’s sayso. There’s nothing to refute there, because there is no factual basis to work with.

    A fact for you to consider: Blair’s electoral wins showed a steady decrease in vote share. There’s no sign that the public wants Blairism or Blair back – so what exactly is the point of voting for any of the Blairite candidates? We’ve seen that pretending to be Tories only nicer doesn’t work in British politics – ask Nick Clegg, if you need independent confirmation.

  16. paul barker says:

    As an outsider looking in, I broadly agree with 9 of the 10 points but where do go from there ? You have 3 weeks before the ballots go out, what can you do in that time ? Perhaps you could campaign for Burnham & Cooper to step down from the contest – they are just obscuring the decision Labour have to take.

  17. John P Reid says:

    Josh,sorry you feel that, regarding Rachel her toughness in welfare was trying to fund jobs for the disabled, there are some jobs, that public services give to the disabled where it costs a lot mo to employ them than able bodied workers, giving special breaks for toiletry needs, building wheel chair ramps, allowing time for doctors visits, but getting jobs for the disabled,is getting them off welfare,it’s not making them work jobs they can’t

  18. John P Reid says:

    Paul barker, Wilson got 44% in 1964, by 1974, he got approx 38% twice, Thatcher got 44% in 79, by 92 Major got 41.5%, turnouts, deflecting the fact the Tory vote went up, and labour went from 12.4m to 11.4m

  19. Drabman says:

    Dirk S says

    “I registered as a supporter so I could support Liz Kendall and give my second preference vote to Yvette Cooper.

    Here’s why: My four year old son is disabled and will probably require life long care.”

    Wow. Just wow.

    Cooper was part of a government that unleashed ATOS on the disabled – a private organisation whose parent company had been condemned in the US for operating “disability denial factories”. Of course before that there were years of pandering to – and even particpating in – a narrative of popular prejudice about hordes of scroungers stalking hard-working people in the night.

    This repellent organisation was given a financial incentive by New Labour to fail people – cue a torrent of perverse decisions causing widespread misery and fear among disabled claimants. Of course the New Labour/Tory spin on the issue is that ATOS are only being rewarded for “helping the disabled back into work”. Anyone with half a brain should be able to work out that in order to receive the filthy lucre further down the line ATOS have a powerful (profit) motive to fail as many people as they can, given the fact that they suffer no penalty for decisions that are subsequently overturned.

    Not only did Cooper refuse to change tack in the face of increasing evidence of the havoc, fear and misery being inflicted on many disabled people, but when ATOS were unsuccessful in permanently denying benefit to enough people for Cooper’s liking, she tried to make it more difficult for disabled applicants to pass the assessment.

    If the likes of her and Kendall are the only hope for disabled people then I might as well kill myself now – as I have genuinely come close to doing; once after the pressure of the series of scary kite-flying and policy announcements from past New Labour figures and once after being subjected to three ATOS assessments in a year, despite having overwhelming evidence each time that my condition is likely to be long-term, if not permanent.

    Both my brother and myself are disabled and we both have bitter experience of what New Labour listening to “the public” and the propaganda of the right-wing press really means. It is difficult to exaggerate the blind fury and near hatred that I – a Labour voter until I became thoroughly fed up with the Blair project – feel for the Coopers and Kendalls of this world.

    But then I’m not one of the fabled “hard-working people” (although I once was) which I guess makes me so much electoral trash to the “realists”, “modernisers” and comfortable policy wonks on here.

    Good luck with the “aspirational” voters, because if your side wins the argument you’ll never see the likes of me again.

  20. Tom says:

    I have just one ‘hard question’ for people with views like Rob’s:

    Why do you think that your side of the party are indispensible, and the other side isn’t?

    For all this anti-Corbyn bluster, I just keep hearing the same thing – you think my views should not ever gain traction in the Labour party. So why should I stay? But if people like me did decide to leave, good luck ever getting into power again. You might think it’s all about focus groups, messaging and tracking public opinion, but I can’t see the Labour party surviving without a thriving activist base. And yet this activist base is often young, and currently, Corbyn supporting.

    Given this, why not just have some sense of loyalty, like we all did throughout the New Labour years, and stop trying to drive us out of the party. Whether we agree or not, we need each other to kick the Tories out of office. Your side will lose the argument sometimes. That’s internal democracy, just deal with it.

  21. Derek Jones says:

    hahahah what a load of old tosh Bob! Unite “It will at some point destroy itself through its increasing irrelevance to both Labour and its own members, but it could well take Labour down with it. It must not be allowed to” bitter and twisted mate another progress tosser go join the libdems or better still the Tory scum cos that’s where you lot belong, we want are party back !

  22. Redshift says:

    “Labour needs to wake up and realise that Unite already represents an existential threat to it and does not have the party’s best interests at heart”

    You really are an idiot. As if a union of 1.5 million members has a single mind for a start and secondly, calling our biggest donor an existential threat?

  23. Duncan says:

    Rob this is nonsense, though in some respects it’s worse than you think. We haven’t just lost one election after 5 years of drift but two elections after nearly 15 years of it. And we’ve repeated the same mistake as 2010 by not properly opposing the government at the start and allowing them to control the narrative.

    But Labour’s existential crisis is your blindspot. There is one. We were wiped out in Scotland and have been hollowed out across our heartlands. We are incredibly vulnerable to the sort of fall that confronted the Liberals in the early 20th century. Our protection is the absence of a credible party to our left in England, but it is by no means a permanent protection, and ukip have shown that a populist party can make significant inroads into our vote from the right.

    The existential crisis is the so-called Pasokification referred to elsewhere – to be seen as indistinguishable from the centre-right party, to cease to represent a section of society, to be implicated with the wrong-doings of the right. We’re a long way down that path already. In many ways a period of full-blooded left social democracy, party democratisation and re-engagement is all that can save us now.

  24. Luke says:

    ///9. The party’s open espousal of identity politics on race and gender is slowly killing it in the eyes of the public and making it a sitting target for UKIP///

    — The Tories will benefit too, especially if they keep up with the eminently sensible suggestions Cameron made in his speech about extremism. The response form the Left wing media, primarily the Guardian and New Statesman was shrill, hysterical, apologetic for extremism and shameful. The Left has been vulnerable on this issue for decades. Its only now that the stars have aligned to make it an issue that could mortally wound it.

    Corbyn calls terrorists his friends, and the Left makes common cause with Islamists, and Labour is part of the political wing that is apologist for jihadis. That, allied with Rotherham etc, has the potential to alienate people to a degree people are just not grasping. We’re talking a fundamental and huge disconnect between public morality on this issue, and the Left / Labour / Corbyn stance.

    Corbyn will kill Labour.

  25. @Tafia: Indeed, the reason many unions get little traction among private sector workers is that they fail to make them a compelling offer.

    @PaulBarker: Pray, probably.

    @Tom: No-one’s trying to get rid of anybody. There is a battle of ideas going on. The only concern for some of us is that, all politics aside, one side is looking towards a candidate that even they know full well will never be Prime Minister. A position that defies all logic.

    @Luke: I pretty much agree, except your last words: it’s “would” not “will”. I don’t think he will win.

  26. Chris says:

    @Tafia

    “The vast bulk of public sector workers work mon-fri, 9-5. The majority of private sector workers don’t.”

    Have you got a link to the figures showing this to be true?

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