by Rob Marchant
It’s easy to read the politics pages of national newspapers and think that the real problem of Labour’s moderates is that they’ve got to get a shiny new strategy together that is neither New Labour nor Miliband Labour, but something which will get Labour back in power. That, in short, it doesn’t really know what it stands for and therefore this needs to be its first priority.
While it is a problem, it is certainly not the immediate problem.
The reason for this is simple: the media generally sees politics through the prism of Westminster, not just Parliament but the plethora of think-tanks and lobbying firms that hang around it. Policy and political strategy are the glue which holds that world together, without it we are nothing.
But Labour, we should take pains to remember is first and foremost a party (and a movement, although with the current radical state of the leadership of most major unions, that may not be of much immediate help to the moderates right now). It is a living, breathing thing, made up of hundreds of thousands of activists. Right now, it’s all over the shop.
Which is more important during opposition, particularly during a crucial battle for the soul of the party?
It’s the party, stupid. And that means organisation on the ground, in the CLPs and Labour group meetings across the country.
So, while the different groupings of MPs and activists on the Labour right might want to have a long debate about where the party goes, there should be no doubt that they should be simultaneously pooling their talent and their efforts in a looser grouping dedicated to one thing only: organisation.
How about this as a strategy? A strategy of not obsessing about strategy.
To explain: if there is not a firm stand against, say, deselections, or a coup on NEC places, the right’s MPs will be able to pontificate all they like about the new model for the 21st century, but there will be no party left to lead by the time they finish.
This looser grouping must get its collective feelers out in every CLP in the country, now, because you can bet your bottom dollar that the Corbynites already do. The party’s right has been historically good at doing the highbrow stuff – you know, running the country, that sort of thing – and has then been brutally out-organised in recent years by people on the hard left who wouldn’t have a clue what to do with serious political office.
In short, Westminster-centric politics might need to pipe down for a while, roll up its sleeves and stop faffing around with the next big political thing. The future of the party will be decided in branch meetings, union caucuses or NEC votes, not in Westminster. The work will be little understood, and utterly dull, to the wonks and the journos. And utterly necessary.
But that will turn the country off, the journalists will say. Labour looking inwards just to get its house in order will be seen as infighting. So what? The infighting is there already and it’s only going to get worse. And until its house is in order, Labour’s chances of being an effective opposition or, heaven help us, winning an election remains zero.
This is not a counsel of despair: it is a call to action. Stop worrying about the new Jerusalem and spend time in your constituencies. Worry about getting on committees – as a bunch of sensible MPs did last week – and NEC votes. The strategic stuff can happen in parallel, but this cannot wait.
The signs of realisation of this vital point are starting to be seen. But they need to go further and broad alliances need to be forged. Anyone who still cares which side someone was on in the cursed Blair-Brown wars really needs to question how much they are really bothered about their party’s future.
No, in the current chaos, Labour’s tectonic plates are moving rapidly, and in a year or two they are likely to settle again. When they do, we had better hope that they have ensured that the side of common sense has won the upper hand, because if not, the fat lady may already have sung for the party as a serious electoral force.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left