We’re in much better shape than we had a right to expect – partly thanks to Ed

by Ian Stewart

After last May’s dramatic rejection of Labour at the polls, and a summer spent debating exactly which Miliband we wanted to lead us, you would expect the Labour party to be in awful shape. Yet today we are ahead in the polls, with a by-election victory under our belts, and government policy deeply unpopular with many sections of society.

Many thousands, including myself, either joined or re-joined the party in the wake of May 6, and after Ed’s conference speech.

With the advent of coalition government, the traditionally loyal Tory press have been pretty muted in their praise, and even Nick Robinson looks slightly less chipper than he did last June, when his chums looked to be on rather more solid foundations.

In the blogosphere, the various tribes are either retreating into naïve hero worship, or at each other’s throats, politely in most cases, trenchantly in some.

This is a very interesting time to be building the opposition. So why are some of us still falling for the trap of questioning our choice? Why the drip-drip of questions about Ed’s security in his role?

There are a number of causes, not all in our control, but all in our power to stop.

First, the media, whatever their political bent, need a story. With the rise of “churnalism”, the 24-hour news cycle demands a story, and if there is no story, why not speculate? In this respect, the party needs to help itself – the probing will not go away, but we can all be careful in what we say, and how we say it.

Second, with a wide-ranging policy review in place, it is right that we air our disagreements in the open; yet this can be taken as a sign of rebellion, however silly that may seem. Some ex-Ministers have also yet to understand that the days of plot and counter-plot are pretty much over. This applies even more so to the “second tier” – those advisors and aides looking to be the next Alistair Campbell, or Charlie Whelan (gawd help us).

And there is the very tempting look for the quick. If we elect A, then all will be well, and the government will crumble into dust at the very sight of them. This line of thought is one that refuses to look facts in the face, or to look at the state of our own party.

The Labour party has, since Iraq, had serious divisions within its memebership between those who supported and opposed the war, as well as Blairite/Brownite spats and a steady rumbling between those who were full-on New Labour and those of us who were always sceptical at best. The electorate, also disheartened by the economy, Iraq, corruption, expenses and a thousand little things, rejected us by a big enough margin to make a pact with the Lib Dems a mathematical non-starter.

The situation within the party can best be likened to the 1920s – when there was a deep split amongst members from the ILP who had in large part been anti-war, and the trades union members, who had not. This split is underplayed now, but the tensions were serious, and long-lasting. Just think of Ernie Bevin’s 1935 conference speech against George Lansbury.

Yet as a party we have gained thousands of new members from our electoral base – people who often have no history of the in-fighting of the past decade. People who may have been pro or anti-war, but nevertheless are prepared to put in time, effort and subs to stop Ham-Face and Little Nicky.

In light of this, Ed has made a reasonably good fist so far. He has avoided a damaging split in the party, has shown himself open to new ideas, and recognised the fundamental need for change if we are to win in 2015.

We need to follow his lead – not as slavish parrots, but as thinking human beings. We have much to be proud of in our record over the years, but if we cannot be honest about our mistakes, then why should anyone vote for us again? The result at Oldham and Saddleworth was not just a judgement on the Tory-Lib Dem government, I believe that having a candidate not tainted either by expenses or discredited by past New Labour scandals was the reason that our majority rose by so much.

Whatever our differences, we need to get behind Ed, and those voices inside the party who want to be constructive about opposition.

Ian Stewart is a member of Hackney South CLP who blogs at Clemthegem.

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One Response to “We’re in much better shape than we had a right to expect – partly thanks to Ed”

  1. Syzygy says:

    Ed has done OK in spite of the briefing against him by the Blairite old guard … so can we please leave out any gimmicks like re-naming the LP … ‘New’ or ‘Progressive’. I know that I am not alone in believing that this would make the LP look completely ridiculous and out of touch…. and it is too reminiscent of the Blair take-over in 94.

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