3 years on: Labour is a happier place

It’s 3 years since Uncut started so, in a series of pieces, we’re taking stock of what has changed for Labour since 2010. Kevin Meagher looks at party morale

“Let sunshine win the day” urged David Cameron speaking to his party’s conference a few years ago. Derided at the time, “Ibiza Dave” was on to something.

One of the noticeable changes to Labour over the past few years is that it’s a happier party. Not pleased to be in opposition (I don’t think), but a party, relatively speaking, at ease with itself.

After a decade and a half of the Blair/Brown psychodrama it is a welcome change of mood. Labour is more open these days. The era of top-down party management, vibrating pagers and lines-to-take are largely over. Not rejected per se, more absorbed into the party’s bloodstream. This is a sensible, social democratic party of incremental reform. We have made our peace with the pager.

What has been rejected though is overbearing centralisation. The days when frontbenchers actually shaved off their moustaches and beards at the behest of image consultants are thankfully long gone. The obsession with the media has eased, driven by the increasingly pluralistic ways of talking to voters and getting the party’s message heard.

Indeed, it is interesting to think how a Blair or Brown leadership would react to the rise of digital media, which has done so much to alter the terms of political discourse in the past few years. A gust of free speech has blown through the Labour party, allowing members far more say over its direction. The world has not ended.

In terms of the leader, there is no cabal of Millibandites (the Milliband perhaps?) running around stitching up their rivals. Spats between Unite, Labour’s main trade union backer on the left and Progress on the right are, in Labour party terms, fairly anaemic.

The left is happier than at any time since John Smith was leader, not surprising, perhaps, given the leader they pushed for, Ed Miliband, is instinctively a creature of the party’s soft left. Yet those on the right of the party have faced no purge as his big tent politics welcomes all. Meanwhile Blue Labour, the party’s most viable intellectual movement, cuts across both right and left, challenging both.

The comparison with Smith is instructive though. Miliband is also criticised for avoiding the hard choices need to win. Will everyone still be happy in a year’s time, or two or three, when One Nation Labour’s direction of travel hardens and it is clear where the party is going, and, by extension, where it is not?

Is Labour’s contentment down to dwelling in its comfort zone and blithely assuming the government will implode? Behind the headline opinion poll lead, Labour still has a mountain to climb, with every poll showing deficits on trust and credibility.

But at least the question of whether it is preferable to have a happy party of a not-very-happy party, is easy to answer.

It’s better to be a happy place.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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