Over the past month I have been thinking long and hard about the what Labour means to me, and as a consequence what I’m looking for in a new leader of the party.
I’ve blogged about the subject in recent weeks – Not Left, Not Right – @UKLabour must move forwards and We need to change aspire into inspire and desire.
So when asked to lead a discussion on the Labour leadership contest, and the the implications from Co-operative perspective to the Exeter & Devon Branch of the Co-operative Party, I thought it would be easy – just edit those blogs.
But it wasn’t quite that simple!
So how to lead a discussion on leadership?
Since the General Election, I’ve read and thought much about leadership and the Labour Party…perhaps too much some would say!
And it’s really hard to place too much of a co-operative perspective on the debate. The only declared candidate that is a Labour AND Co-op MP is Stella Creasy – although we all know that Ben (Bradshaw) is a member, if not s sponsored MP.
I seem to be going around in ever increasing circles – often finding more questions than answers.
The questions about the future leadership of the Labour Party need to run alongside a discussion about the future of the Labour Party itself.
I can only say what that means for me. And in trying to do so, I have to define myself.
So here goes…
I came to the world of politics through my support of single-issue campaigning groups – the likes of CND, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International. I’ve kept up my membership of those organisations – and when I became an elected member it was very satisfying to put them down on my declaration of interests.
I suppose in those early days was was more of an eco-warrior than a politico – and I still tend to describe myself as RED and Green
As a student I supported Anti-Nazi League and my first major demonstration was their “Carnival Against The Nazis” March from Trafalgar Square to a rally in Victoria Park, Hackney in 1978 – the Clash and Tom Robinson Band were brilliant.
I am a proud and commited trade unionist – being a member of the various incarnations of the trade union that represents theatre technicians, first as NATTKE in 1979 and since 1991 has been known as BECTU.
I’m worried that BECTU are now in talks about merging with Prospect – as that would server the current strong link as an affiliated union to the Labour Party
I joined the Labour Party in 1986 as my good friend, Jim Roberts was Labour’s PCC for Blaby, standing against Tory channcellor, Nigel Lawson, in the 1987 General Election.
From then, I have stood as a Labour candidate in local district and county elections – more often than not as a paper candidate, although in 1995 I was elected to Blaby District Council where, with 16 others, Labour formed the largest party and ran the council for 4 years.
Somehow around the same time I joined the Labour Party, I discovered the Co-operative Party.
I’ve been wracking my brains…I can’t came up with what was the defining moment. All I know is that without an active membership and branch struture around me, I didn’t stand as a joint candidate – that only happened when I arrived here in Exeter. So thanks
So ideologically I would consider myself as on and off the Left – but in reality I am a pragmatic socialist.
My roots are there in Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier but modified for modern times.
I see socialism as a social and economic system characterised by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy – the socialism characterised by Robert Owen and the Rochdale Pioneers and codified by the values and principles of the co-operative movement.
That’s me in a nutshell.
Yet none of the above touches of the current buzz words – austerity and aspiration.
Austerity‘s original meaning, taken from the Greek word austeros, was “bitter or harsh taste” – like that of lemons.
The Tories seems to like sucking on lemons, as that’s what they’ve done over the past 5 years, leaving the bitter taste of austerity in the mouth.
There’s a saying “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.
That’s what we – the Labour Party – should have been doing for the past 5 years – squeezing lemons, not squeezing people until the pips squeak.
I believe there was an alternative to austerity but much of Labour’s programme was lost under a charge of Tory-Lite or Blue Labour…often from those that, like us, didn’t want a majority Tory government.
It needs to reference more than just the pursuit of wealth, and material well-being
For me , it needs to mean more than just that.
It needs to encompass an aspiration for:
– strong relationships, including with, but also well beyond, family, friends and colleagues
– the intellect to understand, relate to and participate in the world of which I live
– seeking to understand my purpose in that world.
[HT to Richard Murphy’s I am deeply aspirational – but don’t confuse that with the pursuit of wealth for that!]
My personal aspiration is for a politics that speaks to the hopes of the whole person.
One of the other questions that needs to be addressed is how do we win next time?
Who in Exeter could disagree with Ed’s desire for 4m conversations on the Labour Doorstep – that’s what we’ve been doing certainly ever since I arrived here in Exeter in 2005.
But 4m wasn’t enough – would never be enough in the limited time-frame. It needed to be 40m.
They needed to have started in 2010 for there to be meaningful dialogue in those conversations.
And more than anything they needed to be something other than one-off conversations, there needed to be regular follow-up conversations.
Yet for most of the country, those conversations turned into a quick chat to ID voters, or at best find out which squeeze letter to send them.
So where is this leading. Probably not to any easy answers tonight.
I’m hoping this is the start of a provocation.
This is not the time to turn left, or turn right, It’s time to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.
No more Old Labour or New Labour. It needs to be Modern Labour.
We’ve haven’t got time to look backwards.
It’s time to move forwards.
So how do we do that?
And for the the next 45 minutes, we had a free-flowing and wide-ranging discussion on the subject of the Leadership contest, and what we wanted to hear from the Labour Party…
So to draw together some threads from our discussion.
Why have 4m conversations with members of the public, when Ed’s conversations with at least 4 individuals couldn’t convince them that his direction of travel was the right one. And now those 4 people are standing for leadership of our party. They’re busy trashing everything that Ed, and therefore we, stood for over the past 5 years.
For far too long in the last Parliament we were working in a policy vacuum.
And many in the movement, some indeed are in this room, were screaming “What’s our policy on this? Or that” To which, answer came there none.
We took too long over our policy review process. It hardly gave us time to develop a narrative around our policy initiatives.
We mustn’t make the same mistake again.
Days after the election defeat, Dan Jarvis suggested that we need time to reflect, to renew and to reconnect.
I agree to some extent – but we mustn’t take TOO long.
We need to be ready to make a strong commitment for the future.
But what will that future look like?
Then I read Jeremy Corbyn in today’s Morning Star [For Labour to succeed it must get real]
He describe his wish for “each and everyone one of us being housed, educated, fed and kept in good health”
“The hallmark of a civilised society” he called it.
He was using those quotes to define welfare – the safety net of social security.
I see it as bigger than that – the definition of WELL-BEING of society….MY ASPIRATION!
We need to see Jeremy on the ballot paper, because without him we won’t have the breadth of discussion we need to have a party.