Barrie Cunning, former Scottish Labour candidate for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, says today’s disunited Labour Party is failing to provide effective opposition to a weak and divided government.


Angry, disappointed, anxious, disillusioned. Words that have become all too familiar when describing the current political situation in which the UK finds itself. Like thousands of people up and down the country, I too am angry, at Conservative politicians putting the Conservative Party before the country, putting personal ambition ahead of what’s in the best interests of the country, and ultimately showing complete and utter contempt to the British electorate.

But I’m also disappointed in and concerned about the direction in which the Labour Party seems to be going.

Three years ago, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour Party leadership with an overwhelming majority. There is no denying that in 2015 Jeremy enthused a large section of the party membership and attracted both newcomers and former members of the Labour Party. To many, Jeremy spoke a language of socialism that was akin to previous generations, and he promised a new kind of politics, with greater party member participation underpinned by the promise of straight talking honest politics.

Three years on and it’s a very different story. Brexit is dominating the political narrative, the Conservative government is divided, ministers are resigning, and the Conservative Party is putting ideology before the interests of the country.

As the official opposition, first and foremost we have a duty to the country and to the people of Britain. If we were an effective opposition we would be holding the government to account, highlighting their failures, promoting a strong Labour vision, and we would be significantly ahead of the Tories in the polls.

Instead we have a Labour Party that is divided beyond recognition, that is void of policy, not comfortable with addressing the big political issues of the day and where solidarity is a term best used in a historical context. In short this is not good enough. This is not the party I joined nor the party I recognise, but I am hopeful that things can get better.

The Labour Party has a well-documented history of the tensions between the moderate and left-wing factions, which we recognise and accept. But today’s Labour Party is a fierce battleground between progressives and the left-wing, resulting in what many describe as a hostile takeover by the hard left of the party.

The reality is that Militant is alive and kicking, with Labour MPs who express an opinion different to Jeremy Corbyn being threatened with deselection, and party members who express a different opinion to Jeremy Corbyn being accused of being part of a conspiracy to undermine him and keep the Tories in power.

I’m concerned and fearful of the direction the Labour Party is going in. As a party we pride ourselves on tackling social justice and promoting equality, respect and dignity, but we are rapidly becoming a party of intolerance, where debate is shut down and members are too fearful to express an opinion at local meetings. We have a leadership team that is inept in outlining the party’s position on Brexit, and hellbent on controlling the party machine and structure, even if it puts us at odds with the mood of the country.

The final straw for many members is the ongoing issue of the party’s reluctance to adopt the full definition with examples of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), adopted widely across the world as well as by the Crown Prosecution Service.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite or a racist, but I do think the whole issue has been grossly mishandled. Jeremy and his team should have foreseen the likely reaction from not adopting the complete IHRA definition. It is entirely understandable and reasonable that the Jewish community came out in force criticising the Labour Party when this decision was taken.

This issue should have been addressed immediately by adopting the full definition and reassuring the Jewish community that the Labour Party is still the party for them. Instead, Jeremy and his team let the issue linger, which further fuelled speculation about Jeremy’s position on Israel and in turn dominated the media agenda, and as a result alienated a section of society that has been supportive of our movement from day one.

This is completely unacceptable, and the reaction from Jewish Labour MP Margaret Hodge is understandable, but in all seriousness it should never have got to this point. Words alone will not heal the division and the mistrust that this issue has created with the Jewish community, but now is the time for Jeremy to show real leadership, reach out to the Jewish community including Jewish Labour MPs, adopt the IHRA definition on anti-Semitism in full, address party members concerns over Brexit and move on to fighting the Tories.

As the official opposition we are duty bound to hold the government to account and to demonstrate to the country that we can replace the incumbent administration. The current in-fighting in the Labour Party is proving to have the opposite effect. Without power there is very little we can do to change the lives of the people of this country. We need a renewed focus on winning power and replacing the Tories at the next general election.

In a recent conversation with former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, Neil summed up perfectly what the Labour Party needs to do:

“Labour must use its strengths to widen the appeal of practical, patriotic democratic socialism because, without that breadth, we will not get the power to secure change.

This means that leaders and members must focus on winning power FOR Labour and be less occupied with securing power IN Labour. We’ve made no solid advance since 2017 despite a shambolic, inept and divided Tory Party. We have to make a convincing appeal that goes well beyond current support and wins converts. A clear rejection of the Tory Brexit smash up and strong, vocal support for the usable, job and investment saving alternative of continued European Economic Area membership would be right for our country and for Labour.”