Time for Practical Labour
Nick Hopkins says in the light of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory there are five political challenges facing those who want to see Labour winning again, and it’s down to Practical Labour to meet them.
And so it’s over. The biggest act of self harm by a political party in British history is confirmed. Jeremy Corbyn, a clueless incompetent incapable of leading or uniting his party, utterly unsuited to the task of leading an opposition let alone a country, a man whose decency is much stated but little evidenced in his associations, has been re-elected. A Labour government now looks unlikely before 2030.
The 172, the majority of MSPs, AMs and councillors and the majority of long term members – let’s call us Practical Labour – need to think hard about our response.
I see no virtue in a split, with all the fratricidal hatred, worse even than the last few months, that that will cause. The result will just be the poisoning of the left, and the damaging destruction of any political rockets not able to escape into orbit.
Practical Labour have five political challenges now:
- to hold the Tories to account, wherever and whenever;
- to salvage what they can in council elections, by elections, and possibly in an early General Election;
- to think hard about our policy and politics;
- to bring about what change they can outside Government;
- and last but in some ways most importantly, to keep together, and bring others in.
The 172 will lead on the first task. Some will try to do that from the front benches, some from backbench committees, some from other platforms in the media. Whatever works for them. In doing so they achieve two things for party unity: they nail the lie that they are not prepared to fight the Tories and, in outshining Jeremy, they make clear that the future of the party lies with Practical Labour not Gesturing Labour.
The second task is for all of us, and easier in some ways – knuckling down to campaigning. No need for Practical Labour to split from Corbynista brethren here, just a focus on working hard side by side. Take one of your new colleagues campaigning and let them hear directly from the electorate how they feel about Jeremy. Show them that it’s polite conversations and shoe leather that wins elections, not, in the real world, bullshit memes.
Practical Labour needs to keep thinking. The task of the party remains what it always was, to make capitalism work so well for working people its results are indistinguishable from socialism. The data are on our side; the happiest societies are those with more equality, a strong welfare state and a vibrant market economy. Many of the brightest and best in the country are, broadly speaking, Practical Labour people, working across government, the voluntary sector, trade unions, business, the NHS and schools. Practical Labour need to organise, to tap into their resources, its thinkers engaging with this broader intellectual resource. And then we need to communicate, but with decent messages and readable publications.
Even in this darkest of hours, Practical Labour is not without power. We can pressure a Tory Government with a slim majority in Parliament and its committees, we can do our best in the teeth of Tory and SNP cuts in local government, in Wales and in London. And we can still make political weather with real results. There are cuts to local services to campaign against, the causes of places like Syria which need attention.
I think there are two other areas on which Practical Labour might focus particular attention and look to create popular movements; the crisis in social care, and the tackling of poverty. These are real moral causes, in areas where government cuts are driving quiet but deadly crises. The next Labour government will be nothing unless it can make progress on, and win the case for extra investment in, those areas. And they are areas in which as individuals and party members we can take personal action: getting informed, talking to and persuading our friends, continuing and extending our involvement on these issues within civil society, sharing our time and money.
Such movements would bind Practical Labour people together in a sense of shared achievement. Our people would be at the forefront, but open to folk from all parties and none joining in. The exclusion of Lib Dems and open minded Tories would be a mistake; the damage that will done in these areas by less open minded Tories over the next 10/15 years will take a generation to put right. That will require as clear a mandate for change as Blair achieved, and an even bigger cross party mandate for change on those issues. Shouting about Tory vermin will not achieve that. Hard thinking, thoughtful communication and getting our hands dirty side by side, just might.
And movements can bind together for negative as well as positive reasons, by defining themselves against other forces. All those who adhere to Practical Labour, whatever position they occupy, should be clear what they are against: a politics of posture, of platitudes, that does not deal in psephological or other evidence, and that does not have a strategy for winning at its heart.
Ceaseless criticism of our leader and his coterie now the election is done will not work, and too much of it will be toxic to the party. But standing up for Clause One Socialism, and being intellectually and morally honest about what is happening in the party and what the country needs, is necessary if the trickle of Practical Labour people to other political homes – or to no home at all – is not to become a flood. And if we don’t stick together, the chances of being in power to do what so desperately needs doing are gone for two generations, not one.