We must find unity after strife
So, we are finally on the home straight in what has to be the most tortured election process I can remember. And I remember when the Tories ditched Mrs Thatcher, so that has to be saying something. For months we have aired our dirty laundry for all to see, and all the while the Tories and the Nationalists have put their feet up and watched in disbelief that a party was so capable of self-harm.
I might not be popular in saying it, but all four of the UK Labour leadership campaigns bear the responsibility for this. As does the UK Labour Party for allowing the more unsavoury attacks to go seemingly unpunished.
But I get that tensions are high because the stakes are incredibly high. I just wish that we didn’t look like two completely different parties whilst we all slugged it out.
The fact is, the Labour Party has always been, and always will be, a very broad church indeed. The tension between left and right has been there since day one, and it will continue long after this contest. Some less discerning contributions talk of vengeful retribution on X, Y and Z for daring to oppose their candidate of choice. I suspect that outcome is unlikely. When push comes to shove, most people will get behind the new leadership team, whoever it is. We will have had our say and we will, in the main, respect the decision. Because that is what we do.
And it looks like that new leader will be Jeremy Corbyn. I don’t know him personally, but nobody can deny that he has lit this contest up. He is filling venues across the country and talking directly to people in language that they understand and can believe in.
Personally, I always regarded Mr Corbyn and the ‘awkward squad’ of which he has long been a part as the conscience of the Labour Party, rather than its leadership. There is a whole different set of qualities required to lead the Labour Party and to be seen as a credible alternative to the Conservatives. But maybe Jeremy Corbyn has them. So far it seems that the party membership, affiliates and registered supporters think he does. What is clear is that a Corbyn Labour leadership looks set to be quite unlike anything we have seen in recent history. And just maybe that will give the party the opportunity to renew itself.
In Scotland, the situation for Labour remains critical. Our new leader, Kezia Dugdale, has to work closely with the new UK leadership once it is in place. It is crucial that they give Kezia and Scottish Labour the support we need to stabilise our party and to communicate our message to the people of Scotland. Because at this time, the majority have stopped listening.
Yesterday, Kezia’s first major speech as Scottish Labour Leader focused on her values, and made clear that equality and opportunity will be at the heart of our programme. Pointing out that from next year we all become Scottish taxpayers, she had no difficulty in asserting that those at the top of the scale would have to pay more to help improve the life chances of those at the bottom. She also set out a clear and widely supported objective that life chances must not be fixed by the time a child gets to nursery.
Kezia’s enthusiasm to build bridges with the trade unions, businesses and civic Scotland also shows that she is serious in getting Scottish Labour back to a position where people will give us a hearing.
There is a long way to go, and a lot of hard work to do, before we can achieve that. And one thing that will be crucial in achieving it is party unity.
When all is said and done in the UK leadership contest, we all have to return to what brought us into the Labour Party in the first place – our mission to improve the life chances of working people. We are unlikely to be in a position to make progress on that if we are still fighting each other rather than the Conservatives.