We must work to find consensus in order to make a difference
I’ve been fortunate enough to run my own business for a number of years now. I say fortunate, but when I first started it, it didn’t feel fortunate. I had to do it out of necessity due to personal circumstances, having unexpectedly lost my job (and everything else as it happens).
It was also at this time that I joined the Labour Party, primarily out of gratitude for working families tax credits and child tax credits, without which I would probably not be writing this today.
In my time in business I have learned many things, but a skill I have honed is the art of compromise. I have to sell my services at a price that customers are prepared to pay and that I am happy to receive. The goal is a win/win situation.
And my politics are no different. In my time as an (unpaid and under-appreciated) Labour activist in various roles in my CLP, on the SEC and as Chair of Scottish Labour, I have had no shortage of occasions to broker compromises where they were for the good of the party. These are usually unseen and in the grand scheme of things a drop in the ocean when measured against the challenges we face. But without compromise things would have been far, far worse.
So I therefore look on aghast at colleagues in the party so rooted to their own positions that they haven’t stopped to think just how this all plays out in the eyes of the public – those who we actually hope to serve in government.
Principles do not have to be sacrificed, but sometimes our egos do.
During the UK leadership election I wrote that the party had to reach a place where the PLP could operate in concert with the elected leadership. The thumping mandate that Jeremy Corbyn received means to me, as a loyal supporter, that I have to sometimes swallow my preferences in favour of that of the collective. That seems obvious to me. But it seems lost on many colleagues.
The truth is, we are not an effective opposition at the moment, despite our significant victory on tax credits. On Syria, we have every shade of opinion jockeying for position and the prospect of reaching a consensus seems remote. A free vote might save our blushes but will damage us in the eyes of the electorate.
To be unable to reach a consensus on whether your country goes to war suggests to me that we opt on the side of caution. And learning the lessons of Iraq, and in particularly Libya, it means that we have to have a clear goal. Given we are about to intervene in a regional sectarian war, I cannot personally see how we will make any difference to that conflict and reduce the prospect of terror on our streets.
Following the cowardly attacks in Paris, Jeremy was quick to condemn them. He was also absolutely right that we have to look at cutting off Daesh support in the region. Someone is buying their oil. Someone is supplying them arms.
The role of Turkey, a NATO ally that is also bombing Kurdish (our other ally) forces and shooting down Russian (our sometime ally) aircraft, is rightly being questioned. And that’s before we get to the ambivalence of Saudi Arabia (yet another ally).
For me, there are simply too many variables to be able to predict an outcome. And all the while Assad remains in power, which is why the violence started and why it will not end unless he leaves the stage.
But as a party we can’t go on like this. Just as our MPs need to realise that the leadership is settled, the leadership also have to get much better at articulating their argument and building consensus.
Much has been made recently on the appointments that Jeremy has made since his election. In my opinion we need people around him who are experienced in running a leader’s office and have an ability to broker compromise on his behalf. That seems to me to be grown-up politics.