Head and heart in the leadership election

kenryckKenryck Lloyd Jones was Labour’s candidate for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk at the last general election. He says Labour’s left and right are both needed to find the credibility that can win back voters for the party.

 

I have been a genuine ‘undecided’ voter in the UK party leadership election. I can see merits in all the candidates, but I have been increasingly concerned at the way the debate has turned. I’ll put my cards on the table. I am a centre left democratic socialist, and fairly at the centre of the party. I think our party has strength in being a broad church, and, like any phoenix, to rise from the election ashes in Scotland and the rest of the UK we are going to need a left wing and a right wing to fly.

Here is what I think each wing needs to consider.

First to the progressives on the right wing of the party. No-one should doubt the many achievements of the last Labour government in so many areas. Much of this was achieved by redefining the relevance of democratic socialism in a mixed economy. However, my problem with the dialogue about needing to ‘win’ rather than be ‘ideologically pure’ is that the case being made sounds to many ordinary members like ‘if only we had run on the Tory party manifesto we would have won the election!’.

Of course I exaggerate to make the point. But perhaps the argument about how we will win requires conviction, not just policy positioning. The Tory government may or may not have shifted the agenda. There is an argument to be had. But can there be any doubt that we need to shift the agenda back? The Tories have not won their argument on the NHS, or on zero hours contracts, or public sector pay freezes, or so much more.

And unlike party political apparatchiks, most voters can hold contradictory policies in their head without exploding. Less taxation and more public spending, more support for people forced out of work and cut backs for people just living on benefits. Whatever the reasons for Labour failing to win this year, not being more like the Tory party was not one of them. We have to address the same issues and concerns, but we must not mirror the solutions. And that means we need a political vision that transcends the percentage game of electoral politics.

And so to the left wing. The enthusiasm and energy that Jeremy Corbyn has brought to the leadership debate is staggering. His campaign has clearly resonated with tens of thousands of disillusioned and dejected Labour supporters and members. He has provided an alternative for which many people have been hungry, for many years. But my problem is that while it is for so many invigorating to call for fundamental change, actual change requires well considered policies, an eye for the law of unintended consequences, and the need not to alienate the people we should support, or fix on the wrong targets. It is what divides Labour from the SWP, Trotskyites and left revolutionaries.

My fear is that the message to ordinary Labour members sounds like, ‘by calling for radical change we can achieve change’. In championing minority causes, there is the danger that you remain a large minority. Giving voice to struggle without precise solution, defining strife without a workable answer, so often leads to factional fighting and disunity in the end. And in a democracy, a workable answer has to be one that stands a chance of persuading the electorate. Because government is a responsible job.

The British people want change. But it must be precise, measured and gradual. They will not vote for a complete radical overhaul and an unfamiliar future. In the (paraphrased) words of Karl Marx, the point is not to interpret the world, but to change it. To do so means being serious about achievable policies, not just serious about wanting change.

 

So, in my view, we need a radical heart, but we need a clear head. We need a sense of destination, not just knowing the next bus stop on the mystery tour. But we need a realistic programme too, that will bring us closer, not a destination without a route map. It is time for both sides of the debate to address these concerns, and win the credibility that members seek.

Our party is about to embark on a journey, and whoever wins the leadership will determine how we start that journey. I want the real politics of policies radical enough to engender change, but thought out, tested and persuasive, and capable of harnessing the support of the majority in the country.

And so we will need a left wing and a right wing. The debate must become more nuanced, and less polarised. We should not question the integrity or convictions of others.

I believe we have the talents, the ability and the courage to win. Only head and heart will take us forward, and the new leader will need to take heed of both.

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9 thoughts on “Head and heart in the leadership election

    1. To be fair TB, that sort of comes with being ‘undecided’ – if I were not it would of course be a different article.

  1. So how does the left and right wing compromise on Trident?
    Keep the submarines and ditch the warheads?
    Or ditch the submarines and keep the warheads?
    How do you compromise between means testing benefits and universal benefits?
    How do you compromise between supporting austerity and opposing it?
    How do you compromise on Privatising public services or not privatising public services?
    How do you compromise on keeping the House of Lords or abolishing it?

    You cant keep your left and right wing ideologies one has to give way to the other.
    And Kenryck you are clearly no left of centre social democrat by any definition of the term but you’re not the only Labour member guilty of trying desperately to shift the boundaries of left right and center to make right wing tory neo liberalism into left of centre social democratic.
    People know when they are not being served it kind of smacks them full in the face and kicks them in the balls so you cant convince them they are not hurting by pretending what your doing is no smacking them in the face or kicking them in the balls because the pain is always going to give the game away.

    1. Well Mike – when it comes to nuclear weapons, socialists can be on both sides. The USSR was pretty keen on them and there was that time in Cuba! But in the words of Nye Bevan, ‘socialism speaks in the language of priorities.’ When it’s a matter of principle I would always choose universal over means tested benefits. But not at the expense of a higher socialist priority. And I talk clearly of the need to shift the agenda back. Socialism informs the debate, but not with one opinion, and priorities must be discussed and debated. It is absolutely not democratic socialism to imagine all ills will be cured and everyone will benefit at once. Only revolutionary socialists believe otherwise, unless you mean that brand of uncompromising ‘socialism’ that some nationalists boast of, but which is void of actual politics, priorities or a programme, and looks to the politics of slogans and the struggle between nations to seek to hoard riches for a defined people.

  2. Mike – if Labour moves to absolute left wing ideology it will be in permanent opposition. We only win power for working people when we have a broad-based appeal, as in 1945, 1966 and 1997. I don’t want to go back to the dark days of Thatcherism when Labour spent more time infighting than opposing the Tories.

    1. Agreed David. And the question is what kind of consistent programme can we put before the electorate that demonstrates the courage of conviction and the political realism to be effective, and win the argument.

  3. U2 I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

    Kenryck, I think that you will stress yourself out with all that intellectual mumbo jumbo you are trying far too hard, my tip for you is to write down some basic principles and then see what party is in line with your principles and join it, my reading of your article leads me to believe you are not Scottish Labour material sorry!

    1. That’s just my bag I’m afraid Will. Besides, talk is cheap. It’s not just about articulating basic principles, but about translating principles into an effective programme for government that will persuade the people and will deliver real change. I think I’m in the right party for sure!

  4. Kenryck, I agree to disagree anyway another we tip for you the electorate are fed up to the eyeballs with politicians speaking another language that they don’t understand its usualy gobbledygook, keeping it simple and real to the point is the recipe for success. The SNP seem to be able to connect with the people and they are on another level when it comes to communications as their success shows.

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