Labour must find its path to government

Paul-DevlinPaul Devlin says we need to come to terms with our past before we can agree a path to our future and, judging by recent events, the Labour Party seems a long way from doing that.


Parts of this piece have been rattling around my head for sometime now, but events of the last few weeks have meant any submission could be out-of-date within days, and in some cases hours. Nevertheless there does now seem to be some clarity as to how the issue of the party’s UK leadership is going to be resolved.

I write this as someone who has read biographies of Tony Blair and has made attempts to understand his approach to Iraq in 2003, which I will return to later. I also voted for David Miliband in the 2010 leadership election. I say all this to make it clear I am no Corbynista.

The events of last few weeks have been incredibly challenging, and at times I have felt incredibly angry as to how some MPs have conducted themselves. Without wanting to name and shame, I found the suggestion put forward by Chris Bryant that Jeremy Corbyn had voted Leave in the EU Referendum shameful. I was also appalled to find Kezia Dugdale tweeting that clarification was needed on the matter and also her comments on the UK leadership in general.

I have a lot of respect for Kez, but as someone who led us to third place in the recent Scottish Parliament elections she may be best advised to be a bit more circumspect when it comes to commentating on others’ leadership. For example, one of the news items on this site has a piece on how a majority of 13 Labour MSPs called for Jeremy Corbyn to stand down. The fact that we have less than 25 MSPs in the first place may be the salient point here.

The EU referendum, like the Scottish independence referendum, exposed real divisions in this country, and crucially for the Labour Party exposed the fact that people in traditional Labour areas have voted contrary to the party’s official position. That is down to something far greater than Jeremy Corbyn being leader and as John Curtice has pointed out, it may well have been the case that no Labour leader could have reached those Leave voters.

After the speculation regarding how Jeremy Corbyn voted in the EU referendum had died down, the talk then turned to how he couldn’t win a general election. While I can understand this view, it also gave the impression that we were simply panicking at the prospect of Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling a snap election. Moreover, a cursory glance at Labour Party rules and recent history would have made it clear how difficult it is to remove a Labour leader from office, especially one elected recently and by such a significant margin.

The “coup” has at best been amateurish and really has been an example of us washing our dirty linen in public. In contrast the Conservatives have in less than three weeks since the EU referendum found a new leader and Prime Minister. In some ways in a rather brutal and ruthless manner, yes, but there is a reason why they remain one of the most successful political parties in the world. In contrast Labour have had negative news coverage on an almost daily basis, with us reduced to tweeting that the SNP didn’t campaign enough during the EU referendum. “We delivered more leaflets than you” is not going to help us recover in Scotland and is frankly politics that belongs in the school playground.

I mentioned Tony Blair earlier and it is eerie how it seems to be taking the Labour Party a long time to come to terms with his legacy, just as it took the Conservative Party a long time to come to terms with Margaret Thatcher’s. My own view of Iraq is that he genuinely believed to Saddam Hussein to be a threat (he had long bracketed Saddam and Slobodan Milosevic as leaders the United Nations and NATO needed to be ready to confront) and that in essence a US led invasion of Iraq was going to take place come what may. He made the decision to try and influence that from the ‘inside’ and, as the Chilcot report makes clear, that approach was fundamentally flawed. However in an era where chemical weapons are used and starvation of the population is utilised in war, calling him a war criminal is I would suggest slightly hyperbolic. Moreover, in hindsight he should either have resigned before the 2005 General Election or closer to the 2010 General Election than he actually did.

Nevertheless, those who aspire to embed his legacy need to do more than remove Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership. As Steve Richards so starkly put it on BBC’s Dateline London the day Corbyn was elected leader, they need to do some serious thinking about what they see the Labour party being in the 21st century, and this needs to go beyond platitudes such as ‘owning the future’. I would also add “a growing, creative, greener economy”.

2016 is never going to resemble 1994, when there was a tired Tory government which had lost all economic credibility following Black Wednesday. Moreover, Corbyn’s election and the determination of him and his aides to hang onto the leadership is I believe a result of many years of frustration for what is deemed the ‘left’ of the party, including the fact that no candidate was able to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership in 2007. Such a challenge would have allowed a genuine debate on what the Labour government had achieved, its perceived shortcomings and its future policy direction.

After the turmoil of the last few weeks, I hope that a full and frank debate such as this is a feature of the forthcoming leadership election. It is clear that at both a UK level and in Scotland, the party needs to reconnect with voters in traditional Labour areas as well as reach out to those voters who voted for Labour in 1997/2001/2005 but who have since voted Conservative. It is not simple, nor will it please everyone. However, surely the one thing we can all unite on is the need for a Labour Party that is in government.

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23 thoughts on “Labour must find its path to government

  1. Quelle surprise, an honest appraisal of the state of the Labour Party on Labour Hame.
    Interesting too that Paul Devlin’s only suggestion as to a way forward is “…….the party needs to reconnect with the voters…….”. And I thought Paul had an aversion to cliches.

  2. Paul – What is the answer then?
    The UK is taking a turn to the right, and it was nationalism and xenophobia that won the Brexit vote. The SNP have the patriotic vote cleaned up in Scotland, and the Tories likewise in England. UKIP will remain a force if there is any backtracking on Brexit.

    The direction it looks like we are gradually heading in is for the UK to become an offshore Singapore style tax haven, although Theresa May is putting up the pretence of a moderate approach. To compensate for Brexit, business will demand lower taxes and fewer workers rights.

    Yes, it doesn’t look good having a coup attempt, but an old fashioned 70s socialist like Corbyn just isn’t electable in this environment. That’s the harsh reality. Yes it is an alternative, but it isn’t the kind of alternative that will win power and actually be able to change anything.

    And what of Scottish Labour? Are we just going to go full British nationalist and go with the program, accepting that Scotland has to buckle under and accept the population imbalance and our lack of influence? Christ, its depressing.

    Surely a loose federation or confederation is the only realistic way forwards. England can be England, and Scotland can be Scotland in the EU, and we can have 2 independent Labour parties free to take a local approach, yet linked with friendly cooperation.

    Pragmatically, offering an English parliament is a huge selling point to win power again.

    1. Alan,

      This “Scotland can be Scotland in the EU” as part of a “federation or confederation” is a pipe dream.

      I’m fed up with the appeasement of the nationalists. The Scottish Labour Party leadership are all over the shop. In fact the only thing consistent about our leadership, is that they routinely present our party as cocktail of SNP lite, served up with a heavy dose of political correctness.

      Kezia Dugdale may have many talents, nevertheless, being an effective leader certainly isn’t one of them. Kezia really should do the decent thing and stand down.

      The alternative?

      Jenny Marra has the potential to be a good leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

      1. Appeasement of the Nationalists? What youd be “appeasing” is the will of the “MAJORITY” of people who now happen to be in favour of Scottish civic Nationalism!

        That’s your fucking problem right there! You cant stop thinking in terms of parties! Start thinking in terms of voters and maybe just maybe you’ll be able to post something that isn’t pig ignorant in the extreme!

        BTW There is no “Scottish” Labour party there is the Labour party in the UK and Jeremy Corbyn is your ONLY leader!

        Enough of the deliberate and stupid pointless deceit!

        1. Mike, you seem to be even more bitter than usual. Is it a special occasion?

          1. I couldn’t even fathom what would make something like you bitter what possible wrong doing would get you emotional to respond with anything other than nothing or self delusion.

            I mean what would it take to get you to accept reality and to respond appropriately to it? Ask your mother to drop you on your head again?

  3. I suppose it is unfair to criticise Paul Devlin without offering a proposal of my own.
    So this is what I would do if I were JC. The way forward is to fight this coup head on and win. He should lay out his agenda during the campaign and that should include a commitment to deselection of rebel MPs. I’m not sure of numbers but he should name them and those that are keeping their heads down, should state their support for Corbyn or go.
    If this splits the LP then so be it. It is time for serious action. Labour should watch and learn from the Tories. Cameron was right yesterday to compare how they the Tories deal with with failure.
    To a conservative their party is secondary to what they believe, whereas Labour put ‘The Party’ before all else. It is a nonsense to place ‘The Party’ on a pedestal, on a quassi religious status. It looks and sounds ridiculous because it is. Sanctimonious crap about The Soul of the Labour Party is a big part of this self inflicted meltdown.

  4. Richard – the point I was trying to make was that the party has to reconnect with for want of a better phrase traditional labour voters while building a voter base which allows it to return to power. I was also suggesting that this would be more difficult than it was in 1997.

    Alan – I have long thought that the party is paying the price for the asymmetrical devolution settlement and I’m glad that the party is looking at arrangements similar to what you suggest.

    Thanks both for taking the time to comment.

    1. Paul,
      ‘Traditional Labour voters’ as you call them are now UKIP or SNP voters. I can speak with certainty here, these voters are lost to Labour and can never been won back. ‘Building a voter base which allows it to return to power’ is no longer an option under the present set up. Labour is too far divided. Desperate times require drastic action. Please see my comment of 1115 today. I would be interested in your comments.

  5. A good article, even if I cannot go along with some of it.
    George Bush Senior understood the need for a “strong man” to hold Iraq together. Blair cannot be excused for the invasion, the rational and so-called intelligence behind the invasion, and the lack of thought into the aftermath. He should have stood up to George W, who might have changed direction if he lacked international support.
    I have always thought the war an excuse for the USA to steal Iraq’s oil.
    I have no solution for Labour. Scottish Labour could have held the constitutional high ground with a “Home Rule” proposal years ago, but like the Lib Dems (and their federalism which they claim to believe in, yet never push) are too immersed In British Nationalist sentiment, centralised round Westminster politics and interests.

    Not to judge the political rights and wrongs of this, but in the present chaos I thought the anti-Corbynists could have held their ground. They had a majority in the Shadow Cabinet, and could have dictated policy to a large extent. Corbyn might have been discouraged and not become the “martyr” he has become.
    Now its too late, and a split seems to be certain. Whatever our own individual views, Labour, at Westminster, have badly let down those who voted for them, and rely on them for succour.
    Many will not vote Labour again.

  6. Paul,

    This is a good well thought out article.

    Regarding the Corbyn leadership and the PLP, I have to be honest and say that I can’t stand either of them, they’re both as bad as each other if not worse.

    Jeremy Corbyn, Stephen Kinnock, Dianne Abbot, Harriet Harmen, Len McClusky, Peter Mandelson, Shami Chakrabarti……take you pick, they’re all dreadful.

    An increase from £3 to £25 to buy a vote in the Labour leadership contest? How very democratic and fair!

    We would do well to get shot of the lot of them.

    The people deserve better than this.

    1. And replace them with who? Youd have to poach suitable candidates from the SNP and Greens in order to get yourselves in with a shout of gaining support.

      If you hate what the party has become then get yourself another party. Your ideology fits in well enough with the Orange Tory Lib Dems or the Blue Tory Conservatives.

      1. Yap Yap goes the SNP lap dog.

        Mike, your “retorts” are as cutting as a rubber knife.

    2. “Well shot of the lot of them”—well that might well come true.
      “The people deserve better than this”—-that process is already well under way, especially here in Scotland—–my MP for many years was the lamentable George Foulkes, who has more pension pots than he has brain cells.

    3. What would you do though Andy?

      If you get rid of everyone you’ve nothing left.

  7. The simple question to the headline is why “MUST” Labour find its way to Government? Is it lost? Does it not know where the Government sits?

    Labour will be the “MUST” be Government ONLY if and when it decides to put the interests of the voters before the interests of its own party.

    That’s the huge problem with Labour it thinks it deserves to be in power because it has the best ideas to serve itself.

    You’ll get a better stab at being the “MUST” be Government when you learn to stop putting your own self interests first and stop thinking in terms of Party relative to National Service!

    Its not fucking rocket science its just a lack of will to care or give a shit about anybody but yourselves.

    1. Mike,

      Tip from the top. You should actually read the article before you start posting about it. Then you would have a better grasp of what’s going on.

      Nevertheless, I like the way you are now incorporating swearing into your posts, it’s really edgy.

      Mike, you have such class. Have you ever considered appearing on the Jeremy Kyle Show?

  8. Have you ever thought of breaking away from being a “branch office”, perhaps having a Scottish labour party that stands on its own two feet and represents its country instead of clutching onto the apron/purse strings of your London bosses and doing their biding.

    Just get rid of your usual troughers, their easy to find just check who’s been in the last three or four labour shadow cabinets everytime, and perhaps ask your actual membership what they want, instead of telling them.

    PS, I have to agree about asking people to pay £25 quid to buy a vote, just stinks of sleekedness.

    PPS, An easy way to know if your party is going in the right direction is to check on the numbers, ie :-

    Members, MP’s, MSP’s and councillors.

    And check those numbers against 10 years back, you see no matter what policy’s, mandates or anything else your party has proposed, the numbers don’t lie. They tell you if your direction is right or wrong, continue to ignore them at your peril.

  9. ” I found the suggestion put forward by Chris Bryant that Jeremy Corbyn had voted Leave in the EU Referendum shameful. ”

    All the Blairite MPs who like Chris Bryant who’s constituency voted to leave the EU are to blame as it shows that that he was lazy and not doing anything for his constituents so he like all the other failures are trying to shift the blame onto Jeremy Corbyn which is a diabolical liberty and unfair.

  10. The “path to government”—-this will NOT be a path strewn with (red) roses, but a rocky road with pitfalls and ambushes by unfriendly journalists ( and Party colleagues ).
    The Blairites say—- just “follow the breadcrumbs”, the Corbynista’s say—- “keep to the left, no matter what”.

    I’m sure there will be a pithy Chinese curse, saying: “No matter the path you choose NOW, you are lost and utterly fucked. Truly!”

  11. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that what has ultimately killed Labour as a governing party is its failure to implement PR for Westminster elections during the halcyon days of 1997 – 2005. That would have given the party to split into a proper (Corbynite) left wing party for middle class liberal intellectuals and a socially conservative (Blairite/UKIP) populist centre left party for the traditional working class vote, without losing its electoral advantage. By not doing so, the traditional voters have drifted off to parties that Labour tribalists find unpalatable (SNP and UKIP), leaving the Tories in permanent control, with less than 40% of the vote.

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