After Britain’s very own ‘Socialist Caporetto’ last week, opposing sides of the Labour party are fighting for its soul. No one would deny that the direction we take is absolutely pivotal to any future success, and we simply cannot have a ‘one more heave’ approach. However, I am concerned by the voices calling for a long debate which could possibly run until conference.
This approach is flawed for a number of reasons, but the primary one is this: no one is interested in a serious debate. Basically, if you’ve followed politics since the election, you’ve already heard the debate enough times. The left are saying ‘we weren’t left enough’, the right are saying ‘we weren’t right enough’ and the centre are trying desperately to defend their platform after suffering the worst defeat since 1983 on it. The difference between a long debate and a short one is either we hear this for two months or we hear it for six months.
It is no surprise most of the calls for a long debate come from the right, as in such an event they stand to benefit the most. Obviously, the Tory press will attack any left-wing candidate for the duration of the debate, but even the left-of-centre press favour Blairite candidates. Both The Guardian and The Independent are instinctively centrist papers, with the latter’s editor penning this defence of Blairism earlier this month. Likewise, this is the dominant position of non-Tory columnists – Dan Hodges, John Rentoul, Nick Cohen, Philip Collins etc. Even the New Statesman takes a centrist view. Incidentally, I don’t know if you’ve seen or listened to the BBC recently, but consistently those offering their views on the election and party direction have been critics of Ed Miliband and/or New Labour figures – John Mann, Lord Hutton, David Miliband, Lord Mandelson etc. There are a variety of reasons for this which I’m not going to go into, but you can be sure the right will get far more airtime on public broadcasting than the left.
Ironically, much as I sound like a raving lefty so far, I actually don’t want the party to shift left, and think we should shift slightly to the right. However, my fear is that this ensuing rewriting of history by the right, which will completely ignore the SNP fear factor and put the loss entirely down to abandoning New Labour, will lead to us rejecting the positive aspects of the Miliband project as well as the bad. Whisper it, but ideas such as price freezes, rail renationalisation and top rate tax rises were popular with the public. Expect all of these to abandoned by the next Labour leader.
The other negative is, despite contrary claims from Miliband’s critics, we did lose votes to the left. Whilst it’s dangerous to overstate, we can’t deny it. I can’t pretend I was not often disillusioned with the party throughout these past five years, and I know people left, right and centre of me who vote the same. Do we really think 6 months of candidates in the public arena hammering Ed Miliband and the idea that we were too left wing is going to win back disillusioned or wavering voters?
However, perhaps the biggest risk is that we now live in an age dominated by social media and constant news. Six months is a long time for accusations and scandals to arise. Remember Falkirk? Remember the constant accusations of left and right stitch ups? Imagine that on a larger scale for half a year. Imagine ‘RED LEN ORDERS MEMBERS TO JOIN LABOUR AND SWING VOTE FOR BURNHAM’, ‘BLAIR’S DIRTY MONEY FUNDS CHUKA’, and then the inevitable ‘_____ BRANDED PATRIOTIC BRITS RACISTS AT SICK LEFTY RALLY’ Then factor in the sniping from MPs and spinners on Twitter. John Mann’s ‘Chuka will not win a seat north of the Trent’ will be wheeled out gleefully by UKIP for the next five years if he does become leader, as will every other aspersion cast against a candidate by a high-profile MP.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be a messy business. So let’s get it over with and attack the Tories while they set out the most extreme policies we’ve seen since the 80s rather than turning our party-infighting into a rerun of it.