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By Colm Flanagan / @ctmflanagan

In an article for IPPR, Tony Wright has written that Labour has lost its sense of purpose and needed to reinvent itself. On his own terms, he is half right. He evokes Tawney and his 1931 dismay at Labour’s “lack of creed”. His definition of creed is threefold: ‘a common conception of the ends of political action, and of a means of achieving them, based on a common view of the life proper to human beings, and of the steps required at any moment more nearly to attain it’.

When it comes down to it, the Labour Party today is remarkably united about the first two of these. Britain today is afflicted by huge inequality, to the degree that some people just can’t win in our society, and some people can’t lose. When it comes to the ends of political action, some may talk about hitting those at the top, others may talk about Britain’s international obligations, but all are agreed that our task is to ensure a decent standard of living for every man, woman and child living in Britain.

Moreover, even though there might be some who still believe tax credits are enough, and others dabble with citizens’ income, on the whole, we’re all agreed that the only way we’re going to get a decent standard of living for everyone is for everyone to have a decent job.

It’s so obvious, and so necessary, that even George Osborne realises this idea’s power, and tried to appropriate it with his National Living Wage.

We’re even fairly united when it comes to the elusive third part, the steps required to attain it. Economically speaking, the left has never been so right, and the right has never been so left. There now exists a broad consensus that, in the words of a recent Progress editorial “the market is indeed rigged against the people Labour members came into politics to help”, but rather than nationalising everything, Corbyn is settling for the trains, and has launched ‘www.corbynforbusiness.com/’. Left and Right seem to have reconciled themselves to Labour’s role: to manage capitalism – both parts of that phrase.

This is what separates us from George Osborne. He will never be able to take the steps necessary to ensure a decent standard of living for all Britons because he will never tackle the vested interests and power bases in the way. If anything, he is about strengthening them.

The only thing he’ll do is deregulate and cut taxes, like a mechanic who only cuts the brakes on a car to make it go faster.

What we need to do now as a party is to work on how we’re going to achieve a change to this state of affairs, and even more importantly, how we tell people about our plans in a way that makes sense to them.

We have plenty of policy initiatives to consider. Universal childcare. A National Investment Bank. People’s QE. just to mention but a few.

In each case, implementing this vision now seems less a question of values or ideology, as it once was, but a question of details and feasibility, sewing together diverse policies into a coherent plan, and making this part of a story and a political strategy.

If we were to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn tomorrow, or Simon Danczuk, or whoever your bogeyman is, we would still be unelectable, as we still wouldn’t have a credible plan for where we wanted to take the country.

Let’s take care of this, and get the knives out later – if we still feel like it. I suspect once people think that Labour could change Britain, they’ll put aside petty posture politics and fight for the communities they love.​

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6 responses to “Plan first, squabble later

  1. The blueprint (or should I say ‘redprint’ !) for Labour’s future (especially in economic policy), lies in the recent book by Richard Murphy. The ‘Joy of Tax’ represents a unique and groundbreaking insight on the importance of public spending, the role of the State in solving our problems – and the need to raise fair, effective and sufficient taxes to finance that programme.
    All on the Left should read it.

  2. the problem with this approach, sensible though it is, lies with the taste for internal conflict of the old Bennites, advocating mandatory reselection, and the response of Labour First to freeze parliamentary selections because they fear the Corbyn surge will wipe out the Labour right in parliament. Both sides in this row are fighting old battles, which are irrelevant to Labour’s future as boundary changes will force reselections anyway. Corbyn knows this, and has said twice that he does not want to move to mandatory reselection and no selections can take place till boundaries are redrawn anyway.

    However since the future makes no difference, a lesson from the past may help focus minds – and explain why the soft left of the 1980s abandoned mandatory reselection. One element in this was the Birmingham Ladywood affair in 1981, which I witnessed at first hand at a Bennite member of the GC. Probably the only one. The activists were not Bennite, but wanted to remove an ineffective local MP called John Sever. They favoured an up and coming local councillor, Albert Bore. The battle was turned into a Bennite coup by the media, and three days after Sever was deselected the Sunday Times ran a two page spread headlined BENN DRAWS BLOOD. Benn had had no part in the events.

    What happened next is the interesting part. The boundaries were redrawn and Ladywood was merged with Handsworth. The two candidates, Clare Short and ALbert Bore stood against each other and Clare, clearly more left with than Albert, won the members votes and later became a Labour minister. Albert Bore became leader of Birmingham City Council, was given a knighthood by Blair and retired this autumn with Blair’s plaudits ringing out. No media took any notice, because what was actually happening in Birmingham Ladywood Labour Party was only of interest to them as part of a spurious left wing takeover story. Labour of course lost the 1983 election and did not win again till 1997.

    Those who want to fight these battles again will ensure that history repeats itself. it is time less for an internal debate on Labour values than an internal history lesson on what works and what does not work.

    Trevor Fisher.

  3. Ed started something under Brown. Policies that were more human, definitely centre-ist, and also were compassionate.

    Fine, the Public did not like Ed; but… Why trash the party by rolling with the old 70’s and 80’s stuff that no-one wanted?

    Ed’s direction was good, as it was modern yet slightly-left-of-centre. It worked. He grew out vote from the collapse under Brown, getting back 2m votes ( near enough ).

    Too many people are trying to get the old left back. You know, the one that was utterly rejected for 16-odd years. Is it not obvious that that is a bad plan?

    Because of this I am simply falling back to The Polls. If Jeremy tanks us it’ll be clear as crystal.

    Ed had a 1 pt lag on the Torys as of Election 2015 in the New Statesman Poll Of Polls ( averaging the pollsters ). Jeremy, as of this month, is 7 pts behind on the same average. As he jumps to The Left some more.

    If Sadiq loses then I won’t be happy. Ignore the polls at your peril. They are ALL saying that Jeremy is trouble.

  4. This is a decent article, right up until the very last point : “I suspect once people think that Labour could change Britain, they’ll put aside petty posture politics and fight for the communities they love.​”

    This undermines all that openlabour is claiming to be in terms of debate, but probably frames where you really are. The idea that sincerely held beliefs either to the left or right of you are merely “posture politics” really let’s you down.

    If there was a definable group in the labour party of “Corbyn Left” then we have been on the correct side in lots of the battles; but in particular the right side of the picket line or the demo every time in the last 25 years. In the first genuine OMOV opportunity Corbyn was picked by a huge majority of the party on a huge turnout. These two sentences are not unrelated.

    At the moment, from the outside, openlabour looks like yet another project to undermine the left and position itself ready to back a centrist candidate if the right manage to somehow oust Corbyn.

    Everyone who is attracted to openlabour would be better getting on board with momentum instead. That’s a much more real project to unite the party behind the Corbyn leadership and might benefit from a diversity of viewpoint and a willingness to engage in proper debate.

    1. I was struck by and moved to comment by Marty’s statement that “In the first genuine OMOV opportunity Corbyn was picked by a huge majority of the party on a huge turnout”

      The reason I found this statement so notable is that it seems to encapsulate the great gamble that the party membership has taken and also the great tragedy that is likely to befall the party when it looses the next election and as a consequence the country as we have to endure a further 5yrs of Tory Hegemony.

      How can I be so definitive? Well the winner of the 2020 election will be the party that best appeals to middle class, centrist English voters who live in key English constituencies. These type of voters want to know how voting Labour will tangibly benefit their families and themselves. In fact this is the question 99% of all voters in all of the constituencies Labour has to win in, both marginal and strongholds to win an election. Do you know what? That is absolutely as it should be because the Labour party is about transforming for the for the better the lives of ordinary people.

      Therefore its very saddening to Jeremy Corbyn open up controversies such as the Trident debate, the latest gob smacking incident involving Gerry Downing, not to mention the polls.

      The party membership may have spoken. But the greater voice is that of the electorate and so we shall see has the party membership had a moment of collective genius or insanity in electing Jeremy to the leadership. Does Jeremy look like a prospective new PM. The electorate will tell us very soon.

  5. I was struck by and moved to comment by Marty’s statement that “In the first genuine OMOV opportunity Corbyn was picked by a huge majority of the party on a huge turnout”

    The reason I found this statement so notable is that it seems to encapsulate the great gamble that the party membership has taken and also the great tragedy that is likely to befall the party when it looses the next election and as a consequence the country as we have to endure a further 5yrs of Tory Hegemony.

    How can I be so definitive? Well the winner of the 2020 election will be the party that best appeals to middle class, centrist English voters who live in key English constituencies. These type of voters want to know how voting Labour will tangibly benefit their families and themselves. In fact this is the question 99% of all voters in all of the constituencies Labour has to win in, both marginal and strongholds to win an election. Do you know what? That is absolutely as it should be because the Labour party is about transforming for the for the better the lives of ordinary people.

    Therefore its very saddening to Jeremy Corbyn open up controversies such as the Trident debate, the latest gob smacking incident involving Gerry Downing, not to mention the polls.

    The party membership may have spoken. But the greater voice is that of the electorate and so we shall see has the party membership had a moment of collective genius or insanity in electing Jeremy to the leadership. Does Jeremy look like a prospective new PM. The electorate will tell us very soon.

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