Friday, 3 September 2021

Neil Kinnock's Timely Warning

If only Tony Blair intoned as infrequently as Neil Kinnock, I'm sure Labour politics would be a slightly better place. However, in a genuinely rare intervention the former big man from six leaders ago had some interesting things to say as he launched the Fit for the Future report, penned by the Labour in Communications group. The two items that made the headlines spoke to your favourite topic and mine: internal Labour Party politics.

Asked about Momentum and whether it bore comparison with the Militant Tendency, Kinnock dismissed it. He said
Momentum, by mixture of accident and design but I think mainly design, has avoided the errors of directly transgressing the constitution ... They do not make the errors that Militant made. And, in any case, Momentum is not Militant. I heard the questioner describe them as “anti-Labour Party”, and I am sure there are people in Momentum who are malevolent towards the Labour Party as an organisation for all kinds of fancied ideological reasons and some personal ones. But I don’t think they are the significant people. I think the significant people are the ones who joined Momentum with the best intentions and for the best purpose of encouraging and indeed ensuring the radicalism of the Labour Party.
He also had words of warning for those fixated on factional disputes. Kinnock said:
There have always been people in the Labour Party – fortunately never a majority – who value power in Labour greater than power for Labour ... The only way to deal with them conclusively is for the great majority of those in the party to be so committed to democratic power for Labour that those whose struggles at whatever level become insignificant and therefore irrelevant.”
He added the party needed to "face outwards and attack the real enemy and focus our attention and energies on that, rather than trying to prove our worth and earn our spurs by victories in internal battles." Labour oppose the Tories? What a radical suggestion.

Taking the Militant point first, he is entirely right. Momentum is a loose network of leftwingers who elect a steering committee, vote in policy primaries, mobilise for internal elections and, famously, do a much better job of organising hordes of activists for campaigning than the party proper. Militant was an undercover Trotskyist outfit who was in Labour to build its own disciplined party organisation. These days it ekes out an existence as the Socialist Party under somewhat reduced circumstances. Not the kind of helping hand LOTO would have wished for in their efforts to delegitimise the left: the architect of Militant's expulsion rejecting their hysterical, bad faith efforts.

And then the remarks on factionalism. Again, Kinnock's right. The majority of the people involved in the Labour Party want to win elections, apart from a small coterie for whom the party provides with a career and standing, and nothing else. It just so happens this group of people are disproportionately present in the Parliamentary party and have the ear of the leader's office. Ask yourself if putting forward policy positions to the Tories' right, having two rule books, one giving carte blanche to Islamophobes, transphobes, and domestic abusers if they're prominent enough or factionally convenient, and the other for the rest of us, and continually, gratuitously lying about and trashing Labour's record between 2015 and 2019 is consistent with a strategy concerned with winning elections?

What are the politics of Kinnock's intervention? It's worth remembering when he took over from Michael Foot in 1983 that he was considered a figure of the soft left, and of we're honest about the limitations and contradictions of this "tradition", stayed fully within it. Even when he was purging Militant and wibbling about taxis, even when he was abstaining from backing the miners. And, more recently, when he called for people to join Labour to oust Jeremy Corbyn. But also he publicly, and somewhat embarrassingly exclaimed "we've got out party back" following Ed Miliband's first leader's speech in September 2010. Therefore, like the current deputy Labour leader, he can talk left when the occasion arises and will go off message when the moment demands. And this is one such moment.

Thing is, those piloting the Keir Starmer's ship to its inevitable wreck aren't serious about winning elections doesn't mean this is true for all the Labour right. There are plenty of Labour MPs and councillors who want to keep their seats for entirely self-interested reasons, and others who fancy the idea of a ministerial car and a phalanx of civil servants. Some centrists and rightwingers also genuinely believe putting out anaemic policy and distancing Labour from anything smacking of radicalism is the path to winning elections (I know, I was one of them for a time). The point is there's a constituency on the right of the party who want to win, and they're finding Starmer's leadership trying, misdirected, and lost. Kinnock is giving voice to this jittery tendency, some of whom would have approached him with their concerns.

His comments aren't simply the meanderings of an old duffer who's well travelled around the block, but something of a warning and a notice. Starmer had a lucky escape when Kim Leadbeater squeaked home in Batley and Spen, and since then leadership speculation and the grumbles have died down. But unease is abroad in the party, and it's not confined only to a maligned and wilfully misunderstood left. Kinnock is reminding the leadership that things have got to change, or the leadership will, in due course, itself be changed.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Utterly unconvinced about Kinnock's soft left credentials. The man not only blows smoke out of his arse, he is a malevolent force in the LP. Cast your mind back to that BBC documentary when he was filmed supporting his dim son in his constituency during the 2017 GE? They they were, the whole Kinnock ensemble, sat watching the exit poll coming in with utter horror and disbelief. They wanted Stephen Kinnock to win his seat but also for Labour to lose sufficiently, enough for Corbyn to be ousted - much like most of the other Labour MPs, shown in the documentary.