Friday, 14 May 2010

Delay the Labour Leadership Contest

This statement from Compass on the desirability of a period of reflection prior to a Labour leadership is one I broadly concur with. I've signed the statement. If you're a member of the party I'd urge you to sign it too. You can do so here.


Last week Labour lost. The British public had lost their faith in us. This verdict is damning, but it is something we must face. It is now absolutely crucial that the party thinks long and hard about how it renews and transforms itself in the years ahead. But to understand how we win again, we must be certain we know why we lost. The forthcoming Labour leadership contest is an essential opportunity for the party to do just that. If it is turned into a quick-fire beauty contest it would be a massive mistake and a hugely wasted opportunity. This time we have to get both the substance and the style right; the public won't accept anything less.

We cannot afford to rush, and there is no need to. The Tories and Lib Dems have locked themselves into a deadly embrace of pain and cuts before they can hope for any improvement in the polls. With a 77-seat majority, this is likely to be a five-year term. So first we need an inquest, not just into the campaign, but the last 13 years, with an open and honest appraisal of what worked and what didn't. Then and only then should a full-scale leadership contest begin.

In this way the next few months will be the start of the process of successful renewal. We can open up the party, to reconnect with the millions of progressive-minded voters across the country, potentially recruiting hundreds of thousands of new people to Labour's cause. But to do this effectively in the forthcoming debate we must abide by the mantra of "respect, empower and include". We have a massive opportunity to rebuild, renew and transform the Labour party - we cannot afford to waste it.

Neal Lawson, Compass
Gavin Hayes, Compass
Tony Robinson, actor & broadcaster
Chuka Umunna MP
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Noel Hatch, Compass Youth
Gerry Morrissey, BECTU
Sam Tarry, Young Labour
Will Straw, Left Foot Forward
Alex Smith, LabourList
Sunder Katwala, The Fabian Society
Sunny Hundal, Liberal Conspiracy
Paul Hackett, The Smith Institute
Andrew Gray, Harrogate & Knaresborough CLP
Steve Elliott, Grimsby CLP
Edith Hughes, Bridgend CLP
Charles King, Croydon South CLP
John Knowles, Peterborough CLP
Marilyn Freeman, Somerton & Frome CLP


andy newman said...

I was surpised to see Sunny Hundal's name on here, seeing as he recommended a vote for the Liberals, is still defending the Con-Dem coalition on his blog, and has in the past advocated voting Tory.

I don't think Compass strengthens its hands by that linkeage.

ModernityBlog said...

Political nonsense, the Labour Party needs a confident, if somewhat, radical leader and the quicker the better.

The Lib Dems on Tories won't be able to hold it together.

So Labour needs to be ready for a quick general election, and the pre-requisite is to have a new leader.

It won't be a 5 year term, as anyone who remembers Wilson's famous phrase "a week in politics is a long time" will know.

And if the Labour Party doesn't organise quickly it lose the next general election too.

Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Phil

If by a longer debate the authors of the letter mean through until the ballot closing on the eve of 2010 Annual Conference its game on.

If they want to use Conference for a wannabee strutting gig I suspect they may be disappointed.

Peter Kenyon

Phil said...

The whole behaviour of Compass before the election has really put me off. I think Cruddas needs to dissociate himself from the Lib/Lab tactical voting call, otherwise it could bite him on the ass during the leadership campaign.

Mod, I would like to see a radical leader assume the helm. But the quicker Labour rushes into a contest the more likely we end up with David Miliband. I believe a drawn out contest will allow for a wider ranging debate, which is a positive set against the last 16 years of Blair/Brown conformity.

ModernityBlog said...

OK, Phil,

Let us work out a few scenarios, and in doing so could we forget the literalism which is so prevalent amongst politicos, ie. just because everyone believes its going to happen that way, does not make it so.

So there are several conceivable scenarios here, and in planning what the Labour Party should do, they should take account of them.

But first things first, in politics outside the British Left, things move at a pace and change on a daily basis so you have to be nimble footied and ready for the unexpected, because if you are not, you will lose, and it will be mostly self-inflicted.

The object is to win.

The scenarios (not an exhaustive lot, conceivable, and there are plenty of other permutations, etc, but hopefully you'll see the point.)

1. 5 year term, that the Tories manage along with the Lib Dems to see out the full extent of their term in office.

2. Partial 5 year term (2-3 years), that the Tories and Lib Dems have a degree of political success, but they can't hold it together.

3. 6-12 months, that the Tories and the Lib Dems try to agree on as much as they can, other forces within each party are naturally fractious and unexpected events come along and create tensions between the two parties in Parliament and more importantly outside.

I think the first scenario is rather unlikely, two is certainly possible, but my money is on number three.

I could, of course, be wrong, but let us suppose number three, what are the ramifications?

Well, on current suggestions the LP would be in the middle of a soul searching effort without a competent leader and the Tories would have a distinct advantage.

With a Labour Party mostly concerned with navel gazing, then the Tories could romp home.

However, if Labour could organise things quickly, realise that 13 years of Blairism isn't something that should be repeated and tried to take on a moderately radical agenda then they might have some chance.

Bear in mind that ***anything*** could bring down the Tory/LibDem govt within that five year period thus it makes sense to be ready for such an eventuality.

It is all about winning and being ready for the next gerenal election ahead of time, that's the point.

Phil said...

Those are fair points. A lot I think depends on whether the ConDems can get their 55% through parliament or not. If they can't (which, personally, I think is doubtful unless there is a massive Tory backbench rebellion) then the party probably would go for a quick contest with the scare of another election hanging over its head. That would benefit the Milibands as their stalls are more or less set out and already are in the popular consciousness as contenders.

If 55% does go through then we can have the wide ranging debates we need. I don't think it has to be very protracted - but the advantage of holding it over the recess will mean it gets good media exposure.

ModernityBlog said...

I think the point and trying to make is that mainstream politics is unpredictable and if you make a big mistake you lose.

That hasn't been so much a problem on the British Left in the past, as that was often the default position, losing and expecting to lose.

But now there are opportunities to capitalise on the weakness within the coalition, one possible (not sure how likely but you'll see the point), suppose, hypothetically speaking in 3-6 the Lib Dems are dumped on by the Tories, blamed for failures, etc and feel resentful, and a major external situation arises, the Tory government clamps down, there is great external pressure, Labour calls a vote and *all* of the Lib Dems support it out of a sense of pique.

That's one ex-Tory Government in the making.

In the next 12 months there will be a number of possible divisions between the Tories and the LibDems, it is the job of their political opponents to capitalise on them.

And we shouldn't forget how external factors can come into things, as Greece shows.

james said...

Delaying it beyond the end of the year would be dangerous in that it would leave us without someone to legitimately speak of Labour. Although, given that Harman was elected deputy, it means she can speak with some authority.

My worry is that the leadership contest will not address the massive offensive that the Tories are about to launch on the standard of living. The increase in unemployment and poverty during the Thatcher and Major years was justified in terms of "fighting inflation" and so on. We are about to see the same under the guise of deficit reductio - it's not certain the parliamentary lib-dems will swallow it, let alone their activists. If Labour doesn't get to grips with the implications of the Age of Austerity, we're fucked.

Phil said...

I'm fully expecting we will be seeing mass demonstrations, campaigns to defend services, protests against tax rises, and plenty of industrial action. It's the job of all socialists to help rebuild the labour movement to defend the working class from the attack AND put it on a sounder footing over the long term.

James, the Labour leadership will be done and dusted by the autumn. If we do want to see a wide-ranging debate John McDonnell must stand. He won't win but his candidacy would ensure a pretty thorough examination of New Labour's awful record as well as helping put socialist ideas back in the mainstream of political discussion. Perhaps a write-in campaign could help him cross the 33 MP threshold?

Phil said...

Also, Ann Black of the NEC has indicated the six month membership rule for the Labour election will be suspended. So if you want a say there's no better time to join!

Lobby Ludd said...

I have read that thousands of disgruntled LibDems are joining the LP (could well be tosh, of course).

Dropping the six-month rule could be a two-edged sword if it is true.