Tuesday 18 August 2015

An Open Letter to Tristram Hunt

Another guest post, this time from Lawrence Shaw who's another good comrade of mine. Whatever your views regarding the Labour leadership contest, Lawrence's analysis skewers the complacency of much of the Labour right.

Dear Tristram,

Thanks for your email and publicised statement informing us of your voting preferences in the Labour leadership and your numerous issues with Jeremy Corbyn’s politics. I felt I should also respond openly as you have done to articulate my views as a local member in Stoke Central.

I share some of your concerns about Corbyn’s wider appeal to the electorate. I have been disturbed also by the personality cult which now surrounds him. I know he is not organising this hysteria himself, but regardless I am inherently suspicious of any bandwagon surrounding an individual person. It is why I never fell in love with the stage managed euphoria of New Labour around Tony Blair.

However, I have to say that the rest of the leadership field has failed to impress me at all. It would be easy to blame the media for this, but having carefully watched hustings and other events streamed online, neither Kendall, Burnham or Cooper have sparked any inspiration in me as an ordinary member of the party. Sure, they are all competent and polished and very nice people. But politically speaking, I simply don’t really believe a word any of them says.

What I think that many within the Labour Party hierarchy fail to understand, and sadly given your email today I must include you in that number, that this distrust many of us have with many senior figures in the party is precisely one of the factors driving Corbyn’s appeal.

There are many people within the Labour Party for many years who have felt completely powerless. There is a feeling that we are used at election time, and then told what to think and to keep quiet the rest of the time. That’s not true in our CLP where I think we have a decent debate, albeit limited, but there is still a general sense that beyond elections our ability to affect any real change in the Party or outside it is very limited indeed.

Take the position on the renationalisation of the railways as a case in point. Like it or not (and I have some misgivings about how much nationalisation could achieve without the necessary increase in investment) the Labour Party Conference has voted year after year for this policy to be adopted, only for this to be completely ignored by successive Labour leaderships, as if the member’s democratic decision means nothing. Given we know there is widespread public support for such a move, and a serious pressing need to sort out the transport infrastructure in our country, I simply cannot understand why the party leadership could not bring itself around to adopt this policy.

This willful ignoring of the will of the members breeds resentment of authority within the party. It is that resentment is what today is driving ordinary members to look for a candidate who comes from the outside.

So when you, on the day of the election papers landing on our doormats, give members the message to vote for ALL the other candidates but Corbyn, you are actually reinforcing the belief in members that there is no fundamental political difference between the other candidates. When Liz Kendall urges her supporters to use their preferences for other candidates, you are all sending out a clear message that the differences in the politics between those candidates are slight and meaningless. Indeed, you yourself pass no judgement at all on Cooper or Burnham’s actual political differences with Liz Kendall … only Jeremy Corbyn’s.

When senior Labour Party figures like yourself send out messages like this, you confirm the belief of ordinary Labour members that the entire party front bench is largely indistinguishable from one another politically speaking. And therefore you make many of us want to do the opposite from what you tell us to do.

I’ll let you and the other leadership candidates into a little secret: We don’t like being told how to think or what to do. It’s what makes us union reps to challenge dictatorial employers. It’s what makes us residents group campaigners to challenge blundering council officers. It’s what makes us want to challenge vicious and calculated central government attacks on the most vulnerable in our community.

And that’s also why when Tony Blair is wheeled out to demand we elect anyone but Corbyn, and dismisses most of the union movement in this country as “in the grip of the far left”, we take exception.

It is precisely because of the party hierarchy’s hysterical reaction to Corbyn, that has led me to think we must support his leadership bid. The party badly needs democratising as part of a wider push away from the awful top down, managerial politics that has alienated so many people in this country. And if we can inspire people new to politics in the bargain, so much the better.

So I would ask you openly to respect the democratic decision of members, whatever it may be. I have been very disturbed about reports the newspapers about your role in the setting up of a secret new grouping apparently to challenge a Corbyn leadership before it has even begun. Imagine if the left had done something similar when Blair was elected? Where would Labour be now?

In solidarity,

Lawrence Shaw
Stoke Central CLP member


BCFG said...

It has nothing to do with a personality cult you arrogant tosser, it is a policy cult.

At last there is someone who has a chance to shape the labour party that actually comes from the traditional labour movement and offers policies that are more in tune with what labour people believe. How refreshing this is after the Thatcherite Blairites took over and stole this party. Is it any wonder that after something so precious was stolen that peoples emotions spill over? This isn't hysteria but a cry of joy, the hope that in this age of cruelty, vindictiveness and callous diregard for those who suffer that a different way forward is possible.

All the Blairites offer is a continuation of the savage and debased cruelty of the Tories, a savage and debased cruelty being carried out as the richest among us get even richer. And what do the Blairites offer in return, the ideology that this state of affairs is the only road we can take, that any challenge to this disgusting orthodoxy is naive, Utopian and childish.

The more you arrogant tossers open your mouth the more determined we are to fight you.

Johnnyf said...

A fine letter which I feel sums up many of the major issues that the party has to address before it becomes electable , when the front bench fails to impress their own members with their sales pitch there is little chance of inspiring the country in 2020 .
I welcomed Corbyn into the campaign for exactly the reasons spelled out in this letter . I did not expect for one moment his support to be so strong but even less that the other candidates would be so dull and disappointing . The scaremongering campaign is even worse . I expect he knows better than anyone that he is unlikely to lead the party into an election but if he makes it one that gets back in touch with people and the reality of the difficulties they face and then fights hard for them he will have done a great service far beyond the lavour party should he win .

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, Hunt is in it for his own ends not for the good of his constituents so his attitude is to be expected.

dagmar said...

If you reply to a thoughtful article by calling the author an "arrogant tosser" it suggests you don't have much of an argument.

In case you missed it, the "tosser" was critically supporting Corbyn, for very good reasons.

The "jez we can" chants are, let's be honest about it, a bit strange. And weird. Anyone normal would realise it. They make me shudder.

I write as more of a Corbyn supporter than the - presumably, in your eyes - 'other' arrogant tosser.

Frederick Thrapston. said...

Jezwecan is just a laugh.

BCFG said...

I stand by the arrogant tosser remark, it is typical of the condescending attitude being taken toward Corbyn's supporters.

I also read Shaw's article and think his 'support'of Corbyn is very superficial and doesn't match up to the passionate belief in a set of policies and ideas that genuine supporters of Corbyn have. Shaw's is a weary and pessimistic kind of 'support', the kind of 'support' that is here today and certainly gone tomorrow. This guy is not in it for the long haul. And I wouldn't descibe Shaw's reasons for supporting Corbyn as being particularly very good. All you can say is that he makes good remarks about the attitudes of the other candidates. But Shaw's support of Corbyn is not borne from positive and optimistic belief in a set of policies but a negative and pessimistic attitude to the whole process.

I read into the Jez we can chants an outpouring of genuine emotion where despair has replaced hope, to arrogant tossers hope is just a word to put on a campaign poster, and empty vessel used by PR companies, genuine hope is seen as being weird. It reflects a kind of liberal weariness and liberal self aggrandising. I think genuine Corbyn supporters understand the importance of political power and political influence in advancing ideas and beliefs. And Corbyn is a representative of those ideas and is symbolic of the power of those ideas.

I don't think the supporters of Corbyn are as dim or sheepish as some people believe. And we can spot being patronised a mile off.

So here is my thoughtful response to the arrogant thoughts of a pompous cynic.

Speedy said...

"Arrogant tosser" "Pompous cynic". Plainly, in "this age of cruelty, vindictiveness and callous diregard for those who suffer a different way forward is possible."

O brave new world!

Lawrence Shaw said...


Thanks for clarifying that the abuse was aimed at me.

I am a little weary, it is true. When Labour stands on its most leftist platform since the mid 90s and an unpopular Tory party goes on to win a majority, it is fair of you to point out that I am more than a little cynical.

However, your blind optimism and refusal to countenance critical support, let alone actual criticism, is really very stupid indeed and actually flies in the face of what Corbyn himself is standing for. Criticising fellow supporters who are not enthusiastic enough is oddly reminiscent of the tales of rallies in the Soviet Union where nobody dared bet the first to stop clapping lest they be sent to the gulag. I don't know, perhaps that's your kind of politics.

You can call me names behind the cowardly shadow of anonymity, but understand that myopic evangelists like you are doing more harm to Corbyn's campaign than anything the tabloids can manage. I hope when your Messiah does a deal with the Blairites in the name of party unity, you'll be first to rip up your card.

All the best.

BCFG said...


Unfortunately your reply only confirms my worst fears. I totally reject adulation of leaders and totally reject that Corbyn’s supports are not capable of being critical or questioning. Why you automatically assume those things from Corbyn’s supporters is a mystery to me. I would have thought the fetishism of the leader was at the core of New Labourism, from its belief in what a leader should look and sound like to its almost total faith in the power of managerialism which leads inexorably into its other core value, the belief in Thatcherite and neo liberal economics . I would also have thought that it is precisely this adulation of leaders that Corbyn’s supporters are against.

I have some criticisms of Corbyn, I don’t think he is serious enough about electoral reform for example. However, his general anti austerity and anti neo liberal stance are just the antidote we urgently need. Not that we believe this task can be carried out easily or in isolation. We have seen with the implosion of Syriza that change requires hard, patient and exhausting action. But there is a backlash going on against neo liberalism and if the labour movement can’t stand shoulder to shoulder with that movement then what is the point.

So this is my thoughtful response to a pompous and weary cynic.