Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ideals, Power and Purges

I am not a Labour Party Member. I was once. It would have to go some way to bring me back into the fold, although electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader might start it along that road. Given the events of the last week and the great Labour Purge of 2015 that seems unlikely. Even if I decided to renounce my Green Party membership and rejoin Labour I wouldn't be accepted and certainly wouldn't be eligible to vote in the leadership election because, having supported the greens I would be deemed to not support Labour's aims and values. I could write reams about the wisdom, or lack of, that this purge shows, how it probably doesn't match the letter of their rules, let alone the spirit of them and how excluding people who show a genuine interest is no way to foster an inclusive, progressive party. However, instead I'd like to consider the reason why such a decision might have been made.

I have no hard evidence of the decision to weed out insurgents who might be likely to vote for Corbyn but it seems pretty evident that this is the reasoning behind the move. The parliamentary Labour Party and its central administration are completely at variance to the stance of Corbyn and his supporters and many grandees have stood up to practically beg people to vote for anyone but Corbyn. They say he is unelectable, inflexible and idealistic. Only by compromising is power attainable and only by gaining power can any good be done. What a depressing message! In order to do even the slightest bit of good, we're told, most values need to be put on the back burner or, better still, buried for good.

I understand the argument. It seemed to work for Labour in 1997, although it's hard to say for sure what the result of that election would have been had Labour clung to more of its core beliefs. As it is, the Blair government had a massive majority and yet failed to deliver on key election promises, including reversing rail privatisation. In government it, and the subsequent Labour administrations achieved some significant social gains, but it failed to curb big business and the finance sector which created the 2008 crisis - the great gift to the Tories which enabled the whole austerity narrative. Since drifting from power Labour has failed to robustly oppose many terrible policies imposed in the name of austerity, culminating in its disastrous abstention on the recent welfare bill. In order to appear credible, the party is now appearing very weak. I guess the focus groups tell its wonks a different story because I honestly can't understand why it would follow such a damaging path otherwise.

So why is Corbyn seen as such a threat? He proposes a Labour that believes in something and that stands up and explains its beliefs. Isn't that a good thing? It's not about being utterly uncompromising, just learning not to compromise on every single issue. Compromise on one or two things and you are flexible and realistic. Take that approach all the time and you're seen as a pushover. The press is primed to smear anyone who proposes progressive policies. That's because it's owned by big business. It's also primed to smear Labour more than the Tories for exactly the same reason. There's nothing Labour can do to get an easy ride in the media. So why choose a difficult ride and make multiple concessions when it could opt to be a bit braver and sound authentic into the bargain?

Gordon Brown likened Labour's recent defeat to having its heart broken. It's not a bad metaphor, only I'm not sure he prescribed the right medicine. When you're young and you have your heart broken, a very natural response is to avoid falling in love again. The problem is that without showing the vulnerability of getting close to a lover again you won't gain from the huge benefits of being in a loving relationship. You risk becoming cynical and guarded and may sleep around but never make a real connection. Power without principle is a lot like sex without love. It may fix an immediate urge, but many human needs are left unmet.

I can't vote in Labour's leadership election. If I could I'd want to take a chance on a leader who appears to have aims and values, rather than fall back on the cynicism that has diminished the party for over twenty years.