Wednesday, 16 May 2007

A party afraid of its members

So John McDonnell has conceded, having failed to get the 44 MP nominations needed to trigger a ballot of the Labour party's members and affiliated trade unionists. John fought an honest and upfront campaign, with policies on many issues (such as trident replacement and the Iraq war) that more than a hundred Labour MPs agreed with him on and rebelled on. But when it came down to it, very few of them had the guts to nominate someone who shared some of their views. Other bits of McDonnell's programme were perhaps further to the left, but to not allow members a contest is, frankly, a disgrace.

So Labour will line up at the next election not with a properly elected leader, like the other parties, but with one "elected", basically, over dinner in a poncey Islington restaurant 13 years ago. For this was where the facts on the ground of Brown's candidacy were created. And Brown has now succeeded in bullying and manipulating his way to the top job, with the help of a parliamentary party afraid of its members. Are we really that scary? Do they really despise and distrust us that much?

I get a fair bit of flack from mates for being in the Labour party, though I stand by my membership. With the Blair era coming to an end, there was and is a space within the party and the labour movement for imaginative and democratic discussion on changing the outlook and direction of the government. Blair-Brownism (for they are one and the same), in as much as it can be dignified with being called a political philosophy, *is* on the decline, intellectually and as a political and popular force. That hasn't changed. Nor has the progressive outlook of large numbers of people in the party; there's still probably more decent progressive socialists in the Labour party than there are in those parties further to the left. The only other one that really looked like making inroads, the Scottish Socialist Party, has imploded, and the left looks as weak as ever, outside and inside the party.

Yet the ideas put forward in McDonnell's campaign aren't weak and aren't, mostly, unpopular. We all need a good think about how to reconcile this gap between popular policies and unpopular (or relatively unknown) actual political movements. McDonnell, for his part, came across well during the campaign - articulate and impassioned without being smug and hectoring. Such a contrast with Brown himself, whose campaign leaflet came in the post today. Its aims were as vague and fluffy and platitudinous as the worst Blair produced - "Britain number one for education... every child the best start in life... an NHS that earns the trust of patients and staff... no pragmatism just soft-focus meaninglessness. We'll hear no more, I suspect, of the "Blair-Brown split" since it was never a political wrangle.

Meanwhile, I hope the intra-left recriminations and gloating are kept to an absolute minimum in the aftermath of this, and that we aim our fire where it belongs - on the spineless cowards of the PLP and the chief coward and bully himself, Gordon Brown. That's one thing he's got in common with George Bush already - neither came to power in a proper election. What a start.

1 comment:

Stephen Newton said...

I don’t buy the ‘party afraid of its members’ line. Doesn’t that imply that MPs didn’t nominate McDonnell, even though they quietly supported him, because they were afraid members might actually vote for him? Nah.