Tuesday, 12 May 2015

My LabourList blog: We must “disagree without being disagreeable” to win again

We must “disagree without being disagreeable” to win again


In his last act as Labour leader, Ed Miliband bequeathed standards for the leadership election that will help ensure that the party wins again. He urged us to conduct the process “with the same decency, civility, and comradeship that we believe is the way the country should be run”. He spoke of personally bringing a culture to the party, summed up as “the ability to have disagreement without being disagreeable.”



Ed’s words are not idle niceties. As we carry out the post-mortem, offer diagnoses and seek to raise the Labour Lazarus, they compel us to do so in a climate of open, respectful debate. Those of us who believe that the clear conclusion of the 7 May result is that the party must move back to the radical centre ground of British politics and who sympathise with rather then shun New Labour, must reacquire the confidence to “disagree without being disagreeable”.

We’ll need to be robust, confident and organised, particularly given that trade unions such as Unite have called for Jim Murphy to stand down. We must challenge them when they use deliberately loaded phrases such as “the embrace of Blairism”, designed to delegitimise an entire strand of Labour thinking. It is unthinkable that someone from the right of the Labour Party would ever cite the “embrace of trade unionism” in a statement calling on a politician to resign.

Following the election defeat, we must guard against a revisionism that argues that Labour failed because Ed wasn’t allowed to be radical enough due to the malign influence of Blairites. Such a position is as illogical as those who sometimes argue that the chaos in Syria remains the fault of the West, despite the very absence of Western intervention.

It is particularly important that those who believe in a modern, progressive party, overcome the habit of self-censorship developed in recent years. Parties are necessarily broad churches, and when one group is in the ascendency, it is natural for others to self-censor in the interests of unity. One of Ed’s many achievements was maintaining party unity after losing the 2010 election, in part due to his and his senior team’s openness and the support of key people like Stewart Wood for new ideas and initiatives.

But unity also flourished because people who didn’t vote for Ed and disagreed with some of his approach, chose to give Ed their full support, despite him not being the choice of a majority of party members and the Parliamentary Labour Party. We went further than “disagreeing without being disagreeable”; we rightly offered him our complete loyalty and worked hard to ensure that he became Prime Minister. In light of this, we must not feel defensive in now setting out an alternative prospectus to the one that was soundly beaten last week.

There is little point in rehearsing the arguments ably outlined by Tony Blair, Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Dan Jarvis and Peter Mandelson. I would add that the party must not just focus on policies and personalities but must review our structure and modus operandi. CLPs do admirable work throughout the country, but are often impenetrable and unattractive to ordinary voters. Success will be defined not in a new constitution but when we as ordinary members spend more time looking outwards and listening to voters, rather than inwards, talking to ourselves.

In order to do this, the party must learn how to have a more intelligent, honest conversation with voters. The old CLP mantra of canvassing in order to identify “our” voters must be overturned. We should be reaching out to people who have shunned our party in recent years. Let’s build on Ed Miliband’s call in July 2013 for us to “reach out to others outside our party” in order “to genuinely build a movement again”. If we conduct the leadership election as Ed instructed us to, we might just win the right for an audience with our true leaders – the British people.

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Online here.

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