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These are new times - we need a new style of leader

These are new and challenging times for the Labour Party. We need new ways of thinking says Jon Trickett MP.

It is odd that the Labour Party didn’t have a debate  about the central question of what kind of Leadership the party and country needs before setting off on the current leadership contest. If we had done so we might have concluded that three tasks face us.

The first is to offer clarity of vision as to the kind of place we want our country to be.  The second is to find a path through the new political landscape, given the rise of insurgent political parties to the Left and Right, as well as Osborne’s attempt to camp out on what he have always thought was “our territory”. The third task is to create a party which is adapted to the new times which have come with the new century.

A leader who represents the old ways, a ‘good Westminster performer’, will not do.

Labour cannot go on in the same old way.  We  need a fresh set of policies for 2020.  Because the country has  changed. But we will also need a new way of working. We need to start from the premise that no successful movement started in Westminster and was rolled out from on high. This is the lesson of Podemos, Syriza and even the SNP. But it also the lesson of our own history.

Tristram Hunt made exactly this point in his recent lecture. But his prescription of a politics of triangulation combined with an insurgent new movement will not work. He was right about the need for a new movement, but people are not looking for a politics of fudge and mudge. They want a new vision for these new times.

The election results reveal that things need to change. At the core of our problem is that the party has never really resolved its central purpose.

2008 was not the first time that Labour was in office when there was a crash. Ramsay Macdonald’s government was faced with a crisis too. The leadership then capitulated to the demands of the financial markets. The Labour party split and had to be rebuilt.

Thanks to the leadership of Ed Miliband the party has not split this time. But the truth is that our current leadership election debates  show  that we have not as a party come to a settled view of the 2008 crisis, its causes or its aftermath.

Commenting on Labour’s plight after 1941, R H Tawney didn’t mince his words. He argued that ‘The Labour Party is hesitant in action because it is divided in mind. It does not achieve what it could because it does not know what it wants.”  This lack of a clearsighted vision he goes on to say leads to “intellectual timidity, conservatism and conventionality “.

Listening to much of the current debate about Labour’s future, one can hear Tawney’s words echo down the generations.

We need a leader who will speak with clarity and act with boldness. Our economy is not working for most people. The Tories simply offer more of the same. But no one who looks closely at Osborne’s recent budget could argue that he lacks boldness. His central purpose is no less than to redefine the centre of gravity of British politics for a generation.

Electing a leader who occupies a variant of the of the current cosy consensus world view will  not deliver a majority to the party. And this is because a party of the centre-left cannot reconcile the needs of its electorate with the desire for continuity.

Therefore we need to offer a clean break with the recent past. But simply changing our policy orientation will not work either. We need a new kind of leadership. It will not do to ask the party to back the candidate who looks, sounds like the rest of the political class.

If we look back to the Labour Party leadership after the collapse of the MacDonald government, they were faced by an overwhelmingly strong Conservative party. The temptation at that time might have been to concede the ground ideologically to the Tories as some are arguing that we should do now.  But in the 1930s Labour’s leaders remained steadfast in their beliefs and our values.

But Labour in opposition during those years did something else as well as holding true to our values.  It also became a wide movement. The party renewed itself and its connections with the communities they sought to represent. With the left book clubs, the Clarion Cycle movement, discussion groups, rank and file mobilisation on the questions of war and peace etc., the Labour movement began the task of intellectual and social renewal.

All of this energy meant that by the time of the Second World War, Labour had recovered and the ground was prepared for entry into the war time coalition and then Attlee’s transformative government.

Some of the current leadership candidates appear to have accepted the old model of politics.  This presupposes a single leader who is almost omniscient and who holds all the reins of power in their office.

This is a profound mistake based on a false understanding of our party, our history and our country. In the first place, no one person can have all the answers to all the problems. Strong leaders, with mistaken ideas can lead us in the wrong direction. In any event, everyone saw the vitriolic attacks which were launched on the person of Ed Miliband. This will happen again and again to radical Labour leaders. The only way to respond is build a movement which is wide and deeply rooted in our communities to counterbalance the pressures of the British establishment.

Labour in opposition and equally in office will need to become a crusade again to put right the many mistakes of the old order which David Cameron and George Osborne represent. The new times we live in require us to build a new kind of social movement capable of creating, sustaining and renewing our party both in the opposition years, but also in government. This means changing the party’s vertical structures which were designed just after the First World War, into a more horizontal, networked, cellular shape fit for the Google age.

It is in the interests of both the leadership and the ordinary members that we end the present huge gulf of mistrust and mutual suspicion which exists between the two.

Two of the leadership candidates have said that they would not serve in a shadow cabinet if the party membership elect someone they disagree with. This is a profound mistake. It seeks to de-legitimise not so much simply  the winning candidate, but all those tens of thousands of members who voted for him.

I conclude therefore that style of leader which the Labour Party needs will make it clear that they will:

  • End the command and control relationship with the party’s grass roots by recognising that top down models do not work in an age when deference rightly died long ago
  • Build strong relationships at branch and constituency level with local communities, and establish new ties with other progressive movements in the country, including adopting fresh ways of organising developed by innovative social activists
  • Change the processes of decision-making so that policies are no longer parachuted from on high out of the Leader’s office with little prior engagement with the wider movement. This means for example restoring rights to the Annual Conference.
  • Develop new ways of allowing the membership of the party to select more local candidates from backgrounds which remain unrepresented in council chambers and the various Parliaments, with no further manipulation of short lists by the centre
  • In a 24/7 media culture it is inevitable that we will give our leader scope to act with rapidity and agility, but the leadership candidate who ought to win is the one who will create new structures of accountability by the leader to the shadow cabinet, PLP and the wider party.


The party needs leaders, but it also needs to be a movement. In order to modernise our country we first need a modern style of leader, emerging out of a wider political movement to whom they will hold themselves accountable.

Jon Trickett is the shadow minister without portfolio, Labour deputy chair and MP for Hemsworth.

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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times