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  1. Politics
13 January 2012

Labour, the West Ham United of politics

The party that eschews the long ball.

By Richard Morris

As another less than stellar week for the Labour leadership draws to a close, it seems to me that the Labour Party has become — and I mean this as a compliment — the West Ham United of British politics, and this will be the saving (at least until the electorate get a say) of Ed Miliband.

The Tory Party, by contrast, act like the trigger happy Premier League Chairman for whom only continuous success is an acceptable norm. Look at the grumbles from inside the party at David Cameron requiring a coalition to get into government. It’s like they won the FA Cup but the impatient man at the top thinks the league is the only prize worth having. No wonder William Hague described his party as acting like “an absolute monarchy moderated by regicide“.

Not so the Labour Party where in the fine traditions of the Hammers winning appears to be rather less important to the members than playing in the right way. And good on them for it

Much has been written about Labour’s reluctance to ditch its leaders, no matter how unelectable they might appear to anyone standing back from the fray far enough to see the woods from the trees (which is 83 per cent of the UK population according to a recent YouGov poll). This is often put down to cowardice, often from the likely heir apparent who knows that the assassin wielding the knife seldom ends up on the throne.

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But actually, I think it’s more to do with principle.

Looking at it through the other end of the telescope, the name of the most electorally successful PM in Labour’s history was booed and heckled when Ed Miliband dropped the “Blair” word into his speech at the last Labour Party conference.

Sure, most Labour members can cite a long list of achievements during the Blair years of which they are rightly proud. But at the end of the day, they still think Blair was more concerned with winning in itself than with winning in the right way. As Matthew d’Ancona described it in the London Evening Standard earlier this week:

One of Tony Blair’s many strengths as he plotted Labour’s return to office as Opposition leader between 1994 and 1997 was an unshakeable awareness that the electorate’s anxieties must be addressed before any progress can be made. This remained at the heart of his politics until — almost literally — they carted him out of Downing Street.

This is a view of leadership I suspect many Labour Party members would recognise, but would be reluctant to endorse. They see Blair as adopting the long ball strategy that might win a few matches but isn’t playing the game as it was first intended. And unless you’re playing politics with the ball on the ground and with passing at a premium, you’ll never have their admiration.

Whatever his foibles and weaknesses, Ed is undoubtedly playing by their rules. Just like West Ham, who have had just 14 managers in their 116 year history, Labour doesn’t change the man at the top if he’s playing the Beautiful Game, whatever the results on the field may be.

And I have total respect for Labour for doing that. Though they might want to remember that West Ham no longer play in the Premier League. Or that, under their current manager, have given up playing the Beautiful Game in an effort to get back there.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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