You don’t need another thought piece on the state of the Party. We each have a notion of what that state is. What almost all of us will agree on is that we are getting in each others’ way, the left and right. If we’re honest. And most of us would agree that the role the right is performing is largely destructive of the status quo. It would say with good reason. But even so.
None of us on the right would choose this outcome.
I have a technical and strategic expertise scarce in the party. No doubt this is why John McDonnell and other members of his shadow treasury team have sought to work with me despite my views being often opposed to theirs. And I would like to offer my expertise to the service of what I think the party stands for. It is to the credit of McDonnell that he has sought it out. And it is to my regret that I have found I can no longer offer it.
But what would it take for me to do so, again? That is the question I want to address.
Of course, I am a bit-part player. My views are worth attention only if you think them mirrored by others on the right of the party – especially those in the parliamentary party. But if they were mirrored you might be interested in what it would take to bring me – and others like me – back.
Kevin Maguire has reported that Corbyn’s office will make a concerted effort in 2016 to reach out to MPs from the party’s right. But words alone will not do it. There must also be action.
What the party’s right cannot demand of Corbyn is that he now adhere to policies against which he has for all his life rebelled. Such a demand ignores the strength of his mandate. But even more profoundly, it overlooks the most compelling criticism of the party’s right: that it continues to look backwards to Blair and has failed to renew its idea of what social justice looks like. I believe there are wide open spaces for the party’s right – I have discussed some of them with McDonnell and have written about others here. Many others have, of course, contributed too. But this is only a start.
But what the right can ask of Corbyn is what he would ask of them: to compromise to hold the party together. These are the compromises I would seek.
- Labour is a party of prospective Government. It can only seek to be in Government by influencing the mainstream of political debate – not by shouting from the side-lines. It must be guided by its membership – but it must also recognise that the act of channelling the views of a highly engaged 1% of the electorate will not win it Government.
- The party is the Labour Party – not Corbyn’s party. By agreeing to stand as leader Corbyn agreed to put the interests of the Party before his private interests. If personal alignments with unpopular fringe organisations impede the interests of the party he must put them aside.
- Appointments must be based on competence. There is nothing in Seumas Milne’s journalistic career that equips him to be Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. His sole qualification is an ideological alignment with Corbyn – and that is not enough. And his appointment is emblematic. A review is being conducted of the tax system by a far left academic of modest repute who knows little or nothing about the tax system. This will not lead to the development of good or politically attractive policy. And will not be good for the Party.
- Labour’s focus needs to be external – and forward looking. Too many are the occasions on which shadow ministers have gone out of their way publicly to point the finger at what they regard as the failings of Blair or Brown. This might settle old internal scores but it does not advance the interests of the party. For what it’s worth, it was this, finally, which led me to withdraw my assistance to McDonnell.
- Corbyn must say what success looks like. Before I can follow I need to know where I am to be led. I do not understand whether Corbyn’s project is one of winning government or changing the Labour Party. I do not know what waymarks to success to look out for. He must tell us.
- The Labour Party is a progressive family. Corbyn must state clearly that bigotry of all sorts will not be tolerated. A perception has been allowed to grow up that Labour is prepared tacitly to tolerate misogyny and anti-semitism. It must be clearly understood that this behaviour – if exhibited – will lead to expulsion from the Labour Party. Words alone are not enough.
None of these compromises should be controversial. If he can subscribe to them I will support him – and I believe others will too. But if he will not, he must accept his share of responsibility for what looks increasingly likely: a schism.