It was good of Jamie Reed to welcome me to the Labour party. And with me, tens of thousands of new members enthused by what they’re seeing from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
But if we’re doing potted histories, let’s address some uncomfortable truths. You see I haven’t spent the last 25 years sat at home watching Countdown, I’ve taken a bit of an interest in what goes on.
I saw Tony Blair boast about retaining the most restrictive union laws in the western world, and I remember one of Labour’s first acts in 1997 being to cut lone-parent benefits. I campaigned against the pursuit of privatisation and internal markets in our public services, against the break-up of a national education system that the Tories now want to complete, and against the farce that is PFI whose debts we are still paying off. My time was often spent defending our members from a Labour government. And yes, I marched with two million people against the invasion of Iraq that Blair dragged us into.
I note the achievements Reed cites, but New Labour in office remained wedded to fundamental economic “certainties”: that the profit motive improves public services; that light-touch regulation of the financial sector allows wealth to trickle down from the pockets of the filthy rich and contains no risk to the stability of our economy. These principles were wrong then and are wrong now, and nothing is to be gained from wilfully ignoring the fact they led to an exodus of Labour members.
Any analysis that fails to come to terms with the fact Thatcher felt able to claim with any degree of seriousness that New Labour was her greatest achievement is doomed to entrench the loss of trust, and membership, that eventually put the Tories back in power.
What Labour is starting to do is map out a clear alternative and I’m not the only one who finds this exciting. I could not agree more that Labour won’t win by “obsessing” about a mythical internal threat to its MPs. My sole interest is in helping to build a vibrant social movement in our communities, our workplaces and our unions to oppose the Tories’ cuts now, and put a Corbyn-led Labour party in a position to repair the damage after 2020.
Reed’s proxy attack on Corbyn and McDonnell through me leads him to suggest that by opposing the renewal of the UK’s weapons of mass destruction PCS is campaigning against the jobs of its own and other unions’ members. This is a disgraceful slur for which he ought to apologise. I’ll take no lectures on civil service jobs from an MP whose allies cheered when Gordon Brown announced tens of thousands of our members would lose theirs. We would never support job cuts, unlike New Labour.
For the record, our union’s longstanding policy on Trident, democratically decided, is that scrapping it should not be just another excuse to cut working class communities adrift. It should be an opportunity to design a serious and detailed plan to diversify the industry and invest in socially useful enterprises, harnessing and developing existing skills so workers and their families thrive. The alternative is to spend tens of billions of pounds on a weapons system we will either never use or could only ever deploy with horrifying consequences.
Ultimately, and unfortunately for him, Reed’s open letter was based on an entirely false premise. Let me be crystal clear: I have not “called for the deselection of sitting Labour MPs to be made easier”. I have neither the desire nor the need to change the rules that are unambiguous and should be followed.
To argue otherwise is to argue for interference from the centre, and I no more believe Blair and Brown should have imposed candidates than I think the present leadership should be able to now. Local members should decide who represents them. But any suggestion MPs should have a job for life and never be held accountable would be an anti-democratic nonsense.
It is hard to see how the tactic adopted by some Labour MPs, to gossip and gripe in closed circles and Westminster corridors, advances the cause of Labour and the people who are relying on it to be an effective opposition and a viable potential government. Far more inspiring is the growing movement of people who want to help Corbyn create a strong political force that shifts and leads debate, defeats the Tories and spells the end of the failed dogmas of the past.