Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Respect the man date

Labour remains a long way from power nationally but next year should hopefully bring a group of new city leaders. What a shame, then, that each one will be male.
For a long time Labour has preached more than practised the idea of equality in who it selects to represent the party. This columnist shares very little of Diane Abbott’s politics, but for what reason did she not beat Sadiq Khan for the London mayoral nomination last summer? Fellow member of parliament Luciana Berger finished third in Liverpool, which at least is one step further than in Manchester and the West Midlands where all the shortlisted candidates for the nomination were male.
Labour’s divisions make it more likely that this embarrassing run will continue. Both Berger and Angela Eagle, who pulled out of the leadership race in favour of Smith, have been put under pressure for ‘splitting the moderate vote’ in their contests. It is surely just a coincidence that they are told to get out of the way of a man.
The current leadership team seems unlikely to change things, with Corbyn commenting that it really had nothing to do with him. How sad that it needs saying, but the winner of this month’s leadership election must make improved representation for women an immediate priority.
Since the mayoral nominations mean there will be at least two parliamentary vacancies on the horizon, a good start would be to make the upcoming selections all-women shortlists. There are enough talented women Labour MPs who have been constantly overlooked for shadow cabinet positions, too, which should be gender balanced.
Otherwise Labour risks exposing itself to the (correct) criticism of brilliant MP Jess Phillips who, after the mayoral results, tweeted: ‘All the mayors can go on an actual man date now. We can serve the tea’.
Labour’s braindrain
Another summer, another slew of reasons to consider setting up a support network for Labour party staff. Most are suffering from recurring nightmares revolving around the phrases ‘validation’, ‘registered supporters’ and ‘please make this end’.
On top of the extra work a second summer of leadership electioneering handed them, they are being subjected to another season of the hard left’s cowardly briefings that they are all going to be sacked and replaced with ‘loyalists’.

And then there are those who recently worked as advisers to the now-departed frontbenchers of the ‘make it work’ variety. A combination of anger and sorrow has meant that a number are now working on Owen Smith’s campaign. It is no coincidence that Smith is able to constantly outdo Jeremy Corbyn on policy announcements, with a team led by the formidable leader’s office member Neale Coleman.
Where they go after that is anyone’s guess but after a general election defeat and the continued stubbornness of a leader who does not appear to believe in opposition, the number of expert policy wonks and media handlers in Labour’s ranks has been seriously depleted.
One frontbench mainstay of the Corbyn era, for instance, has found it so difficult to keep hold of staff that their assistants have so far lasted an average of two and half months before moving on.
Meanwhile, there are a number of vacancies being advertised at the Conservative Research Department. Given the track record of the unit’s graduates – including David Cameron and George Osborne – there is a fair chance that one of this summer’s new recruits will reach the cabinet before a Labour MP does.
Still our people
Your insider only needed five minutes at a constituency Labour party nomination meeting this summer to see Tom Watson’s recent comments about entryism were not unfounded. Those who wish to wave away the evidence by suggesting there are only a small number of Trotskyists seeking to rejoin Labour grossly misunderstand the vanguard tactics of hard-left revolutionaries. In politics, ideas and language that is otherwise unacceptable – like ‘traitor’ or ‘Blairite scum’ – can move from fringe groups to being encouraged by the leadership of a mainstream political party.
It is therefore easy to find parallels with history. When the Social Democratic party was founded, a defecting MP said that he looked around Labour party conference one year and ‘realised they weren’t my people any more’.
But the party is not over just yet and it is still very much full of our people. The new political relationships being formed are fascinating to watch and may yet be the foundation for a more moderate and sensible Labour party.
The GMB’s endorsement of Smith felt important for this reason. Despite the recent National Executive Committee results, Labour’s governing body remains finely balanced and the unions – who relish playing kingmaker, but mostly just want a Labour government – will soon find they can be a stabilising force.
It is partly for this reason that well-thumbed copies of those two essential guides to the 1980s, John Golding’s Hammer of the Left and Dianne Hayter’s Fightback! are being read by moderates over the summer. Regardless of who wins the leadership election, the two books contain not a simple blueprint for today but some much-needed pointers on rebuilding a broad alliance within the party to give hope to the idea of a progressive government.
The frustration that all of Labour’s current ineptitude is totally unnecessary clouds the judgement somewhat, but the most important historical parallels moderates can draw on are not those of splits and defections but those which show that hard work, organisation and loyalty will put Labour back on the path to power.

Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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