New Labour was never a cheap electoral con trick. It was built on years and years of thought, and debate, ideas and the fiercest of arguments. The architects, largely originating from the soft left of Labour, were forced by 18 years of bitter experience to become radical political thinkers. They had to be prepared to put every single shibboleth on the table, every piece of tradition, every piece of dogma, every holy grail. Everything had to be fair game for debate, discussion, for modification, for agreement, for abandonment. Nothing was sacred, and this was good. From this process they developed a genuinely modern, electable left-wing political philosophy and thus were able to institute the most progressive government programme this country saw in 50 years.
Those who agreed shouted loudly. Those who didn’t agree, and had the temerity to say so without first saying “in an ideal world I would agree with you, but…”, often received such hostility from the comrades that they stopped going to Labour meetings. Those who didn’t quite agree but wanted to carry on being involved with Labour locally navigated the hostile CLP waters by either saying nothing or trying to meet them half way through genial platitudes: ‘We all believe in fighting for equality.’ ‘We all want to change the world.’ Often political ambition meant people weren’t willing to confront the group-think. Sometimes real power meant people simply (understandably) couldn’t be bothered to engage and just got on with doing good Labour things (e.g. regeneration) despite the anti everything brigades in the CLPs. Being publicly moderate became something to be ashamed of, which was so wrong. And how many constituencies around the country saw decent, moderate Labour MPs become the pawns of the angriest and shoutiest Labour activists?
One of the great tragedies of our collective failure to confront the homogeneous politics has been the collapse of the intellectual depth of Labour’s progressive politics. If you don’t hone your thinking, it will fade, and it did. Even many supporters of a progressive Labour approach came to see it more as a means of achieving power than a worthy political philosophy in its own right. So now we have to start again. We need to put everything back on the table and start talking honestly. Let’s not just accept that someone shouting ‘privatisation!’ is a check-mate end to a debate. Let’s not accept that someone saying “sexism”, “racism”, or “Islamophobia” is the end to the discussion. Let’s hear from those who believe that enabling some of the poorest people in the country to buy their council houses is liberating, and moral, and left-wing. Let’s hear from those who believe the monstrosity of ISIS should be wiped off the face of the earth. If we don’t like what we hear, good. That’s good. That’s healthy. That’s how we get better at this again. Let’s hear views that have been silent, views that are new. We can find a radical, moral, left-wing, electable politics fit for the 21st Century. If we ever want to see a Labour government again, we have to.
I was very pleased to read John McTernan’s call to arms today in the Times. A group of us are currently working to launch a new group – rooted in the Labour Party but also for those outside of it who are interested in seeing a centre left Labour government again. We will not be developing policy, this will simply be a place for people to discuss, debate and think. We currently have people interested in a range of areas including education, internationalism, foreign intervention, religion, welfare, family, communities, society and more. Nothing is off the table, no shibboleth vetos. Would you like to be involved? If so, please send us your contact details via firstname.lastname@example.org
As the wonderful Philip Gould said, ‘the revolution is unfinished’. For those of us who want to see Labour back in power, the prospect of helping to explore and rebuild the intellectual, political and moral base of radical progressive centre-Left Labour can be extremely exciting.