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A poverty of aspiration is killing the parliamentary Labour Party



Somebody defined ‘insanity’ as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It might have been Einstein?

Labour has in fact had some time to get to grips with the ‘post Thatcher settlement’. Whether or not you happen to agree that a Labour pig with a rosette could have been elected in 1997, it is a material fact that the New Labour administration was the continuity candidate in reality but the change candidate by name.

The private finance initiative had been incubating under the administration of Sir John Major from about 1993, at roughly the same time fellow Conservative Lord David Willetts had written a pamphlet on it for the Social Market Foundation. As an example of public-private initiatives, it could be argued that the PFI was brought in with the best of sincere intentions. However, it has seen a lot of taxpayers’ money being siphoned off pursuant to unconscionable interest rates on loan agreements from the public sector to the private sector. Call it what it is – even if emotionally – this is privatisation.

As it was, ‘ready to go’ contracts under Coopers and Lybrand were launched with gusto in 1997 with the accession of St Tony The Blair. It is a policy which has persisted, no matter who is actually in government. The other policy in the portfolio of privatisation, this time at the individual level, called personal budgets (but consumer-directed care in other jurisdictions) has likewise been introduced, without a clear democratic mandate, whoever is in office and in power.

The setting up of autonomous NHS Foundation Trusts competing with each other to drive up quality was a nice idea, but deeply flawed. What was seen in the NHS Act 2006 of the dying days of New Labour was later to be invigorated in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The 2012 legislation from the CoalitionĀ contained an explosive clause, known as section 75, which would obligate the outsourcing of services through competitive tender unless there was a sole bidder.

Competition, under both New Labour and the Conservatives, provided extra costs for example through corporate legal disputes, did not drive up quality, and most damagingly could mean that decisions about the provision of healthcare were not made on the basis of clinical need but on the basis of economic regulation. This was at a time when competition in oligopolistic economies, such as utilities, had blatantly failed.

The resentment for many Labour voters who left, and want to return to support Jeremy Corbyn, is that there was no point supporting New Labour if it, to all intents and purposes, is a carbon copy of the Conservatives. The term #ToryLite reflects this, and the rather naive belief has been that New Labour, resurrected as ‘Saving Labour’, can only possibly win if the Labour Party adopts the same centrist position as the Conservatives.

Nowhere was this more obvious was in Ed Miliband MP’s reaction to Theresa May MP’s speech on the steps of Downing Street as she (not he) assumed the mantle of Prime Minister. Ed Miliband not only will have seen the echoes of the meme ‘making the economy work for all’, which he had argued in his leader’s speech as ‘responsible capitalism’ but also led to a profound deconstruction of where Labour had lost his way.

Quoting Tony Benn in his speech reacting to #Brexit, Ed Miliband pointedly has said that #Brexit demands the left to have an intelligent look at why many voters, perhaps the ones who had not benefited from free movement of workers, had voted for #Brexit. And, oddly enough, Lord Mandelson in a speech just days’ previously had come to the same conclusion – except Ed Miliband MP pointedly added that ‘the reasons for #Brexit went far beyond the campaign’, parsimoniously as a rebuke of those who had criticised Jeremy Corbyn MP.

The uncomfortable fact for many Labour MPs is that Jeremy Corbyn is no more ‘responsible’ or ‘at fault’ for the #Brexit result, than he is for a sizeable number of free-thinking reasonable MPs voting against Trident in a wide ranging debate on defence diversity.

Hilary Benn MP is somewhat pathologically obsessed about ‘winning’ and seems quite determined to encourage fellow Labour MPs to jump off the cliff with him. Benn Jnr. said pointedly to Sarah Montague on the #r4today programme this morning, “I would happily die in the Labour Party.” It is unlikely, however, that the Labour Party will die in the near future, despite the set of events he started leading to the indignity of sitting MPs refusing to support Jeremy Corbyn. Only nine months previously, Umunna, Kendall, Cooper and Reeves had run off the pitch in protest, even before the starting whistle had blown on a new match.

Rather, the Labour Party appears to have been invigorated with a surge in membership. As Steve Richards, leading political commentator, advised on Sunday Politics at the weekend, “It is actually quite simple – the parliamentary Labour Party can’t work with Jeremy Corbyn”. It is a moot point whether Corbyn particularly wants to work with these Labour MPs, on the other hand.

The strangest thing about the whole fiasco has been the abject failure of the parliamentary Labour Party to mount successfully an ‘Anyone but Corbyn’ candidate. And even a small panel of current Labour MPs last night on #newsnight, following a strange hagiography of Owen Smith MP from Nick Watt, pointed out that there were no points of divergence on policy.

The question must remain why there has been such a strong hate campaign against Corbyn. If you take as red the assumption that the leader’s office needs to work much better with parliamentary MPs, after 9 months it makes sense to do rigorous performance management of the Labour Parliamentary Party. Theresa May MP, the current Prime Minister, has made it emphatically clear that there will not be an early election, consistent with the notion that a huge number of MPs will NOT vote against her in a vote of ‘No Confidence’ pursuant to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

But if Jeremy Corbyn MP wins the leadership contest (again), the current Labour MPs will have a huge amount of egg on their faces. One of the complainants against Corbyn’s style complained her press release got binned despite months of planning. The reason? Corbyn had, in fact, to do another reshuffle forced upon him due to Labour MPs acting like petulant schoolkids AGAIN.

All of this is dreadfully sad, as the UK does need serious questions answering like devolution and #Brexit.

And the risk is unless the Labour Party can get its act together there will be no serious opposition to the Conservative Party, and even the Tories will implode.

There is another big risk – that various other deadly policy developments, like forcing in the junior doctors’ contract, adding top up fees to use the NHS, the forced academisation of schools, the repeal of the Human Rights Act and leaving of the European Convention of Human Rights – will all occur while the current MPs refuse to serve the current leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP. They all tend to say that one day of a catastrophic Jeremy Corbyn government will be infinitely worse than a day of a Conservative government.

The definition of ‘insanity’, whoever said it, is important.

Labour seem to have forgotten – or maybe Hilary Benn would not like to admit it – that the conversion to not signing up to austerity, justifying NHS cuts and social security abstentions, was very late in the day.

Also, Labour about a decade started losing the share of the vote ‘despite winning’.

They emphatically lost Scotland.

Even with blissful ‘moderate’ leadership, Labour lost the 2010 and 2015 general elections.

And yet – you could have easily imagined Labour under Ed Miliband wishing to introduce smartcards to harmonise personal budgets for health and universal credit for disability benefit. This is an extremely sad state of affairs.

As for neoliberalism – same meat, different gravy. Or put another way – same script, different newsreader.

Despite the lack of policy and inability to lead MPs, which can be ameliorated between now and the third thursday of may 2020, Jeremy Corbyn and colleagues are not suffering from a poverty of aspiration. Ironically, all the things think tanks have been banging on about, like aspiration and freedom from insecurity, mysteriously do not seem to apply to Jeremy Corbyn according to Labour MPs.

Say – for example – you wanted to improve the quantity and quality of social housing stock, do something at long last about aggressive tax avoidance, re-analyse the use of PFI in NHS finance, or even renationalise the railways or social care – Jeremy Corbyn might suddenly be your man, and curry enormous favour with members of the public, not just ‘traditional Labour voters’.

Time is not on Labour’s side. Most of the points made by Simon Stevens in his vision for the NHS, published this morning in the Telegraph, were actually made by Andy Burnham MP, when he was shadow secretary of state for health prior to the 2015 general election.

It is well known that Andy Burnham lost the battle twice against the parliamentary Labour Party in calling for a national care service. Burnham said clearly in the 2015 leadership hustings at the Guardian event he had become ‘disillusioned’ and that he felt that the ‘modern Labour Party would be incapable of having the vision of introducing the National Health Service’.

Later today, the Parliamentary Labour Party will endorse Owen Smith MP to be the preferred candidate to go against Corbyn – and Smith will in reality not offer much apart from a bit of a tinkering – e.g. wages councils. This ‘son of Nye Bevan’ once supported PFI. The ‘new deal’ which has been resuscitated more times than Corbyn has had jeering will be crippled by media attacks on its likelihood of ramping up even further our burgeoning national debt.

Owen Smith MP despite claiming to be a socialist is the polar opposite in government style to true socialist Tony Benn who saw the Callaghan era as doing things ‘slightly more efficiently than the last lot’. The PLP will reject Angela Eagle.

But the membership will reject Smith, much to the chagrin of the Labour PLP. And meanwhile Angela Eagle MP’s career, despite enormous talent, will have been comprehensively annihilated.

Divided parties don’t win elections. But it is clear that cheerleaders of #SavingLabour don’t want to support the current leadership, whatever. This of course is a massive tragedy for the whole country.


    Very good. I have always voted Labour. In 1997 with hope. Thereafter with a peg on my nose. When we lost again I was out. I had accepted the “don’t frighten the horses /southern voters” idea , to my shame, in two elections we then lost. After 184 Labour MPs abstained on the welfare bill I was out. In July I saw Jeremy Corbyn speak in Bradford. The meeting was so well attended it had to move outside and take place on a cricket pitch. This was the first time I had heard an authentic voice rather than an endless string of soundbites delivered by political automatons. I joined in September after he was elected leader.

    Am I a “corbynista”? Not really. I liked the policy change. I liked the people around him. I like his authenticity and his strength. Will I vote for him again? Yes. The PLP have behaved in a very underhand way. The “coup” is demonstrably co-ordinated. The exact sequence of events was outlined by Isabel Hardman in August 2015 which was even before he won. Last night I was harangued on twitter as an SWP supporter. I am not. I carefully rebutted this and it was still retweeted. This from those supposedly “Saving Labour”. This sort of “bullying” is commonplace yet apparently we are “thugs” and “entryists”… Really. I have ALWAYS voted Labour.

    It could have all been so different. Senior figures could have agreed to serve. They could have looked at new members as a massive opportunity. Labour ihas the largest party, of members,for decades. They could have looked at their 2 lost elections and shown some humility. They could then have started to realise that a return to the “winning” ways of Blair was not going to happen under his legacy policies.

    We don’t want Academy Schools. We want the NHS to be protected not marketised. We want education to be an investment by the state in our future not a burden on the young. We need social housing. We must stop tolerating homelessness. We need to shape a new narrative of the Left. If we merely “echo” neo-liberal policy with a “softer” approach. We will lose again. Funnily enough I bet that my branch and CLP agree with this. They don’t all agree on the leader. I get that. New Labour policies have been comprehensively rejected by the electorate even with the most toxic Tory government of my lifetime. PLP cannot accept this. They should.

  • Dinky Doo

    I know you blocked me for some reason on Twitter and I still don’t understand why but I came across this online by chance. I would like to say I think it’s a very good summary of what’s going on and I wish you and your mum well. Take care. P.S I did not deliberately change my name to post here but when leaving my comment this name appeared as I assume years ago I may be had set up a different account I’d forgotten about and somewhere who knows where the details are logged into the system and this may not be seen any way as you probably have to authorise weather it appears or not. You could even block me from reading your blog so be it.

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