6 January 2020

Labour’s moderates are still getting it all wrong

By Chris Savage

It was with more in hope than expectation that, as an ex-Labour voter (well, more than a voter, I was a member for 42 years) I turned to the online output of the Labour’s remaining moderates after the general election to see if they could persuade me to rejoin.

So far, they’re not doing well.

This is meant in a spirit of friendliness. I wish them well in their endeavours. Even if I never vote Labour again, I believe it’s important for a stable democracy to have a credible opposition. When I left Labour it wasn’t because I wanted a centre party; what we need is a choice between two credible parties with enough common ground (security in the world, a favourable economic environment) but also enough difference to make for a contest.

In that spirit here’s friendly suggestion number one: stop talking to non-Labour voters as if we all feel we’ve done something wrong and we need the Labour Party to save us from ourselves. It may be going a bit far to say that the party that deserves to win an election invariably does, but there’s enough truth in it to make us stop and think.

I for one feel very relieved that we have a majority Conservative government to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Number 10 and to avoid the chaos and damage to the union of a coalition dependent on the SNP. I see no evidence that other non-Labour voters have the slightest regret about their decision.

So please stop talking to us as if you’ve got it right and the rest of us have got it wrong. It’s the other way around, and I’m afraid that until you accept you’re just putting off whatever chance there is of Labour saving itself.

If anyone’s in any doubt about that, ask yourself what would Labour’s moderates be doing now if, as could have happened, Labour had won? How could they challenge the support for dictatorships, the hostile environment for British Jews, the conflict with business, when they had asked people to vote for it and were committed to sustaining it in power?

And that brings me to the harshest criticism of the moderates, though again it’s meant in a spirit of good will. Just as any sensible person would argue that Labour’s leadership should be expected to take responsibility for the party’s defeat, so we should expect Labour’s moderates to take ownership of the collective failure to defeat the hard left.

Politics is about forming winning coalitions and that’s as true of factions within parties as it is of elections between parties. There are no prizes, and no virtue, in being correct but failing to marshal a coalition for change.

I don’t say that taking on the left would have been easy. I accept that the conditions had been made more difficult with the emasculation of the PLP and the disastrous membership changes under Ed Miliband that left Labour open to far-left entryism again. It would have required taking huge risks and whatever was left of the party would have been unrecognisable. The moderates probably would have lost, but they did anyway and now they’ve become complicit in the outcome. At least if they’d fought and lost they could have created the basis for a credible alternative.

The scale of radical change that would be required in 2020 is now much greater than would have been needed in 2015. But even the most radical among Labour’s moderates still have no appetite for it. The best they hope for is an end to the brutality in the party, a less hostile environment in which everyone can feel united and the far left continue to win everything that matters.

It’s no longer reform that the Labour Party needs; it is a radical realignment. A reasonable rule of thumb is that anyone talking about internal party unity is missing the point.

I can’t blame Labour’s moderates if they won’t face up to that task, but then it’s a bit much for them to ask the rest of us to fall into line behind them.

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Chris Savage is a project development consultant