Could the McBride memoirs provide an opportunity for Labour to distance itself from the worst sort of 'alpha male' politics?
By Roxanne Mashari, Labour councillor for Welsh Harp Ward and lead member for Environment and Neighbourhoods on Brent Council
Much has been made of the alleged damage that the publishing of the McBride memoirs in time for Labour Party Conference will have.
Undoubtedly, one has to question the timing of this publication from someone who claims to continue be a Labour supporter, but could these stomach churning accounts of back stabbing, smearing and power obsession be an opportunity for the Party and politics at large to begin to make some real changes?
The pursuit of a high politics/low principle strategy is nothing new to politics. The male-dominated behind-the-scenes scheming, character assassinating and no-holds barred style has existed at every level in our democracy for some time.
‘Being ruthless’, and being able to ‘say one thing and believe another’ are not just desired attributes in a politician I was told by a party figure when I first stood for local council, ‘they are essential’. I was told that not to embrace this style was to be naive and that if I found that the taste was bitter that I should seriously consider leaving politics altogether.
Despite being utterly demoralised by these words, I have continued to reaffirm that politics is only as dirty as the people in it choose to behave. There is nothing intrinsically slimy, underhanded and low about politics itself – serving the public good, pursuing policies to implement positive change and shedding light on the critical issues of the day.
The caricature of the ruthless, alpha male adviser has been immortalised through fictional characters such as Malcolm Tucker and it appears, certainly in many political circles at all levels and of all political hues, that this kind of behaviour has been perceived for too long as a demonstration of strength and great strategic thinking and the ‘way things are done’.
The mistake here would be to confuse strength with aggression; strategic thinking with underhandedness, bullying and manipulation.
During Labour conference this year one of the key issues discussed was making politics more accessible to women. Ed Miliband’s speech demonstrated a clear commitment to this agenda, as well as to a wider set of party reforms aimed at improving the relevance and accessibility of politics.
The challenge Ed faces is not just improving mechanisms to increase the numbers of women in public life (while this is of course important), but is to transform the institution of parliament and politics itself, its culture and quirks that ferment and often favour aggressive, male-centric insider culture.
Could the McBride memoirs provide an opportunity for the party to formally condemn this style of working and enshrine perhaps the most important and so far underestimated attribute of being a good politician – being a decent person?
So what could the Labour Party do? In most organisations there are clear repercussions for smearing, blackmailing and bullying behaviour. In politics, from very local to national level, parties appear less inclined to get involved to enforce codes of conduct and as such underhanded, bullish politics runs rife.
Labour could take the lead on being the Party to clear out this culture once and for all – with clear guidance and assistance in place so that party members know where to go and who to turn to if they feel victim of organised and systematic personal attacks.
We could also begin to condemn, rather than favour and admire, the Malcom Tucker ‘wannabe’ personalities within our own ranks. This is not only to protect individuals from serious emotional and psychological attacks, but to also face the public perception of politics more widely – that it is full of ruthless, cut-throat individuals who will do and say anything to get what they want.
If we claim to be a party of fairness, standing up for the voiceless and fighting injustice, then we must embody these principles at every level – including in our internal dealings and interactions if we ever have a hope of changing the public perception of politics and politicians. We must ensure clear mechanisms in place for individuals to seek recourse when they are at the brunt of such behaviours and proper penalties in place where evidence of systemised behaviour of this kind is identified.
But most importantly, conducting politics in an environment of decency and honour must not be seen as a bonus or dismissed as an airy-fairy irrelevance but as a key priority in strengthening our party unity, cracking the insider male culture and beginning the journey to change public perception of politics for the better.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.