Labour needs to win power, not morph into a pressure group

A weak Labour could lose Scotland and break up Britain, writes Ed Jacobs


“The collapse of the Labour Party means that we face a prolonged period of uninterrupted and unchecked Conservative government at Westminster.”

These words, spoken by Nicola Sturgeon last week as she called for a second vote on Scotland leaving the UK, were perhaps the clearest analysis of the problem that the country faces.

With an opposition that is tearing itself apart, Theresa May feels under no electoral pressure to soften her hard Brexit strategy. And with the prospect of Labour being in the wilderness for years, Nicola Sturgeon can play on the fears north of the border of Conservative dominance at Westminster for years to come.

It raises the question of whether Labour, the party I continue to be a member of and which brought us the NHS, Surestart centres, the Open University and the Human Rights Act, to name just a few achievements, is now sadly the biggest threat to the future of the UK.

I say this out of genuine sorrow. We need a strong a credible party to take on the current government and hold its feet to the fire. We need a strong and credible party to give hope to wavering votes in Scotland that staying in the UK does not consign them to near permanent Tory rule.

And we need a strong and credible Labour Party to stand up for and more importantly achieve the changes we need to give every person in the country the opportunity to develop their talents and play a full and active role in building the UK post-Brexit.

What we have however is, by anyone’s standards, a shambolic mess. I won’t go over the well-documented dispute this morning between Tom Watson and Momentum, plenty has already been said.

Where we can point to  though is the inability of team Corbyn to establish even a clear analysis of the party’s fortunes.

Speaking over the weekend, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell declared that Labour would be ready to fight a general election in between 18 and 24 months time. Contrast this however with the views of Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot, who told The Independent over the weekend  that the party is ‘ready for the election whenever is comes’.

But just read what she then went on to say:

“What I’m trying to do, as part of the Shadow Cabinet team, is go around the country and talk to party members.

Partly because I’m a member of the Shadow Cabinet and partly because Hackney is a relatively safe seat, I see much of my role as going around the country and enthusing party activists and members.”

I might be a traditionalist in these matters, but I had thought that the job of the Shadow Cabinet was not just to speak to party members, but more importantly reach out to and garner the support of the vast majority of people in the UK, who are not a member of a party and who decide who gets the keys to Downing Street.

Perhaps I am wrong, but one would hope that party members and activists would already vote for the Labour Party.

We then have the debacle last year of Jeremy Corbyn having called, following the EU referendum, for the immediate triggering of Article 50. It’s just as well he wasn’t Prime Minister at the time since, as a result of the Gina Miller case, we now know that had the government triggered it immediately without any decision by parliament, this would have been illegal.

And then we have the truly ridiculous sight of Jeremy Corbyn going to Scotland earlier this year to declare that he was ‘absolutely fine’ with Scotland having a second independence vote, contradicting official Scottish Labour policy.

Yes, he issued a clarification statement afterwards, but no party that requires its leader’s statements to be clarified afterwards can ever hope to make it into government.

At this stage I recognise and respect that MPs are wanting to keep their heads down low. It means that for those in the party who want to see us looking and sounding like a credible government-in-waiting, we need to work from the grassroots to change.

It means quite simply encouraging friends, family and neighbours who believe we need a new course as a country and a party to join it and fight for it.

It means ending the fragmentation of the various internal factions in the party and uniting to declare with one voice that enough is enough. We want the party that we have such pride in to be taken seriously once again.

In response I am no doubt going to get a torrent of abuse, being accused of all sorts of nasty things, including being a Blairite. Well, if record investment in the NHS is being Blairite, then that’s me.

If the winter fuel allowance is Blairite, then that’s me. If creating Surestart is Blairite, then that’s me. If the Disability Discrimination Act is Blairite, then that’s me.

If half a million children out of poverty, maternity pay and paternity are all Blairite, then that’s me.

And if the ban on cluster bombs, the cancelling of oversees debt and the trebling of aid are all Blairite, then that is well and truly me.

As a party we have so much to be proud of. So much that we can use as examples of how we made a difference. But that difference came not through creating pressure groups, but by winning power by securing the support of the people to govern and make the changes that Britain needs.

Ed Jacobs is a Labour Party member and a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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.