By Ian Hodson
The recent general election defeat for the Labour Party and the resignations of both Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson means that we are now in the process of electing a new leadership. Many who joined the party because of Jeremy Corbyn may feel that it will no longer represent their interests, and those who left the party because of Jeremy Corbyn, may now feel that it’s time to re-join in order to influence the election and change the direction of the party.
It’s been suggested that Labour simply cannot win with radical, left-leaning policies and that Jeremy Corbyn, rather than Brexit, was the main reason we suffered the biggest loss of seats since 1935. I did a bit of door-knocking during the election and there was both antipathy from some towards Jeremy Corbyn and, from others, a lack of trust that Labour could deliver a manifesto that some of its own MPs weren’t actively supporting.
However, it was clearly obvious that for most people Brexit was the main bone of contention. They felt that Labour’s position with regard to a second EU referendum was an outright betrayal, particularly as Labour had pledged to honour the 2016 referendum result during the 2017 general election campaign. People in many northern towns and cities (including the ‘Red Wall’) felt that their votes had been taken for granted for too long. They took exception to being labelled as ‘thick racists’ and ‘gammons’ who didn’t know what they’d voted for in the EU referendum.
In actual fact, the seeds were sown during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, when Labour shared a platform with the Conservatives in relation to Scotland ‘staying in’. Labour failed to connect with people in Scottish communities and they paid the penalty in the 2015 general election, when traditional Scottish Labour voters abandoned the party in their droves.
Sadly, Labour made the same mistake in the December 2019 general election and took a shellacking in former English, Labour strongholds. The sad reality is that the party leadership caved in to ‘Remain’ MPs and party members, many of whom had done nothing but undermine Jeremy Corbyn since the day he was elected leader and colluded with a mainly Tory-friendly mainstream media in doing so.
The political establishment are now queuing up to say that socialist ideologies must be abandoned in favour of a return to the centre-ground. However, who is the arbiter of what is and what isn’t socialism? Where is the centre-ground? Is it within a limited spectrum of public opinion? It would appear to me, that the agenda is to ensure that people are made to fit the system rather than the other way around, in order to present the tried and tested ‘illusion of political choice’ and maintain the status quo.
If you speak to people with varying political beliefs, right across the board you’ll find that the common-denominator is that most of them want to live in a society that provides people with a level playing field. They want the opportunity to live a decent life, where their children can flourish and everyone has a roof over their heads regardless of their financial or employment status. They want a country where access to healthcare doesn’t depend on what you can afford and a safety net that protects you and your family from hitting rock bottom if you fall on hard times through no fault of your own. They want job security and a fair wage for a fair day’s work.
I think these basic desires are well outside of the left-wing/right-wing paradigm and are more than achievable in one of the richest economies in the world. The problem is as long as we live within a system that’s built on debt-based money and fractional reserve banking that favours wealthy elites, we won’t be able to change an awful lot.
Another obstacle for us, is that as long as we have incoming MPs who pledge allegiance to the Queen and her heirs from day one in Parliament and others who accept knighthoods while in public office, how can we be sure that the political classes will truly serve the public and put their heads above the parapet for us?
This Labour leadership election ought to be a battle for ideas and how we challenge a political and financial/corporate establishment that has had the system rigged in their favour for far too long.
We need someone with genuine courage and the strength of their convictions, who won’t simply cave in to whatever group of people are shouting the loudest. We need someone who isn’t going to ingratiate themselves by jumping on any old political bandwagon because they think it will pick up a few votes and make them look ‘down with the kids’. We need someone who is willing to engage with people, listen to them and not be so quick to demonise them simply for having a different opinion or point of view. Most importantly, however, we need someone who is going to move heaven and earth, in order to win back the voter bases that Labour has so carelessly lost over the last ten years.
In terms of the leadership candidates, Sir Keir Starmer would appear to be the front-runner. Sure he comes across as slick, even-tempered, intelligent and performs reasonably well on television. However, the fact that he’s a staunch remainer, as well as a ‘knight of the realm’ will make him unlikely to win back the old Labour heartlands.
Lisa Nandy also comes across as a competent TV performer, who has been consistent with her views in terms of the dangers of ignoring people who voted for Brexit. She was also a supporter of the BFAWU in our zero hours contract dispute with Hovis in Wigan many years ago. However, she can often appear duplicitous and her role in the failed Labour leadership ‘coup’ of 2016 was unforgivable as far as I’m concerned. She exacerbated a culture of division that arguably cost the party a general election victory in 2017.
Emily Thornberry’s candidacy is laughable. She will be forever remembered for her ‘white van man’ comments but more importantly, her dressing like the EU flag during a Labour Party Conference might have signalled the death knell for Labour’s chances at the last election. Many Labour members will also find it hard to forgive her for kicking Jeremy Corbyn while he was down.
In terms of Rebecca Long-Bailey, although I do admit some bias towards her, there’s no taking away from the fact that she’s been the brains behind some of Labour’s best received policies of the last few years. I’m a bit unconvinced regarding her ‘Progressive Patriotism’ and would hope there is not too much distraction with issues that don’t resonate with most people. It’s fine to have opinions, but smashing people over the head with them every five minutes will only serve to irritate. All that being said, there’s no doubt that she’s a first-rate speaker, who comes across as coherent and easy to understand. Out of all the candidates she has by far the warmest personality and has a good record of supporting our Union, meeting with our members and speaking at our Annual Conference a few years ago.
As far as the BFAWU is concerned, there’s an essence of Clement Attlee about Rebecca Long-Bailey and she is the only leadership candidate worth backing in terms of the people we represent.
Ian Hodson is the National President of the Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union
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