I gather that someone called Luke Akehurst has complained that my comments on the recent Shadow Cabinet appointments did not compliment those who were successful, commiserate with those who were left out or discuss the personal qualities of the contenders. That response is symptomatic of everything that has been wrong with the Labour Party over the last couple of decades – that it’s all about personalities, managerialism and career advancement. One would have thought that the experience of New Labour over the last two decades would have unerringly demonstrated how shallow, misplaced and unconvincing such an approach is. Above all it ignores what Labour is really all about – it’s not about getting on or climbing the greasy pole, it’s about ideology, vision and a sense of purpose on behalf of a majority of the population who depend uniquely on Labour to protect their interests against a repressive and often ruthless elite.
As a result of accommodating to neoliberal capitalist policies throughout the Blair years – deregulation of finance, privatisation, shrinking the State in favour of unfettered markets, weakened trade union rights, and ballooning inequality – Labour lost 5 million votes since 1997. That is a catastrophe from which Labour is still far from recovering. Appointing more people who were complicit in all those years is not going to help.
Ed Miliband made a radical, ambitious and extremely brave speech at Conference charting the course that Labour needs to take if it is to regain power – taking on the vested interests and tackling hard those who abuse power in today’s Britain. He showed a courage we have not seen in Labour’s leadership for decades by confronting Murdoch, the profiteering energy and rail companies, and the banks. That is exactly how the party needs to reconnect with its activists, its union supporters and its voters. But he cannot do it all alone. He needs to have around him people who share those same ideals.
It is true that the normal (and healthy) Left-Right balance within the PLP, which has always prevailed in the party over the last century, has been distorted out of all recognition by the blatant rigging of parliamentary selections, contrary to the impartial rules of the party, throughout the Blair years. That has left a very imbalanced PLP. But even within those constraints it is vital that all the party’s resources, personnel and goals should be united behind Ed’s leadership which is by far the best opportunity Labour has to regain its historic role of protecting and advancing ordinary people who are so bitterly oppressed today.