All posts by Paul Cruikshank

Rebuilding Labour

…or how much of the house is left?

The first thing, and the most overlooked about the 2019 General Election result in Scotland was that no-one (and I mean no-one) expected the scale of the result. SNP gains, yes. Labour going down, almost certain. But for Labour to be reduced to the Ian Murray Party, and for the SNP to gain so many seats across Scotland was never expected, even by candidates and campaigners in the SNP. This fact will be ignored or re-written; it will even be denied by those from whose narrative it is convenient, but it remains a fact.

So what happened? I’ve deliberately taken the Christmas and New Year period to think about this, because the hot takes being produced in the festive season may as well have been roasted with the Turkey – seemingly appealing but, underneath it all, a bit disappointing. In Glasgow North West, the seat for which I was the Election Agent for the Labour Party, there were 3 main things that came up during the campaign that I think are instructive for the Scottish Party as we decide to whom (and to what) we now turn.

The first was that, plainly, Corbyn was either hated or not liked very much. Others (I’m sure) will disagree that this never happened, but it did. People who said they voted Labour all their lives (and the canvassing data since c.2011 shows they did) said that they wouldn’t be voting for us because they couldn’t vote for Corbyn. I’ve seen other activists (amazingly enough, mostly those who were pro-Corbyn to begin with) say they found voters who couldn’t vote Labour because of Tony Blair – I can say with confidence that this did not happen once in Glasgow North West. The voters we spoke to didn’t trust him, didn’t think he was serious enough, didn’t know where he stood on the issues that mattered to them…which brings us to the second issue.

Brexit was a disaster for the Labour Party, not because we picked the wrong side, but because we didn’t pick a side until we absolutely had to – and even during the Election Campaign, Corbyn said he would be ‘neutral’ in any second referendum (RIP). There are those (one again, overwhelmingly those who seem to have supported the lifelong Eurosceptic Corbyn since 2015) who believe that Labour shouldn’t have ‘abandoned’ the northern working class towns who voted Leave in 2016 and that by ending up supporting a second referendum with a revised deal, we betrayed those people and lost their trust, and their vote. These people, however, overlook the fact that yes, while Labours vote did decrease by c.7% in Leave-voting English seats, it decreased by around 4% in Remain-voting English seats – so maybe significance of the choice can be overplayed. In Remain-voting Scotland, however, our vote decreased by 8.5% – and once again, on the doors speaking to voters, people didn’t know what our Brexit policy was. In Scotland, they had seen this before – after the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, we were too slow to figure out where we stood. We tried (with the best of intentions and the smallest of precedent) to overcome a divide that was not ready to be healed, and so we ceded the Unionist ground to the Tories and the Nationalist ground to the SNP, and we were stranded in the middle. Yes, since the EU Referendum the UK Labour Party has, despite loud, clear and repeated warnings from its Scottish contingent who have suffered the consequences of this equivocation in the all-too-recent-past, does exactly the same thing, hoping for a different result, and yet we are astounded when the same things happened. When the battle-lines were drawn, we failed to get out of no-man’s-land.

And that ‘other’ referendum on Scottish Independence was the third thing, where again, it seemed that the UK Party seemed unwilling to take any direction or suggestion form the Scottish Party – though it may have been that the Scottish Leadership didn’t have the wherewithal to provide it. Just when it seemed we were able to provide a strong line north of the border, that the SNP wanted a referendum because they have no answers to any of the other questions facing Scotland, McDonnell, Corbyn et al. chimed in by weakening that message in an attempt, again, to cross a divide for which they did not have the measurements. Once again on the doorstep, former undecided voters (voters who, in Glasgow North West could have won us the seat), heard this and once again decided they didn’t know where we stood.

So, what was the result of this. People didn’t like our candidate for Prime Minister, so really needed another reason to vote for us; if they valued Remaining in the EU or a Second Referendum, then they voted Lib Dem; if they valued certainty on the Union (or were pro-Brexit), they voted Tory; and you can’t out-Nat the Nats. The net result, a bad night for Labour, particularly in Scotland.

So, then, what needs to be done…or what can be done? Is anything to be done?

I don’t yet believe that Labour is in terminal decline and we are merely experiencing the death throes – even in Scotland. I think there are enough people with enough commitment and determination to save the party, and even 20% support is 20% support. But, the short-term process is not a pretty one. The Holyrood Election in 2021 is not going to be a fun experience – there will be no hope of a ‘repeat 2017’ to fall back on – and the result may be even more unpleasant. But, it can be a vital first step in the recovery.

One of the good things about 2015 was that, for the first time in living memory, Scottish Labour had virtually no MPs it had to keep happy. It had no MPs who were essentially just expensive seat warmers taking up space, operating by patronage and demanding loyalty instead of earning it. Not every MP who lost their seat fits this mould (and the one who kept it certainly doesn’t), but it does, unfortunately describe a high number of them. IN terms of their contribution to their constituencies, their constituents and the legislative process, their contributions were minimal. The 2015 wipeout, then, provided an opportunity to focus on the people in our party, those with talent and ability and commitment should be a priority. But this is the opposite of what happened – instead, there was a relaxing of the rules for standing as a Labour Candidate. The concept of ‘The Panel’ (where potential candidates were assessed and considered on the basis of their ability) was replaced by a more basic ‘are you liable to cause us problems’ test, in the name of ‘returning democracy to the members’. In 2017, the nature of the election meant that the ‘party democracy’ bit was suspended and the SEC made decisions based on…reasons. The reasons some candidates were selected for 2017 and some were not has never been disclosed – which, you may think wouldn’t matter too much, except that more than expected were elected and those that weren’t were given a Golden Ticket into the next Westminster Selection (if they wanted it) with the bonus of being able to say they wanted to ‘finish the job’ or that they ‘had the experience’.

But experience of what, exactly? What is it that actually happened in 2017? Once again, that was a result that caught almost everyone off-guard and that few people expected. Being a Labour Agent at the Glasgow Count in 2017 was akin to being a 4 year old at their birthday party: you knew something positive was happening, but you didn’t know why. Immediately after the Election, not a great deal of “why did we lose” reflection happened through a combination of ‘bloody hell, we gained seats in Scotland’ and ‘Corbyn won the election in every way except the result’. We dared to hope that perhaps, a corner was being turned and that if we dug deep then maybe we would be able to bounce back – but despite the amazing hard work of talented MPs (in particular Paul Sweeney and Martin Whitfield) we have ended up right back were we were on the worst night of our lives. 2017 was the aberration – not 2015.

Looking back, then, and having the sampling data from counts to base this on, what I suspect happened this: in 2015 voters turned out do give Labour a beating, in 2017 SNP voters (but not necessarily the SNP) assumed an easy victory and stayed at home; in 2019, they were determined not to make the same mistake and showed up to beat Boris. This story, coupled with (as mentioned above) Labour’s shakiness on the Union (compared to the Tories; who showed a slight dip in their vote share, but who are pro-Brexit) and shakiness on Brexit (compared to the Lib Dems who showed a proportionate rise in their vote share) and a Leader who has dismal ratings in almost every respect led to an miserable annihilation. At a UK level, the 2019 Election was Labour’s worst result since 1935; in Scotland, it was our worst result since 1910 (and even then, we managed to return 2 MPs!)

In summary, we thought that 2015 was ground zero – then we dug deeper.

So, the problem ahead is bleak and the Parties, both UK and Scottish, are plunged into Leadership Elections. What can help us here.

The first, and perhaps most important thing to realise is that Labour is now going to suffer the longst period out of power since the war. We are currently 163 seats away from Government and it is impossible to believe that we can recover that in one 5 year period (even this one). So, we should take this time, yes to set out our vision for the country, but also set out our vision for the party – what we are, what we want to achieve and how we would achieve it.

The last 4 years have been incredibly damaging to our Party and its reputation. Where once we could safely be assumed to be the anti-racist party in the UK, we have allowed antisemitism to raise its head and we have been slow to act. Where we spoke about the power of common purpose and common endeavour, we have allowed factionalism and patronage to corrupt that vision. Where once we saw the merits of a broad church, scrutiny of ideas and exchange of views, we are a party that boos journalists. The call of “Unity, comrades” used to mean “we don’t have these fights in public”; under Corbyn it means “Agree of leave”. And too many did.

The first challenge of the new leader has to be to win those people back. Those who were hounded out of the party and told by people who had joined years ago that they weren’t ‘Real Labour’ members, many of whom had stood by the party in its worst times, had worked for it, stood for it, represented it, but who believed that Corbyn’s Labour Party was no longer a welcome space for them – we must fight to convince them that we have, once again, changed. Those who, whether because of their religious or racial identity, felt that they were no longer safe in Corbyn’s Labour Party – we must work to win back their trust. and instrumental to that will be the new Leader and Deputy Leader.

They will set the tone of the next five years, and must work in the knowledge that they are unlikely to be Prime Minister. But, they will have to the Leader of the Opposition that has been missing for the last few years – not playing to the party, but speaking for the country. They must embrace the knowledge that the Labour Party has always worked best, not when it pursues some ideological purity, but when it works diligently and pragmatically. The NHS was not set up because it represented some Socialist Utopia, but because there were people dying who couldn’t afford health care. The National Minimum Wage wasn’t a failure because it was established at a rate below what we now term a ‘Living Wage’, it was a success because now not even the Tories would abolish it.

The next leader, whoever they are, has to bare this in mind. The 3 people who (at time of writing) have launched their campaigns (Lisa Nandy, Jess Philips and Keir Starmer) all, in their own was show that they get this. They are all people who understand that we have to bring people with us, not just hope they come along. I don’t believe that Ian Lavery (a man who said in a room full of Labour activists who he hadn’t met that ‘It’s great to be able to feel proud to vote Labour again’ under Corbyn) cares about that nor that Rebecca-Long Bailey (who has near-enough been posted missing since December 2019) would know how as it is clear she is the preferred choice of the Corbyn machinery.

In all this too, is the Deputy Leadership. Fewer candidates have declared for this, but there is speculation that Ian Murray (Scotland’s last Labour MP) will stand. This can only be a good thing. It can sometimes feel like being a wildling in Game of Thrones, Southerners speak of ‘The North’ which is a place south of where you live. Scotland is often left out of leadership debates – not always out of ignorance but out of deference to the fact that we have a distinct place in the UK and so much is already devolved. But, as long as Scotland is part of the UK, it must be part of our Party. Even if Ian is unsuccessful, it will ensure that Scotland is front-and-centre of that debate and hopefully steer Labour to be the only party that truly stands up for whole of the UK and, hopefully, will be able to allow us to think clearly about a way back in Scotland.

And hopefully, we will be able to have Scotland begin to think about us.

As often as Corbyn’s name came up on the doors, Richard Leonard’s didn’t. In over 2 years as Scottish Leader, has has, unfortunately make little impression in the country. Some of this is the fact that, simply put, he has made little effort too. In the belief that we simply had to ride the Corbyn wave, there has been little to no attempt to build up the ‘Scottish Labour brand’ in the national consciousness. The autonomy for the Scottish Party that Kez Dugdale had to fight to win has lain unused since Leonard was elected. This is by design as the CfS and hard-left to let Corbyn have total control of the whole Party, but given the result in 2019, this seriously has to change. Much as we tell the SNP about the country, we don’t need a separate Scottish Party in order to make a difference – we just need to assert and use the powers we already have.

Another part of the reason for that is, I think, much the same reason that Corbyn was able to whip up a rally but failed to inspire the country. I don’t think I have ever heard him give a speech that didn’t reference Keir Hardie or set out a vision for ‘Municipal Socialism’. Just like in the UK, we were ignoring what people were saying and telling them what we wanted. To quote Leonard, we were too busy trying to “unite on the basis of class” and ignoring the fact that our country is still “dividing on the basis of nationality”.

And that, since 2014 has been our the issue. Since the 2011 SNP Government, all politics in Scotland has been focused on the Constitution and our relationship with and in the UK. There was hope (indeed, the SNP, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon all said) that after the Independence Referendum in 2014, regardless of the outcome would be the end of it – but it hasn’t been. It has dominated every election and event since. It has continued to be the dominant narrative in Scotland for over a decade…and looks set to continue to be. It has continued to starve every other issue and policy of oxygen. All the things that Labour cares about, the decline in our country under the SNP cannot and will not be noticed until this question is decided.

Independence would be a bad decision for Scotland. Even with the Tories, even with Brexit, even with all the other things we don’t even know are going to happen over the next 5 years, I still honestly and sincerely believe that Scottish Independence would be a step back for our country. But it is clear that this issue will not go away and that the SNP’s sole contribution to any debate will be to offer Independence as an alternative – and enough people (not a majority, but enough) think the matter is worth consideration. There is an argument, and one I increasingly support, that Labour can no longer play Canute to the oncoming tide. While I believe Scotland’s future should be in the UK, the only way that Labour will be given space and time to put forward it’s case to the country, to reverse declining numeracy and literacy, to cut the growing waiting lists, to invest in our crumbling infrastructure is to confirm that that is our future. It may be that only by facing this head-on, and once again setting out the positive case for the UK that Scotland will – after over 10 years – be able to finally move on and act as if we are in the early days of a better nation, and not just dream about some self-constructed paradise.

Labour must change, or we are finished. We cannot repeat the style and leadership of the last 4 years in the hope that the result is different. We cannot simply say “we are the good guys” and hope that people realise we are right. We cannot, any longer, ignore the conversations people are having in the country and just start talking about something else instead, hoping that our lone voice may drown out the crowd.

No longer can Labour speak only for the few in the party; we must talk to the many in our Country.

The week that was…

…or what seems like the end of the beginning of the end of Scottish Labour.

It seems that whenever there is news coverage of the Scottish Labour Party it is always negative. Some would be inclined to blame this on media-bias or an anti-Corbyn-agenda (the focus on Corbyn, perhaps, being part of the problem), but when you see what we give them…I don’t think there’s much else to work with? This week, the Corbynisation of Scottish Labour reached a major milestone.

The week started with John McDonnell MP – the Shadow Chancellor and the widely-accepted mastermind behind Project Corbyn – saying Labour would allow a Second Independence Referendum if it was Holyrood voted for it. This, with the benefit of hindsight and knowing what followed later in the week, is a big red flag – and not one of the good ones.

Scottish Labour Party policy is, and always has been to oppose a second referendum – even if Jeremy Corbyn has been somewhat unsure of this in the past. But McDonnell in not Corbyn. His comments weren’t a slip of the tongue , and he has repeated them since – they were a calculated overture to the SNP to support a potential future minority Labour Government. There have been suggestions of a SNP-supported Labour Government before and, they did not go down well.

A 2015 (English) Tory Election Poster

But apart from such an overture being self-defeating, it is also unnecessary. The SNP MPs after the next General Election (provided there is a hung parliament), will have to make a choice: do they support a potential Labour Government or allow the Tories to continue? The need not be tempted, they need not be bought – they can either agree with the Labour program for Government, or not. They can decide where their principles lead them – which may, indeed, be in two different directions.

But aside from the external politics of the situation – the internal signals are clear – The UK Labour Leadership doesn’t care about Scottish Labour any longer. After repeating Scottish Labour’s post-referendum mistakes in 2016 by trying to please both sides, they are now trying to force us to repeat them! To hell with Scottish Labour Policy or processes.

And that was just Tuesday!

Over the next couple of days what has been rightly described as a ‘Civil War’ broke out across the party. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the members who had fought in the 2014 referendum, who bore the scars of that vote, and the General Election who followed it – who remember being shouted at in St. Enoch Square and balled at outside our own rallies (including by some who are now members and claim to speak for ‘true Labour values’); who faced abuse on the doorstep – are the ones who feel most hurt and abandoned by McDonnell’s calculated comments.

They are the ones who have remained with the party through the (increasingly) hard times but now all-to-readily dismissed as the ‘Anti-Corbyn gang’, without those accusers considering the reasons for that position. And when they stand up for agreed party policy, their commitment to the party is questioned and they are called anti-democratic. Though, of course, when they support a 2nd EU Referendum, they’re being anti-democratic then too.

On Thursday, when Richard Leonard attempted to re-state Scottish Labour’s Policy, opposing a Second Referendum – that didn’t stem the tide. Even a statement supported by the majority of Labour MSPs couldn’t act as a ‘unity comrades’ moment – thanks to the Scottish Campaign Coordinator who led the party to a recent 5th place finish:

Neil Findlay MSP appears not to mind the UK Labour Party “undermining the official position of the Scottish Labour Party”

But, this wasn’t the end of the week – nor the most telling.

Brian Roy, The Scottish General Secretary for the past 5 years resigned on Friday morning with immediate effect. According to Davie Clegg of the Daily Record, this follows a meeting with Richard Leonard just last week where Roy was told he no longer enjoyed Richard Leonard’s confidence – for what that’s worth.

Over the past 5 years, in various roles and to various degrees, I’ve seen Brian Roy in action – and he was a dedicated and loyal servant to the Party and to each leader he worked alongside. His commitment to varied and risky campaigning was demonstrated in his facilitated Jim Murphy’s “we just need to see if anything works” plans; his focus on long-term strategy over short-term tactics was on display when working with Kez Dugdale to try and slowly re-build trust in the party (which stemmed the losses in 2016 and bore first-fruit in 2017); and his commitment to the Party as a whole continued to the last as he endevoured to keep the peace among warring factions in Richard Leonard’s era. If anything it is the last of these which was Brian’s hamartia, if reports of Richard’s mentioning of the door (but not being confident to show him it) are to be believed.

Even after his resignation, in the circumstances, Brian Roy’s commitment to the Party comes before anything else.

Indeed, if I was to make any criticism of Brian’s tenure – it woudl be that he was sometimes too accommodating in trying to balance views that could not be balanced. He was too willing to try and keep the leadership happy, while still genuinely trying to make sure the members’ voice was heard. He was, in my view, too permissive of CfS (Momentum Scotland) and SLYS (the Momentum Scotland Youth Wing), even when they walked along or stuck their toe over the line. Too willing to bend or amend rules to keep the peace, rather than enforce them and admit the war. And in thanks, they seem to have overtaken him.

In all, however, Brian Roy’s tenure as Scottish General Secretary completed its one job – to keep the Scottish Labour afloat over what was bound to be , and will undoubtedly be remembered as, its most tumultuous periods ever. For that – I thank him, and his treatment has been deplorable.

But, as thoughts turn to Scottish Labour’s future, with Lorna Finlayson as acting General Secretary, I am worried that Brian’s not-quite-sacking marks the end-of the-beginning of Scottish Labour’s decline. Lorna would be a strong General Secretary for the upcoming storm (be that a General Election or internal battles).

But, while Lorna would be the sensible choice – experience suggests she will not be the final choice. As I’ve noted before, all of Richard’s appointments have been Corbyn-friendly, line-toeing, Richard-agreeing folk. I don’t see why that will change now.

All of this week’s events, then, suggest to me that the Corbyn-led ‘neutralisation’ of Scottish Labour is progressing rapidly. The Corbyn-project never got as strong a foothold in Scotland as it did in the rest of the UK (Smith is suspected to have won the 2016 Leadership Election in Scotland and nowhere else) though many who stood against it have now left and those who have stayed are demoralised. If Corbyn couldn’t control Scotland – he would at least make Scottish Labour weak enough so he can cut a deal with the SNP. And now that he has a friendly leader and will (almost certainly) soon have a friendly General Secretary – it may be that he can embed his support in Scotland after all.

And at that point – we’re firmly in the middle of the end.

Up to the Nines

So – The European Elections happened, and they were a disaster.

They say that it’s in the small things the big issues become clear.

Tonight, after Mass, I spoke to a fellow parishioner. She has always voted, and has always voted Labour. The Funeral of her grandmother, great-grandmother to her young children, was on Thursday 23rd May 2019. She still voted.

But, for the first time in her life – she didn’t vote Labour. She voted for an unambiguously remain party.

From being out on the doors over the course of the campaign – and it was a fair number of doors – there are two reasons for Scottish Labour’s utterly dire performance last Thursday. Both are to do with leadership, but both in different ways.

Better Together

The first is at the UK level – and that Jeremy Corbyn has bent over backwards to avoid implementing the UK Labour Party’s policy over Brexit. That motion – formed and fashioned in a meeting that lasted over 6 hours – seems to mean nothing to the current party leadership. The insistence that only a ‘bad Tory Brexit’ (not a Labour one) need be put to a ‘public vote’ (which has been extended to include a General Election) killed our party for the European Elections.

Since September 2018, Corbyn has insisted – and his twitter army of fans and followers – have insisted that what the country really needs is a General Election, and that the real divide isn’t between Leave and Remain, but the ‘many’ and the ‘few’. And, the thing is, I agree with that. I agree that that division, the class division, is the most important one – but it doesn’t mean that any other divisions aren’t “real”. I would argue (and most experts and forecasters appear to agree) that Leaving the European Union would affect the many far, far worse than it would the few…but that’s not the conversation the leader of the Labour Party wants to have.

It is, however, the conversation the country is having – but Labour don’t want to take part in. In Scotland, we have tried that. After the 2014 IndyRef, Scottish Labour tried to move the conversation on, tried to talk about schools and hospitals – but the country wasn’t ready to heal, and move on. The Party were punished for it at the polls.

And yet, despite this warning – which was highlighted by several north of the border – the UK leadership failed to learn the lessons and trod the same path.

It seems clear that Jeremy Corbyn lies at the root of this – and with members overwhelmingly in favour of remain or a referendum on the deal – he either needs to unify with the rest of the party, or accept he can no longer lead it.

But, for viewers in Scotland

While the Labour Party did terribly in the UK, it was annihilated in Scotland. From a close second behind the SNP in 2014; to a distant FIFTH only just ahead of the Greens in 2019.

To be fair, the 2014 Euros were the last vote before THAT vote – so at least part of the slippage is the post-#IndyRef reality catching up with us. But even in 2016 and 2017 we at least came 3rd! So how did was fall even further from grace. I don’t think it’s all a consequence of UK Level decisions. I think there is something else that has to happen in the Scottish party.

First off – and this is the most important bit – I do not think Richard Leonard should resign as party leader. This is because, primarily, I think he has the potential to be a good leader (infra) and, secondly, because if he did resign, there are 4 people who would be a decent shout to replace him but one’s too obscure, one’s too divisive, one’s too wise and one’s not an MSP until July.

But what I do think needs to happen in Scotland is that Richard Leonard needs to start showing some personal leadership. I am willing to be corrected on this, but every leader Scottish Labour put out was based on the UK Labour template. Every message was a UK Labour message. There was practically no Scottish message or input at all – but there could have been.

The issue is, not just in respect of the most recent elections, but since Leonard took office just under 2 years ago, is that the call of “unity comrades” – which Corbyn/Leonard supporting Campaign For Socialism have adopted as a rallying cry over the past few days, despite previous positions on other leaders – doesn’t seek unity, it seeks conformity.

The view from the membership, and this is not a view exclusive to me, is that Richard staffed by people who wholly agree with him; speaks to people who wholly agree with him; campaigns for those who wholly agree with him; listens to those who wholly agree with him; and listens only to those that wholly agree with him.

This attitude is best demonstrated at 2018 Scottish Labour Conference, where my own CLP submitted a motion on Brexit after over a year of the Scottish and UK parties doing practically nothing. On the eve of Conference the Leonard-supporting SEC decided to issue a policy statement (which they were allowed to do), but that would scupper the motion. Just the year before, when Kez Dugdale had the opportunity to manoeuvre to prevent a motion on nuclear weapons being debated (which she was bound to lose), she didn’t take it, allowed the debate to play out and took it on the chin.

Yesterday, Neil Findlay MSP, who was in charge of the 2019 Election Campaign and was a key Leonard supporter, stood down and that was the right thing to do. But the leader’s office will still be full of ‘true-believers’ who agree with Leonard, and any replacement is more likely to be a slavish ally than a critical-friend.

If we continue to ignore the reality that the debate is Yes/No, Leave/Remain, and we refuse to take part in that debate, then is it any wonder that people aren’t going to listen to whatever else we have to say?

In Scotland, the issue is not one of the Leader (I think we have the right once) but of Leadership and the lack of it. From the back-room staff to the front bench, we all need to hear what we’re being told, and realise that we’re not currently fighting, sadly, for the next Labour Government.

We’re fighting for the next Labour Party grouping.

On 10 years’ Membership…

…this piece was originally posted on LabourHame on 8th September 2018.

I am a child of the Labour Party. My Mum was CLP Secretary and my Dad was CLP Chair, and they spent their honeymoon leafleting for Donald Dewar in Glasgow Garscadden. So I suppose it was inevitable that politics would be in my blood. But it was my decision, not theirs, when I joined the Labour Party on 8thSeptember 2008.

But much like Trigger’s broom or Theseus’s Ship, that Labour Party has changed so much that, at times, it can feel as if I am a member of a completely different party 10 years on. Today’s Labour Party – Corbyn’s Labour Party – seems almost proud of that fact, but I think that it is a great shame.

The party I joined was led by one of the political giants of the early 21st century. It had a record in government to be proud of and worth defending. It had cut child poverty across the UK by almost half, devolved power to the nations (and was trying to do the same with English regions); increased human rights protections in the UK and moved women’s, LGBT+, BAME and workers’ rights forward in the face of great opposition.

The party I joined never forgot that it wasn’t some exercise in academic Marxism but existed to further the interests of the people who put it in power, even when that involved imperfect compromises or uncertain solutions. It didn’t strive towards some hypothetical perfection at the expense of achievable progress.

And the party I joined was not perfect. At times it lacked ambition and could have afforded to take an electoral hit for political efficacy. At times it made terrible mistakes, the most obvious of which has had lasting effects in the Middle East and only history will tell just how much of a mistake it was. It was when it refused to listen to different views and the leadership blustered on ahead with its plans that it made the biggest mistakes.

But most importantly, the party I joined knew that it couldn’t remain the same forever, it needed constantly to change to meet the challenges of the times it was in. It knew that the best way it could achieve this was to listen to different views and reflect their ideas in its politics.

The party I’m a member of today is different. It feels very different.

The party I am a member of today is not proud of the party it was 10 years ago, to the extent that it cannot even seem to accept it was ever the same party. It cannot acknowledge that the party of 10 years ago did any good; nor can it acknowledge that the party today can do any bad. And that is a great shame.

The last 10 years have been a time of massive change for our party, as were the 10 before that and, particularly, the 10 before that. The Labour Party has always been party that changes to create a change in the country. In the 1990s and early 2000s that meant New Labour – because “secur[ing] for workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry” didn’t really work in a country whose industry was killed the decade before.

So in the 2010s and the early 2020s that must mean something new again – but to establish what that is means we must look at the world around us and deal with what is in front of us, not what we wish was there. We will have to deal with the issues and situations that face us, and, most importantly, convince the electorate that we are worth trusting again.

But for that to happen we have to show that we’re trustworthy. We have to show that we allow a plurality of ideas and views and that, even if you don’t agree with our leader or manifesto on everything, we can work together to make the country better. We have to show that we’re able to represent not just “the many” but everyone, and we need urgently to start demonstrating that we are a party that allows everyone to come together “freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect” for all.

The last year or so has been very difficult for our party. Just this week, our members decided to re-elect someone to our most powerful committee who questioned the widespread existence of antisemitism in our party. Yesterday, it emerged that the Iranian state broadcaster Press TV had live-tweeted and had pictures and video from a members-only CLP meeting covering a vote of no confidence in a Labour MP who has challenged antisemitism in the party.

These situations, the decisions members of our party have taken, make it more difficult to demonstrate that we deserve that trust to govern. The fact we have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism is a step on the right path, but it is only the first step. Saying we will not tolerate active hatred, is not the same as saying we will promote active inclusion.

10 years after joining this party it is still, beyond doubt, my political home. But, like any home, it requires housekeeping. I hope that on 8th September 2028 we will be looking back on this period where we were unable or afraid to face up to our internal challenges as the point where we renewed ourselves, like we did 20 years previously, to meet the challenges of our time.

Just now, that means Brexit, the housing crisis, renewing the constitution across the UK, and dealing with the ever-rising cost of living and unstable and precarious work. But in a country where being working class now more likely means you are the means of production, the challenge to our party is to re-examine our traditions and offer solutions that are right for now.

I am proud to have been a member of the Labour Party, our party, for 10 years. In that time I have followed in both my mum’s and my dad’s footsteps in being both CLP Chair and Secretary. But this is a dark time for our party, and I do not think history will judge it kindly. It is in our domain to change that and show we do not represent merely ‘many’, but all who seek fairer work and a better life.

I hope, in 10 years’ time, to be reflecting on that – and on the achievements of the next Labour Government.

Labour and Anti-Semitism…

…or why it’s still worth fighting for Labour

Now is not a great time to be a Labour Party member. Yes, we are ahead in the polls – though nowhere near as ahead as we should be given this shambolic government – but it is still a difficult time to be a Labour Member.

The Party now is markedly different from the party I joined almost 10 years ago (my 10th Anniversary is 8th September 2018). That Party was committed to fighting all forms of inequality and discrimination, of whatever kind, where it existed, as fully and as forcefully as it could. Recently that difference has shown itself clearly in the Anti-Semitism row, and the NEC’s decision not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA’s) Working Definition and Examples of Anti-Semitism in full.

Continue reading Labour and Anti-Semitism…

Your Concerns are not Legitimate…

…or how we lost the Windrush in 2010.

“I’m not a racist”, it begins. It always begins that way. A Statement of being. If you misunderstand what the meaning of what I am about to say, that is your fault, because am not racist.

“…but…”, of course, there is a but. ‘But’ means I am about to say something contrary to what I just said, but ‘but’ doesn’t mean I’m a racist. Because I just told you that, remember.

“but…there’s a lot of foreigners about now, isn’t there? Lots of Immigrants”. Is there? I mean, probably – but is that a problem? I mean, is it affecting you?

“I have legitimate concerns about the effect of increased immigration is having on my country”. Do you? Or do you just not like people who look different?

This kind of attitude or justification for casual racism is accepted now. And it has to stop.

The idea that people “aren’t allowed to talk about Immigration any more” is a situation of which I’m well aware, as Nigel Farage seems to raise it every time he appears on the BBC’s flagship Political discussion show Question Time, becoming its most regular guest in its past 5 years. The people who dare to broach this subject, and raise the common sense legitimate concerns they have are labeled ‘racists’ or ‘old-fashioned’.

But, when these attitudes aren’t challenged. When parties like UKIP dominate the airwaves during the biggest national debate of the modern era and produce posters warning of hordes of immigrants who can come into our country – our political system changes. When a major British Politician can stand in front of a poster of refugees or immigrants declaring that the country is at “Breaking Point” because of it – we have lost our way.


But I don’t blame Nigel Farage. He’s open about his dislike of immigration. He seems almost proud of his race-baiting at times. So no – at least he declares what he is.

I blame Gordon Brown.

In 2010, during the General Election campaign, the then Labour Leader was at a campaign stop in Rochdale. Enter Gillian Duffy, a 60-odd year old woman who has worries and concerns. Concerns about hospitals and schools and the deficit. Concerns, she raised about ‘people on the dole’ and when Mr Brown, consummate politician that he is, explains that a life on the dole is a thing of the past she asks:

“You don’t say anything about the immigrants…all these eastern Europeans that are coming in…where are they coming from”? [1]

Mr. Brown accepts that, but then talks about the important of Helping people and, as Ms. Duffy is a Labour Supporter, she will appreciate that is the overriding principle. The importance of investment. “but what about all the students coming over”. Deftly, if awkwardly, handled.

Then – the infamous hot mike – “what a bigoted woman” he remarked from the safety of his car, while wearing a live microphone. He heard his remarks back on the radio…live…and his face says it all.

And then, he apologised. He had been caught, out-of-touch with ordinary working people. Why didn’t he share the legitimate concerns of those people? Why didn’t he listen to them. Why wasn’t he thinking what they’re thinking? How dare he call an ordinary woman bigoted just because of her concerns about “all those Eastern Europeans coming in”!

The Tories, on 2005.

…just in case the first one was too subtle for you.


But what if he didn’t apologise. What if he asked Ms. Duffy and her supporters – none of whom are racist or bigoted, of course – what they meant. What their concerns were. If it was underfunding, whether we should be demanding the richest people and businesses to pay their proper taxes and not, ironically enough, move their money off shore?

What if he – we – challenged how legitimate these concerns were.

Ms. Duffy voted Leave in the EU Referendum in 2016. Partly because she was frightened about us “losing our identity“. English Identity, she later clarifies.

It started in 2010…or 2005. On National TV, in the age of rolling news and the cusp of social media. It brings us to 2018, where thousands of people from the Windrush Generation – a moment so important in our National Consciousness that it was part of our 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony – are facing deportation, withdrawal of health care and even losing their jobs because they can’t prove that they have lived here!

But it’s OK. When they landed they had to give Landing Slips which will have been retained by the Home Office. They will confirm the exact date they decided to cross the world to Britain, make the country that so many Windrush travellers felt they belonged to, their home. Except 8 years ago, against Legal Advice, the Home Office decided to destroy them. They say it was due to Data Protection rules where information cannot be kept past the point it is useful – and it’s not useful any more…unless you need to prove how long you’ve lived in the country under the Immigration Rules. Set out By the Home Office. Who have just destroyed the only way you may be able to prove how long you’ve lived in the country for.

I’m telling you, when the Prime Minister Theresa May gets a hold of the Secretary of State for the Home Office who presided over this mass destruction 8 years ago, I’m sure there’ll be trouble.

Except there won’t be, of course. The Current Home Secretary hasn’t resigned and the then-Home Secretary has said she is sorry, so that’s that then. Sorted. Unless you’re deported of course. Or lose your job and lose your livelihood. The Windrush Generation abonded by the law an country that promised to look after them if they came.

Nothing will happen because why should it? We’re allowed to have legitimate concerns about immigration. And these, after all, are immigrants (even though they’re UK Citizens). And it’s not racist to talk about Immigration.

“But they’re not really Uk Citizens” – except they are and were promised all the protections and rights that British Citizenship promises.

“But they’re not really British. You know. Like you and me. You know”.

‘You know’. What begins with “I’m not racist, but…” ends with “you know?”.

“You know what ‘you know’ means. It’s obvious isn’t it? You know. You’re like me, and I know, so you know.” Is it that they’re black?

“WOW. Don’t bring race into this!” – what else could you mean?

“You know”.

Nah – I don’t. not any more.

From now on, I’m gonna need to ask you; and you’re gonna need to tell me exactly what you mean.

But, of course, it won’t be racist.

[1] The answer, for people playing along at home, is “Eastern Europe”.


2017: A Shanky Retrospective

…or, applying the lessons from Cadogan Estates Ltd v Morris and Jacobellis v Ohio.

2017’s been some year. That’s true in many respects, and for most people. For me, though, it has definitely been the case. So much has happened this year that the traditional “Hogmanay look back on the year” isn’t a search for the high points (of which there are many) but more an attempt to make a conscious attempt to reflect on everything that’s happened to me, and around me, in the past 12 months.

Continue reading 2017: A Shanky Retrospective

The Ern Malley Christmas Quiz 2017

Good Afternoon everyone! Welcome to the “PAShanky ‘Ern Malley Christmas Quiz’ 2017” Live Blog. It’s been on the go since 9am this morning and the live blog starts at midday.

We’re looking for the 8th word in the 27th line on the 3rd randomly selected page of the 23rd book in the 2nd horizontal stack of the rear-left hand pile in Room C which was upstairs in @GeoffShadbold’s home!

Good luck and remember, there’s #NaePrizes!

Continue reading The Ern Malley Christmas Quiz 2017

Wealth Tax 2: Revenge of the Blog…

…or why context is everything.

So, my recent blog post on Richard Leonard’s plans for a Wealth Tax had an audience, which is nice. I mention this, not to brag about #numbers, but because at least one of the members of the audience was a senior partner at Thompsons Solicitors, Patrick Maguire. He disagrees with my view, so decided to produce a rebuttal blogpost on Unison’s Dave Watson’s website (albeit without linking to or describing the post he was rebutting). Continue reading Wealth Tax 2: Revenge of the Blog…