A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

More nonsense from someone who should know better

In the real world, I spent this morning getting soaking wet canvassing the Wigan House and Leaview House estates with a group of other equally rainsoaked Labour activists for the Springfield by-election. It's the sixth time we've been round those estates in this campaign so we are down to the real hard to find in folk who weren't there the previous five times. But we still found a load more Labour supporters - as well as running into cheerful ex-Tory councillor Eric Ollerenshaw out leafleting. No one we canvassed - repeat no one - mentioned the David Abrahams story.

That's real politics - getting cold, wet and tired canvassing a housing estate in December but coming back elated because you have been communicating Labour's message to our core supporters who most need a Labour councillor and a Labour government.

I came back to read yet another contribution to the la-la land of defeatism and miserablism that passes for debate on the Labour left. This article by Tony Robinson: http://www.newstatesman.com/200712070008

I feel uncomfortable attacking it because I actually rather like Tony - in the same way that I like Neal Lawson - but as with Neal I think Tony has lost the plot politically. Like Neal (who was a TGWU official and hammer of the left on the Bristol District LP when I met him), Tony was someone I met while I was a student in Bristol, as we were both members of Clifton Branch LP. At the time I think all three of us would have seen ourselves as Kinnockite and were in the Labour Co-ordinating Committee. This was the predecessor of Compass but from 1985 to 1996 when it folded was firmly part of the pro-leadership wing of the Party, even if it clung rather absurdly to the label "soft left".

Anyway, what we get from Tony is a long ramble through what a terrible insight being on the NEC had given him into the evil Stalinist apparatchiks who run the Labour Party. I guess I regret the amount of effort that shitty rightwing apparatchiks like me put into getting Tony elected onto the NEC when he was on our slate as he hated it so much - I hope he doesn't feel sullied by our efforts.

He starts with a complete falsehood - saying Peter Watt "was the machine’s candidate for general secretary." He wasn't. Number 10's candidate was Ray Collins of the TGWU who Peter beat when the NEC took the decison thanks to Grassroots Alliance votes.

He gives us a littany of bad things done by the leadership - including "parachuting of favourite sons into parliamentary seats" which caused a hollow laugh here. Chance would be a fine thing! Even if they were minded to - and Blair never showed the remotest interest in grubby real-politik like parliamentary selections - being a favourite son is more likely to harm you than help you in the average selection fight. And "the ejection of Walter Wolfgang from Conference" - which was actually conducted by OAP volunteer conference steward Jim White, the former Mayor of Rushmoor, and nothing to do with the leadership at all.

He talks about "the same people who have orchestrated them, moving silently through the background like the shadowy figures in the back row of the mass ranks of the Politburo" but won't name them. Why not Tony? Most of them would wear it as a badge of honour.

There is a strange coded reference to left wing 70s AEU leader Hugh Scanlon and another to Sir Ken Jackson - reflecting the curious ongoing paranoia the Compassite left have about the Amicus section of Unite, despite the fact that it has now had a left General Secretary for five years. Again, Tony refers to "the army of dedicated fighters within the big right-wing unions" and "right-wing street fighters". Gosh, they sound like rough nasty people. Probably they like winning elections and canvassing council estates in the rain and all kinds of grubby working-class evil Stalinist things like that.

The Labour Party, we learn "was transformed into a machine specifically designed to enact the will of Downing Street." How disgraceful. I mean, the Labour Party enacting the will of a Labour Leader who is Prime Minister. What a shocking abuse of democracy!

We get some more nonsense about the terrible way in which Jack Dromey (at which point Tony ought to declare an interest cos I think Jack is his mate and certainly he was his daughter's employer) is kept in the dark as Treasurer. Aha I get it now, Unite/TGWU good - Unite/Amicus bad! Now I'm not on the NEC but even I know that the General Secretary is the registered treasurer of the Party and Mr Dromey holds an honorary position - a constitutional appendix of no practical purpose created in 1918 to give the unions an extra seat on the NEC beyond their own block.

Now to give him his credit Tony does say two sensible things, which give me hope for his redemption:

"New Labour has always been a deeply ideological construction. It believes passionately in freeing the British people from poverty, making their streets safe and unshackling the markets that constrain their purchasing power."

"I believe we can win a fourth term in office, and despite the unacceptable behaviour so vividly displayed recently, I earnestly hope we do, because it’ll be the poor, the sick and the old who will suffer if we don’t."

But his conclusion has no content. We must "cleanse the Augean stables, and that will involve a root and branch transformation of the Party" he says. But he says nothing about what that cleansing involves (other than that the NEC get to spend a lot more time pretending to be forensic accountants and cross-examining the Party's finance chiefs) and what the transformed party would look like.

I therefore offer you the missing bit of the article - the Tony Robinson vision of a transformed party:

  • Union link maintained but block vote to be wielded only by members of the Robinson family employed in the union movement.
  • Amicus section of Unite to be expelled from Party. Actually all manual unions representing rough people who might say nasty things to be expelled, leaving the Musicians' Union and Equity with all the union seats on the NEC and 50% of the vote at Conference. Exception to be made for Jack Dromey.
  • All branches to hold a nice dinner after meetings at house of a member with table seating 20 and good wine cellar.
  • Party to merge publicity function with the Guardian newspaper.
  • NEC to have reserved seats for nice thoughtful people.
  • Fabian Society to get 12 seats on the NEC.
  • General Secretary to have title changed to "Facilitator".
  • Elections Unit of Party to be abolished and resources redeployed to support catering by Waitrose at local policy forums.
  • Fundraising unit to target nice celebrities instead of dodgy millionaires.
  • National Policy Forum to be replaced by bilateral meeting between Compass and the Fabian Society hosted by the IPPR.
  • Manifesto to be developed using a focus group of Lib Dem switchers
  • Key Seat list to be trimmed down to just the "places that really matter": Bristol West, Islington South, Hampstead, Cambridge, Oxford but not the unfashionable bit with the car factory.
  • Canvassing to be replaced by wine and cheese evenings.

Me, I'm off to get wet doing some more canvassing again tomorrow morning - amongst people who thankfully know Tony as Baldrick off the telly rather than for his belated critique of New Labour.


Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Do you never feel just a mite embarrassed by these posts? This bizarre imaginary scenario that New Labour (an entity created entirely to persuade middle-class people not to be scared of a Labour government) is (despite all the natty-suitng, guacamole and general public-school toffery) a gritty working-class 'real' body, fighting the good fight against arty-farty middle-class lefties who want to maintain the union link, and keep a party that represents working people for some strange, self-indulgent guilt-ridden reason of their own? It's such bollocks.

1:54 pm, December 09, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

I also note that you make no comment on Baldrick's reference to:

"the fixing and stitching of internal party elections."

At least you're too honest to deny that one! (I'm sure you wear it as a badge of honour)

1:57 pm, December 09, 2007

Blogger susan said...

No doubt Luke will be braving the hurricane winds today. He really does live in a parallel universe......in the real world, Party membership is dropping again and Brown is a disaster as Leader.Frankly, even Jack Straw or Alan Johnson would be preferable.At least Tony Robinson , once a big new labour cheerleader, has some grasp on things as they are.

2:01 pm, December 09, 2007

Blogger Chris Paul said...

There's a lot here to pick over but I choose this:

How disgraceful. I mean, the Labour Party enacting the will of a Labour Leader who is Prime Minister. What a shocking abuse of democracy!

Yes, disgraceful. The leader is supposed to enact the will of the party NOT vice versa. The other way round is demagouery not democracy.

4:42 pm, December 09, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

Funny, because those who didn't bother to vote in the last two elections are hardly middle-class Guardian readers!

And of course, all those of us who left the party are on the far left.

I think that the lack of any ability to be self-critical is a real problem with some on the ultra-NL wing. The point is that some of us who are not on the left of the party recognise that we are no longer in 97, that some things have gone badly wrong, that we may need some changes of direction, and that we are now, like it or not, fighting a Tory party that is in a position to be competitive at the next election.

I really don't hear a lot of enthusiasm for the Government. I think you need a reality check, Luke - or is party membership really increasing and the opinion polls all lying?

5:49 pm, December 09, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

I also note that Tony Robinson has been added to the ranks of the 'Labour left'

I think that if you are relying solely on those who remain fully committed to an unfettered Blairite position, then the next election is already lost.

There are too many people who have already returned to the Tories, given that whether you or I like it or not, they appear more credible now than at any time since 1997.

I have never been on the left of the party, but to pretend that all is rosy in the garden is moonshine.

6:13 pm, December 09, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


I was responding to what Tony himself said - he specifically attacked the Party "machine" as being right wing trade unionists, and compared them adversely to the "intellectual" wing of Blair's early support, which he self-identifies with.

You stereotype New Labour as being designed to win over middle-class people when in fact a huge slice of the 1997 switchers were, for instance, working class people who had been won over to Thatcher by policies like Right To Buy. We had already won back the Guardian readers in 1992 hence gaining Hampstead, Hornsey & Wd Grn, Cambridge etc. then not in 1997.

You are well aware that I support he union link enthusiastically - hence my involvement in Labour First.

6:21 pm, December 09, 2007

Blogger Benjamin said...

Another post where Luke sneers at any criticism from within the party. As ever, he portrays himself as the martyr, always canvassing in the rain - the implication being that those who criticise never canvass in the rain. I guess that's Luke's stock answer to many things - canvass in the rain!

2:46 am, December 10, 2007

Anonymous Laura Shepherd-Robinson said...


I have not worked for the T&G (or indeed in politics at all) for nearly two years now. In any case, if you really think the old man wrote this article in order to butter up Jack Dromey to win me a promotion, you must have spent too much time canvassing in those blizzards you are so inordinately fond of.

Second half of that posting really is beneath you. Try harder to stick to the politics next time.

Hope Jed and Linda well.


PS. When you ridicule Equity and the MU, you are just as bad as those idiots in my union who say that white-collar workers/shop-workers/cleaners are not 'proper trade unionists'. You don't have to work in the car industry to be exploited. Most actors earn less than 10 grand a year, have crappy health and safety conditions, and no pension or sick pay. But I guess that's less interesting than some cheap shot about luvvies...

11:17 am, December 10, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

Actually, Luke, its the public sector which is now most strongly unionised. Private manufacturing/service industries are far less likely to have unions

You do still have a touch of the 'workerist' about you, probably why you excuse the views of White Van Man so frequently.

12:31 pm, December 10, 2007

Anonymous Ian G said...

Well said Laura.

A disgraceful personal attack on one of our party's most loyal supporters.

Tony Robinson, like just about every other party member I've spoken to over the past fortnight, has a right to feel extremely p**** off with one funding related cock-up after another.

He, again like most other party members I've spoken to, is entitled to argue that greater democratic oversight and respect for internal party democracy could have helped avoid this self-inflicted damage.

You may disagree, you may argue that actually party democracy works fine, members feel valued and listened to, the NEC functions perfectly, etc etc. but that's no reason to drop so far into personal abuse.

5:12 pm, December 10, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Obviously my threshold for finding insults funny rather than abusive is higher than other people's. Possibly from the experience of being compared to both Hitler and Stalin aged 19 in Bristol West and finding it amusing rather than upsetting. I think we also have a rather more robust tradition of insulting each other jocularly then going for a drink in Hackney North than in other CLPs.

Was intended as good-natured mockery of someone I actually know and as I said in the post like.

Laura Linda agreed with your critique though.

N.B. no insult to the MU intended as my dad used to be a member so I'm well aware of the pay of musicians.

5:27 pm, December 10, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

I never questioned your support for the union link, Luke, and I'm glad you're keeping up that fight (and agree with your more recent post).

7:28 pm, December 10, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I don't know about the point about parachuting Blairite candidates into winable seats. The name that does come to mind is Sion Simon, he does not strike me as a life long supporter of the party (to be fair maybe you know diffrent). I also remember a woman candidate being thrust upon the Bleanu Gwent CLP, which resulting in us losing the seat.

4:04 pm, December 11, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Yes I do know different.

When I was Holborn & St Pancras CLP Organiser Sion Simon was an involved in Chalk Farm branch Labour Party. This was about 6 years before he became an MP. Before that he worked for Labour MP George Robertson from 1990-1993 immediately after leaving university, so I think he has been involved in Labour politics for best part of two decades.

The "woman candidate" in Blaenau Gwent was Maggie Jones who was on the Labour Party NEC 1993-2005, Chair of the Labour Party 2000-01, NUPE and later UNISON full timer from 1979 where she specialised in campaigning on low pay. She was democratically selected by the CLP - unsurpisingly given her CV - the complaint was sour grapes by men that hadn't been able to run because of AWS.

5:01 pm, December 11, 2007

Blogger UK Daily Pundit said...

I'm tempted to ask 'why does it always rain on Luke? Is it because he was compared to Hitler and Stalin when he was 19?'

7:29 pm, December 11, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I stand corrected on Sion Simon (still don't like him though!!) and as for Maggie Jones (again thank you setting me stright on the name)I think the all women shortlist was a mistake, a point proved when the incumbant won the seat as an independent. Was Maggie Jones ever a Blairite?

9:51 am, December 12, 2007

Anonymous B said...

Luke, why do you say "And the ejection of Walter Wolfgang from Conference - which was actually conducted by OAP volunteer conference steward Jim White, the former Mayor of Rushmoor, and nothing to do with the leadership at all."

Why don't you acknowledge there were three stewards who ejected Walter and Steve Forrest who told them to leave him alone, one of whom Joe Ifill is employed as a nightclub bouncer?

And why was he detained under the Terrorism Act (2000). And why did Chris Lennie remove his conference pass?

9:47 am, December 30, 2007


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