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.