In praise of "helpful factionalism"
Alex Smith at Labourlist has had a good old whinge about a recent speech by John Spellar to The Black Country Labour First Group.
He accuses John of “unhelpful factionalism”.
Now at this point I declare an interest in that my partner Linda works for John and I run the Labour First email list.
· The speech was given to people who already know where they stand within the party to give them confidence that the next election is winnable.
· It was circulated with an appeal for help in the Norwich North by-election.
· Labour First isn’t a policy discussion group or think tank – if you want policy debates you can (and I do) go to Progress or Fabian meetings. Labour First is a network of activists united by wanting to avoid a re-run of the lurch to the hard left in the 1980s and to see Labour stay in power, delivering mainstream policies for our supporters. Many of us in Labour First debate policy at great length in other forums, often disagreeing, but we come together to organise to keep Labour sane and electable. Not everyone in the Labour Party wants to formulate policy – some are too busy with practical politics as campaigners or councillors.
Anyway, here’s John’s speech, which I think is a helpful and positive one:
“Message from John Spellar MP - based on a speech given to The Black Country Labour First Group
All To Play For
Labour First and its predecessors have always been in conflict with the defeatist tendencies in the Party. The formation of the SDP was based on the proposition that Labour could never win power again and could not change. That heresy was proved overwhelmingly wrong at the 1997 General Election. Meanwhile, elements of the Hard Left have always gravitated towards the easy attractions of opposition and would far prefer to pass resolutions than legislation.
Once again we are facing twin pronged defeatism from within our ranks. Some would seem to prefer to lose power than win under Gordon Brown, while the Hard Left seem to have taken satisfaction in resigning themselves to a return to opposition. They both share the view that Labour has its turn in government to try and rush through progressive legislation before running out of steam and public support, leaving the natural party of government, the Tories, to resume control. We have always rejected that pessimism believing that Labour can and should be a party of government not just of insurgency. We also reject the delusional view that what is needed is a ‘New Workers Party’.
We are particularly concerned because both tendencies seem to accept the inevitability of defeat at the next General Election which is not based on the data. We should firstly remember that the Tories currently have less MPs than the Labour Party under Michael Foot after the 1983 General Election – 193 v 209.
So let us look at the arithmetic of the next election – there are currently 647 seats in the Commons, so to have a majority requires 324 MPs (Labour currently has 351) and the Tories 193. So, for the Tories to have a single seat majority they need to win 131 seats. It’s fair to make an assumption that the boundary changes that are coming into force in the next Election will give them an extra 10 seats so we can make a working assumption that they need 120 seats for a majority.
That’s where their problems start. Even in 1997 we only gained 147 seats across the whole of the UK, 132 of them in England. In Scotland the Tories only have one MP and they have little expectation of making gains there. In Wales they have done a bit better, but only have four MPs out of 40. In Northern Ireland the Tories have entered into a bizarre alliance with the Ulster Unionists whose sole MP, Sylvia Hermon, doesn’t go along with the arrangement and there is little realistic prospect of it making gains there.
As a consequence the Tories have to make nearly all their gains in England. That is against a background of stickiness in the polls. In the European elections while the Labour vote dropped the gains were made by minor parties, the Tories only went up by 1%. This is clearly not 1997 territory. It would appear the Tories realise this and are becoming increasingly desperate. We have the demand for an instant General Election and now Cameron is predicting riots on the streets if Labour win.
The danger is that we defeat ourselves, particularly if we become a divided party and an undisciplined rabble. The fault will not be in our stars but in ourselves. History shows us that the public heavily punish divided parties. The reality is the next election is all to play for. We have a good record to fight on and can point to real changes and improvements in our constituencies. At the same time the Tories and Lib Dems have incoherent polices and are making mistakes. These are the messages we have got to get across to the public. At all levels of the party we need to focus on winning by pulling together and putting Labour First.”