Open letter to Bob Piper
I was a bit surprised by your vituperative attack on me yesterday (http://www.bobpiper.co.uk/2009/11/not_in_my_name_2.php).
I know you are on the left of the Labour Party and I'm not (by any stretch of the imagination) so I don't expect you to agree with me on everything or vote for me in the NEC elections. What I don't expect is an ad hominem attack accusing me of being "someone who is so sectarian, negative and divisive [he] is not fit to be a member of our NEC."
We've only met once and it was perfectly amicable. I know from talking to your local MP John Spellar that you are a great local councillor and a good campaigner. My take on you was that we were actually kindred spirits even though from different ideological wings of the party - people that are passionate about their politics, enjoy the legitimate cut and thrust of debate within the Labour Party as well as taking on Labour's opponents and put public service and campaigning first.
Your accusation of sectarianism, negativity and divisiveness just isn't borne out by my record:
- working with people from the Labour left to run election campaigns in Bristol, Camden, Hackney, Aldershot and Castle Point;
- yes expressing my views robustly in meetings but being comradely about the way I do it and not confusing the personal and the political;
- consistently upholding the rulebook and defending party democracy so that as Chief Whip in Hackney I was more often than not the one arguing against suspensions from the group etc., on our LGC I was the one fighting for every ward to retain its right to select its own candidates; when I have sat on regional appeal panels etc. I have a record of scrupulous fairness and regularly find in favour of people with the opposite political views to mine;
- having personal friendships that extend across the spectrum of Labour politics because I can disagree with people without it descending into acrimony
Then I thought, fair enough Bob hasn't actually been in the same region or CLP as me so maybe he's judging me just on the blog. So I did a trawl through to see if what I had written in the last three months since I came out of hospital justified the description "sectarian, negative and divisive".
The following could broadly be described as positive and unifying from a Labour perspective:
- Anti-Tory 11 posts
- Pro-Labour 5 posts
- Praising individual Labour politicians (Ed Miliband, Blair, Mandelson, John Woodcock) 4 posts
- Anti-LD 2 posts
- Anti-BNP 2 posts
- Reporting my speech to conference about the NHS 2 posts
- Calling for unity at Party conference 1 post
- Calling for a May election date 1 post
- Calling for retaining the fourth Trident submarine 1 post
- Promoting local achievements in Hackney 1post
- Calling for action on pleural plaques 1 post
- Praising Norway's Labour election victory 1 post
- Obituary of left wing Castle Point activist John Trollope 1 post
- Announcing my own NEC candidature 1 post
- Linking to trade union websites 1 post
- Linking to articles I agree with 1 post
Then there were some neutral ones:
- Reporting council by-election results 11 posts
- Reporting opinion polls 6 posts
- Commenting on the timing of election counts 1 post
- Personal stuff about my illness 1 post
- Reporting this blogs rank in a league table 1 post
- General psephology 1 post
- Analysis re. political role of trade unions 1 post
The only ones that could be defined as negative are:
- Reporting on the GRA slate for the NEC - 5 posts (incidentally all just repeating what Peter Kenyon and other GRA members are saying, not attacking them directly)
- Attacking Compass 3 posts
- Attacking Charles Clarke 2 posts
- Calling for resignation of Baroness Scotland 1 post
So, 69 posts in 3 months: 36 of them positive, 22 neutral and just 11 negative, of which 3 were having a go at people on the right of the party not the left, and 5 were just reporting gossip.
The hook for your attack was just bizarre, a post where I linked to a Labour party political broadcast that praised the party's radical past and included footage of Michael Foot, and then a plea for the PLP to fight the Tories not quit or plot against the PM! The targets of this weren't the left - one of the best fighters in the PLP is Denis Skinner. I have no idea what annoyed you about a statement of the bleeding obvious - that we need to unite, focus on fighting the Tories and not give up.
As for my post this week on Compass if it is now off-limits to criticise people who are calling for a leadership coup just months before a general election, then I plead guilty ...
You say you've "been around the Labour movement and the Labour Party longer" than me but given I've been a Party member 21 years through good times and bad, since I was 16, that's only because you are a couple of decades older than me.
You make the throw away comment that I am someone who "can't think for themselves, and who thinks every utterance from the Party leadership has to be swallowed whole" but even the briefest effort to read this blog would reveal that to be a lie.
I always knew that some people would find my NEC candidature hard to stomach - I've not been running for a popularity contest writing this blog so it might turn out I'm not popular! I'm resigned to people picking on one thing I write and using it to have a go, that's fair play in politics.
But Bob your post overstepped the mark and presented a caricature of me that doesn't reflect my real record or my real views.
I'm proud of my politics and happy to take stick for my views where they are contentious. But running for office in the Labour Party, or writing this blog, doesn't give people who disagree with me a licence to smear my character, behaviour or motives.
Looking forward to debating Labour's future with you on a comradely basis going forward, and best wishes for the coming elections in Sandwell,