Yesterday you did something really dreadful, although I doubt you realise the full significance. In the same week that members of your party, the postal workers union, senior Labour MPs and thousands of voters on Merseyside were organising a campaign to reject The Sun newspaper being delivered unsolicited through their letter boxes, you posed, grinning, with the paper. The fact that you have apparently apologised to Steve Rotheram, MP for Liverpool Walton, indicates that you are perhaps a little more aware of your mistake than you were yesterday, but it doesn’t even begin to touch on the real, underlying causes of this enormous error of judgement.
I don’t need to go into the reasons why that campaign was taking place – you know the reasons why The Sun is rightly despised by the overwhelming majority of your own party. So any apology should be directed, not just to the MPs within your own party, so justifiably angry – or just to the people of Merseyside who will feel so betrayed by your actions, but to the Labour Party members who pay their membership fees, go to meetings, campaign for the party and at times, defend the indefensible for the sake of party unity. This time, I don’t think you can depend on that happening – not from me, in any case. By posing with The Sun (I’m aware that it’s not the first time, but the timing this time was atrocious), you have made something snap. It should have snapped when you went along with the tabloid hysteria over Falkirk, but the back-peddling and the soothing words from some senior union leaders held it back. No more. This was an absolute betrayal of your own party, its history and any hopes that we might have had that you had broken with New Labour.
So what on earth was the thinking behind it? Unfortunately, I think it is in your political DNA. For all the talk of a “better politics”, you are patently incapable of divorcing yourself from the triangulation and spin of Blairism. Why should any of us be surprised? Politically speaking, you were brought up, not in the household of Ralph and Marion, but in the house of Blair. Your politics, and more importantly, your method, were incubated by New Labour. You are trapped – able to understand, theoretically at least, that New Labour is finished – but not having anything else in your armoury but what that education taught you. No doubt the unelected advisors in your office told you that by posing with The Sun, you would be inoculating yourself against the worst of their attacks in the run up to the election. The reality is, however, that you’ve fallen into the biggest trap going. You have sacrificed the support of some of Labour’s most loyal supporters, activists and voters at the altar of the tabloid press – and their anti-working class, anti-union, migrant bashing, homophobic, sexist agenda. You’ve sacrificed that support because you’re too scared to go to the country with a moderately social democratic agenda, facing down the hostility of The Sun. It’s a sign of weakness, not strength and, no matter what the highly paid strategists in your office tell you, it’s a disaster. It’s like crawling to a bully in the hope that they will avoid picking on you. That might elicit sympathy, but as a leader of the Labour Party, we’ll need more than that to win the election, never mind build a better society.
What’s more, you looked awkward. That’s no surprise, because I’d hope the memory of the 96 was weighing heavily on your brain as the camera lens shut. The huge frustration we all feel, Ed, is that we know you’re not a Tony Blair. For Blair, this would be an easy choice. He never pretended to give a damn about the membership or the heartlands of Labour support. In fact, he set himself up in opposition to the grassroots membership – and spent an awful lot of time trying to (and succeeding in) destroying democracy within the party. But you said that you were going to bring a better kind of politics; that you were trying to create a party that could “breathe”. I can’t be the only one who feels that the suffocating atmosphere of New Labour (of spin, of servitude to the tabloids, of management speak) is still very much with us.
So, why don’t I just leave, you may ask. If my disappointment and anger is so strong with you and the people around you, why on earth would I stay in the Labour Party? The answer is quite simple. It’s because my Labour Party is a different Labour Party. It is the thousands of ordinary members who still believe in socialism, no matter how beaten down they have been by the experience of New Labour. It is the party of John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Katy Clark, who get out on picket lines, engage with working people, disabled people, the poor and the victimised and speak for them on a daily basis. It is also a party with a past – a proud tradition which includes not only the likes of Bevan and the great and good, but grassroots socialists who have built this party, not with the help of the right-wing tabloid press, but in the teeth of their hatred. They were the real Labour Party – and I believe that when the dregs of New Labourism have finally been washed away, we can carry on the fight to build that party again.
Yours in disappointment,
City of Durham CLP