Labour – “It’s life Jim – but not as we know it!”


As Mr Spock might well have said to Capt James T Kirk about the Labour Party today,                     “it’s life Jim but not as we know it!”

One of the nice things about having been around a long time is that I often get asked about the past and asked to compare it with the present. The one I get asked a lot now is whether the current problems in the Labour Party are anything like the 1980s when the SDP was formed and it seemed for a while that there would be a major realignment of political forces in the UK.

The blunt answer is Yes- No and MAYBE!! So how can I give three such different replies? The answer is because there are two things that are fundamentally different about now and the 1980s.

Firstly in the 1980s the hard left were only a small problem outside a handful of core urban areas. The vast majority of the Labour Party were still in the majority in the PLP and the National Executive. All three of those sections of the Party and the vast majority of the Trades Unions believed that in a parliamentary democracy the important thing was to gain power, hold it and use it. Power was sometimes a bit messy but you could see social change and improvement in what the Labour Party did. Even dare I say it in what the Blair Governments did although in my view they could have done a lot better?

Now the ‘Lunatics have taken over the asylum”. The Party has been taken over by the hard left and it is clear that the achievements that they see important are big rallies of the committed and not parliamentary democracy in any meaningful sense. This has become clear in a number of blogs and op-ed pieces recently from Labour MPs. One that struck me recently was a comment from a Labour MP that, “about 300 people joined us in 2015 but it would be a stretch to say that 10 of them had actually done anything practical in the Party”.

Now you might say that what happens in the Labour Party is nothing to do with me and that is largely correct. I could take the easy view and gloat about what is happening in the Labour Party and be pleased for the mayhem. But I am not because I believe that unless something major happens quickly we are consigned to at least 2 decades of right wing government from the Tories.

What the new Labour members seem to fail to understand when they see such satisfaction in their big rallies is that they are huge meetings of the converted talking to the converted. This I have seen before. In the 80’s I once had to get into a council meeting through 50,000 protestors. In parts of Liverpool there was a massive enthusiasm for the Militant Tendency. But in places like my current ward they were loathed. That is true today. There is little love for Corbyn in the areas that we are targeting in the future. In fact Corbyn vies with Joe Anderson as being our best recruiting point!

This evidence is cumulative. Since Brexit Lib Dems have gained 10 seats and lost none in council elections up and down the Country. Labours record is one gain balanced by one loss. Almost everywhere except places they already hold by big majorities the Labour vote has tanked. That ties in with evidence from the opinion polls who have Tories at record highs and Labour at record lows.

Over the last few days I have met a number of Labour Cllrs in Liverpool and elsewhere who believe that the Labour Party is unlikely to exist in the way that we have known it for more than the next few months. There is no way you can reconcile the opinion of 172 MPs who have first-hand experience of trying to work inside Parliament, hold the Tories to account and create policies which will win the next election with the opinions of people with little political experience and whose policies seem to be based on a fervent belief in the financial powers and economy based on Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. I believe that a split is inevitable but it will be a three way split not a two way one.

Lots of people will just disappear. They are already tired of going to meetings, as they did in the 80s, to be harangued by people with far less knowledge, experience and commitment than they have shown for decades.

Then some will join another Party or create a new Party. Some might join us but that is probably not the best way forward. We need to provide a progressive alliance of parries within a broad left spectrum at the next General Election and not one new bigger and probably fatally factionalised party.

Some will delight in having all the levers of power within the Labour Party but then they will find that the levers mean nothing. Political parties do not win power based on social media and rallies. They do so by working with people on the doorsteps, putting leaflets out and playing a major role in civil society. In other words it’s all damn hard work.

Labour will announce tomorrow their candidate for the Regional mayoralty in Liverpool City Region. That announcement will mean precisely nothing. Who will be put up by which Labour Parties in the near future will only become clear in the next few months. My local prediction is that either a lot of Labour councillors in the city will be de-selected or they will have to toe a Momentum line to keep their seats (Yes I have seen it all before!) Either way the Labour Group will be unable to govern the city with councillors putting hard left rhetoric before the pragmatic job of keeping service going within the city.

Lib Dems too have had an influx of new members albeit not on the scale of Labour. But crucially many of them have become workers and activists. Some new members from last year have disappeared. Well actually we never even met some of them. But a much higher level of our new members are actively doing things and some of them will be elected to the Council in 2018 as we will begin to adopt them for winnable seats in the autumn.

In the short and medium terms the major beneficiaries of the suicidal tendency in the Labour Party will be the Tories. That without a doubt means that the losers in the medium and long-terms will be those who need the help of a civilised society the most. Inequality will rise, educational disadvantage will get worse and secure housing will become a luxury not a right. That’s what happens when people play games in politics.

Last month I spoke at a Compass meeting about the need for a Progressive Alliance and outlined the policy terms which I thought should be of paramount importance. It was interesting that most people in the audience were in broad agreement with what I said. The obvious exceptions were two charmless individuals in Momentum T shirts. One of them described himself as the political education officer of Momentum (a term straight from soviet Russia!). He demanded to know why there was no Momentum speakers and was clearly dissatisfied with the answer that Momentum was part of the Labour Party and there were already a Labour MP and a Labour councillor speaking. They and two mates couldn’t see the need for an alliance but basically thought that the Corbyn way was the only way.

They are the people who will take over the Labour Party and then destroy it. Instead of being a broad church Labour will be a place of far left factions fighting to keep control of a rotting corpse of a Party whilst the needs of the poor get removed by a lack of political scrutiny, power and researched and practical options.

Whilst Labour continue to fight each other Tim Farron and the Lib Dems will continue to hold the Tories to account. Our 8 MPs are doing more at present than all the Labour MPs to try and challenge the Tories in the House and elsewhere.

Who knows how many Labour candidates there will be at next year’s elections and who will be fighting for them? Tomorrow is only a snapshot of a political process. Who knows what will be left when the tectonic plates keep shifting!?


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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