The Labour Party: that pillar of the British constitution doesn’t have a right to exist

Gerry Hassan

Sunday Mail, July 25th 2016

Politics requires a credible opposition that holds government to account. One that offers the prospect of an alternative government – but now, and for the foreseeable future, Scotland and the UK is without one.

This is due to the state of Labour. The last year has been one of the most disastrous in the party’s history. A second election defeat, Scotland lost – and then Brexit. And after last year’s defeat the party curled up even more in its comfort zone and elected Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn now faces a proper leadership contest against Owen Smith. The party has in two days enlisted 183,541 new members, producing 515,000 card-carrying members. But the party has lost control of who it is, or who its members are.

One big difference between Labour and Tories is that Tories love power and know how to use it. Labour don’t love power and don’t know how to use it. This division between the two parties has always been so.

Labour’s biggest electoral winner – Tony Blair – has become a hate figure in the party. Much of this is understandable, but there is tragedy in this for Labour. Anti-Blairites have been unable to separate how they judge him from Labour’s thirteen years in office – ignoring record levels of public spending, investment in health and education, child and pensioner poverty slashed, devolution to Scotland and Wales and lots more. This record has been at best, lost, and at worst, trashed, by Labour’s turning its back on Blair.

Corbyn has qualities. He is consistent, stands up for what he beliefs, and is generally, honest. He is an anti-leader – elected in response to the revulsion that many felt about the Blair years.

But the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, trashed alongside the New Labour era of slick presentation, of knowing how to do PR and press, and of being prepared with sound-bites and core messages. All of this counts in modern politics, and the Corbyn team has discounted it all, aided by the fact that they have never done A-list front line politics.

Those who oppose Corbyn in the Labour Party go out of their way to say they agree with his policies and politics but not with him. They attack Corbyn as leader, saying he is just not up for the job – that he has ten months to prove himself and been found wanting. This is a very narrow window through which to criticise Corbyn – and precludes a bigger debate about the future of the party.

In terms of Scottish Labour’s contribution – Kezia Dugdale seems to have virtually disappeared while Alex Rowley (Deputy Leader) has started his own side operation. He has set up a Corbyn campaign, held rallies, and indicated he would consider supporting the calling of a second indyref. This might in a credible operation look like sending feelers out, but in the Scottish party it seems desperate jockeying for position born of decline into near-irrelevance.

In England, outside its city strongholds, the Labour Party is in a terrible way. Across the North East, parts of Yorkshire and the North West – the party is rotten, hollowed out, and could be defeated by UKIP if an election is called by Theresa May in the next year. The Scottish electoral meltdown of 2015 could be the harbinger for Labour across England.

This state of affairs wasn’t just brought about by Corbyn – or even by Blair, Brown and New Labour. This is about decades of neglect and taking people for granted. It taps into the exhaustion of the social democratic tradition – which hasn’t been bold and imaginative anywhere in the developed world since the mid-1970s.

This tradition no longer speak for any constituency beyond public sector professionals and liberal idealists. Such groups have little to say on big issues such as public service reform or limits on immigration. This leaves parties such as Labour, the German Social Democrats or French Socialists, not representing the working or middle class, and not having the radical zeal to shape the future.

Labour is facing a collective death wish, as no one individual or group show any insight into the scale of challenges the party faces. Formal split or not, the party barely knows what it stands for, and seems to have forgotten that its first mission is to win office and bring about change. It neither seems to have any hunger for office, or desire to implement real change, via the election of a Labour Government.

The Labour Party has been called a pillar of the British constitution, but it has no god given right to exist. And just like that constitution is crumbling and being rent asunder, the house of the Labour Party is facing grim times, and neither Corbyn, Owen Smith, or anyone else senior in the party seems to know what to do. This is how once great parties die.