Everything wrong with Labour in one tweet

The Labour Party is once again talking about its favourite subject: the Labour Party.

Image © UK Parliament by CC BY-NC 2.0.

Here is everything wrong with the Labour Party in a single tweet:

1. The Labour Party is once again talking about its favourite subject: the Labour Party.

2. Trade unions call the shots on the internal electoral rules of a political party.

3. The soft-left is ready to take the L before the debate has even begun.

4. There are senior figures who believe that reforming the procedures under which Labour leaders are elected — in fact, merely trying to do so — will be impressive to the general public.

5. Barely has Sir Keir Starmer unveiled his reforms than there’s speculation as to whether he’s already been scared off them.

I know how much members cherish the Labour Party, so I’ll try to put this as gently as I can: no one cares about your stupid party. What you call ‘the Labour family’ is dysfunctional and fractious and spends much of its time self-harming. If it was a family, mum would be an afternoon wine fiend, dad would stay late at the office to cry alone, and social services would’ve taken the kids years ago. The country does not want to hear about the Labour Party. In fact, the less the country hears about the Labour Party, the more chance there is of a Labour government. Stop talking about and to yourselves.

Trade unions are great. Protect workers. Boost wages. Improve conditions. Keep some of the worst public sector employees away from the frontline via facility time. But the unions’ link to Labour is the most toxic relationship this side of Sid and Nancy. It’s one of the reasons Labour spends so much time talking to itself. The unions are Labour’s funders, organisers, comrades and enemies. A set-up like this all but guarantees your days will be spent fighting rearguard actions against people you consider your most cherished friends and colleagues.

Whenever anyone suggests changing Labour’s relationship with the trade unions, the typical objection is that the unions founded the party. True, but consider the electoral record of the party they founded: in the almost 121 years since the Labour Representation Committee began contesting general elections, Labour has led the country for just 33 of them. It’s possible, indeed desirable, for Labour and the unions to cooperate without what has been well-characterised as a ‘highly-institutionalised relationship’ in which unions are ‘organisationally-speaking, effectively part and parcel of the party’.

Another thing: stop listening to the soft-left. Stop consulting the soft-left. Stop telling the soft-left the times and dates of Labour conferences. I’ve banged on plenty often about why it’s the soft-left, not the hard-left, that’s Labour’s real problem and I won’t bang on again now. Suffice it to say they’re a bunch of wimps, simps and sentimentalists and the farther they’re kept from decision-making, the better for the party.

As for Sir Keir’s proposed resurrection of the electoral college, there is a lot of merit to it. Anything that reduces the influence over the Labour Party of the sort of people who join the Labour Party is generally to be welcomed. However, changing the rules by which Labour leaders are elected — let alone attempting but failing to change them — will not demonstrate a jot to the public.

The public doesn’t know what these rules are, or that they changed, or what they changed to, or that Sir Keir wants to change them back, or why that is a point of contention. When they talk about procedural jiggery-pokery as their path to the minds of the electorate, Sir Keir’s allies sound like the wettest-behind-the-ear Corbynista in 2015, giddy that the working classes would at last get the democratisation of constituency Labour parties they had always longed for.

At least Clause IV had the advantage of being about what Labour wanted to do for (or, rather, to) the country, and since that involved securing ‘the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’, it was a reasonable shout that replacing it with some warm pudding about ‘the strength of our common endeavour’ might assuage the fears of those voters who would rather not, on balance, live in the Soviet Union.

The electoral college has nothing to do with the country. It’s to do with making sure absolute drongos stop getting elected Labour leader, an outcome most voters assume would command widespread support within the party.

If Labour wants to demonstrate to the public that it’s changed, there are a few things it could do. Bundle Jeremy Corbyn into an Israeli-made rocket ship and fire it in the direction of Pluto. Make Emily Thornberry get a part-time job flogging England flags door-to-door in Rochester. Burn the whole joint down and spend the insurance on two weeks in Marbella and a half-decent social democratic party.

The gap between Labour and power — a gap only three Labour leaders have convincingly overcome — is the difference between what the Labour Party wants to be and what the country is willing to vote for. That gap will not be closed by rule changes or NEC votes. It’s not even about positioning or policy, really. It’s about tone.

Labour needs to sound like an alternative government and its leader like a prime-minister-in-waiting. It needs to sound like it actually likes the country and maybe, at a push, even feels a wee bit of pride in it. Like it doesn’t regard being asked to explain itself to the voters as a micro-aggression or to be in their presence as a dreaded posting among an unfathomable tribe.

Labour’s tone has to be one of strength, seriousness and determination, a party that can be trusted to lead again and to keep us safe in a dangerous world. It needs to sound, in short, almost nothing like how it sounds today.

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