The Christine Shawcroft column
Years and years ago, in the Paleolithic period when I was quite young, I used to be married. And one of the reasons for my subsequent divorce was that there were three people in my marriage. Me, the poor misguided creature who’d married me (without realising what he was letting himself in for, evidently) and Neil Kinnock. Yes, the final nail in the coffin of my fling with holy matrimony was when my then-husband fell madly in love with Mr Kinnock.
He wasn’t alone in his devotion. Sizeable chunks of the Labour Party membership (well, chunks, anyway) were equally enamoured. “But he’s doing such a great job!” they protested when I enquired how any red blooded socialist could possibly support such a miscreant, “He’s making the Labour Party electable!”
The Brighton Conference we’ve just endured was the perfect illustration of Einstein’s dictum that space is curved, and that if you set off in a straight line and keep travelling, you will eventually get back to where you started. All those restrictive and undemocratic Rule Changes that were forced through – I’m assured that they all have but one purpose: to make the Labour Party electable.
Now, we might think that they actually had another job to do, that of hammering the left and making sure that another Jeremy Corbyn could never become leader in the future. Although it’s very odd, when you think about it, because Jeremy very nearly did make us electable again, and would have succeeded were it not for the Fifth Column inside Party HQ. But we’re not entirely wrong in our suspicions, the changes were also designed to shut the left in a box and throw away the key – because that’s all part of making the party electable again.
Maybe when they go canvassing in Camden, people on the doorstep say they’re not voting Labour because the trigger ballot threshold was too low? Are they demanding the return of the Electoral College before they cast their votes for us again (and are thus bitterly disappointed now) or perhaps they dream of the abolition of the National Constitutional Committee? When I go canvassing, nothing of the sort is ever said. People are concerned about their housing, or the NHS, or the cost of heating and lighting their homes. They are also wondering why there is so little opposition to a Tory Government which is getting away with murder.
With every anti-democratic stroke that Starmer pulls, in the name of making us more electable, the Party actually becomes less electable. There was no traditional post-Conference boost in the polls (although such jumps can easily be dead cats bouncing anyway) and indeed our polling is consistently dire. It takes a certain amount of skill on the part of a party leader to perform this badly against a Tory leader who criminally mismanaged his response to the pandemic and announces huge increases in military spending almost in the same breath as he is telling health workers that they can’t have a pay rise. Whisper it softly, but isn’t it at least possible that opposing the Tories would actually make us electable? You don’t know till you’ve tried it.
I remember Ken Livingstone once saying that Blair was making the same mistake as the left had in the eighties, when he thought that the restrictive changes in the rules that he brought in were irreversible and would keep the right in power for ever and a day. Rules can just be changed again, as we have seen many times since. No matter how convinced Starmer is that he has won and that this is the end of left history, it’s never the end.
So, see you next year in Liverpool, Keith. If you dare show your face in Liverpool, that is.