Thursday, September 21, 2023

Blogpost: Labour politician reflects on the “Disintegrating” Labour Party

Blogpost by Cllr Gavin Callaghan

CONVENTIONAL political wisdom appears to be a thing of the past. Pundits and polls are no longer to be trusted. The public are purposely misleading pollsters and canvassers. What is more, what constitutes the rules that governed acceptable behaviour for candidates and campaigners have been torn up and rewritten in 2016, as the western world’s disdain for ‘experts’ has become all too apparent.

I wrote in December 2015 that if I knew what that year would have held for the Labour Party and progressive politics at the beginning of the year, I’d have emigrated to Australia. After 2016 I think the only place left to go is Mars.

So as I begin to analyse the political events of 2016 and consider what is in store for Labour in 2017 in places like Thurrock and Basildon, I think there are three lessons for those of us in the Party to learn quickly:

1) The generational divide in votes from young to old is understandable and the younger generation need to match the record of their elders

2) Labour has to find answers that appeal beyond our cities; immigration, the EU and the economy

3) Progressive politics has taken a battering. It will again in 2017, but it will be needed now more than ever.

In November I was invited back to Newcastle University to speak to the Politics Schools students. Like every student who turned up to listen that night, I had voted to remain in the EU. I told of them of how I struggled, for months following the result, not to feel bitter towards those over the age of 60 who had voted for Brexit, and condemned me and my generation to a two-decade long stalement.

Of course there were many reasons why Britain voted to leave the EU but one of the prevailing and so far unearthed stories for me, has been the real divide between young and old in the voting booths.

To me it didn’t make sense; rights and protections that they have seen demonstrably improve their lives – from disability rights to employment rights and maternity rights, all EU legislation that the Tories will now be at liberty to scrap. Why would you vote to make your life worse, not better? It didn’t make sense to me, and I wrestled with it for months.

But then I asked the students to tell me why they thought their parents and grandparents had voted to leave? I asked them to think about what, in the twenty-one years for which they had been alive, were the stand out policies of the British Government that they saw as being so instrumental in changing their lives, the country and yielding lasting positive influence on the world stage?

In a room full of Russel Group University students, the responses were limited to say the least – gay marriage and devolution. That was all they had.

Then I asked them what a twenty-one-year-old student would have said, if asked the exact same question, in that same room, in 1966. The answers illustrated my point – the creation of the National Health Service, the invention of the Welfare State, the New Towns Act to help house people who lost their homes in the air bombings, the creation of the United Nations, NATO and the beginnings of the European Economic Community.

The generation of voters who decided the referendum result in the UK in 2016, had been the same generation of voters who had seen monumental political change happen in their lifetimes. They had then seen the slow, ebbing away of political influence every day since to the point that they now lived in a country where politicians from all parties can take more than 15 years to get agreement to build a runaway at an airport! You have to agree; it does make the Mother of all Parliaments look somewhat redundant when that becomes the extent of our infrastructure programmes.

My point is that politics pre-1973 was for many people, a true battle of ideas. It was the arena where people did stand tall, where they had the courage to speak their ideas and put into practice their values through policies that changed lives of all social classes and the country, for the better. And they did it against an unforgiving backdrop of a half century of wars and a Cold War threatening to rip the East of Europe apart for good and hand the Soviet Union supremacy over the Americans.

Today our politics is too inhibited, and in truth, what is our excuse?

What backdrop is so insurmountable for our MPs and Councillors that they cannot overcome it with bold ideas for the future of the next five decades? Yes, there is a financial crisis and yes we face terrorist activity of a new kind that ignores orthodox rules of warfare. But does the UK and the West really not have the capacity to meet the challenges of strained public services, falling educational standards in our schools or think boldly enough to find a cure for cancer through continued investment in R&D?

Perhaps now Members of Parliament are expected to be clones without any history or any skeletons. Is that why they are too scared to say things in the House of Commons for fear that it will be tweeted or shared on Facebook within seconds, never allowing them to correct the record or add the necessary context? Is this why politics is devoid of the big ideas that previous generations were used to seeing enacted?

It is true that Whitehall is gripped by a paralysis that means the major policy issues of our day, including how we care for our disabled and elderly citizens in the social care system is simply deemed “too difficult to fix”. So instead it is ignored for another five years until it becomes someone else’s’ problem. We’re told that wage depression is a necessary consequence of austerity because the seventh richest country in the world is at the mercy of the banks – not one of whom has faced any criminal charges for the casino-style chaos they caused almost a decade ago.

What is worse, is that we do not have credible leaders willing to step up to this challenge. David Cameron has proven to be one of the worst Prime Minister’s in recent history, failing to understand the country at an even basic level. Theresa May has gone on to preside over the most hapless first six months in office of any recent PM, as she is held to ransom by Tory rebel MPs who want a hard Brexit and she is undermined at every turn by Boris and David Davis. Meanwhile the Labour Leadership contest of 2016 threw up not one single candidate capable of winning a General Election.

And that leads me to the second lesson which is around the Labour Party’s continued irrelevance from mainstream politics in towns and villages outside of the major UK cities.

In London, Manchester and Liverpool, Labour continues to do well politically, winning the Mayoralty in the capital in 2016 and likely winning the mayoralties in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City-Region in 2017. Yet the messages that work in these three cities, don’t translate to towns like Basildon and Thurrock, that Labour must win in order to form a Government again.

I was clear through 2016 that I believed Corbyn was incapable of becoming the Prime Minister. In fact, I think his performance in the EU referendum campaign was unworthy of the Leader of the Labour Party. It lacked urgency, clarity or the desire to persuade, influence and win. In all, it amounted to reason enough for him to be displaced and I fully supported the MPs who left the frontbench and urged him to resign. But so long as the Socialist Worker’s Party, Greens, Conservatives and UKIP supporting members of the public can have a vote in Labour’s leadership contests, Corbyn will remain in charge of a party that even President Obama has described this week as, “disintegrating”.

However, what I care more about in 2017, is Labour fashioning the answers to the key questions on immigration, Brexit and the economy. Because it is in these areas that there is a disconnect between what the London-centric Labour Shadow Cabinet think and what the rest of the country’s Labour representatives at local, regional and national level think.

Those of us outside of London are pleading with Corbyn to take Labour out of our comfort zone. That means ending our obsession with open borders, freedom of movement and the notion that immigrants are vital for the NHS so we should not oppose any greater controls on migrant flows into the UK. Such policy stances are not acquainted with the modern world.

And, ironically, it isn’t new for Labour Party councillors, MPs or members to be urging the party to get real over immigration either. It was ten years ago in 2006 that Labour’s most successful ever Prime Minister, Tony Blair, told the Labour Party conference in his last Leader’s Speech that, “When we can’t deport foreign nationals even when inciting violence, the country is at risk. Immigration has benefited Britain. But I know that if we don’t have rules that allow us some control over who comes in, goes out, who has a right to stay and who has not, then instead of a welcome, migrants find fear. We can only protect liberty by making it relevant to the modern world.”

The warnings of 2006 are just as relevant in 2016. The only material difference is that successive Labour leaders who followed Tony Blair did not understand the impact of immigration on the lives of people living outside of the big cities. Had they done so, I’m confident Labour’s position on freedom of movement would have changed well in advance of the referendum and the Labour strongholds of Nottingham, Leeds, Hull, Wigan and Sunderland that all voted strongly to leave the EU, would have thought twice.

On Brexit, Labour and the progressives of Europe must learn that we have lost the EU argument. Not just for 2016, but for good. With expected defeats for the Socialists in France and the Christian Democrats in Germany to come in 2017, Labour should be using this time, not to champion a busted flush as the Lib Dems appear to be, but to be thinking seriously about what the next multilateral organisation of the Western World’s super powers should look like. How free trade can underpin a new organisation that is mindful of the changing demographics and powers of the world, open to trading with new and emerging markets in the South Pacific region and strong enough to stand up to the likely increased levels of Russian aggression that will undoubtedly come in the next thirty years.

And on austerity, Labour must learn the language of the country. The word ‘austerity’ means nothing to almost everyone in the country. It is a preserve of the Islington elite who have read about poverty and competing economic theories in university textbooks. Every time Corbyn or McDonnell go onto the TV to talk about ‘austerity’ they sound more and more out of touch with the public.

Labour has to stop labelling everyone as “poor” and “struggling” and re-adopt the language of hope and ambition that saw us win big, three times in a row.

If Labour can do that. If Corbyn and his team can recognise that their approach over the last 18 months hasn’t worked and has led to a devastating blow to progressive politics through our leaving the EU, and if he can begin to understand where Labour went so badly wrong in 2016, the party may have a chance of ensuring progressive politics has a place in all four corners of our country.

After all, as Blair went on to say exactly a decade ago, “The true believer believes in social justice, in solidarity, in help for those not able to help themselves. They know the race can’t just be to the swift and survival for the strong. But they also know that these values, gentle and compassionate as they are, have to be applied in a harsh, uncompromising world and what makes the difference is not belief alone, but the raw courage to make it happen.”


  1. You follow the teachings of compassionate conservative values and that is who you should look for as a leader.

    A Blairight (a socialist sell out and traitor of the working class).

    What I don’t get is why you stand for Labour when you do not have there traditional core values.

    Blair said he was going to be Whiter than White and we fell for it.

    We Don’t trust New Labour the Tories or Lib dems.
    The people are looking for someone who speaks up for them not free trade and multi national tax haven corporations.
    What about the local Butcher?

    Time for you to bail your banker friends out with tax payers hard earned money not to worry we can cut to save 🙂
    It’s called corporate Socialism for the corporations. Austerity for the poor old voters.

  2. I agree with (Catching the Bus) the labour party has to
    Change, the Blairight element has no support from
    Most of the membership labour Blairight MPs are happy
    To sit back and support the Tory agenda regarding the destruction
    Of the sick and disabled and these MPs have no place in the Labour
    Party they need to leave

  3. Pick good candidates, stick by your values, engage properly with the public i.e. door knock and canvass, follow up on constituent problems and issues. The voting public will learn to love you again. It is a hard grind but such is life.

  4. I fear the public will never learn to love politicians again. Judge them by what they have done not what they say.

    They have sold out the public and small and medium sized businesses to multinational tax heaven corporations.

    They have gave over a trillion to the banks and the taxpayers are on the hook.

    They are for free trade not fair trade that really helps small businesses compete.

    They deregulate corporate regulation yet make thousends of new laws on the people.

    I go on but I will give them one credit. They kiss our arses during election time thats about it.

  5. True to form you put the blame, for what you perceive to be the ”disintegration” of the Labour Party, entirely on the shoulders of Mr Jeremy Corbyn and those who support him. In your book Mr Tony Blair can do no wrong, whilst Mr Corbyn can do no right. Mr Corbyn was re-elected Leader with a massive majority of 119,980, despite the despicable efforts of those opposed to him who tried every trick in the book, including a legal challenge, to prevent him from standing. Unlike you I believe it is only fair and just that when challenged a person has an automatic right to contest it, a right that the law also supports.
    You claim to be a loyal member of the Labour Party and accuse Mr Corbyn of being “the most disloyal member in the history of the Party”. You seek to justify your accusation by noting that Mr Corbyn voted against the Labour Party some 200 times during his time on the back-benches. However, you do not cite any of the issues he voted against e.g. going to war in Iraq, a vote which had the support of millions of UK citizens, I do not see that as being disloyal. What I do consider as disloyal is the actions of those weasly Labour Party MPs who, along with the support and approval of members such as youself, resent Mr Corbyn’s Leadership victories and have continuously spent their time sniping, bleating and plotting against him and his parliamentary supporters and dismissing the will of the majority of Labour Party members and supporters who voted for Jeremy Corbyn.
    You say “I’m someone who came into politics because I don’t want to spend all of my time blaming someone else for our troubles”. That does not seem to have deterred you from blaming Mr Corbyn and his supporters for all the woes of the Labour Party. It would have been more honest if you had accepted the emphatic rejection of the other leadership candidates was entirely of their own doing i.e. they were so far out of touch with the grass root membership, they might just as well been on another planet. You complain; “CONVENTIONAL political wisdom (whatever that is) appears to be a thing of the past, pundits and polls are no longer to be trusted, the public are purposely misleading pollsters and canvassers, rules that govern acceptable behaviour, for candidates and campaigners, have been torn up and the Western World’s disdain for “experts” has become all too apparent”. Quite a lot of blaming going on there Gavin!
    You claim to be a staunch member of the Labour Party, like a stick of rock it is embedded in your very being. That being so, I am astonished that you can only credit three past Conservative Leaders with social progress. I quote from your blog dated June 10th, 2016. “In one night, 100 years of social progress, forged by Churchill, Chamberlain and Thatcher, can be undone”. No mention is made of Labour Party social progressives/reformers such as Attlee, Gaitskell, Wilson and yes even, Blair. Maybe that is the reason why, as you say, some of your colleagues suggest you leave the Labour Party and join the Tories, a Party you seem to be more in tune with than the Labour Party.
    In your blog dated 13th July, 2016 regarding the second Leadership contest you, predictably, rubbish Jeremy Corbyn. You then declare Mr Owen Smith to be a “credible” candidate; however, after Mr Smith was emphatically defeated you had this to say in your blog dated 24th September, 2016. “I am disappointed that Owen Smith fell short of being elected Leader of the Labour Party today. Like thousands of others, I think Owen would have made an outstanding Leader. He deserves great credit for the brave and courageous campaign that he fought in the face of severe and totally unjustifiable hostility from many on the opposing side”. I think it is a bit rich of you to complain about hostility when you have been publicly hostile to Mr Corbyn ever since he was elected Leader in 2015. I consider your hostility toward Mr Corbyn to also be unjustified. You then completely contradict yourself in your blog dated 29 December, 2016 regarding Owen Smith, I quote: “The Labour Leadership contest of 2016 threw up not one single candidate capable of winning a General Election”. Which is it, was Owen Smith potentially an “outstanding” leader or was he in reality a “no-hoper”?
    If not Jeremy Corbyn, who are you looking too to lead the Labour Party, is it the gung-ho let’s bomb Syria Hilary Benn, or the wishy-washy sit on our thumbs until we see which way the wind is blowing Alan Johnson, or the arrogant I’m all right jack Chukka Amunna who, when asked if he would join strikers on a picket-line replied “I do not have a problem with my pay or conditions, my job is not under threat, why on earth would I want to join a picket-line”? A trio of blue-labourites as ever was.
    You insult working class people who voted to leave the EU, not only in Thurrock and Basildon but nationwide, by likening them to “turkeys voting for Christmas” implying they simple-mindedly voted against their best interests and that of the Country. I believe most people were fully cognizant of what they were voting for , after all the question was simply put , should Britain leave or remain in the EU, no ifs or buts, no caveats, just a simple in or out vote on which the people delivered a considered verdict. For “remainers” to now claim that voters were ill-informed and therefore renders the result invalid gives me the impression that not only are they bad losers they are also hell-bent on sabotaging, in any way they can, a negotiated exit which is in the best interest of the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
    You complain that Mr Corbyn’s concern about the effect austerity has on the poor, the disadvantaged, the unemployed and those who struggle on low wages shows how out of touch he is with the “language” of the country and the public. On the contrary, I believe it is you and your kind who are in denial that there are people who are poor and struggling, even the Tories admit there are people who are “just about making it” (JAMs). The “language” you and others like you in the Labour Party espouse is “denial and indifference”. I doubt you have ever experienced poverty or had to struggle just to make ends meet. You quote Tony Blair; “The true believer believes in social justice, in solidarity, in help for those not able to help themselves. They know the race can’t just be to the swift and survival for the strong, But they also know that these values, gentle and compassionate as they are, have to be applied in a harsh (austere), uncompromising world and what makes the difference is not belief alone, but the raw courage to make it happen”. I believe Mr Corbyn is totally committed to making the sentiments expressed therein happen and possesses the raw courage to do so, despite the despicable efforts of the “Blue-Labour” MPs, supported by the likes of you, to bring him down. What are you offering, your mantra appears to be “progressive politics” what does that mean and who will it benefit?
    You make no secret of the fact that you are a great admirer of Tony Blair and consider him the Labour Party’s greatest Prime Minister, you cite the fact that he won three consecutive General Elections as justification for that accolade. I remind you that Margaret Thatcher also won three consecutive GEs, do you consider her a great Prime Minister, and probably you do given your right wing leanings and your hatred of the left. It is not the winning that marks you out for “greatness” it is how you exercise the powers given you and what you do to the benefit of the UK and its peoples. I get the impression you would welcome him back as Leader of the Labour Party.
    It would be ridiculous of me to claim that no good resulted from Mr Blair’s time as Prime Minister but I believe the magnitude and consequences of his mistakes far outweigh the good.
    He is credited with bringing peace to Northern Ireland. He did so by appeasement, he appeased Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness who, if not actual members, supported the IRA and condoned their killings. He sought to pacify them by satisfying their demands at the expense of the peaceful participants to the “Peace Agreement”.
    His “bloodiest” mistake, for which he will forever be remembered, is Iraq. By tying himself to the coat-tails of President G.W. Bush he committed the UK to going to war in Iraq. Cllr Callaghan you bemoan the Western World’s “disdain for experts”, Tony Blair wilfully ignored the information given him by Dr Kelly, an expert on weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussain did not possess such weapons. He persuaded Parliament to support his actions by deliberately misleading, some would say lying to, them on the issue of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussain’s ability to launch them on the UK within 45 minutes. The consequence of Mr Blair’s rush to war in Iraq has been the loss of thousands of lives, not only British servicemen and women, but also men, women and children living in Iraq, plus thousands more suffering life-changing injuries, and the killing and maiming continues to this day. To add insult to injury Mr Blair is appointed “peace envoy” to the Middle East, that is akin to appointing Harold Shipman President of Help the Aged, After a decade as “peace envoy” he has achieved nothing and been well paid for it. Whilst millions of people , including children, are suffering horrors, that we can only imagine, due in large part to the gung-ho actions of Mr Blair, he has become a very wealthy man. Cllr Callaghan, this is the man you so much admire and sing his praises. In my opinion and that of many others, especially those who have lost sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends and loved ones, Mr Blair along with ex-President Bush should face trial for crimes against humanity.
    Finally, if the Labour Party is “disintegrating” the blame lies, not with Jeremy Corbyn and those who support him, but with those Blue-Labour MPs and others like you who support and encourage their disloyalty. I think I have sussed what you mean by “progressive politics” it is nothing more than a very slightly watered down version of Conservatism.
    You say you think the only place left to go is Mars. Make my day and board your rocket now and take with you Tony, Hilary, Alan, Chukka and all those other Blue-Labour MPs and Party members who are more in tune with the Conservative Party than the Labour Party. One more thing Gavin, please ensure the journey to Mars is one way only.


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