2020 03 Editorial – Labour’s Craven Candidates

Labour’s Craven Candidates

The Labour leadership contest, now in its seventh week, is not exactly setting the world alight. The media, obsessed with the latest celebrity gossip and with Johnson’s compliant cabinet, have taken little interest in it. And the wider public are largely unaware that it is happening. Labour Affairs however has more than a passing interest in it. We have no preference for any one of the candidates, given what we have heard from them so far. What is important is which of the three will take the party in the right direction, retaining much of the 2019 manifesto but focusing on three or four key issues that will appeal to voters. The party should avoid meaningless slogans such as “For the Many, not the Few.” Unlike Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done”, Labour’s slogan contained no practical message for voters.

There is a simple explanation for our refusal to endorse any one of the candidates. All three caved in to the pressure from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and signed up to their ten pledges. In our view no potential leader of the Labour party should take orders from an outside organisation, such as the Board of Deputies. The pledges are an interference in the internal administration and politics of the Labour party and should be dismissed as such. The BoD has no right to demand that any individual party member accused of antisemitism should not be readmitted into the party, but that is what is called for in one of the pledges. Ken Livingstone, who resigned from the party in 2018, is cited as someone who should not be readmitted. The decision on party membership is a matter for the appropriate body within the Labour party. It is not the business of the BoD.

Nor should the candidates be beholden to the Jewish Labour Movement. The JLM (formerly Paole Zion) is an affiliate organisation of the Labour party. It is also affiliated to the British Board of Deputies, the Zionist Federation of  Great Britain and Ireland and to the World Zionist Organisation. The WZO, incidentally, funds the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, condemned by the United Nations and opposed by the Labour party. The JLM has a number of laudable aims, but one of them is “to promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life”. Cynics could suggest that it begs the question where does their loyalty lie?  At a hustings held by the JLM each Labour leadership candidate was asked if they were a Zionist. This was clearly a subtle way to force the candidates to confess that the party of which they seek to be leader is deeply antisemitic. Anti-Zionist being conflated with antisemitic.

There is a further issue in which the candidates should not become involved. The row raging around the question of trans-gender risks alienating the party from its traditional supporters. But the candidates are being forced to confront it by a small minority of activists, totally unrepresentative of the party membership. In their view anyone who questions the complexities of the issues involved and the difficulties that can arise is labelled transphobic. The new Labour leader needs to focus on the issues that voters care about and which directly impact on their lives. Labour should avoid being seen as a party that cares more about trans-gender issues, as important as they may be to those affected, and promote vigorously its core economic and social policies to transform Britain.

British society is class based. However it’s now commonly stated that identity and values have replaced class as a political determinant. Self-identity is one of its products. But it is class, not identity and values, that influence the composition and direction of the state and society. It is class that determines the place of the individual in society. Whatever the Tories and liberal pundits like Tony Blair may say, class matters. Only those at the top of the class hierarchy and determined to stay there argue that class no longer matters. John Major once said that Britain is a classless society in so far as individuals could move from one class to another. Nothing more was heard of it because little happened to support his view.

The candidates appear keen to distance themselves from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, although Long-Bailey is regarded as Corbyn’s heir. But they can’t escape from his manifesto legacy, now being brazenly raided by Boris Johnson. Following the resignation of Sajid Javid, an adherent of fiscal prudence, the way is open for Johnson and his new Chancellor Rishi Sunak to ditch the Tories reputation for careful management of Britain’s finances. Under Johnson the Tories have accepted that with interest rates remaining historically low the government can borrow heavily to finance capital investment. When Ed Miliband argued for higher borrowing for this purpose in 2015 he was widely criticised. Unlike Cameron and May, Johnson has no such qualms about borrowing and increasing the national debt.

The plans to borrow to invest in more buses, better rail services and greater cycling measures, as part of a process of levelling up, bringing improvements to people’s lives in the Midlands and North, are straight out of Labour’s 2019 manifesto. These and other policies developed by Labour, and for which the party was ridiculed, are now being planned by the Tories. As a direct result of the work of Corbyn and McDonnell, the Tories have moved to the left occupying some of the space vacated by Labour following its election defeat. There will be scope for Labour to criticise the implementation of the policies when they happen. But until then they should be welcomed as proof that Labour under Corbyn, at least in its economic manifestation, was not the harbinger of national doom.

Immigration, however, is the one policy area where Labour and the Tories fail to meet. The proposals for the changes in immigration laws announced towards the end of last month are ostensibly designed to transform Britain’s labour market, and there are aspects of them badly overdue. For example, the prospect of employers forced to invest more in their workers and pay them more are to be welcomed. At the same time however Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel are setting a trap for Labour. There is a clear political dimension to the proposals: to paint Labour as a party that puts the rights of foreign labour before those of indigenous workers. That is the headline grabbing message that the Tories hope will be picked up by the voters. Labour’s failure to properly address the issues around Britain’s labour market has led to this. It could be hard put to come up with a better alternative to the Tories. But it must be a priority for the next Labour leader.