I noticed this quote on Guido Fawkes blog regarding the Dennis MacShane saga:
“The Labour leaning blogosphere’s credibility really suffers at times like this from being reluctant to criticise allies.”
I don’t know which blogs Guido reads but, speaking for myself, I have never been shy of criticising ‘allies’ and being honest I don’t think his caricature describes the left in general. In this piece I don’t intend to comment on the validity or otherwise of the allegations against MacShane. I think the PLP did the right thing though we should note the inconsistency of MacShane’s suspension and the elevation of Phil Woolas to a senior post. However, what I will say is that the left does and should approach corruption and allegations of it in a generally different way to the right.
Right-wing narratives tend to be full of ‘goodies and baddies’ so scandals are simply about weeding out the baddies. We definitely need to avoid simplistic ‘bad apple’ narratives that often blind us to the deeper causes of corruption. Sure bad apples exist but they can only spoil the rest if the conditions are ripe for them to do so. We need the right politics to look at the bigger picture; the cultural and structural situation which allows corruption to flourish and this is something the right lacks. ‘Bad Apple’ narratives lead to disgraceful and shrill witch-hunts and too knee-jerk solutions.
Regrettably the last Labour government failed to rise above this approach with its creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority; a stroke of ‘genius’ that has made a bad situation much worse. In classic witch-hunt style we moved quickly on from an inadequate system of making expense claims to a system which now punishes the innocent with impunity (in particular, MP’s staff). This will simply not do for progressives who are supposed to support justice, not revenge and retribution.
One point that I did not see often was that, rather than being a product of corruption of intent, the expenses saga was as much a product of other (in some ways equally ugly) causes like ignorance and alienation from the real world. This is an especially unforgiveable sin (or at least it should be) in Labour MPs whose functional duty as representatives is not just to their particular patch of turf but the wider labour movement as a whole. It seems to me, sadly, that this is something that is oft forgotten in the rarefied atmosphere of the Westminster Village where that movement is a passing concern and at times seems to be an outright irritation to our leaders.
When we are thinking therefore on the left about how to tackle corruption, especially in the regard to MPs’ expenses, the key question then becomes simply how do we solve this alienation? Whether people like it or not, part of that is redressing the democratic deficit in the Labour Party with a system of checks and balances. Currently, the PLP has far too much power to act independently and behave as a law unto itself. Elsewhere, I have proposed replacing the electoral college system by which we elect our leader with a ballot of individual and affiliated members, and I still favour this and other sweeping reforms, but in this instance we also need to see the PLP made accountable to the Party machine. Although I am aware that machine has problems and needs reform itself, it nonetheless represents the most serious check and balance because it has the moral authority, the manpower and resources that local CLPs do not as they are overwhelmingly dependant on voluntary labour.
Other measures include the promotion of candidates from within the labour movement and ‘big L’ Labour candidates and the fostering of candidates with a strong background from within this movement and giving those preferential treatment compared with those without it. A variety of proposals exist to make things better moving far beyond the punishment of ‘the wicked’ which is all that interests the likes of Guido and his motley crew on the right. Actually, Mr Fawkes, it is the left that is serious about tackling corruption and the right that isn’t because it won’t tackle the root causes head-on.
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