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On the responsibities of Left MPs in Labour’s leadership election

Labour Leadership Candidates and now they are 5_edited-1The entry of Jeremy Corbyn into Labour’s leadership election at last makes it possible to force all candidates to address the widespread opposition amongst party and trade union activists and councillors to austerity. The continuous stream of pronouncements by Andy Burnham to appeal to the Labour right has undermined his credibility as a “left” candidate – the image he carefully cultivated for most of the last parliament. Yesterday’s support expressed in Progress magazine for open primaries in parliamentary selections was just the latest concession, a “reform” opposed right across the spectrum of the party but long advocated by Progress. But the stream of pronouncements from all candidates has also shown the effect of not having a left candidate in the election — the contest for nominations has been almost entirely on the right of the party, which has determined the nature of the debate. And that’s what brings the responsibilities of Left MPs to the movement outside parliament into sharp focus.

In this leadership election – unlike the last – the only important role that MPs can play is to make a nomination. Last time it was possible to nominate one person and give your first preference vote to another, but the most important thing an MP did when their vote was worth the same as 930 trade unionists was which Miliband got their highest preference even if that was their fourth. Now that an MP is just another voter, their nomination acquires greater significance that cannot be balanced by their subsequent vote.

The left in parliament is in better shape than for many years. Well-meaning Left members of parliament may well think that their power to nominate brings a responsibility is to ensure that the next leader of the Labour Party is the one best placed to lead Labour to victory. Like most Left Futures readers, they think this should involve opposition to austerity, support for trade union rights,world peace, the redistribution of income, wealth and power to eliminate inequality, prejudice and injustice, and so on. But they’re realistic about the probability that Jeremy Corbyn will win this contest, and may think we’ll have to settle for something less – or risk a return to the bad old days of New Labour in a newer Kendall-shaped guise.

In one sense, that’s right. Compromise is necessary in subsequent preferences even if Jeremy is on the ballot paper, and it is vital that the best candidate who can win does win. But we do have a preferential voting system. And using it to best advantage is the responsibility of all of us who have a vote, not just MPs (who have no special duty in this matter). Although Blairite MPs would no doubt claim otherwise given the managerial, ‘skills’ based approach they advocate for picking candidates, MPs do not have any special expertise in picking winners (if anything, time spent in the Westminster bubble makes that harder) .

A Left MP wants to build and strengthen the Labour movement away from Westminster, to empower it, ensure it reaches out to communities and workplaces and then trusts its experience and understanding of the hopes, needs and challenges they find there. That’s where the expertise lies, in the movement outside parliament. That’s why Left MPs support democracy, argue for both wings of the Labour movement, political and industrial, to make the policy at our conference and elect an executive to run the party. You only have to look to Scotland to see what happens when parliamentarians fail to prioritise building the party, and ignore the advice of trade unions.

MPs are the gatekeepers in this election. They can allow the Labour movement a real choice or they can deny it and reinforce the return to what passed for debate between Brownites and Blairites, about personalities and image and how we best appeal to Mail readers in the south of England.

Labour lost the last election because we failed to convince C1s and C2s that we’re on their side, that we have anything like enough to offer them to allay their fears about pay and the cost of living, for the NHS and job security and the prospect of their children getting decent homes to live in. And Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Mary Creagh are talking about aspiration.

Jeremy Corbyn may not win this election but if he gets on the ballot paper, he’ll widen the debate and change their campaigns. Candidates will talk more about austerity than aspiration. If they mention party “reform”, they’ll be more likely to mean democracy and less likely to mean new ways of excluding trade unions.

When the “left” candidate says he won’t take trade union money and wants to downgrade the role of party members in picking candidates, the contest needs a shake up. I hope that MPs, new or old, won’t rate any commitment they may have made last week to a fellow MP above the right to choose of those that put them there.


  1. Sue says:

    I swear Progress is mostly made up of “sleepers” being sponsored by big business to shackle the Labour Party!

    1. John P Reid says:

      Surely a sleepers duty would be to destroy the Labour Party from, within, but as the progress lot were remaining eight for labour wining 3 times, the only time,in fact in the last 40 plus years, surely it would have been Scargill or Benn who were the sleepers, the both got very big houses out of nearly destroying the Labour Party and the NUM

      1. Sue says:

        They destroyed the philosophical integrity of the party shifting it to the right so we now experience the obscene spectacle of leading labour MPs supporting, not only a benefits cap, but a cruel reduction of it. Destroying a massive organisation takes time. Ideas, principles etc have to be undermined. It seem we now just bully the poor almost as much as any other party. It was the new labour govt who introduced the ESA and all the new conditionality and compulsion in the sickness benefit system. The vile interrogation each year for people with illnesses and conditions that will never improve. Yet people have to go cap in hand to try to convince yet another stranger (barely even a medical stranger) that they cannot work. Again it was new labour who introduced the Work Focussed Interview. Used to bully and intimidate and dare I say shame, people who are actually entitled to their benefit. I could go on. New labours social policies shifted the debate away from rights to social security when in need to an ever increasing number of conditions to ensure support. The systems put in place by new labour have of course been put into over drive by the Tories. But the mechanisms were already there. New labour was a gift to the right.

        1. Robert says:

          The country has changed and labour is back in the mire it’s now to the right. but we have a very good right leaning party in power, we do not need Progress or the left.

          Cameron was better then Miliband he will be better then Burnham who is a Miliband look and sound alike.

          The people look at Scotland have decided to dump the -pretend labour party.

        2. John P Reid says:

          Had Labour not swung far to the left, then Margert thatcher wouldn’t have win,to democratize the unions after the winter of discount, no matter how much hiking of those strikers only fought for a fair wage, and the country could have borrowed more to pay them,will convince the public, that The Tories were wrong to do it,and labour originally was the euro sceptic party, the party,that built our own nuclear defence policy,were the original party to suggest selling council homes,
          Had labour not swung towards the left,the fat we later swung towards the right,would t have upset a few in the party.
          Losing elections based on ridiculous policies,like leaving NATO, scrapping all but the Bobbie on the beat,from the police,or nationalizing the 25 biggest industries,weren’t a case of integrity, they were daft,and the majority of labour members didn’t want them

      2. Gary Elsby says:

        Couldn’t it be further argued by detractors of the left argument that both Tony and Gordon gained even bigger houses based on ‘nearly destroying the Country’?
        Most on the left would dismiss this particular comment with just the same enthusiasm that Scargill and Benn destroyed Labour.

        1. John P Reid says:

          Benn, never gave a straight answer to the Question, that because he decided the public wanted something, then it was his right to act as the democratic option, without ,questioning his views were rejected at the ballot box, as such his undemocratic views let opportunists,Stalinists, non democrats, impose views that weren’t socialist,like Scargill he persuaded his miners to go for the as much money as possible option,and let his union be restored as other oft for the democratic union of mine workers

          Blair a toen nearly destroyed the country, unemployment fell, we all got richer, saved education, saved the NHS, crime halved, and they never ,preached what they didn’t practice, Scargill, abenn wanted to tax us too the hilt, yet live in mansions, Blair and co. Were all for creating wealth so why shouldn’t they enjoy it,

  2. David Pavett says:

    It was always difficult to think of Burnham as a left candidate. It is true that he has shown a little independence of mind (not a career advancy quality in the Labour Party) on a couple of occasions but that is not the same thing.

    Now the situation is clear. No one who stands a chance of winning is left. But Burnham seems to go even further than the other candidates in his disdain for Party members by hi unequivocal support ‘open primaries’. As Jon says, “You only have to look to Scotland to see what happens when parliamentarians fail to prioritise building the party …”.

    I think though that it is a bit coy to say “Labour lost the last election because we failed to convince C1s and C2s that we’re on their side”. It wasn’t just a matter of “convincing” them, the problem was that Labour did not have the policies to convince them.

    1. Sue says:

      Yes exactly! And labour now seem to make up policies to target certain voters rather than simply having an over all socialist vision. A vision that people would find themselves agreeing with if they ever heard it! Already the public are well ahead of labour re the denationalisation of the railways. Yet labour (now too right wing) will not adopt it as policy. Two thirds of the country did not vote Tory. A huge number of those voted for anti austerity. We need Corbyn in these debates so that a real alternative can be put.

      1. Robert says:

        We may like him in he has little chance of even getting the number of MP’s, progress and Blair have taken over the party, they worked a blinder.

  3. Verity says:

    Would it be so very wrong to think that the deference shown (in private) by Labour voices like Burnham and Clarke to a powerless and irrelevant noble is symbolic of the leadership that we would get when it comes to challenging real and powerful interests. Wow! how well Ed scores on this, and well done Yvette for doing one thing worthy of note.

    With the major but tentative stepping forward by Jeremy Corbyn we can expect some real muscle to compaigning – the number of MPs nominating is a real test of how far we are from the Progress Party.

    Taking up John McDonnell’s appeal to avoid divisions I will for once only, comment on Jeremy’s bizarre characterisation of the EU ‘freedom of movement’ as if it was a workers liberation movement. But so delighted by his entry that this is the only time I will not comment before the EU referendum campaign.

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