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Neil Kinnock lectures Labour members on leader’s ‘electability’

kinnock light-bulbOn Sunday 2 August the Observer carried a piece by Neil Kinnock on the Labour leadership election. Although the piece could not convince anyone of the case he makes if they were not already convinced it is worth a second glance. It reveals something important about a style of argument that passes for political thinking in some Labour circles.

Neil Kinnock, it would appear, considers himself an authority on the matter of winning elections and offers his advice to Labour Party members accordingly.

For all his years in politics Neil Kinnock has not understood that specific problems need specific analyses and specific solutions. He clearly thinks that generalised rhetoric can perform the trick of selecting one candidate from four.

He says that the leader should propose solutions to pressing problems and not just invite us to a debate. All four candidates, in their very different ways, do that. For example I agree with virtually nothing that Liz Kendall says but that doesn’t mean that she is not proposing solutions to pressing problems. It means that I don’t agree with her solutions.

He advises Labour members and registered supporters to make their decision “with the greatest possible sincerity and realism”. Thanks Neil, but that is pretty much what we had intended to do but even then we are coming to different conclusions because of our different ideas about politics.

We are further advised to focus “relentlessly on how we can … win the 2020 election“. Thanks again, but given our many different political starting points that still doesn’t lead to one conclusion.

The same applies to

It will need policies that are strongly rooted in Labour values of care, opportunity, security, fairness and freedom.

The person we choose must have absolute dedication, deep understanding of the pressures confronting women and men in every community, the strength to communicate our priorities clearly and compellingly to every part of our society and our country, and the determination to develop the convincing Labour case and defeat Toryism.

From this generalised waffle, Neil Kinnock thinks he can deduce that Andy Burnham is the man for the job.  And he manages that without considering a single policy of Burnham or the other candidates!

This is not serious political comment. It is pure windbaggery.

What this shows is that a one-time leader of the Labour Party simply doesn’t understand what is involved in a genuine debate about substantially different ideas and policies. As a consequence, he resorts to windy rhetoric and imagines that this leads to the conclusion that he wants to reach.

No one wants to reduce Labour to a debating society – as Neil Kinnock disingenuously suggests – but on the other hand a serious political party grappling with difficult problems to which there is often no easy solution needs to be able to hold proper debates. Without that, democracy is a dead letter.

So it is instructive that an ex-leader of the Party should think that he can extract a particular conclusion from a general argument that enters into no particulars. This is a striking example of how little the concept of debate is understood in some Labour circles.

In fact, it is reasonable to respond to Neil Kinnock by saying that treating debate as a luxury and then trying to reach a desired conclusion on entirely spurious grounds doesn’t show the way forward for Labour. It illustrates the mindset that has led it to the point where no one is clear what the Party stands for.


  1. James Martin says:

    Kinnock needs to crawl back under his stone. He lost all rights to lecture anyone else about elections and democracy when he became a member of the EU Commissionaire dictatorship, his missus was caught fiddling her expenses as an MEP (signing in and walking straight out with her large daily allowance) and he accepted a life peerage. Yet another traitor to the labour movement who clearly thinks no one has noticed.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I think that it is really important to keep the rhetoric under control. Admittedly I accused Kinnock of “windbaggery” and that was probably a poor choice, but at least I provided the direct evidence and I hope the exact meaning of the word is clear in the context.

      On the other hand implying that people should not speak (“needs to crawl back under his stone”, “lost all rights to lecture”, “traitor”) are not the language in which a sensible debate can be held. If Corbyn wins he will have to work with wide range of people. This will be made much more difficult if his supporters are hurling abuse at those people.

      I am not suggesting that criticism should be muted, far from it. I am merely saying that our criticisms should be expressed in courteous terms which nevertheless make our intentions clear. On reflection I should probably have found another word that “windbaggery” for what I wanted to say. To help Jeremy Corbyn, and the left in general, we all need to be careful about the language that we use. Metaphors like Dave Prentice’s “virus” of Blairism should be strictly avoided. We should leave the emotive and generalised rhetoric to our opponents. It’s hard to avoid in some situations but that should, in my view, be our goal.

      1. James Martin says:

        This is not about insults David. I utterly hate Kinnock because I was a member of the Liverpool LP when Kinnock launched the witch-hunt and drove out hundreds of very good socialists and ensured that the council would then by under Liberal control for many years. I saw first hand the damage that man did to socialism and to the Party while he was lining his pockets and I will never, ever forgive him.

        1. David Pavett says:

          I think that there should have been more subtle ways of dealing with Militant but I have little doubt that it had to be dealt with. I am, as my piece above suggests, not a particular fan of Kinnock. But what I am saying is that our arguments must all be presented in reasoned terms with evidence and policy arguments. The talk of “traitors” and “hatred” cannot be part of that. That means that all of us need to make an extra effort in the way we express things. They way we saying things informally to close friends is one thing. They we express the same ideas in pubic discourse has to be another.

      2. Robert says:

        Kinnock is Kinnock he was my MP for years and people hoped he would win the election against Major, but it was no real surprise he lost, of course he was shocked and angry bitter and really Pee’d off with the left as if we lost him the election.

        He is now not thought of as a lefty he is seen as being a Blair-rite stooge, in my part of Wales who quickly learned to milk the EU money system with his wife and family and now we have the other Kinnock who is more to the right again seems the Welsh are in love with anything which is dumped in our laps.
        I just think these people are now basically history they just like to hear their voices now and again to make sure they are not dead.

  2. swatantra says:

    Pot calling the kettle black?
    Kinnock did the Party a great service by ridding us of Hatton and the Millitants.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Your comment has nothing to do with anything I wrote.

      1. swatantra says:

        Look again at your title: ‘lectures’.
        And JC is not ‘lecturing’ but welcoming open debate, that’s why he is doing so well in the Hustings. We have to shift the balance of power within the Party more towards the real membership.

        1. David Pavett says:

          Not my title, so that still has nothing to do with anything I wrote.

          I am strongly in favour of Jeremy Corbyn’s view of the need for real democracy in the Labour Party.

  3. John P Reid says:

    He increased the parties vote from 27% to 34% making it electable 5 years later,and Been opposed him every inch of the way,making it take him 7 years,which could have been achieved much earlier, the G.lC in 85 proposing scrapping the police, Benn unions objecting to OM
    of saying the voting was too difficult for them to understand,even though that was what the leader said to stop black people voting in Sourh Africa,
    And of course had Benn not suggested the 83 manifesto which got labour 27% of the vote in the first place,than it would have been such a uphill struggle,

  4. John P Reid says:

    livungatone shows his disloyalty slagging g Off Ed Miliband,and the bloke he voted for leader,who was shadow Chacellor

    1. David Pavett says:

      This has nothing to do with anything that I wrote.

      Besides, what is the connection between your link (which I followed) and your comments? I found no “slagging off” of Miliband or Balls. Furthermore your idea of “loyalty” is strange. Does the fact the an individual gives there support to someone else mean that they are debarred from criticising them? If I think a friend is about to make a serious mistake do I demonstrate my friendship by saying nothing?

  5. Jeffery Davies says:

    Is that the mp who said the eu is rotten apple but then took his partner
    Off with him to the eu becoming multi millionaires from it yes its good to listen to old windy full of shitte is he jeff3

    1. John P Reid says:

      And said the lords was full of old crooks!

  6. Bazza says:

    Yes I have also been looking at the New Statesman website (where they restrict comments more now) and it seems the Labour establishment (like Kinnock’s piece) is throwing the kitchen sink at Labour members (the politics of fear?) for daring to potentially free themselves from the Neo-Liberal straight jacket and for thinking.
    I always try to use the words of the rich and powerful against them and remember a rich New York socialite once said, “Only the little people pay taxes.” But as democratic socialists perhaps we are up against the true little people of the planet – the rich and powerful who are only fighting to preserve their wealth, power and privileges (and to get more) as billions of their fellow human beings live in misery.
    So we can expect and can understand their attacks.
    And in Labour we are perhaps up against our own lightweights who it could be argued like the rich and powerful seem short of original ideas and are incapable and unwilling to make REAL CHANGE as accepting Neo-Liberal hegemony as perhaps they live comfortably in interesting careers.
    But David is right we need to be careful with language and I actually hate neither group – I actually pity them (“So you think you are a superstar, well alright you are” – John Lennon) – they don’t know any better.
    It’s time for Labour members to get power back and to make policy from their own lifetimes’ experiences.
    The problem with the Left with Benn etc. in the 1980’s is it was I would argue dominated by middle class liberals and we used the language of insiders as well as failing to understand (myself included) what Neo-Liberalism at the time was really about and countering these ideas- and we were appalling communicators.
    Of course we were vilified by the media then as we will be now but we should explain that they do this to keep power with the rich and powerful and to stop those who have to sell their labour (you) from having power!
    By the way I was one of the first in the late 80’s to begin to undemine the myth of Thatcher’s invinciblity just by reviewing William Keegan’s book which had a title which I vaguely remember was something like ‘Mrs Thatcher’s Economic Expriment’ in which I showed how Thatcher had to be sat in a room by Keith Joseph and others and taught moneterism.
    So I don’t believe in the great man or woman thesis of history – it is more about leaders reflecting movements. If Thatcher had never existed Neo-Libralism would have found someone else.
    But we need to be brief in our communications, use simple language, be clear, be honest, and argue with passion.
    I do belive the future is grassroots, bottom up, democratic, and peaceful.
    I am voting for Jeremy because to the best of my ability I try to be a critical thinker.
    I have also freed myself from the Neo-Liberal straight jacket – join me brothers and sisters, the waters lovely!

  7. David Pavett says:

    Interesting that Burnham has now decided that the railways should be taken back into public ownership.

    Evidence of the Corbyn effect I think. When the voice of the left is heard there is a general shift leftwards. Well done to Jeremy Corbyn for making it possible for a breakthrough for left views to be heard.

    1. gerry says:

      David – Andy is simply rehashing manifesto ideas from 2010 and 2015 which said that Labour should “allow” the state to “compete” to run rail lines: he is not calling for wholesale nationalisation at all. If he was emulating Corbyn, he would have costed this shift, but he hasn’t, so he isn’t moving left, merely rehashing ideas from the last 2 failed elections.

      1. John P Reid says:


      2. Mervyn Hyde says:

        Or is he doing what he always does; pretend that he is on the left, appealing to those that think he is a nice guy who will appeal to voters with policies of the left, instead he will say one thing and then do the opposite, just he did during the election pretending he was saving the NHS, whilst leaving the privatisation body in place.

        Burnham just can’t be trusted and is probably worse than Liz Kendall, at least we know where she stands.

        Who after all would serve under Alan Milburn I’m sure Nye Bevan wouldn’t have?

        1. gerry says:

          Mervyn – you shouldn’t trust any of them, including Jeremy: you are likely to be grievously disappointed, as in Greece if you voted Syriza. Instead, have a little faith in the party, our party, which has survived near on 100 years and has made this country a better place in which to live – regardless of the fact that most voters have chosen the Right for 60 of the near 90 years since universal suffrage!

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