The man who quite reasonably in many respects (given what was happening at the time) thought running for the leadership of the Labour Party was not for him, spoke in Amsterdam this week about several things, not least of which was the leader elect, Mr Jeremy Corbyn. Only there was none of this “coalition of the sensible” fighting talk on this occasion:
“I do not think we can simply dismiss out of hand those who hold critical views of New Labour. Like any government, the New Labour administration made mistakes – it could and should have achieved more and done more to challenge the right’s assumptions about the world. In the end, it is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability. It is far better we acknowledge, not reject, this ambition for a better world”.
Now, I do not wish to be overly harsh on Chuka here, but that’s pretty close to a refutation of everything he has previously stated he believes in. I bring this up as it gets to the heart of why I find the Labour Party such an alien organisation in many respects.
I’ve had Labour friends for weeks talking about how if Corbyn gets elected as leader it will be the end of the party, a terrible catastrophe for the country, etc. To be fair, many of them are sticking to their guns on this, but many more are sort of emerging in an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” type form, suddenly seeing the good side to Jeremy, suddenly sounding a lot like Chuka did in Amsterdam.
See here’s the thing: Corbyn isn’t looking to change the Labour Party a tiny, wee bit; he wants to alter it fundamentally. Taking power out of the PLP’s hands and giving it to the membership arguably may or may not be a good thing, but one thing that is for sure: it is a monumental alteration to the way the Labour Party functions. So if you’re on the Umunna wing of Labour and your whole plan is to wait until Corbyn crashes and burns, say “see, I told you so” and then reclaim the party, that only works if you did indeed say so at the time. Talking up Corbyn as being pretty great after all sort of does this whole plan in from the start.
I do get that people like Chuka are examining the options to hand, figure it’s some sort of SDP-style split that will end in tears or accepting the new status quo, but I still find it weird. Organisations are nothing more than people and the principles guiding those people. If the people and the principles change, then the organisation itself is fundamentally different. It’s like how so many of the hardcore leftists hung around during the Blair years; like how there is a Labour Party in reality that does stuff many members don’t like, then on the other hand there’s this ideal Labour Party that exists in the imagination. I just can’t invest that much in any organisation, frankly, and find it odd that anyone can. If Friends of the Earth was taken over by a group of climate change deniers, how would it really be the same organisation, to take a very obvious and thankfully fictitious example?
Anyhow, I wish Chuka all the best with his semi-conversion to the ways of Jeremy. Oh except that he won’t accept anyone with a platform of withdrawing from NATO, unilateralism, significantly increasing taxation or advocating Brexit. This is a list which leaves me asking: what is it about Corbyn that Chuka does like exactly?
John West says
I’ll concede Chuka Umunna has done himself no favours with his apparent flip-flop presentation over the past five years, but I do also think this is a gross misrepresentation of his position.
He has always been a non-Blairite but New Labour tinged reformer with links to – and some shared areas of agreement with – the soft left. He rose to prominence courtesy of Compass and was part of the pro-Ed team around 2010.
Now as Shadow Biz Sec, he certainly cultivated a more Blairite hue – but then this is par for the course given his brief.
It’s worth noting, too, that his support for Liz Kendall (not that I’m a fan, personally) no more makes him a Blairite than her (going further than Ed Miliband in proposing mandatory worker representation on boards of medium-sized and large companies is far from the “light-touch” favoured under Blair and Brown).
The above quotation from Umunna – taken from a longer speech in which he cautions strongly against irrelevance, clearly broadsiding Corbyn – simply says “New Labour was wrong on some stuff – even a lot of stuff – and should be called on it.”
I didn’t see anywhere in there a comment that could be construed as “New Labour was wrong on some stuff – even a lot of stuff – so HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE.”