If you talk to many people in the Labour Party, a fundamental moral cleavage runs through the party like a chasm. On one side are the people who care about lifting the poor out of poverty, who believe in public investment and raising taxes, who burn with injustice at the actions of Theresa May’s Tory government. On the other side are the careerist neoliberals. Who are happy to continue Conservative policies because they’ve no ideas of their own. Who regurgitate UKIP rhetoric because it wins votes in some parts of the country. Whose main objective is achieving power – what they’ll do with it will be worked out after they have it.
To those of us on the right of the party such a caricature seems obviously ridiculous and oftentimes barely worth engaging with. We want power because without power we can’t actually change policies in order to help anyone. We want to nullify the UKIP lines on immigration because people are actually worried about it and you don’t soothe concerns by calling people racists and storming off. We accept some policies of marketization because the evidence we have over 20 years of politics is that it improves outcomes for the taxpayer. These arguments are so well-worn that I can bring them to mind almost without thinking when challenged by someone from the left of the party. Almost without thinking the tone of condescension and exasperation sets in. How can they be so stupid? Not to see the world as we see it? To believe things that are so obviously ridiculous. It’s enough to make you want to not talk to them. Unfortunately, that has far too often been our default response.
So to the right of the party I say this – that is simply not good enough.
One of the first rules of politics is that Perception is Reality. If you’re perceived as being something you’ll be treated that way. Your protestations of innocence won’t matter because that’s exactly what a person who was guilty would say. If you can’t be aware of your and manage how you are perceived then how can you manage a party, or indeed a country?
If we are perceived as careerist neoliberals who don’t really care, then that’s on us. That’s happened because we haven’t made it clear to those on the left that we burn with the same injustice they do. That the fire burning in them for a more equal and more prosperous Britain burns in us just as brightly. That we dream the same dreams, and fear the same things. Consider an example somewhat closer to home – if you never told your partner that you loved them, just went through the same routine every day and assumed they knew, because they must surely know – they might well begin to feel differently about you. We have allowed ourselves to become complacent. To think that our righteousness and our caring is obvious. That everyone understands why we reject the politics of fantastical dreams for the politics of the realistic and they achievable. To extend the metaphor – that our loved one understands we’re working those extra hours in the office for them – rather than worrying about whether we’re even in the office at all.
The only mistake we could make worse than those already in the past is the one it seems we are most likely to – assuming that just as their perceptions of arrived, so will they depart. This complacency is already evident in much of the thinking on the right of the party, where the abysmal performance of Jeremy Corbyn and his lieutenants will surely lead, eventually, to people realising that we were right all along. To putting their optimism and their hope in a box and getting down in the trenches with us, because what else is there to do? Sure, some will. But a hell of a lot more won’t. And it speaks to the problems the right of the party has that that isn’t immediately obvious. If we believe that we are the change makers and the future government of the country, then we must also believe that we are more than a home for the cynical and jaded left. If we believe that we should act like it.
The right of the party should be making clear our moral fury at the state of the nation. A country being torn apart by a government that has already demonstrated that it holds the 48% of the population who voted remain in contempt. A country that has suffered the worst contraction in living standards since the 19th century. Where homelessness is at record levels. Where child poverty is increasing again. All presided over by a government that hands out tax cuts to millionaires while smugly declaring, its austerity policies having collapsed tax revenues, that nothing more can be done and that the poorest will continue to be punished for a recession they had no hand in creating.
The prospect of such a government should make every one of us want to scream. Not because the last Labour government was better in comparison, but because the policies of this conservative government are morally wrong. That moral calumny is what drives us and what makes us part of the Labour party. If we really were Red Tories just in search of power then we’d be happier and more successful stood behind Theresa May telling the world why she’s a great prime minister. But instead we’re here. Yes, we want to talk about being fiscally responsible because when the government wastes money it can’t be used on helping the worst off in our society – the primary job of a Labour government. Yes, we want to talk about immigration because until we win the trust of the voters to manage it we’ll never get be able to right a single one of the panoply of injustices this Tory government is creating. Yes, we want to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn. Because his inability to appear to the country as a credible prime minister aids and abets the Tory party’s quest to ruin our country by removing the one thing that holds back the Conservative party – the threat of losing a general election.
It’s not enough for us to sit in our echo chamber and wonder at why the left of the party believe things that are obviously ridiculous. It’s not good enough to hope that people will join us once every other option has been exhausted. We don’t want people climbing into the trenches because they’ve nowhere else to go. We want them jumping down to join us in the fight because that’s where they want to be – with us – their friends, their kin, their comrades. The Labour right doesn’t need to get even with the Tories. We need to get mad at them.