Like a footballer who believes he has become too big for the football club he plays for, the Labour Party appears to have decided that it has become too big for the country.
The idea is that the new ‘mass movement’ which has flocked to Jeremy Corbyn is so widespread that it will be able to persuade a far larger group of people – the British people – of the righteousness of its ideas. Recall how well this worked when Ed Miliband sent Labour members out to have “four million conversations.”
This is an incredibly pompous pretension, and it is driven by a deep-rooted misconception of what a political party should be for. In the very first piece this website published, I summoned up the final oration of the lost Labour prime minister, John Smith. “The chance to serve – that is all we ask”, said Smith on his last night on earth. What a fitting epitaph for the man and his leadership that was.
Perhaps the modern belief that Labour is a forum for mass group therapy – not that it seems to be making anyone feel any better – is caused by an increasingly individualist, consumerist outlook in the minds of the citizens who make up our throwaway society. You could be forgiven for thinking that several hundred thousand Labour members have come to the collective conclusion that the voters exist to listen to lectures on their own pet subjects, rather than to tell us what their own problems are and then reasonably expect us to come up with the answers.
This is a disastrous position for Labour to be in in the long term. Labour is already in a position where it has been driven out of its one-time heartland, Scotland, and is being told repeatedly by English and Welsh voters that it has become completely detached from their everyday lives. Instead of humbly accepting this damning verdict and working to redress it, the response from the leadership and far too many members has been that we need to speak to voters more slowly and loudly. Because, of course, it is the voters who are the problem – not the Labour Party.
Whether you care to accept it or not, the British people really are the bottom and the top line. To return to my hackneyed football analogy, just as a football club is nothing without its fans, a political party is nothing without its voters. Maybe the reason an insufficient number of my fellow members accept this premise is that, like the aloof owners of many modern football clubs, they have come to regard our supporters as a bit of a nuisance. Maybe there is more that unites many Corbynites and certain super-rich magnates than they care to admit.
This situation just isn’t sustainable. A similar aloofness about the British people all-but destroyed the Liberal Party nearly a century ago. It would be feckless and foolish to take comfort from the sheer size of the Labour membership, which is of course dwindling by the day. If, at the next general election, the British people are as damning in their verdict of the Labour Party as now seems likely, it won’t matter remotely how many members Labour has – because we could well be members of an ex-party.
So those Labour members who believe that the Party exists to serve their personal dogmatism would do well to remember some words from John Smith’s predecessor as Labour leader, Neil Kinnock. Addressing the nation in the small hours of the general election night of 1992, Kinnock said mornfully, “I naturally feel a strong sense of disappointment, not for myself for I am fortunate, very fortunate in my personal life, but I feel dismay, sorrow for so many people in our country who do not share this personal good fortune. They deserve better that they got on the 9th of April 1992.”
The people deserve better than what they are getting from today’s Labour Party, too. They deserve a Labour Party that is obsessed not by its own echo chamber, but by finding the solutions to the problems they face. They deserve a Labour Party that understands the basic principle that public service can never be about self-service. They deserve, in the end, a Labour Party that exists not for its members, but for the British people.