This has been a very painful year. The election of the 12th of December marked a decisive rupture of Labour from the working class and an acceleration of our transformation into a European Progressive Party based in our big cities. The identity and distinctiveness of Labour, as a political tradition, was in large part based on the natural affection that working class people felt for the party they created. Baffling and brilliant, mundane and sublime, radical and conservative, the party bore the imprint of those who founded it and who it was supposed to represent. The loyalty of the working-class to Labour is the fundamental reason that our country did not go fascist. All who were part of Labour had to have some relationship with Labour’s heartlands and its politics.
That is no longer the case and I find it very painful.
There is still a party, there are still distinctions between left and right, communitarians and liberals, pragmatists and idealists but the temper and tone of Labour is now essentially abstract and rational and no longer embedded in the small towns of our country. We are out of relationship with our tradition and the communities who cherished us. We are unloved and unrepentant. So far, I don’t see any of the leadership contenders grasping the scale of this rejection and the transfer of working class affections to the Conservatives. Or any recognition that second guessing the Brexit vote and asking people to do it again marked the end of the road for Labour in its heartlands. We crossed a line and are unforgiven. It wasn’t about policy, or whether we would be better off, or just in time production systems. It came to be about democracy and we fudged it. We thought they were wrong and that we knew better. Many millions of people thought of us as condescending and duplicitous when we thought they were stupid and ignorant. It is no wonder that the marriage is over.
We had plenty of time to repent and change our ways. There were many warnings as to what was going to happen but we chose to ignore them because we were right and they were wrong, we were good and they were bad. The marriage was on life support for a decade and we only listened to graduates who lived in London. Now we have no seats in Cumbria. We grudgingly acknowledged the reality of the Brexit vote at best, that millions and millions of our fellow citizens voted to leave but we never made the ethical and political argument for leaving the EU and restoring democratic sovereignty as the ultimate source of political power. We did not assert that democracy is the most powerful weapon in resisting the domination of capital and that the EU is a frictionless capitalist organisation that makes socialism illegal.
And that is the ultimate cowardice of Corbyn. On the only political judgement he had to make, he lacked the courage of his own convictions and in doing so he doomed himself, and his politics, to decisive and abject failure. In 2017 the Labour heartlands were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt when he said that he respected the result of the referendum, by 2019 they had formed a settled judgement that this was not the case. Labour looked both ways and was understood to be two faced but by embracing the People’s Vote, in which Corbyn and Blair revealed their deep affinity, the decision had been made and that marked the end of the marriage. We were no longer of the people, by the people or for the people. We just made stuff up and they didn’t listen. That’s what happens when you’re out of relationship. You don’t recognise what the other person thinks of you. We didn’t care. We didn’t show any love and respect. On the contrary. We thought they were wrong and would get what they deserved. But we got what we deserved. So at least the joke is on us.
In our politics the Labour Tradition is the source of our inspiration. The understanding that through association and sharing resources people have more power and can retrieve a home in the world and some remission from oppression. That through our politics people can find the security to fulfil their obligations to family and friends. Solidarity at work and at home. We buried each other, built homes for each other and built unions together. We retrieved a home from the dispossession of capitalism and the poor law state. We built a politics based on mutuality, sacrifice and love and a sense of responsibility for neighbours. That is why we need to resist the domination of capitalism which is based on individualism and the commodification of human beings and nature. Only by good relationships based on reciprocity can that beast be tamed, and we back it up through democracy. Labour politics was not only about individual fulfilment but about the flourishing of people in a community that shared a fate and was stronger through Labour and democracy. I could not renounce Labour because it is the ethical and practical tradition which is the inspiration for the politics I believe in, based on democracy and accountability. One in which, as Machiavelli said of the Roman Tribunes which could appoint and remove public officials in assemblies by voting, the plebs have teeth as well as tongue. Our task in the year ahead is to stay true to our tradition and build the relationships and ideas that will be a blessing to our country and to the people who we have treated with such contempt that they have rejected us.
No gifts we offered could heal the lack of trust. It feels very lonely this Christmas and there is a sense of abandonment in the air. Labour pioneered the way in freedom of religion, association and expression. We welcome people of faith who recognise the desecration of capitalism and wish to build a politics of the common good that is rooted in relationships and humanity. We treasure the gifts that all the different communities of our country can bring to building a common life and sharing a common fate.
Blue Labour also makes the distinction between globalisation and internationalism. We offer solidarity to the people of Rojava and recognise the brutal racism of the Turkish State in invading Syria and expelling the Kurds from their homes. First in Afrin and then along the buffer zone. The Turkish State is a force of enormous Kurdish oppression, as is Iran. This year we remember all the Iranians who were killed defying the theocratic gangsterism of their rulers. I returned to Syria just before the Turkish bombs began to fall and witnessed the politics that is being destroyed, built around a common life between Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Turkoman and Christians. It was a wonder to behold. Full equality and leadership for women and respect for the autonomy of all. Its destruction is a source of grief and we must show solidarity with them. This Christmas, ISIS groups are moving into Kurdish home and the rape and the murders are happening once more.
I also returned to Iraq, which we invaded and then abandoned. We should take inspiration from the protests against their corrupt and inept government and honour the more than five hundred protestors who have been killed since October. Tahrir Square in Baghdad is the closest I have seen to the Paris Commune, full of art, cinemas, political discussion and music. The enormous Christmas Tree they have planted in Tahrir Square is a symbol of their defiance. The Shia of Iraq are rebelling against Iranian domination, militia murders and a corrupt ruling elite. They want freedom of religion, association and expression, as well as a competent government. Their sacrifice inspires me and I will continue to support them in the year ahead. Our ethics and politics are shared all over the world. Imam Huseyn is as much an inspiration to me as Keir Hardie.
Labour will not be anywhere near power for ten years. Now is the time to repent of our arrogance and to find comfort in the love of those we love. If any of you still have a Mum I urge you to show her special love this Christmas, however she voted. Tenderness and humility should be our starting point. It is us and not them who need to be forgiven.
We are going to be making podcasts and broadcasts and organising assemblies around the country in the year ahead. Our new web site will be launched in January and please be in touch if you want to be part of it. The Labour Tradition is our inheritance and we will continue to treasure and honour it.
Wishing everyone strength and love for Christmas and the year ahead,