In this piece, James Mawdsley tackles the issue of an ‘Open and Honest Debate’ in the Labour Party, what the phrase means and how we should stay focussed on fighting the Tories. James is currently studying at Birkenhead sixth form college spending far too much time playing guitar or reading a book of some description, currently reading rules for radicals by Saul Alinsky.
“An open and honest debate”. This phrase seems to be the buzzphrase in the Labour Party at the moment. It is used whenever a shadow minister is questioned on what Labour’s stance on an issue is. This was an idea used over the leadership election which drew people to Jeremy Corbyn and inspired a new way of doing politics within the party. Now, six months down the line, all sides agree that this open and honest debate has turned more into a mudslinging match than a debate to decide the direction and future of our party.
When Corbyn described the idea of an internal policy debate it conjoured images of heated and principled debates at CLP meetings; of a revolution that would shift the power within the party away from the PLP and towards a more democratic process that would give the expanding membership more control over party policy. It may be unfair to comment on actual concrete policies that the party holds. No party has a concrete manifesto in place this early in a Parliament- indeed there was an identical situation following Miliband’s election 5 years ago with no official manifesto being produced until the following conference- and there is still a lack of clarity on our own positions. Many in the party find troubling regardless of the faction they identify with.
An example of what I’m talking about could be our lack of clarity on issues we all as Labour members agree on. One such issue is housing policy. While the drastic need for housing has been brought up on many occasions by Corbyn and other shadow ministers to great effect, we lack an alternative answer that seems credible to the electorate. Although this is partly due to the absence of a manifesto for this year, the deep rooted and very obvious factionalism that exists in the party today does not help. Instead of holding an open and honest debate about policy we are “debating” the validity of Corbyn’s leadership- an issue which simply shouldn’t be brought up. I personally did not vote for Corbyn and do not agree with some of his positions on key issues but I would prefer to have the debate over the issues rather than Corbyn or his team.
I have no doubt that, by the end of conference in Liverpool this year, we will have hard and fast positions that Labour can put to the country. Before that point we must have this debate within the party of the direction that our policy should take. I would always argue that we need to provide a strong alternative to the Conservatives. It seems like they have been able to do a lap of honour after the election with Labour unable to provide a realistic alternative. The reason? We are not discussing what the alternative should be. Yes, it is true that voters and everyday people are looking through the prism of the media to see what the Labour party stands for and we have always been given a bad light as a result, but we can’t just sit around and moan about this. We have to shake off the image of incompetence created because of this infighting. Voters look for direction and certainty for which party to vote for and while 2020 may seem a way off people are making their decisions about our party now.
There is no truer thing in the Labour party that no matter how “bad” you see the current direction of the party it will always be better than the Tories and we need to start acting like it. No, I’m not saying that Corbyn should be untouchable and we should not disagree with him on issues but we need to challenge our own views and come together so we can be the alternative to the Tories that we need to be. Going forward, we need to focus on how we can improve the lives of ordinary hard working people who want the best for their families because, after all, surely this is why we are passionate about politics and above all why we are all Labour.