Après le déluge – where does Labour go now?
Noel Hamel from New Malden: “A measured and thoughtful piece that avoids the pitfalls of mudslinging. Anyone interested in left-leaning progressive politics will find this interesting”.
Summary of Alan Simpson’s paper: Après le déluge
Parliament starts the new decade with Labour still in a state of grief…and anger…about its crushing election defeat. It’s a good place to start. The real grief is the damage done to the bigger dream that once surrounded Corbyn. Only a shift into more circular economics stands a chance.
For the Left, the problems began with Labour’s failure to root its policies in the radical decentralisation regularly espoused by both Corbyn and McDonnell, but which never made it past control obsessions within the ‘Corridoriat’ of Senior Advisors surrounding them.
Killing the dream
In 2017, thousands were drawn towards Jeremy because he symbolised a different sort of politics; something open, honest, radical and inclusive; a politics that promised to be genuinely transformative. Labour lost, but we felt like winners.
Blinded by Brexit
The 2019 election should never have happened. Johnson only had one card – Brexit – and Labour should have forced the Tories to wallow in the Brexit mess Johnson had wrapped himself in. A spring or summer election would have suited Labour much better… on condition that Johnson’s Brexit deal would first be put to a public vote.
Brexit neutrality made Labour look indecisive and Jeremy weak. It spurned Labour’s strongest card in favour of a public vote. Whatever the outcome it would have taken Brexit out of any subsequent election which would have had to address the bigger threats of societal and climate collapse already hovering around our doorsteps.
Labour lacked a simple strap-line
We didn’t even have the wit to dump the ‘Brexit’ part of the Tories’ ‘Get it done’, prefacing it with a succession of bigger issues; ‘Fix the planet: Get it done’, ‘Tackle homelessness:…’, ‘Repair the NHS:…’, ‘End poverty:…’.
The Tories set about casting Jeremy Corbyn as a man who couldn’t lead
Corbyn’s senior team helped, turning Jeremy’s campaigning zeal into an absence rather than an asset. Goodness knows how many rail-miles Jeremy clocked up, but it never became the ‘leadership’ peg the public were looking for, building a mass movement, with a hugely empowered, devolved power base.
Jeremy inherited a PLP that wanted to lynch him and (to their credit) an ofﬁce determined to stop them and he ended up with a corridor cabal.
The opportunity to build a wider consensus got lost behind internal obsessions with control, creating a siege/control mentality that was never able to reach outwards. No national/international ﬁgures were ever brought in to raise Jeremy’s policy/leadership proﬁle. No one who’d ever arm-wrestled in climate negotiations, trade deals or peace diplomacy came in to lead Labour’s transformation planning. Instead, ‘corridor control’ came to dominate. Factionalism overtook radicalism. At the most senior levels, people who’d never negotiated anything more than an extended tea-break were left in charge of the policy sifting process. The most repeated Shadow Ministerial complaint was about delays in getting radical policy proposals through the LOTO soup (LOTO: the Leader of the Opposition Office)
- Sue Hayman saw a string of her environment proposals get lost in this Never-never-land.
- Two years on, Alan Whitehead still awaits approval for publication of his Local Energy book (on radical decentralisation).
- Andy MacDonald’s pledge to set annual carbon budgets for every part of the transport sector never became the platform for transformative changes in aviation and shipping policy.
- His proposed ‘pendulum shift’ of funding from private to public transport infrastructures went the same way.
So where does Labour go next? Back to the Future? There is no ‘nice politics’ of the middle ground to return to. Business as usual will never return.
- Look at the ﬁres currently raging in Australia and the ﬂoods in nearby Indonesia.
- Look at our own pre-Christmas ﬂoods
- Look at earlier ﬁres that wreaked havoc from California to the Arctic Circle.
- Look at the ice melt.
Any wannabe Labour Leader who ducks the centrality of transformative climate politics is not worth following. As climate physicists continually try to warn us, ‘There are no small steps left’ but a systemic, transformative change might hold society together. The Left needs a bigger, anti-poverty, climate politics to hold communities, and the country, together.
Regionalised and localised approaches to ﬂood prevention, food security, air quality, re-wilding, fuel poverty, clean energy and transport must form the backbone of a Labour commitment to refound accountable, secure and inclusive democracy. It needs to go hand in hand with the radical re-empowerment of local government. There is no other way of delivering the 20%+ annual CO2 reductions needed to avoid the next tranche of climate tipping points.
In early 2017, John McDonnell, Jeremy and I began work on what was to be a Labour ‘Smart Cities’ Initiative. The plan was to open up conversations with up to 20 localities about the development of radically decentralised, clean-energy grids. Modelled on lessons from both Denmark and Germany, the plan was to put localities in the driving seat of strategies that made ‘climate’ the centrepiece of tomorrow’s economics. It needed rapid decarbonisation of the energy system, nationwide energy efﬁciency and waste reduction programmes, the use of smart technologies to localise, store and share energy, and a new skills agenda delivering full employment in a more circular economy.
The first Merseyside venue, workshops and speakers were all agreed on. But the political penny began to drop that this posed a serious threat to existing fossil fuel interests and to centralised energy generation. Suddenly no one could ﬁnd a common diary date for Jeremy and John. The 3-D commitment – decarbonisation, decentralisation and democratisation – became the ﬁrst of Labour’s ‘corridor casualties’.
Climate priorities, as well as electoral calculations, dictate that this is where Labour’s repair work must begin in Scotland and Wales as much as in the newly lost heartlands of the North and Midlands. This is where tomorrow’s security, stability and democracy politics will ﬁnd its roots.
The last election should have been the Climate Election. What happens in the next decade will determine whether we tip from crisis to collapse. Labour needs to become the Party that ensures we don’t.
Advisor on Sustainable Economics January 2020
Posted on January 30, 2020, in Brexit, Democracy, Economy, Energy, General Election 2019, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Labour Party and tagged Alan Simpson, climate priorities, Noel Hamel, Smart Cities. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.