I am a sad old man. I admit it. But I am worried that ideological purity should be the test for becoming a Labour candidate.
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
You probably thought the title was a reference to the Cohen brothers’ film, didn’t you? That’s because you’re not as old as I am. Sad old men quote poetry, not films; except possibly Now Voyager, but that was in black and white because it is so old. It’s also quite sad.
I am a sad old man. I know this because the official youth wing of the Scottish Labour Party – Scottish Young Labour – told me so on Facebook. I also have horrific politics, according to the same source.
Let me first say that SYL have every right to hold these views about me, and to express them wherever they want. Robust exchange of views is healthy in a political party, and sometimes it can’t help but spill over into public view. It happens. It’s okay.
The terms are so relative, anyway. I do find it quite hilarious that among elements of the Corbynite left of the Scottish Labour Party I am seen as right wing, old and out of touch, while most of my family consider me to be dangerously left-wing and still a bit too young to be out expressing political opinions on my own. Perspective is all.
Anyway, to the meat of the issue. My condemnation as sad, old and horrific was not spontaneous. It was meted out in response to my expressing strong concern over the recently announced policy of SYL to ask those seeking its endorsement as Labour candidates how they voted in the last three Labour leadership elections. This is the only explicit political question they ask. All of a candidate’s other qualities are to be assessed from their political CV.
You might think that people putting themselves forward to be considered as Labour election candidates should primarily be assessed on things like campaigning ability, policy priorities and engagement with the local area. No. Apparently the single important defining characteristic for a Labour candidate is whether you voted for the right faction in a secret ballot in an internal party election. And this argument has received broad support from across the left of the party.
Once again let me stress that the SYL executive are allowed to do this. My criticism isn’t that they have somehow exceeded their brief or broken any rules. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that selecting our election candidates based on who they voted for in internal elections is a terrible idea, will exclude good candidates, and will stop us winning elections.
And we do want to win elections, don’t we? I mean actual elections, in the real world, not just internal fights over ideological purity? I’m sometimes not entirely sure.
There’s something else worrying about the creeping attitude of dismissal towards what I guess SYL would call “horrific politics” and I would call compromising with the electorate to deliver Labour values in government. It’s that dissent, so thoroughly indulged in figures on the hard left who voted against Labour hundreds of times during their careers – I’m thinking, to randomly pick a name out of the air, of people like Jeremy Corbyn – is now apparently intolerable in our party. As if robust debate was somehow anathema to us. As if we were, and I shudder to type it, the conform-at-all-costs SNP. Surely we are better than that?
So I offer SYL the opportunity of a reply to this article right here on this site. Because the Scottish Labour Party needs to be able to have robust debate and come out the other side more informed; we cannot retreat into our factions and hope that leads to success. It will not and it can not.
Labour was founded to be the broad coalition of the left which could deliver the values of the left in government via the parliamentary system. That coalition will always suffer instability, but I fear it is at a particularly rocky moment. Fragmentation would be ruinous. We need all elements of the party represented in all echelons of the party.
All of the voices on the left should have a place in the Labour Party if it is to succeed. Even the voices of sad old men.
First published by Labour Hame