Sunday, 15 February 2015

A little dignity, a little pride

While Labour has not had a brilliant last couple of weeks in the election campaign – its barely-coherent policy on the NHS being a case in point – the jury is still emphatically out on who will win, thanks largely to this parliament’s highly unusual electoral arithmetic.

With things so tight in the polls, a big part of winning for both main parties is surely about their MPs keeping their heads down and their eyes on the prize. In other words, it is as much about thinking that they will win and convincing others of that fact, as pounding the streets of Britain on the “Labour doorstep”.

So discipline is vital. The Tories, now battle-hardened after “holding the line” through five years of government, seem to be making a reasonable fist of it (even Boris Johnson has had the good sense to absent himself abroad, rather than be a distraction to the Tory campaign).

Labour, well, not so much.

Not only does there seem to be something of a downbeat mood in the PLP but, in some cases, things have moved further.

To wit, there is little less edifying a sight than frontbenchers deliberately putting themselves in the newspapers, as ways not of promoting Labour’s election campaign or manifesto, but themselves. As candidates in a future leadership election, for which a date has not even been set and which may not happen for another five or ten years.

What kind of message does that send, exactly? It says, I know we have already lost. I am going through the motions. I have one eye on the aftermath and the spoils of war.

And it is wrong. It is wrong for two reasons. One is obvious: we have not lost and there is all to play for. There really is.

The second is because, well, we can have all the debates we want in peacetime. MPs should be able to disagree amongst themselves and win arguments internally. They are party representatives, not automatons.

But when we get to election time, the pendulum swings and they too must swing behind the party which put them there. They are not ordinary party members. We can enjoy the luxury of dissent; they must sing from the same hymn-sheet, or be damned together.

If we are going to win, fantastic. Whatever our differences, a win is a win is a win, and we should be proud that we have managed to do it under very difficult circumstances indeed, one-term oppositions not exactly being the norm in electoral history.

If we are going to lose, we lose with dignity and then look for the leadership battle to come, assuming that that is what the party wants.

But it is difficult to see any pride, or dignity, in jockeying for position while we are ninety days out from a general election.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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