If you want to know why I criticise the Labour Party, blame Nick Cohen

nick cohen, author of "what's left?' 

nick cohen, author of "what's left?' 

I was scrolling through my Twitter mentions as I vainly searched for a chart that I wanted to cite in an opinion piece and was struck again by the amount of grief I bring on myself by being such a vocal critic of the Labour Party.  I have no love for conflict, and find no joy whatsoever in being Persona Non Grata in a movement to which I have given many years of my life, both here and in Australia.  In fact, I am a rather fragile soul, and the fairly incessant attacks from Labour insiders, up to and including Little himself, can be quite hurtful at times.  But then I am reminded of Nick Cohen's superb essay published in Standpoint magazine after Ed Miliband's unexpectedly disastrous defeat at the hands of a deeply unimpressive David Cameron in 2015.  This is the pertinent section here: 

A way out will be found only if Labour and the wider Left stop being so dishonest, and I include myself in that criticism. After the election, I looked back on what I had written about Labour with embarrassment. I produced a couple of disobliging pieces about Miliband. But I did not campaign against him. I did not scream at the parliamentary Labour party that he would let the Tories in, and millions would suffer as a result. Nor did many others in the left-wing press. People who knew better stayed silent in part because we did not want to be accused of treacherously aiding and abetting the Conservative cause, and in part because we believed the opinion polls, and thought that somehow or other Labour could cobble together a government. Living in London aided self-deception. Immigration and the extortionate cost of housing is pushing its population leftwards, as is London’s arrogance. The capital is strong and self-confident; it makes the mistake of thinking that everywhere else thinks as London thinks.

If the left-wing press was not pulling the Labour party back towards sanity, then nor were Labour politicians. They stayed loyal too and kept themselves wrapped in a warm cocoon. It ought to shame them that in the years before an appalling defeat not one senior figure tried to overthrow Miliband. Not one even developed an alternative political programme Labour could adopt after defeat. The trade unions were as bad. They have often been a stabilising force in Labour history, but are now so mad that Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, backed Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, who was not only an opponent of the Labour party but a demagogue whose electoral frauds provoked the courts into removing him from office.

As they face the consequences of defeat, men and women who have spent years avoiding self-criticism will need to understand where they went so badly wrong. They will need to make their choices clear to an electorate which barely heeds them. And they will need to get on with it. Because unless the Left snaps out of its trance, the Conservatives will be in power for another decade.
— http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/6075/full

As with Miliband’s Labour, the prevailing ethos in the current NZ Labour Party is hunkydoryism: the belief that everything is on track, and the only way triumph can be averted is if malcontents like me criticise the party publicly, and feed a narrative of disunity. The pursuit of a “unified front” at all costs has led Labour into exactly the “warm cocoon” Cohen describes, home to any number of self-gratifying myths about the party’s chances: the magic of the MoU that will somehow increase the net number of Labour/Green voters in defiance of basic arithmetic; the cyclical inevitably of a Tory defeat after nine years; the dismissal of unfavourable polling in favour of echo chamber happy-talk.

Voters I talk to are quite satisfied that Labour is unified, but not one could name behind what exactly.  The party is seen as irrelevant and incompetent; well short of any plausible threshold of electability. Having failed to learn any lessons from three successive defeats, they all but guarantee a fourth.

Labour, largely under the guidance of former Alliance hardliners, adopt the destructive view that the party functions better as a paranoid cult of heretic-hunting zealots than a broad church capable of representing its diverse base of existing and potential support.  Nothing guarantees Labour’s ongoing failure more than this mind-set, which can only be dealt with through meaningful structural reform.  

Whenever I propose introducing proportionality to ensure the party’s support base is fairly represented on its governing bodies, I am met with torrents of personal abuse, but never a single substantive argument in favour of the status quo.  If electing every position of influence within the party on a winner-takes-all basis is the best way of governing a party that relies on the support of a wide cross-section of the voting public, then I’d love to know how. Try as I might, I cannot come up with a coherent rationale for how the vast majority of Labour activists would recoil at the thought of a return to First Past the Post in General Elections, and yet believe it’s the best way to govern their own party.  If someone out there wants to have that debate, name the venue and I’ll be there.  I can promise you I will not question your motives, draw attention to your personal flaws, or engage in name-calling of any kind.  I have long said the party is wrong to believe the public will flee from a Labour Party that engages in robust internal debates; in fact, I believe they will welcome such a development with open arms.  

And so, I’m afraid, I won’t slink away, however tempting that might be (work may take me offshore, but that’s another matter).  I will continue to advocate a Labour Party capable of attracting and retaining talent from the left and centre-left -- home equally to Laila Harré and David Shearer -- because I am convinced, in the absence of any sensible arguments otherwise, that only reforms in that direction will save the party from terminal irrelevance.  For my stubborn unwillingness to STFU, you have Nick Cohen, whom I look forward to meeting in person later in the month, to thank -- or blame.