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Requiem for a Labour Party that cared


FOLLOWING a police investigation into a ‘dossier of anti-Semitic comments’ three Labour Party activists have been arrested.

This is hardly surprising, but still significant: another demonstration that the old Labour Party, with its social democratic tradition, has finally been killed off. Although in this latest example, we must stick to the presumption of innocence for the arrested, this is part of a story that would once been inconceivable for Labour: that it would be consumed by ideas that wouldn’t look out of place in a party of outright fascism.

The body that still carries the party’s name is a shell inhabited by parasites; conning voters by sticking to the old Labour ‘branding’ but it’s certainly not the Labour of old.

Even before the party contracted its Corbynite infection, it was going through major disruptions. Its purpose and ethos was disappearing along with its old electoral base. Outside the nostalgic fantasies of the Left, the old working class from which Labour sprang was disappearing. Britain still has classes but old-fashioned labour (note the lower case l), with a party named for it, went out with the factory siren and flat cap.

Even the manual workers who remain today can no longer be assumed to tend towards Labour. After the 2017 election, YouGov established that in general terms, social class had virtually no predictive value for working out how a person would vote. 

Labour’s origins and traditions which used to give it its compass seem no longer relevant. Once, it was deeply rooted in the better side of working-class culture. Ideas of mutual support and community were central; far more important than ideology in a party that had been strongly influenced by Christianity. As Morgan Phillips, the party’s General Secretary from 1944 till 1961, said in a quote that is often misattributed to Harold Wilson, Labour ‘owed more to Methodism than Marxism’. He was right. Even convinced anti-socialists can admit that however harmful or daft much of the party’s record is, its membership still included many who were decent, well-intentioned and patriotic.

But from early in its life, it hosted some who were deeply unpleasant. Its access to power and tolerance of radical ideas made it a tempting target for infiltration.

Assorted malcontents and different varieties of communists, both pro-Soviet and dissident Trotskyist, in organised groups or as individuals, all found a home in Labour. It even attracted the basilisk eye and sinister interest of Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks who saw a route into the political system of a capitalist enemy. Soviet intelligence services were active in Labour almost to the end of the Cold War.

Then there were those whose simple foolishness made them dangerous. Consider George Lansbury, leader between 1932 and 1935: an extraordinarily silly man. In his later role of ‘elder statesman’ touring Europe in 1937 to promote peace, he announced that war could be avoided if only Hitler, whom he described as ‘one of the great men of our time’, Stalin and Mussolini could be brought together around a table with a chairman who had a ‘good sense of humour’. Sadly this is not the only example of Labour idiocy in the face of totalitarian menace.

But whatever its faults, wonky economics and some dodgy members, Labour was still a party concerned with improving lives. Pensions, housing, health, employment and more. Woven into this were core beliefs (at least for most supporters) of tolerance, democracy, freedom and a passionate anti-racism. But not any more, as the current endless row about anti-Semitism demonstrates.

Once, Labour saw standing up for minorities as a moral crusade. Now, as we all know, it’s the party of entrenched anti-Semitism. Not just in the eyes of its critics. Jennie Formby, its general secretary, believes it’s impossible to eradicate anti-Semitism in the party. 

Imagine the ordure that would (rightly) be heaped on the Conservatives if their chairman announced that anti-black racism was ineradicable in his party, the wall-to-wall BBC coverage and Guardian editorials that would follow.

Even Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum who is himself Jewish, has accepted the party has a problem with anti-Semitism.

A thousand members have found it necessary to sign an apology for the party’s failings towards Britain’s Jews. Yet Corbynite social media is full of denials of any blemish on either the party or Corbyn’s sainted figure. Contact with reality is tenuous, devotion to the leader is undimmed.

Recently there has been much sharing on Corbyn-supporting social media of a photo, accompanied by adoring comments, showing ‘Jeremy’ leaving his allotment with bags of home-grown vegetables. A new Gandhi with his simple virtues; beyond criticism to his fans with their Corbyn poems (yes, literally) and syrupy declarations of loyalty. Incidentally, bad poetry for the leader has a tradition: odes were written to George Lansbury too.

What has Labour come to? However strongly and justifiably you want to criticise its record, it was once a major and serious institution. But no more. It has morphed into something in tone half North Korean, half a boy band fan club. The party of Clement Attlee which helped found Nato and develop our independent nuclear deterrent now has a leader who is not ashamed to have written regularly for the Morning Star newspaper, the direct descendant of the old Stalinist Daily Worker. Clem would (if you’ll excuse the cliché) spin in his grave.

Where have the moderates gone? Where’s the heart and moral force which once enabled those who believed in democracy and had at least some common sense to fight back against Marxist nonsense and revolutionary interlopers?

You might not like Neil Kinnock with his fat EU pension, or more distant figures such as Denis Healey or Jim Callaghan, but with others they were redoubtable fighters against the far-Left. Where are their equivalents now?

There are honourable exceptions, but the parliamentary party seems to be cowering under the bed in fear of deselection. If they had guts or decency, we wouldn’t have had a trickle of defections – we would have had a mass resignation of the whip by principled people who were no longer prepared to give cover to a Marxist leadership which would wreck the country given the chance.

The old Labour Party is dead. Its decency and moderation has been driven out. For the sake of a properly functioning democracy, even conservatives should miss it.

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Ollie Wright
Ollie Wright
Ollie Wright is an ex-Labour Party man with a life long interest in politics and history.

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