The Labour leadership hopefuls represent a spadocracy – where’s the vision?

18 May 2015
The candidates for the Labour leadership are coming forward. And two things are clear. The first is that they are all former special advisers, or spads. The only exception to this is Mary Creagh. And she was the leader of the Labour group on Islington council (which some people might say is the next best thing). What’s also remarkable is that they all come from one wing of the Labour party. Not a single one of the current candidates opposed the Iraq war, not a single one supports taking back the railways into public ownership, not a single one opposes “austerity-lite” and not a single one opposes the welfare cap. In other words, the views of millions of Labour supporters and the majority of Scottish Labour supporters will not be represented in the ongoing leadership debate.

Some of my best friends are spads. But it may be that they are just not suited to leadership. Spads are great at schmoozing and PR. Some may even be good at policy. But it’s rare that at any time in their career they will need to have vision. Because that’s their bosses’ job. So it’s understandable that a Labour party that has for years been run by a cabal of ex-spads – a “spadocracy” perhaps – had no vision. And we are now entering a leadership battle where a whole range of ideas is excluded.

The premise is that “red Ed” was too “leftwing”. But £50 a year off your energy bills, although desirable, is not a recipe for a socialist utopia. Miliband was a nice man, who had some signature policies that could be framed as leftwing, but the whole was definitely less than the sum of its parts. In particular, he failed to challenge austerity.

This is why we have people such as Lindsey Garrett of Hackney’s New Era estate talking about standing for mayor of London. I met Garrett and her fellow tenants at the beginning of their campaigning, and they were inspiring. New Era tenants, with almost no power, fearlessly led a battle against a huge international property investor and won. And in launching her mayoral bid, Garrett has put together a vision for the London in which she wants her daughter to grow up.

I want to live in the London of Garrett’s vision. But I want the Labour party to be leading the charge to achieve it. One of the policies in her manifesto – a landlord tax to pay for social housing – I even worked on with the campaign group Generation Rent.

I want a Labour party that people like Garrett feel they can join and support; where people like Garrett could become MPs and ministers and maybe even leader. But we don’t have that party. Instead we have that spadocracy, crowding out vision with a fetish instead for triangulation.

The current crop of Labour leadership candidates also seem to believe that we lost Scotland because voters succumbed inexplicably to mystical nationalism. The roots of our electoral collapse in Scotland predate Miliband’s leadership. But we compounded matters by going into the last election with a pro-austerity economic policy only to be soundly beaten by the anti-austerity SNP. And in Scotland (except on the rare occasions when Gordon Brown erupted into the debate) we did not offer a vision.

AdvertisementLondon’s mayoral selection is currently overshadowed by the leadership election. But they are part of the same debate. And there are lessons to be learned from Scotland about fighting to win London in 2016. If we make the same mistake in London as in Scotland – if we refuse to offer a vision of a city that Londoners want to live in – then we will lose. And if we are dishonest, if we try to offer a vision for London while at the same time contradicting it with our national agenda, then we will also lose.

I don’t want to lose. I want to be Labour’s mayor of London. I want a Labour party with vision, a Labour party that inspires, and a Labour party that can win again. But if we allow the spadocracy to strengthen its hold on the party unchallenged, and if we don’t have a debate involving all strands of opinion in the party, we may never again deserve to win in London or anywhere else.

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