The full text of the piece in the Co-operative News by Vic Parks

co-op hustingsI attended the Co-op Party organised Labour Leadership hustings in London, recently reported in Co-op News. I have to say it was a controlled, bland event where the questions to the candidates were preselected and vetted by the Co-op Party intelligentsia/officials – probably, controversial ones went straight into the bin – leaving just “soft” questions!

In view of all the young, career politicians that have flooded into the Co-op Party in recent times, it appears to me that the ‘on message’ culture of New Labour lives on!

  • The audience, for example, was ordered by the Chair Karin Christiansen not to clap!
  • Open questioning from the audience, common at conferences, was not allowed.

So much for “democracy” and “listening to the members”! Perhaps, with a change of General Secretary and threatened Co-operative Group funding withdrawal, there may be a change of culture but, with the takeover by Progress members in recent years, I have little hope!

As to the candidates, I was going to spoil my ballot paper with a note: “none of the above” as until Corbyn appeared on the list, I was faced with a slate of career politicians. Many older, more mature people (the Grey Vote) are contemptuous of these – even many “youngsters” have no respect for them. That’s one reason why they do not vote.

Many employees in the public sector (e.g. NHS) blame career politicians/ministers for all the damage they have inflicted over the decades (e.g. constant “reform”) leading to low staff morale. So many decisions by career ministers – with no PRACTICAL experience or EMPATHY of the area they head up [e.g. NHS, Education] – have been a disaster – PFIs, PPPs, failed IT systems (billions wasted), “SMART” meters, etc, etc.

I believe many will be surprised by Jeremy Corbyn if he becomes leader. He has integrity and is, seemingly, squeaky clean (his expenses claim was the lowest of all the 650 MPs). This is in contrast to the bluff, bluster, spin and dishonesty of Cameron and his Tory mates. I believe that he is savvy and will modify his approach to controversial issues. He spoke of public ownership along co-operative/mutual lines and his style at the dispatch box will probably avoid the current, silly, childish knockabout pantomime.

Many will identify more with him than the career politicians who meekly follow the Tory lead (Kendall has been accused of “swallowing the Tory manifesto”). That’s why New Labour was seen by many “ordinary” voters as “just being a bunch of Tories.”

Comparisons are being made with Michael Foot but the grossly unfair image created by the Right Wing press sank the highly intellectual Foot. Corbyn may need a makeover, but he will be more respected and present a better public image. As to the re-nationalisation issue, there is deep public dissatisfaction and anger towards the privatised, former publicly owned assets (utilities), and there may well be considerable voter support. At the Co-op Party conference last year, I argued the case for a mass referenda system. Corbyn may be well advised to use it before he attempts to implement radical policies.

Progress and other so-called Blairite organisations and the New Labour intelligentsia are worried about Corbyn’s success because they could see their careers going up in a puff of smoke (self-interest, of course!). To get mature people from varied backgrounds into Parliament, a momentum for change may result in the de-selection of career MPs.

In five years’ time, the political scene may well be drastically altered with the Tories regaining its “Nasty Party” image and deeply unpopular when the house building bubble bursts – as it surely will – and the UK slips back into recession. Further, the public will resent the frenzy of carpet bagging of public assets by Osborne and his mates (e.g. selling off publicly owned land to developers and RBS to the City at knock down prices).

Editor: I had not heard of Progress so end with news of it for others as ill-informed. Substantially funded by Lord Sainsbury (2001-2011), it was founded in 1995 by Paul Richards, Hazel Blear’s special adviser, Liam Byrne and Derek Draper, the former aide to Peter Mandelson, as an organisation to maintain a dialogue with Labour’s new leadership under Tony Blair. Mr Richards shares the Blair/Mandelson affinity with David Cameron.

Until 2014 Progress stated it was “the New Labour pressure group which aims to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century”. From late 2014 Progress stopped using the “New Labour” label and rebranded itself as “Labour’s new mainstream, aim[ing] to promote a radical and progressive politics”


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