Labour faithful risk taking party back to the dark, unelectable days

The grassroots want more spending. But will that come at a price in 2015?
  • @adamsherwin10

It’s a guide to how wacky my constituency Labour party is that when an activist got head-butted outside the selection meeting to choose a new Parliamentary candidate last week, the assault turned out to be a tiff over housing policy between socialist comrades.

But the scenes that followed this red-on-red clash inside the hustings should act as a clear warning to Ed Miliband – the Labour leader is facing a nationwide nutting from his self-indulgent foot-soldiers if he fails to make his party swallow some tough medicine on the road to electability.

Labour’s candidate selections for 2015 have already been marred by scandal over the Unite union’s heavy-handed attempts to install placement loyal to Len McCluskey.

But the union boss didn’t need to pack the meeting to choose a successor to Glenda Jackson in the acutely-marginal Hampstead and Kilburn seat.

All three candidates, chosen from an all-women shortlist, proudly proclaimed their membership of the all-powerful Unite.

Members were told not to Tweet any nuggets from the candidates’ grilling which might give ammunition to Labour’s enemies, in a seat which the retiring former Oscar-winner clung on to in 2012 with a wafer-thin 42 majority.

It became just clear why when the candidates were asked their view on Ed Balls’ tactical announcement that Labour will go into the 2015 election pledging to match George Osborne’s departmental spending limits.

The answer should be obvious. Like it or not comrades, voters believed the last Labour government spent like there was no tomorrow.

An essential step to winning back economic credibility is for the Shadow Chancellor to talk tough about imposing “iron discipline” on his colleagues and to keep telling voters that the deficit will not balloon once again if Labour is once again entrusted with power. Every opinion poll tells the same story.

But no. Tulip Siddiq, a rising young Labour star, who was endorsed by Neil Kinnock and made a left-wing pitch for the seat, asked: “What is the difference between Labour and Tory if we match their spending pledges? It’s a myth that Labour created this mess.”

The deafening applause from the party faithful confirmed that, from this moment on, Ms Siddiq was a shoo-in for the seat – even if she were to answer a question on border controls by dividing “good” immigrants, who work hard and pay taxes, from “bad” immigrants, who try to kill you, a distinction previously only championed by Sun columnist Trevor Kavanagh – which she did.

It wasn’t just Ms Siddiq. Her rivals, otherwise sensible folk, tasked with dispersing public money wisely as elected councillors, also fished for applause by condemning Balls as a traitor for attempting to anchor Labour in some sort of voter-friendly reality.

The danger for Labour is that, in selection meetings across Britain, the buttons are bursting off Ed Balls’ hairshirt.

Party members, finally freed from their Blairite shackles, are cheering to the rafters parliamentary candidates who promise a return to Labour’s comfort zone of well-meaning but unelectable commitments.

On issues ranging from education to health and welfare, the Hampstead and Kilburn candidates jettisoned carefully-nuanced shadow cabinet policy statements to win plaudits for positions which brooked no compromise with the pesky electorate outside of the Mazenod Social Club’s socialist utopia.

It’s fine for Ed Miliband to appeal for more trade unionists to affiliate their membership directly to Labour. He might attempt to extend Labour’s appeal to those who aren’t card-carrying unionists, since a Labour membership extending beyond public sector workers and the retired is more likely to replicate the broad coalition which won a hat-trick of victories under Tony Blair.

But does the putative Prime Minister have the courage to face down his unreconstructed party members and ask them, as the polls narrow, deep down, in their heart of hearts, do they really want to win?

Does beating the Conservatives and the Lib Dems at the election come a poor second to the real motivating force behind last week’s north-west London selection – defeating the tattered standard of Blairism and burying New Labour with its grubby, compromised election victories?

Because if winning elections is no longer where it’s at, then the far-left Oz of the People’s Assembly awaits, where Hampstead and Kilburn’s Labour members can head-butt each other into oblivion.