24 May 2015
May 24, 2015



John Prescott wants Andy Burnham to lead ‘Now Labour’ (see what he did there?). Yvette Cooper wants Labour, in the wake of its historical defeat, to ‘move neither left nor right’. Brilliant, really. Labour should stand still in the middle of the carriageway ‘NOW’ and get run over like a badger.

Or, how about none of that dreary, uninspiring, lazy nonsense? How about, instead, Labour takes a leaf or two out the playbook of the most successful party in UK politics at the moment, and becomes insurgent? How about Labour stands against the values and institutions it’s always avoided booting with gusto for fear of offending Middle England? The fact is that, ironically, there are plenty of things Middle England isn’t keen on either – things the Tories are stout defenders of, but which are basically ridiculous.

Why not start with the House of Lords? When I had my last look, at parliament’s pro-rogation, I was struck by the nonsense of the ‘storehouse of wisdom’  argument – the last ditch of the desperate. There are certainly some super, if ageing, famous professionals in there, from doctors to architects to professors. But there are a lot more folk who were never able to get voted in anywhere else – folk like Baroness Royal and Lord Falconer, who speak grandly about all manner of weighty matters of democracy without having ever managed to get themselves elected, or even selected in some cases, anywhere as anything. The Lib Dem benches, especially, are full of mid-level professionals who just hung around long enough to pick up a giveaway peerage, like dogs waiting for bones. Besides, since when did being an ageing professional give you a special right to legislate in a democracy? And since when did democracies let people actually buy a seat in one of their legislatures?

The third largest party in the UK  just doesn’t play ‘House of Lords’. They say it’s utter bollocks, and a monstrosity that is undefendable in a democracy.

Why doesn’t Labour do the same? How about one of the Labour candidates saying: “Tell you what, from day one of my leadership, Labour will pull out of the House of Lords. We’ll find a way, as a nation, of coping – but the solution won’t consist of more smirking, ermine-clad daftness at the other end of the corridor. Constitutional crisis? Too right. How’d you want it? Unicameral? Regional representation? Elected upper house”?

Would the people of the UK think Labour were wreckers?  No. They’d think it was radical, but in a good and popular way. In a way that folk would actually cheer and get behind. Which would make a nice change, eh?

Will we hear it from Cooper or Burnham? Don’t be daft. Only the SNP’s going to be saying that stuff in the House of Commons. Still, it’s a mystery to Labour and everyone else why the SNP’s so popular, isn’t it?

I’m indebted to this blog post by STV’s Stephen Daisley, and the Kevin McKenna article he quotes, which got me thinking. 

8 Responses to Insurgence
  1. Lords reform is long overdue, no question.

    However, don’t Labour have to play the system as it stands now? That is, if they just pull out of the Lords, doesn’t that just give the Tories control over that house, and the power that remains there? Imagine a future Labour government that finds every single piece of legislation being delayed significantly by the Lords – and imagine the glee that the Telegraph, Sun, and Daily Mail would take in spinning that situation.

    By contrast, the SNP can afford to refuse to play that game, because they don’t have any realistic chance of ever wielding serious power, either in the Commons or the Lords. That gives them the luxury of having principles.

    • Thanks, Stephen. The House of Lords couldn’t function with no opposition. Labour’s appeal to the rest of the world would be that the notion of being able to literally buy places in the legislature is inimical to any serious idea of democracy (don’t forget how much we lecture developing states on how their democracies should operate). The Tories simply would be unable to stand up in a chamber where no-one sat on the opposition-side and pass legislation. There would have to be a virtually immediate agreement on a new upper-house.

  2. It’ssimple, really. Labour needs to broaden its tent. Appeal to the aspiring, appeal to the downtrodden, appeal to the struggling. We’re the party that supports the aspiring middle class in Tory marginals, we’re business friendly and want to help entrepreneurs expand and create jobs in the midlands, we’re the party that protects the vulnerable, assists the struggling in the de-industrialised north in our former Labour heartlands, we’re the party for a fair deal all round.

    It’s what the SNP did. Build an inclusive broad-based party that appeals across the board to moderates of left and right. Avoid extremes.

    It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, does it?

    • Quite right. The fundamental problem for Labour now is that the leadership battle is taking place constrained by the personal patronage of the two former prime ministers. People who would argue what you do above will be excluded – Liz Kendall might get on ballot paper but really has no chance whatever of winning. On this basis, Labour will only be able to win in 2020 if the Tories trip-up terribly.

  3. Some of the SNP’s popularity is due to Cameron & co demonising them for reasons of their own advantage, bolstered by the Tory media tortBBC for a chunk of the last week of the election campaign period.

    Elect the Lords !

    Remake our bicameral legistlature at the same time too please. The Commons does not deserve to be so exalted if the Lords is elected, on another democratic basis perhaps.

    • Thanks. I think the SNP’s popularity is due to many things, but one of them is that their energy and optimism appeals to a lot of people (across the whole UK). Their insurgency style is very effective, of course, and Labour could follow through in England (I honestly think they can’t in Scotland now, or possibly ever again in their current form) in a similar vein in opposition.

      • The point is the SNP is a moderate party which has attempted to build support across a range of society. The problem with Labour is intellectual. You pose it above (in answer to me) as being about factions.

        But what sustains the factions? Answer: intellectual laziness. They want a single, one size fits all solution to a social complexity because they can’t be a***d getting off their butts and doing what the SNP have been doing for the last 20 years, which is chapping on doors and actually listening to folk, and finding things that they can offer everybody.

        But Labour had this top down approach of asking experts to identify swing voters, and holding focus groups. For Pete’s sake, that’s not leadership, that’s following the herd.

        • Hmmm – that ‘building support across a range of society’ as wide as the SNP has been able to do is only really possible until you have to decide how to tax people. Labour wants to tax a little more to spend more on services and Tories want to tax a little less (and spend less, too). The SNP want to spend a lot more than Labour, it seems, but not so much tax middle-class folk more. The game for the SNP will be to delay the period where it has to set taxation priorities until after it’s won an independence referendum. That in turn means demanding more powers but finding fault with the powers they’re being offered and in the meantime changing hearts and minds in Scotland by winning wee battles on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.


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