Dan Jarvis's speech was a step in the right-direction, but far more is neededby John McTernan / March 11, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Jeremy Corbyn: the politician who never grew up
When I started writing speeches for Labour politicians I got a sound piece of advice from an old stager. He said that whenever I had a weak argument I didn’t need to strengthen my logic, I should simply attack Margaret Thatcher.
Once you understand this tactic—assertion in the place of argument—you can see it everywhere. The current fashion in the Labour Party is for modernisers to quote Keir Hardie. Rarely is the quotation memorable. Take the one Dan Jarvis used in his speech at the think tank Demos last Thursday: “Keir Hardie said that the British are a practical people, not given to chasing bubbles.”
The phrase itself came from a letter to Friedrich Engels explaining why the UK labour movement supported parliamentary routes to reform rather than revolutionary socialism. So Jarvis was using it out of context, but neither the context not the meaning are the point. The point is that he was using it as a kind of Labour Party “virtue signalling.”
Hardie is sentimentally believed to represent the true beating heart of the Labour Party, its soul and conscience. But it would be better to think of him instead as the founder of a party that had to endure 45 years and two world wars before it could form a majority government. He is the symbol of all that Labour is currently throwing away rather than an emblem of authenticity. Keir Hardie shouldn’t be quoted to make the speaker look good but to make the listener concerned.
Why does this matter? Because the Labour Party is facing the greatest crisis in its history and the only thing that will rescue is its leadership. The danger, as so often in any organisation, is that Labour is drawing the wrong lessons from defeat. Or in this case, defeats—the party lost to David Cameron last May and then to Jeremy Corbyn last September. The question of “what must be done” is often reduced to “who can we run?” That misses the point entirely. Politics requires a project before it needs a personality to lead a programme. The success of New Labour wasn’t…