Why I’m staying (and why you should too) | @RosMcM

JpegRos McMullen is an Executive Principal and CEO of an Academy Trust. She has been a member of the Labour Party for 38 years.

Yesterday I read two good blogs: Dan Hodges on why he’s resigning membership and Labour List on why we shouldn’t. I agreed with both of them and it made me examine my feelings in detail.

We are all the product of our formation, to a greater or lesser extent, and mine is the traditional catholic Labour family. Being a catholic meant one was aligned to the Labour Party and I was brought up with a commitment to social justice. I was taught about the “sins crying to heaven for vengeance”: defrauding workers of their just wages and oppression of the poor. My dad also taught me that voting Tory was a mortal sin and (as all Catholics know) “mortal sins destroy the soul and deserve hell.” Yes – well over the top, and there is much more nonsense I was taught, but my point is this – for an awful lot of Labour Party members our party membership is so deeply embedded in who we are and what our moral and cultural background is, the idea of resigning membership is not as easy as changing job, moving house or ending a romantic relationship. The Labour Party is part of our identity and being bullied out or allowing our party to be stolen from us is just completely unacceptable.

When I started teaching it was 1984 and Sir Keith Joseph was Education Secretary. You’ve all heard the anecdotes about what it was like in the ’80s and ’90s and I can tell you they are all true. For many years the Labour Party engaged in internecine warfare and it took 4 general election defeats for sense to set in. I was part of that; I lived through it, and like a lot of others I woke up (and grew up) in the 1990s. We realised that enough was enough and that ideological purity was moral irresponsibility as we saw that the state of public services worsen and the divisions in society intensify. Making our party electable was a long hard struggle: it required huge resilience and strong managerial competence at all levels of the party. We still have the scars on our back, but we were rewarded with the huge achievements of the Labour Govts: for many years we saw few homeless on the streets, our schools and hospitals were rebuilt and received unprecedented investment, basic minimum wage etc. etc.

And here we are again. Every time I go into town there are more homeless, our public services are in crisis, families are reliant on foodbanks, and the Labour Party response is internecine warfare.

We know that principles without power is useless; the “Corbynistas” tell us power without principles is equally useless. I don’t disagree with them about that, but I know that we have to get people we wouldn’t give houseroom to to vote Labour or we have no chance of winning an election. I also know it is morally irresponsible to do without power in order to remain ideologically pure: that is a luxury which condemns the vulnerable.

I am despairing of these people who are in control of our party, who are happy to turn us into a protest group, who are naïf enough to believe that the electorate are wrong, who are so arrogant to not learn the lessons of history, who are dismissive of the achievements of our Labour governments and who are talking to themselves and bullying us. But I know these people; I know how they work and I understand their tactics. They are a ragbag of Communist Party, Socialist Worker Party, anarchists, ex-Labour members and single issue pressure groups popping up speaking about OUR PARTY, pretending they are the “voice of Labour”. Quite simply they are not. The people who most need a labour government are not within their midst.

It seems to me the choice is quite clear: leave them to it and let the party implode or stay and fight for our party in order to win power to serve the powerless. For me the moral imperative is clear: we fight, but more than that, the lesson of history is we should not let it take so long this time. I will not be bullied out but neither will I be silenced within.

7 thoughts on “Why I’m staying (and why you should too) | @RosMcM

  1. On one level I understand where you’re coming from. I remember being hugely distrustful of new members joining after Blair was elected as leader. I questioned their motives, their commitment and the extent to which they were “true Labour”. Of course some left within a year or two and might have vindicated my concern were it not for the others who went on to become MPs…

    It was a difficult time to be on the left. Our constitution was transformed, many of us were threatened with expulsion, we were marginalised and kept away from meetings. Our fairly selected candidates were overturned by the leadership. None of our heroes were offered top jobs and our people were kept away from selections and lists. Extraordinary lengths were gone to to fix much of this.

    None of this is happening now. The Shadow Cabinet is balanced; the only expulsions are still of people on the left; policy positions have not been forced from the top; there have been few selections but there have been no serious criticisms of their fairness.

    In conclusion, I agree with you – you should stay and you should argue for the policies and ideas you favour. That’s what I did and, though it took a long time, you could argue it’s paid off.

    But what is being offered now, which was not seriously offered in the 90s, is a genuine conversation. There will be plenty of opportunities to have a serious discussion if we can turn down the noise on the leadership issue. Jeremy is here to stay, just as Tony was in 94/5. Forget that; let’s debate the policies.

  2. Your article fits well with my experience (except I don’t have your religious background). Unfortunately these days some twit who has never canvassed, delivered leaflets or stuffed an envelope seems to tell our meetings that the party has regained its principles when in reality it never lost them. We can all disagree, sometimes quite strongly, with party policies but still recognise we fight for social and economic justice. I can work with people with whom I have strong disagreements in the party but I also recognise the fakes when I hear them.

  3. As a member of the party in the early 80’s I fear that history is repeating itself. I remember in the Militant period the constant reelection threats to MPs who differed with their rhetoric. I hear the threats of similar such moves with trepidation.

    I recall a 1980’s party that became so locked in securing political purity, and in party power and influence, that it ignored the importance of winning elections. In the creation of Momentum I see worrying similarities to Militant. Ros is absolutely correct to warn of the dangers of history repeating itself.

    I think of that famous quote “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Be we new or long standing members, of the left, right or centre of the party, we must not fail to challenge anything that risks a repeat of the mistakes of the 1980’s. We owe those for whom the Labour Party represents their best hope of a better life more than being a historical reenactment society that consigns itself to opposition for too long.

  4. Reading ‘Ros McMullen is an Executive Principal and CEO of an Academy Trust’ told me all I need to know really. The rest of the cut and pastes from various right wing sources are just filler really. The OP actively participates in Tory educational practices, she is part of the problem in education. The disintegration of a coherent schools system, the preparation for privatisation and monetising of our educational system is what academies are about. Bliar and Adonis’ introduction of academies was the Trojan Horse that led to where we are now. The Blairite years prepared the way for the Tories, so bleating on about the homeless, food banks and the rundown of our public services as if they did anything about it in Government is frankly breathtaking.
    If she is so concerned about internecine warfare the solution is simple, get out of the way and let Corbyn get on with the job.

    1. Closing down free speech in the Labour party seems to be the default position of some Corbyn supporters. Look at the last sentence in the reply. Labour is so much more than a narrow personality cult. I look to a radical progressive party without the immature naive Trot drivel. That means working across a range of valid opinions. When an attempt was made to jump to war in Syria in 2013, Labour with Ed Miliband as leader reached out across the political divide and created a major effect on international affairs. In 2015, under similar circumstances the Corbyn politics totally failed. That says a lot.

  5. The final line of your response is for me part of the problem. The language of “get out of the way” is so reminiscent of the militant language of the 1980’s to anyone who dared to question them. I am neither of the Blairite nor Corbyn wing, I also headed a local authority special school (would that make me part of the problem too) and to be honest I too am uneasy about the way things are going. It feels like I have been here before and that is unsettling. There is a real danger if the Jeremy Corbyn supporters neglect the need to take other elements of the party with them that we will not return swiftly to government.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *