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Why Frontbench Incompetence Damages Labour AND UK

26/11/2015 10:51 GMT | Updated 25/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Yesterday Labour's John McDonnell cemented his place as the politician who quotes Mao when discussing economics by giving his annotated copy of the Little Red Book with Osborne. I don't think this is the last we will see of those little pages, or the last quote from Mao this Government.

This is a worse gaffe than the letter a Labour minister left in the Treasury in 2010 saying "there is no money", and we know that did massive damage to Labour's credibility, which contributed to the Conservatives winning the 2015 election. Guess what was on their direct mail and posters in 2015? Guess what was waved by Cameron in his TV grilling? Now imagine next May's council elections. Think about what is circulating in the by-election streets of Oldham. The only reason the Tories might not send everyone selected Mao quotations, matched with more inflammatory ones from McDonnell, is because they want the Shadow Chancellor to stagger on until 2020 so they can hammer Labour with MaoDonnell then.

Here is how Labour politics works. Unlike the other parties we are here to serve ALL UK people, not just one nation or region, not just those with property or money, not just those in need or those in power. In the immortal words of Robin Cook, co-author of the Labour statement of aims and values, we work for a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few: http://www.labourcounts.com/clausefour.htm. (There might be better ways to express our universal belief in equality, such as here: http://labourlist.org/2012/10/lets-talk-about-values/ but that underpinning revulsion for inequality and passion for internationalism and democracy shines through.) This is not something that Mao would understand, still less espouse. To make any association with the Little Red Book is inimicable to Labour people and our party.

Here is how Labour politics works. We fight like fury against Government plans where they are wrong or unfair. We do this by voicing the real life concerns of people we represent, which means listening twice as much as talking. Organisations and individuals feel confident to approach Labour to discuss their needs. Right now they are beginning to avoid eye contact. We are an embarrassing partner to be seen with. Even our friends in the Unions are rolling their eyes. They know we need credibility to defeat the appalling Trade Union Bill and, bluntly, it looks like the Labour leadership have blown it.

Here is how Labour politics works. We build credibility as a force of government locally and nationally, by contributing to debate and managing services where we are in power with imagination, fairness and competence. That competence gives us leverage when we campaign. It is never sufficient to rage against the world - the anarchists and extremists are always better at that, and it doesn't make a difference to real lives. It is a chance to let off steam, but it isn't a challenge unless there is an alternative. We are the alternative government, not a ginger group or a protest movement. Credibility builds pressure and makes us an effective opposition.

Here is how Labour politics works. We find alternatives that make a difference. Deskilling and poverty pay grew under the Tories in 1980s and 1990s. We brought in the Minimum Wage as a way to lever up living standards and force employers to invest in skills. Labour created the NHS in 1948 as an alternative to pay-to-cure and charity provision that was fragmented and in places substandard. We need to couple health professional expertise and evidence with accountability and responsiveness, as well as boundaryless care, with social and public health needs addressed. From 1997 to 2008 we laid the foundations of a sound economy with international barriers lowered and standards of environmental and individual welfare rising across the world; but we failed on international bank reform and rued the error. But we compound it if we don't back business and build growth. We are wrong to fall prey to those who would oppose any deal rather than talk about trade. Trade talks like TTIP are not bad in themselves, but there are those who would have us disengage and have competitive protectionism rather than a progressive deal that protects workers and the planet. Perhaps they fear something worse, but that is no reason to do nothing.

Here is how Labour politics works. The party serves local as well as Westminster needs. Since the summer we have only had Westminster battles, Westminster arguments, and the "new politics" is looking very like entryism by those who want to turn Labour into a protest group or absorb Left Unity, turfing out experienced, hard-working, competent and principled councillors and MPs in the process.

We need the front bench to step up and look like a government in waiting. We need an inclusive not divisive approach. We need to listen to real people, not academics or long-dead dictators. We need to build alliances with other organisations and societies by being competent and mainstream in our arguments. We need to support local as well as national campaigns and action. We must be radical but realistic. We must look outward not inward.

The current Labour leadership cannot continue like this. Now every time the Tories want they will pull out the Little Red Book. What do you think they will make of McDonnell's stunt in the local elections next May, or the General Election in 2020? I fear he has blown any chance of Labour making advances, and therefore blunted any chance we have of either strong opposition to Osborne's wrong-headed divide and rule economics, designed for political advantage not national growth; or being listened to when we propose radical alternative plans. For the people of the UK, who need a full-throated opposition and a realistic alternative, this is a disaster.

Jeremy Corbyn has brought principle and authenticity back into focus, and brought a lot of new people into the Labour family. There is an energy and excitement which goes well beyond faction building. It could provide momentum for a fairer Britain, not just Momentum for an inward looking fan club. But this mood is being squandered by incompetence, upset by hiring of extremist cronies, and disillusioned by far left attacks on lifelong Labour people like Alan Johnson on national media.

Labour's leadership needs our front bench to become COMPETENT, stop giving Tories either a free ride or an open goal and STOP BLUNDERING, get out and about and LISTEN to real people not just social media activists, stop pretending the media is a conspiracy and British people are dupes when we all know British PEOPLE ARE THE BOSS and in a democracy are never wrong; build bridges with MAINSTREAM opinion, stop EXTREMIST views and promote RADICAL ones; OPPOSE PROPERLY on strong ground and build ALTERNATIVES; make a DIFFERENCE, and speak the language of our REAL LIVES not Westminster or Maoist fantasy. Or go, so we can get leaders worthy of our new larger Labour family who will.