January is a depressing month if you live in the northern hemisphere. Gloomy, damp, dark - and that's just the economic outlook!
The political scene for Labour supporters can look just as bleak and unforgiving if you focus on the rows and infighting that have been much in the news over the last week.
For the uninitiated, Labour politics has a tendency to function with all the coherence, joy and optimism of a dysfunctional family. Occasionally, there are moments of upbeat enthusiasm when the movement pulls together and gets on with the difficult job of changing Britain for the better. Just as often there are moments when you hang your head in shame at the antics of some that bear more than a passing resemblance to a drunk uncle dancing at a party, or a row over inheritance.
But we must not forget the big picture. One of the great things about the Labour party is that traditionally we have debated our views whilst respecting the different and sometimes quite varied opinions that come forward. We need to continue to bear in mind that the issues we debate are about the needs of people living in Britain today. We should always bear that in mind.
To centre the debate on selfish woes is wrong. To ignore the bigger picture puts us and the country in danger. It is all very well to debate policy ideas and the direction the party should take. It is quite another to do so without bearing in mind the many people and families who are struggling and who are looking to us to come forward with answers in the months ahead. The future needs of these people should take priority in our considerations. That is the big picture.
Whilst all this is going on, there are many reasons for the party and the movement to feel cheerful, and in the spirit of the great Ian Dury, here are a few:
• The idea of how to forward a social justice agenda without recourse to pots of money is starting to take root. The most promising of these shoots is that which emphasises pre-distribution rather than redistribution. In other words, we need to develop a new vision of the state that focuses on ensuring that big business pays its way.
• Ed Miliband is setting the agenda. If you don't think so, what about the fact that 'responsible capitalism' is now, apparently, advocated by all the main political parties?
• And don't underestimate the effect all this is having on the Tories. When Gove mooted the idea of a new Royal Yacht he was quickly squashed by No 10. Toys for the rich no longer seem so appealing in a country that is starting to take seriously the demands of responsible action.
Likewise those of us in the party need to hold our nerve. We should stop assuming the worst and work for the best. That takes courage but it also takes a certain amount of discipline. And now is not the time to lose either.
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