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Sorry Owen Jones, But It's Not the Left's Turn to Run the Labour Party

23/07/2015 10:42 BST | Updated 22/07/2016 10:59 BST

I've done a bit of television before, but nothing which provoked as strong a reaction as my debate with Owen Jones on Sky News yesterday.

The Twitter and Facebook haters were out in full afterwards, and I hope my boss doesn't heed the many calls for me to be sacked from The Huffington Post.

Online criticism and insults are part of the game, and I have no problem with people telling me I'm wrong.

But what baffled me was the sheer number who clearly didn't listen to what I said.

I did not say the Labour Party was too left wing at the election, I said they were perceived as being too left wing.

And that perception clearly cost them votes. Why do I think this? Because they didn't win. Why didn't they win? Because millions more voters wanted David Cameron in Downing Street than Ed Miliband.

Now, the Owen Jones school of thought is that if Labour had provided a clear, left wing, anti-austerity platform then a coalition of those on that side of the political spectrum would have swept them into power.

This, I'm afraid, is nonsense. I'm not just saying that to be provocative, I'm saying it because it was proven to be nonsense on 7 May.

Jones was happy to argue that the rise of the SNP in Scotland was a signal of a growing left wing feeling in the UK.

But if that is true, why didn't a majority of voters in England vote Labour, knowing they would form a coalition with the SNP?

The option was there in black and white. The Tories relentlessly went on about it - Miliband propped up by Sturgeon. Surely, if there really is this mass call for a coalition of the left to rule the country, voters would have whole-heartedly embraced this opportunity? Even if we accept the premise that Miliband's Labour was not 'left' enough, voters clamouring for a true left-wing government would have gladly voted for him knowing the SNP would prop him up and keep him true to cause.

But the voters didn't go for that option. Not only did they reject the Labour/SNP ticket, they actually gave the Conservatives an overall majority for the first time since 1992.

What lessons should Labour learn from this? Owen Jones would have you believe it is to move further to the left.

Let's consider this for a moment - has this ever been done before?

Yes. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher beat Jim Callaghan. Labour's response was to move more to the left and Michael Foot was elected as leader a year later.

The rise of the militants in the party, championed by the likes of Tony Benn, was so unpalatable that the party split. Four of the most popular labour figures - Shirley Williams, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Roy Jenkins - broke away and formed their own party, the SDP.

When I put this to Jones yesterday, he intimated that it was this move which kept Labour out of power in the 1980s as the left wing vote was split.

But surely, if Michael Foot's Labour Party was truly tapping into an untapped well of millions of voters wanting a socialist paradise, this split would have made no difference at all. Foot would still have won, and Thatcher would have been ousted in the 1983 General Election.

She wasn't. Labour lost 60 seats, and its manifesto was described as the "longest suicide note in history" by one of its own MPs, Gerald Kaufman, who can hardly be dubbed a Blairite.

With this in mind, Jones yesterday said the left wing of the Labour Party had to "grit its teeth" when the Blairites were in charge, especially over Iraq.

Again, this is nonsense. The idea that Jeremy Corbyn stayed quiet on the Labour backbenches during Iraq is farcical. He rightly and commendably voiced his opposition to the war. He was also a vocal critic of many other New Labour policies, and between 1997 and 2005 he voted against his own party 212 times. No gritted teeth there.

What really rankled me was the final assumption that as the left had apparently stayed quiet while the Blairites ran the party - you know, during all that time in actual Government - it was now their turn to run the party.

Their turn.

As if it's a game, as if it's a committee, as if it's not the running of the country we are talking about.

This is not about taking turns. This is far more important than that.

How many Labour laws were passed between 1979 and 1997? None, because Labour weren't in power. Why weren't they in power? Because they were either too left wing, or seen as too left wing, or both.

Who introduced the minimum wage, 85,000 more nurses, 32,000 more doctors, 30,000 more teachers, record spending on schools and hospitals, paid paternity leave, Gift Aid, the winter fuel payment, civil partnerships? Who helped bring peace in Northern Ireland, a massive reduction in crime, cuts to waiting times for NHS operations?

Labour in power between 1997 and 2010. Labour in power.

How do you get in power? You earn people's trust on running the economy, you recognise there is nothing progressive about being forced to spend more on paying down debts than on schools and hospitals.

You stop indulging in fantasy politics which says if only the people would give us a chance we would show them why they are wrong.

Because while people who don't need the welfare state, or live on the minimum wage, or need tax credits, or rely on housing benefit, try to construct a utopia which has already been rejected by the voters, those that do need and rely on those things are scrabbling down the back of the sofa looking for coins to afford to put petrol in their car or buy a pint of milk for their children's breakfast cereal.

They are getting on with real life.