The Blog

Labour's Intemperance Movement - The Problem With Andrew Fisher

I don't see how he can have campaigned, had complex loyalties, exercised discipline, made sacrifices, cared - all the things that Labour campaigners do - and laughed as Ed Balls fell... If his heart isn't with Labour, he shouldn't be at the heart of Labour.

I've waited a week before publishing this. I promised someone I would, and besides, the hurt was in another constituency, and I write on foreign policy now.

But in the end, I just can't not write about Andrew Fisher. The cut just cuts too deep.

So here is my take: the grounds for real concern over Andrew Fisher's appointment as Head of Policy are different to those that have been reported.

Perhaps they are more profound, perhaps less - but this is from inside the Labour Party, and from all of us who fought hard through the 2015 election, and when the exit polls came out, died a little.

While Labour hearts broke, and Labour campaigners prayed that Ed Balls would hold on, and Labour activists shook their heads at the thought of a heart of Labour constituency handed to the Tories...

Fisher thought it was funny.

At 12.35am on the morning of the 8th May, those of us who had worked so hard were at last starting to understand that the best of us would fail, and the best of us would fall.

We were learning that we would never form a government, and that for five years, the Tories would govern unchecked, and they would govern against everything we had fought for.

It was around 12.35am that for the first time that someone told me that Ed Balls' seat wasn't safe.

And it was at 12.35am that Fisher tweeted that it was, 'Fitting that the architect of Labour's miserable austerity-lite economic policy should fall.'

Wait, what?

Ed Balls was our Shadow Chancellor. He was a fine constituency MP, and endlessly kind to a scruffy little PPC from the Midlands, and a great man in the Labour Party. And none of that matters a damn because the central duty - almost the only thing that we really ask of people joining the Labour Party - is that Labour backs Labour.

If you're Labour, care. If you're Labour, work. If you're Labour, back Labour candidates - whether they are the Shadow Chancellor or a council candidate in a by-election.

If you're Labour, don't think you're bigger than Labour.

In Labour we're co-operative. We band together because it makes us stronger, and it helps us to fight for the values that Labour stands for and in which we all believe.

It doesn't matter what percentage of support you personally are prepared to accord to Labour's 2015 economic policies, because those policies were arrived at properly, and thoughtfully and through a formal process, and that process is central to everything we are.

When I noticed the time stamp on Fisher's message I couldn't believe it. And judging by the response when I pointed it out, neither could the other Labour people out fighting for us - believing in us - through the 2015 election.

The main comment I got back? 'I was in tears. The only people I knew who were celebrating at that point were Tories.'

Well, yeah.

It has been six months since that night. Six easy months in which Fisher has moved from eagerly anticipating the downfall of a Labour Shadow Chancellor to being appointed as head of policy for the party that others worked and mourned for.

And don't get me wrong. The rule on Labour backing Labour is not the only one that Fisher broke.

The evidence rolls on.

It wasn't just that he didn't back Ed Balls, or that he did back the Class War candidate, or that he backed the Greens, or that he defined himself as part of a left that he argued should back TUSC or SWP or frankly, ABL - Anyone But Labour - when ABL meant Tory, and ABL meant cuts to tax credits and more cuts, and swingeing changes to disability support and all of the things that Andrew Fisher said he stood against...

It's how he expressed himself during the campaign.

You've seen the footage. Fisher - knowing full well that he was being filmed - saying that he had "very violent, bloody nightmares... fantasies possibly", about hitting ex-cabinet minister James Purnell.

(It was for that film, discovered by The Sun that Fisher was - eventually - placed on administrative suspension. He continues to carry out his duties in Jeremy Corbyn's office).

Why? Because Purnell wasn't left enough for Fisher's taste.

This is the dark side of the hard left - the virtue signalling, the scrambling-up of moral virtue and violence of feeling.

It happens in the corners of every political party. In the heat of their obsession, people boil down to the hardest of their principles. They make speeches, and they win applause, and they spend more time with those who applaud them, and then they make stronger speeches to win greater applause, and are used by others, and in the end they are rewarded with jobs contingent on pushing the boundaries that little bit further - re-upping the game, in a world where strength of feeling is the test of virtue.

And then they go on camera and say how they could barely manage not to punch a colleague, and they get another round of applause and a cookie.

I knocked on nearly 20,000 doorsteps during the three year run up to 2015. I also believe the books should add up. Do you want to punch me now or later?

I feel sorry for Andrew Fisher. I think he is young, and hot-headed, and has never stopped to think about where his politics take us. I think he's won every job he has ever had on the basis of being one of Labour's Intemperance Movement. I don't think this is wholly his fault, but the result of Labour's failure to shine a light on these dark corners of ours, rather than to trap people within them.

There's no doubt that if the rule book is applied, Fisher's membership should be rescinded.

Over the last few days a startling number of people have argued that the rules could just be set aside. That because Fisher has the favour of Labour's leaders, they ought not to count.

The rules count. They matter.

They matter because every one of us who stands for Labour or works for Labour or goes out and campaigns for Labour - or talks for Labour, or donates to Labour, or most importantly of all - votes for Labour, we are part of one party, standing on a shared manifesto, and we do so - we value that discipline, because it is the only way to win, and to effect meaningful change.

When people put their cross by the Labour rose, they know what they are getting.

They aren't getting maybe a bit of green, a dash of Tory and touch of the candidate's prejudice. They aren't getting TUSC or Respect or Stop the War. They aren't getting people who are Labour only when it suits.

They are sharing the great understanding set out at the front of the rule book, that 'by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.'

Common endeavour. Common care.

The exit poll was bad, but for Labour campaigners like me, it was the election result in Morley and Outwood that broke us.

You may feel differently about Ed Balls. What matters is that he was our man at the time when Labour hearts were breaking.

If that's so, then I don't see how Andrew Fisher can be Labour. I don't see how he can have campaigned, had complex loyalties, exercised discipline, made sacrifices, cared - all the things that Labour campaigners do - and laughed as Ed Balls fell.

That is the meaning of everything in the rule book, our values and our Labour commitments together. If you are on our team, you wear our colours. And your heart breaks with ours.

In sadness, and after a week's reflection, this is why Andrew Fisher should go.

Because if his heart isn't with Labour, he shouldn't be at the heart of Labour.