Labour needs to lead right now

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As is being widely reported, Jeremy Corbyn’s head of policy, Andrew Fisher, has apparently either resigned from his job, or intends to do so. According to the Observer (and the same quotes appear almost everywhere):

Fisher wrote a memo to colleagues saying members of Corbyn’s team had a “lack of professionalism, competence and human decency”. He also accused them of making a “blizzard of lies and excuses” and apparently claimed that the highest ranks of the party were engaged in “class war”. 

Andrew has my sympathy right now. I know a bit about what it feels like to alienate the Corbynites having once been close. And in my case I was close because of Andrew Fisher. 

Before working for Corbyn Andrew worked for Alan Simpson MP and then PCS, the trade union. I knew him in those roles. He also became co-ordinator if the Left Economic Advisory Panel, a then obscure group that offered advice on issues such as tax justice and the Green New Deal to Labour MPs willing to listen, who were mainly in the left and included John McDonnell, and occasionally, Jeremy Corbyn. It was Andrew who put my ideas in his 2014 book, 'The Failed Experiment'. And Andrew who then made them the basis of Corbynomics in 2015, without me even knowing it was happening. The rest, as they say is history.

It was Andrew too who told me about Labour's EU referendum campaign in 2016 that led to my concerns about what it was doing.  As I said then:

What I would stress though is that there is no point in a change if Labour is not going to learn its lessons. ... It must have a substantially different approach to the Conservatives. It must embrace the counter-cyclical investment that is so desperately needed at present in housing, business, sustainable energy and (perhaps most of all) people, who should have a right to debt-free education. In the process it would put finance and big business in its proper place, where it is treated as very significant, but not the real power in the land.

I think I was right, both at the time and now.

I have never doubted Jeremy Corbyn is a decent man. I have always wondered at the chance that made him Labour leader.

I have never doubted that Labour has needed to offer radical new visions that reject all that is bad about neoliberalism. That is what it is for.

But, as I also argued in 2016:

If I was not an idealist I would not have created the ideas that Corbyn borrowed from me. And if I was not a pragmatist I would not be writing now. My appeal at this moment is for Labour to embrace these two positions simultaneously. That is because whatever Labour’s pragmatic need might be it must be infused with a new sense of idealism. If not it is wasting its time and those fighting its internal wars will end up with the prize of perpetual irrelevance.

Labour had to be pragmatic now. In effect, and if you want a few words for it, it had to be radically social democratic, but not socialist.

I am not talking the Chukka Umunna or Chis Leslie embrace of neoliberal social democracy here, which is nothing close to being left or even social-democratic. 

I am talking the pragmatic, principled driven social democracy that recognises that capitalism works within the rules that states set, and goes out of its way to write rules for economic engagement that grants a licence to trade within a state so long as people, planet, communities and the people the enterprise deals with, including regulators and tax authorities, are all respected. Profit comes only if those other things can be achieved first. And if need exists and cannot be met by for-profit enterprise, as so often will be the case, then the state can and must deliver.

This is social democracy. This is radical, pragmatic and viable politics. This was and is the alternative that’s needed. 

But that’s not what Labour has gone for, as yet.

I do not know if what Andrew Fisher says about the waging of class law is right but I am sure there remain strong Lexit factions around the leadership that are wholly ideologically driven.

I am sure Fisher is targeting Seumas Milne, in particular.

I am sure that alongside Len McCluskey he is right to do so.

And I wish Andrew well, because the backlash will be vicious. It was when I criticised Corbyn. It was when I criticised the hard left coterie who support the ill-advised rantings of Bill Mitchell on modern monetary theory. Fisher will now find he is called a neoliberal, a Blairite, a Tory, a LibDem and so much more. 

But he’s not. Maybe there was a reason why our paths crossed. Maybe we both wanted pragmatic social democracy - delivering real reform for the people of this country in a way in which it really could be delivered. But we did not want class war because that makes no sense whatsoever to anyone but a tiny core of fanatics, who I know just happen to be around Corbyn, whether he shares their views or not. 

The UK needs a competent, committed, pragmatic left of centre party. I think that's what Labour Party members want. It has not got it. If Andrew Fisher has joined the club that realises that going back to Blair is no answer, and that supporting those currently around Corbyn is not either, welcome to reality I say. Welcome too to where most Labour members are. But that is no guarantee we’ll get it as yet. There has never been a moment when we have need clear, cohesive leadership more. If Andrew Fisher is angry that Labour is being denied this by a few he's not alone. I just wish Jeremy Corbyn might smell the coffee.