Rachel Sylvester concludes that Labour isn’t fit to govern because it comprises of MPs who disagree on some things.
In today’s Times she writes:
“From the Cabinet down, the party is divided between those who celebrate wealth and those who want to tax the super-rich until the pips squeak, between those who think public services should be centrally controlled and those who want to put parents and patients in charge, between those who believe that civil liberties are sacred and those who are willing to sacrifice ancient rights on the altar of national security. As one senior Whitehall figure puts it: ‘Labour’s completely schizophrenic; they all talk about wanting to be the party of opportunity but half of them mean they want to help the poor and the other half mean they want to encourage middle-class aspiration.’”
Setting aside the question of why a “senior Whitehall figure” isn’t getting on with the job he or she is paid to do and supporting his or her minister, Sylvester’s piece seems to conclude that only parties whose MPs have exactly the same priorities and the same philosophy can govern effectively. Were it true, this would be extremely bad news for all the parties, but particularly the Conservatives; I mean, if Labour’s a broad church, then that lot are a very large football stadium.
Our “senior Whitehall figure” thinks the governing party is schizophrenic because half of our MPs want to help the poor and the other half want to be the party of middle class aspiuration. I can only conclude that our “senior Whitehall figure” hasn’t been around long if he thinks that these aims are in any way exclusive. On the contrary, the government has been very successfully meeting both these objectives for 11 years. Of course, maybe that’s what annoys this source.
Political parties are, by definition, a coalition of interests. In the Labour Party those interests are broadly mainstream, and they range across the Left and Centre-Left of British politics, with occasional dashes of Marxism and free-market capitalism.
The Tories are made up of an even wider – and conflicting – range of interests, from Europhobes, anti-immigrationists and extreme libertarians through to “one-nation” Tories, social conservatives and, completing the circle, environmentalists.
But Rachel Sylvester is probably right about one thing: the Parliamentary Labour Party is made up of people who have different views about which policies should take precedence. That usually means a compromise that allows both wings – as Sylvester puts it, the “anti-poverty” brigade and the “middle class aspiration” brigade – to address a substantial part of their agendas. And, of course, virtually no-one in the Labour Party would support one of these goals at the absolute exclusion of the other anyway.
Ms Sylvester might see such compromises as weakness and unattractive to the electorate. The truth is exactly the opposite.