John Spellar MP: Responsibililty for Labour's epic failure rests with those at the top
The post-mortem into Labour's election defeat must start immediately, and point the finger at those to blame, writes John Spellar MP.
“There can be no compromise with the electorate.” So said former Lambeth Council leader and longstanding John McDonnell ally Ted Knight.
This General Election was a disaster. We have lost too many hard-working, dedicated Labour MPs and are facing five more grim years of Tory rule.
Nine years into Conservative government, Labour has experienced its worst result since 1935. A key reason for the scale of this defeat was the internal factional warfare prioritised by Momentum. For them, factional advantage was more important than getting into government and compromising with reality.
When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July this year, I told my Constituency Labour Party to prepare for an early General Election. This wasn’t a particularly earth-shattering action – it was a fairly obvious one.
Given this – and the fact the Labour Party’s leadership had been calling for an early General Election for several months – the leadership’s failure to adequately prepare for one is unforgiveable.
Instead of prioritising the selection of new parliamentary candidates where there were vacancies, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) instead decided to put sitting Labour MPs through a trigger ballot process. A new PM had just taken over and an election was extremely likely. The NEC could have quite simply voted to suspend trigger ballots in the event of an election before Christmas. That they chose not to shows their priorities.
The merits of the internal reselection mechanism of Labour MPs is perhaps a matter for another piece – the simple point is this: most MPs and their constituency parties spent the summer of 2019 focusing on their own reselection campaigns, when they should have been out pounding the streets speaking to the public.
In my time as a Labour candidate (dating back to 1970) I have never witnessed a more shambolic start to a campaign. Furthermore, Momentum, who talk a lot about party democracy, enthusiastically stitched up safe seats for their pals – often against the will of local Labour Party members.
The best example of this is the removal of Sally Gimson as the Labour candidate in Bassetlaw. A truly undemocratic and self-destructive stitch-up. Sally won the support of Bassetlaw members, but a Chris Williamson-supporting councillor from Ashfield was imposed on them because Momentum’s honchos at HQ wanted to remove her. The result was devastating – with the Tories getting the biggest swing of the night there.
During the campaign Momentum misused the time of committed and enthusiastic Labour activists. Sending them to seats where there were limited chances of success – often for factional reasons – instead of those which needed boots on the ground.
We were never likely to take Altrincham and Sale from the Tories. Resources were taken away from seats in Greater Manchester like Heywood and Middleton, Bolton East and Leigh which had been Labour for decades and are now Conservative held seats.
Responsibility for failure – and for epic failure to prepare – rests with those at the top. Their obsessive factionalism saw Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger quit the party because of the abuse they suffered – carried out in the name of Momentum. They failed to rein in the worst excesses of their faction which has infected the entire Labour Party with a vicious atmosphere. Cranks and anti-semites feel that Labour is their home. They own this failure.
Their failure to chuck out anti-semites from our ranks is an utter disgrace and the party is awaiting the Equalities and Human Rights Council (EHRC) report next year with trepidation and real fear.
A proper post-mortem must take place – not carried out by NEC-appointed Momentum stooges. It is imperative that this is done immediately so that we can take action before vital council elections in May.
The Labour Party will only be a party of Government if it is seen by voters to be a representative and responsible party. It must be reflective of all parts of the country – not just woke London Guardian columnists and pension-aged Tankies.
John Spellar is Labour MP for Warley and a former defence minister.