Speech by Pat McFadden MP to the annual meeting of Labour First, Brandhall Labour Club, Oldbury, West Midlands
I want to begin by thanking John Charlton and Labour First for inviting me here today.
Labour First has played a very important role in keeping the flag flying for centre left politics in recent years.
It has long experience in supporting people through sometimes tough political times.
And it provides a crucial platform for the many Labour people who take pride in the achievements of past Labour Governments and understand the need for the broad electoral coalitions that made those governments and those achievements possible.
So thank you to Labour First for the work you have done.
When John originally invited me here to speak today he asked me to talk about Brexit. But this week has not just been about Brexit. It has seen the most significant break in the party system in a generation – a break which poses big questions for both main political parties.
The nine MPs who left the Labour Party this week are good colleagues who have contributed a huge amount to Labour over the years. They are personal friends and they remain friends after they have gone. Many of them have given decades of their lives to the Labour Party.
Their departure should not be greeted by anyone with factional cheering or with disdain. Responding in that manner simply justifies the decision to leave and paints a picture of a party that looks narrow and factional.
Instead we should be asking, why did nine good MPs who had given so much to the cause of Labour feel they had to leave?
I have been in the Labour Party for 35 years. I have served as branch officer, CLP officer, conference delegate, foot soldier canvasser, party staffer, Labour MP and Labour Government Minister. I know what a difficult and painful decision it must have been for those nine colleagues to leave this week.
Among the biggest reasons they gave was that that parts of the party have a culture of anti-semitism which the leadership has, at the very least, failed to take seriously and failed to deal with.
The awful current of anti-semitism which has targeted Jewish MPs is an appalling stain on a party which prides itself on being a home for people of every faith and of none.
I know that most Labour members are not anti-semites. And most Labour members are appalled by what is being posted and said about Jewish MPs. But the response to this issue has so far failed the test.
Processes to deal with complaints are important but they not enough.
This goes to the core of who we are and what we stand for.
After hearing more examples of the hatred and abuse directed at Jewish Labour MPs at a recent PLP meeting, one of my colleagues asked what I think is the most relevant question about all this – what is it about the culture of the current Labour Party that makes the people who post or say anti-semitic things believe that this is their political home?
This was not an issue in the Labour Party in the past.
The anti Western world view which divides the world into actors and reactors, the oppressors and the oppressed, where those in conflict with the West are always defined as victims and where the West itself is instinctively seen as the source of the problem is completely at odds with the best traditions of the Labour Party.
It is the seedbed which gives rise to a hierarchy of victimhood, where some are allowed to be victims, and some are not.
It is not enough as a leadership response to this to point to a record of campaigning against racism. Indeed the signal that can send out is that people who share your views can’t be doing anything wrong. After all, they would all say they were anti-racist too. Instead the response needed is to call this out properly, root it out and make clear that those who hold those views have no place in the Labour Party.
The second point made this week was that our leadership is facilitating Brexit.
I know the Brexit issue cuts across parties and there are leavers and remainers in both main parties and probably in this room.
Our country stands at a very serious crossroads. The Prime Minister is playing a reckless and irresponsible game of chicken over no deal, with the UK economy as the stake.
The Tory right believes that keeping a no deal Brexit on the table is a negotiating option. It is not. It is a gun held at our own head – bad for Europe yes, but disastrous for the UK.
Real jobs and real prosperity are at stake. Look at what is happening already in the car industry or the warnings of what could happen from the aerospace industry – both of them vital to manufacturing here in the West Midlands. Investment in the UK automotive industry down 80% since the referendum – not a forecast, not a prediction but a fact.
This is no time for an adherence to the old mantra of socialism in one country.
There is no such thing as a jobs first Brexit. There are degrees of damage limitation. But every study of every scenario – including the Government’s own – makes clear that there is no set of arrangements outside the EU that does not make our country poorer than it would otherwise be.
But underneath, this week has not just been about anti-semitism or dissatisfaction over Brexit, or indeed a particular policy issue. There is something bigger – about the character and direction of the Labour party, about whether there is still room within it for socialists and centre left social democrats, about whether it is content to become a faction or whether it still sees its role as doing the hard work to build an election winning coalition for progressive change.
Labour has not had enough moments of victory. But the key ones we have had – in 1945, 1964 and 1997 – were won because we had an ambitious plan for the modernisation of our country that reached out beyond our core support to build a broad coalition of working and middle class support.
So today we have to be about an economy with fairness hard wired in, where work pays, taxation of people is fair, where international companies cannot simply shift profits around to avoid paying their share and where there is a real plan for the smaller cities and towns which have suffered from economic change in recent decades.
We have to be for more than a left-wing conservatism. The response to decades of change has to be more radical than looking for a rewind button simply to unwind the economic changes that have taken place.
We have to have a foreign policy based on our alliances with the world’s great democracies and which rejects the anti-western view of the world which is so foreign to Labour’s best traditions.
And we have to remember the importance of keeping people and communities safe, policing our streets effectively, combating terrorism both ideologically and practically and placing responsibility for it on the shoulders of the terrorists themselves.
On top of all this we have to have a political culture which is suited to a great and open political party, not one geared for a narrow sect or an intolerant cult.
This week of course has not just been about us. It has been about the Tories too – about exposing the hold that right wing nationalism now has on that party and the shrinking influence of one nation Conservatism.
So there are big questions for both parties. And for us the question is deeper than the specific issues of anti Semitism and Brexit. It is about our political culture, our view of the world, our understanding of how to secure prosperity and security in the 21st century.
This is a matter of both culture and policy. It needs its own radical purpose. It needs ideas as well as organisation. In short, stay and fight has to mean something more than just stay. Our voters deserve better than that. The people who look to us to support them, to protect them and to give them a platform to make the most of their lives deserve better than that.
Are we going to become a faction, expert at vitriol and internal control but incapable of building the broad electoral coalition needed to govern? Or can we reach out beyond our core to give answers to the genuine problems faced by the country? That’s the task for any great political party and it has always been the task for us when we have been at our best.