I don’t think it is a secret that I am a Labour Party member. You have a simple choice as a public sector leader: you can worry that you risk your employer and your community discriminating against you as a result of your political affiliation, or you can decide that those risks are outweighed by other factors. So my political affiliations have never been hidden from anyone. I don’t think the DfE have penalised my organisation as a result of my political affiliations and I don’t believe they ever would.
I’ve been a Labour Party member since 1977 aged 15. That’s a long time. At one time in the mid 1990s I contemplated looking to stand in a marginal constituency, but then I got a Deputy Headship and began to have a lot less time for political work. By the time we won the 1997 election I was expecting my first baby and knew what I wanted was to be a Headteacher, not a politician. I have actively worked (ranging from practically full-time to merely one leaflet round in 2015) on 9 general election campaigns and, although I haven’t been an active member since 2005, I have sat through 100s of Party meetings. I have been a delegate at Labour Party conference twice: 1993 (John Smith’s OMOV debate) and 2008, and I chaired a constituency for two years in the run-up to the 1997 election.
I love the Labour Party and feel part of the tribe but it infuriates me. The truth is the Labour Party finds it impossible to celebrate its past, enjoy the emotional pull of its achievements while simultaneously living with modern realities. In some ways the Labour Party reminds me of something I said when I was 12 years-old “I wish women still didn’t have the vote so I could go and be a suffragette.” That is a funny thing for a 12-year-old discovering politics to say, but it is not acceptable for a modern political party to want to base manifestos and campaigns on issues which are no longer the battleground just because they feel secure on that territory.
The NHS is one of our proudest achievements and we know that everyone supports the NHS. Is there anyone in the country who believes the Tories want to “get rid of our NHS”? I can answer that question for the Labour Party – there isn’t. There is no hatred for “socialised medicine” within the Tory Party. Now I am no expert on the NHS at all, but I do know it is a huge organisation to manage (some might say impossible) and that its structures are complex and one really wouldn’t start from here if designing it now. What the public are interested in is simple: they want the NHS to be publicly funded, free at the point of delivery and to be seen and treated in a timely, safe and efficient manner with the latest research and developments available to practitioners. What the public do not care about is how all that is achieved and they don’t understand the debate about how the NHS works. “Do you want your local hospital services to be provided by private companies?” The answer to this from everyone (except ideologues living in the past) is “If it can be done free at the point of delivery and I will seen and treated in a timely, safe and efficient manner with the latest research and developments available to my doctors, I don’t care how you provide it.”
I do understand education, I’d go so far as to say I am a bit of an expert! In the Labour Party currently there are still people (loads of them actually) who still want to have arguments about who should run schools. Providing free education for everyone and using local authorities as the mechanism for delivery was a great thing in the last century but just can’t be relied on to provide every child with a good school in the 21st century. What is important is the quality of education provided not whether a school is an academy or an LA school. While the Labour Party waste time not upsetting members hung up on protecting delivery methods of the last century, they have missed the important arguments about curriculum, accountability and standards. There are three serious problems at the moment: funding; teacher recruitment, and the credibility of accountability systems. Great heads who know about this stuff (some of whom are party members) are not properly used as a resource. Internal arguments of the last century are allowed to rage, advice is taken from the unions, promises that cannot be kept (qualified teacher in every classroom) are made and the way is left open for the Tories to cause serious damage to some of the most vulnerable children and some of the best schools. Whenever I have challenged about this I get told that we cannot engage in curriculum, standards and accountability debates without being criticised for being on an anti-standards agenda. This shows that party leadership doesn’t actually even understand the issues. Well, why would they – if they are still talking about things that have either ceased to matter or which are on the agenda of the unions only, how can they be engaging in the conversations with those that matter? And these matters are complex – grown-up conversations for grown-up people. The field is left open for the Tories whose understanding is limited to seizing on what appear to be easy answers and solutions and replicating what they see as a traditional education which takes children out of poverty. I am ashamed of the Labour Party allowing the Tories to look as if they are the aspirational ones for working class children; I am ashamed of the Labour Party for not engaging in proper debate of complex issues out of fear at being anti-standards, when they have at their fingertips some of the most successful heads at raising standards, and I am ashamed of the Labour Party for the lack of integrity and bravery.
It comes down to this really: if the Labour Party wants to take on capitalism, fight on a left-wing platform, and fight on yesterday’s agenda then it will never have power. If the Labour Party wants to make sure that the poor and vulnerable get a good deal, that people have employment rights and that all have respect and dignity, then it needs to be proud of its past, but move on and be prepared work with the rich and powerful. The Labour Party has to grow up and realise that the leader who managed to massively improve the public services and introduce a minimum wage was the one who also won three elections in a row. If that took being friendly with people whose views we despise what is the problem? I am nice and polite to people whose views I despise in order to get the best deal for my students – it’s called behaving responsibly; it’s called understanding how to get power and how to exercise it so that you can a) do good and b) maintain power.
Most of all I am ashamed of me and people like me in the Labour Party. The private DMs and conversations we have been having about how dreadful the leadership is – we knew as soon as Ed was elected leader it was a monumental disaster (which followed the monumental disaster of the coronation of Gordon Brown). I have been saying privately that Cameron would win an overall majority for years – I only changed my mind in the last few days as a result of the polls (irony!). We should have fought for our party. I’m not sure why we didn’t – too busy doing our everyday jobs perhaps? Frightened we’d get blamed when the inevitable happened? Well both of those are probably true.
The Labour Party is in deep trouble. I know this because I haven’t yet been in a room with Labour Party members who are prepared to collectively agree that we need to learn the lessons of the Blair victories, that we need to be serious about power, that we need to ditch the old sacred cows (the arguments we won and those we lost), and that we need to be prepared to find 21st century solutions and work with those who know about stuff and who can exercise money, power and knowledge to our benefit. I have those conversations in secret with individual members I respect – but they aren’t the conversations any of us are having yet in larger groups. When colleagues looked at me yesterday and said “Who?” I felt the closest to despair I have felt for a long time. And I will say this now, publicly – unless any leadership candidate is prepared to fight on a platform like this I will not support them and I will not keep quiet again either.