What I have learned about the Labour Party

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.

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About rosmcm1962

30 years in teaching. Experienced Headteacher, Principal, Executive Principal, CEO of Academy Trust and NLE. Now working independently in the sector.
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14 Responses to What I have learned about the Labour Party

  1. msalliance says:

    I am an ex-Labour voter, turned off by exactly the things you have described here.

  2. Jon Hegerty says:

    That is what is wrong with the Labour Party, why I left in 1997, and why it remains unelectable. It was formed to represent organised labour – as the parliamentary wing of the trade union movement. By forgetting that it has lost it’s purpose. It will go the way of Pasok and the Socialist Party in Spain – an irrelevance. It failed for five years to present an alternative to austerity and privatisation. There is no evidence it can develop a proper left alternative. By failing to oppose NHS privatisation and school academisation you are supporting the destruction of terms and conditions, massive teacher workload, market principles rather than child centred learning, over-testing, huge salaries for senior managers and zero-hours contracts for the rest, and more. The world is divided between those who own the wealth (represented by the Tories) and those who do the work (represented by the trade unions) – pick a side…

    • rosmcm1962 says:

      At least you have done the decent thing and left the Labour Party. I understand your views but I don’t agree and it is by attempting to play to them that Labour makes itself unelectable. A ‘proper socialist’ party will be unelectable and I am interested in power in order to do good, not in a glorious life in opposition which allows the vulnerable to suffer. Your description about academisation is just simply wrong. I can see no positive relationship between the trade union arguments around terms and conditions and a better child-centred education. I respect you leaving the party and I’d be happy to have a pint with you. Ros.

      • Jon Hegerty says:

        I’m interested by your dislike/distrust of the trade union. The unions founded the Labour Party (the clue is in the name!) but the take-over by social democrat Blairites in the late 90s destroyed any working class grounding and replaced it with a corporate elite. I understood how the right in the party felt when Militant were having (limited) success – my party was stolen by right-wing entry-ism. The Labour Party will need to rediscover it’s links to organised labour and grassroots campaigning linking workplace agitation to a clear narrative. Otherwise it will become a social democratic dead end.

      • rosmcm1962 says:

        Well I like winning elections and being able to improve things. There are many pure socialist parties who adhere to your analysis. I want the Labour Party to win elections and do good.

      • jon hegerty says:

        I like winning…not just elections but real victories. In the workplace, on the picket line, winning with people. Winning elections is great but what matters is what you do once you’re in power. Did Blair create an irreversible transfer of wealth and power in favour of working people? No. Did Blair create conditions of real industrial and political democracy in favour of working people? No. Did Blair defend the public services needed by working people from predatory capital and the failed policies of the market? No. So winning enabled the labour movement so make things a bit less bad for some of the people for some of the time. Big whoop…

        What you describe lacks any analysis of the problem and the causes and any viable or coherent vision other than “vote for us and we’ll manage capitalism so things are a little bit better for you people but the rich will still be rich”. Great…

    • Interesting that you say this is “why I left in 1997, and why it remains unelectable” as if Labour has been unelected throughout that entire period. It sounds to me as though whatever’s electable is to you unacceptable.

  3. kitandrew says:

    Reblogged this on KitAndrew and commented:
    Ros hits the high notes…Not a fluffed note and it makes me wonder…what if? Ros? I know you love your job, but if you went into politics I’d follow you.

  4. Brian says:

    I think maybe you look at the Blair years through Rose tinted spectacles. He ran the country during a period of growth fuelled by astonishing increases in debt which ended in when the global economy crashed and many people, especially poor people, became a lot poorer while those rish and powerful types got a good deal richer. Including Blair himself.

    It is unfortunate that the labour party no longer represents the working class, especially for the working class.

  5. Simon says:

    Not a labour supporter, but would seriously consider if this was adopted. it should definitely be sent to the party leadership.

  6. Cole says:

    Schools being provided by a range of unplanned, disorganised suppliers is a waste of time. LAs maybe aren’t perfect, academies and free schools are to controlled/random. Education is too important to be left to the market.

  7. Pingback: ORRsome blogposts May 2015 | high heels and high notes

  8. Pingback: School Improvement vs Educational Politics | headguruteacher

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