Falkirk and fetishes
There are some painfully stupid comment pieces this evening on the most recent development in the Falkirk saga, namely the reinstatement in the party of two party members following internal investigation. Those piece can broadly be put into groups:
a) I told you Unite had done nothing wrong, and now Ed Miliband must apologise t Unite/Tom Watson (Labour left and the non-Labour left);
b) I told you Ed Miliband was weak, and his backing down like this proves it (Blairite rump and the Tory-lite press);
There’s is, though, a common theme running through the two seemingly opposing viewpoints: what I’ll call the leadership fetish. That’s the strange idea that Ed Miliband was always omiscient and calculating about what had been going on in a local party unit 450 miles from London, and that he’s therefore either guilty of cynical manipulation as a means to “get” the unions, or of bottling his attempt to “get” them.
Of course, anyone with any iota of sense, not to mention understanding of the dynamics of small local parties (where personal and clan loyalties often take precedence over/fuse with political stance) will know that it won’t have been like that all. Instead, it’ll have been the usual mix of half-truths, back of the envelope strategic calculations, botched press release, currying favour for reasons quite separate to the matter in hand, and general incompetence and knackeredness.
But what really interests me, and actually perturbs me a little, is the idea implicit in both sides’ versions, that omniscient Ed should have taken a view on whether or not to order an investigation on the basis of his prior judgment of the likely outcome.
This comes across most clear in the weak Miliband version of events e.g. from Michael Crick:
Good timing by Labour on Falkirk – 5pm on Friday while pol journalists at G20. No doubt they hope we’ll ignore their extraordinary climbdown
In what way, I wondered as I read this, could an investigation followed by an exoneration, be considered a “climbdown”.
More importantly, are Crick and others like him therefore implying that the only way Miliband can prove he is a strong leader is for him to ensure that whenever there’s an internal investigation, the accused should be found guilty?
For myself, I’d leave a party like Crick’s ideal party like a shot, because the quid pro quo for accepting party the principle of party discipline is that the party, at least in principle, should it exert it fairly and without predetermination. That is, a party seeking to display strength by way of show trials Is not my kind of party.
As it is, I’m staying in Labour. HQ has handled Falkirk pretty poorly – that’s fairly clear – but I prefer a party that can make itself look a bit stupid from time to time than one that resorts to the methods of Stalin to enforce unity. But this little incident is a reminder that dictatorial methods are not simply delivered by dictators on a helpless public; an atomised public and its fetish-worshipping media can be just a little bit too inviting of those methods.