Leadership election timetable, and Julian Priestley’s view

The timetable for the leadership election has been announced:

  • 24 May: PLP nominations open
  • 9 June: PLP nominations close
  • 10 June: Supporting nominations open
  • 26 July: Close of nominations (hustings will take place from 10 June to 26 July)
  • 16 August to 22 September: Ballot of all members
  • 8 September: ‘Freeze date’ for new members to participate
  • 25 September: Result announced, just before conference

Here is Julian Priestley’s take on the leadership election:

EUROPE TOO MUST BE PART OF LABOUR’S GREAT DEBATE

The more leisurely timetable for electing Labour’s new leader affords the opportunity for a full debate about the party’s future orientation. A few years ago to have suggested that Europe be part of the discussion would have been to invite a reopening of old schisms. But the party has moved on- its rather tepidly pro-European 2010 manifesto provoked no internal schism.

But Labour must now come to terms with the fact that its ideological aims can no longer be fully achieved by victory in national elections. They must be pursued nationally, regionally, locally and in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is no longer meaningful to talk about industrial policy, redistributive and fiscal policies, ethical foreign, defence and development objectives, and the greening of the economy in a purely national context. And in the next five years events will dictate that the European institutions will have to come to terms with economic governance, common fiscal policies and new mechanisms and institutions to shore up the European economy and its currency. Although outside the euro, for the foreseeable future, the UK these will have to come to terms with profound effects on our economic organisation and policies of these developments.

In other words Labour needs a new European policy.

We could start by rebuilding relations with other socialist and progressive forces in Europe. Cooperation has suffered from a degree of arrogance at the heart of New Labour in its years of pomp. Too often our natural allies were subjected to strictures from Labour about the superiority of Anglo-Saxon buccaneer capitalism as a social and economic model compared to Rhineland social market economics. Markets were to be worshipped, risk-takers revered. Enlargement was an aim in itself, to be pursued almost without condition or indeed frontiers. A constitutional debate for Europe was a largely irrelevant whim to be humoured when necessary, to be diluted where possible, and to be shut down as soon as practicable. Relations with Washington were all that really matters. And where European initiatives had to be launched, Berlusconi or Aznar were the co-authors of choice. This triangulation in Europe perplexed then irritated our partners.

All Europe’s socialist and social democratic parties face the same historical problems as Labour- a declining base, globalisation, lack of clear identity, the retention of core values in a totally different environment. Labour should now participate in a discussion about values and programmes with the other parties of the Left. The forum for such discussions exists- the Party of European Socialists, but its scope for action has been heavily constrained by the fear of national parties of losing their ‘sovereignty’. The consequence is that this ‘Party’ remains largely an empty shell rather than an instrument for change in Europe, with insipid lowest-common denominator policies, largely invisible in campaigns, even those for the European Parliament.

Labour should seek to bring some life to the European Socialist movement, to develop coherent social democratic policies in the new period of upheaval Europe faces, to campaign together on Europe-wide issues, and to involve Labour Party members in the work of a European Party to which they belong indirectly in present in name only.

Successive Labour Party leaders have preferred on the whole to ignore Europe in their public discourse, and have failed to provide a convincing European narrative. This discretion has won no advantage for the Party, and has only contributed to public alienation from the European project. The new leader should have the audacity to set Labour’s social democratic renewal in a European framework.

Julian Priestley
Waterloo, 19 May 2010

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