“It is a very difficult country to move, Mr. Hynband, a very difficult country indeed, and one in which there is more disappointment to be looked for than success.”
the last General Election has had at least one beneficial result: it has shocked many more people into a recognition of the fact that the Labour Party is a sick party. And it has also helped many more people within it to realise that the sickness is not a surface ailment, a temporary indisposition, but a deep organic disorder, of which repeated electoral defeats are not the cause but the symptom. What this means is that the sickness would have been as serious if Labour had won the last election. Victory at the polls, given Labour’s recent history, policies and leadership, would only have delayed the crisis, for a while, and given the Labour Party an altogether deceptive appearance of health. This is why a proper diagnosis must take electoral defeat into account, but only as one element of Labour’s condition.
One common diagnosis is that which identifies Labour’s sickness as that of ambiguity. This, it is worth remembering, is a very old story. “The Labour Party”, R. H. Tawney was writing in 1932, “is hesitant in action, because divided in mind. It does not achieve what it could because it does not know what it wants.” Much the same has been said periodically about the Labour Party from the earliest days of its existence, and it could easily be argued that it fits the present situation equally well.
In one sense, it certainly does. But in another, and no less important sense, such a diagnosis misses some important changes which have occurred in the Labour Party in recent years. For, if it is true that the Labour Party itself suffers from ambiguity, its leadership, and particularly its Leader, do not. At the risk of seeming to trivialise great issues, it is therefore with the leadership that one must begin.