Charles Kennedy: what Labour could learn

June 3, 2015 at 9:02 pm (good people, iraq war, labour party, Lib Dems, mental health, reformism, RIP, tragedy, war)

By Alan Theasby

RIP Charles Kennedy 1959-2015

I’m not a fan, but there is a lot Labour could learn from him.

When he took the boring “centre right” LibDems by the scruff of the neck and carved out a position as an independent “radical” party to the left of New Labour (at least to appearances), the result was a massive electoral swing in 2005, and LibDems were still seen by many as “left of Labour” in 2010 (how many thousands left in disgust at their role in the Coalition?)

When the LibDems presented radical, left politics – against the Iraq War, for EMA, against tuition fees, even anti-cuts to some extent – they got lots of support.

In Scotland the SNP is posing “left” and taking advantage of Scottish Labour’s abysmal policies: cuts, attacks on Unite union, and in bed with the Tories in “Better Together” etc. No wonder they swept the board, it’s a total indictment of Blairism and the likes of Jim Murphy!

In England the Greens are taking up the mantle that the LibDems had until 2010; this has not yet translated into votes but that’s a serious posibility if Labour contimues on its current “middle of the road/neither owt nor nowt” course or moves even further rightwards.

Lots of activists & “lefties” I know have  massive illusions in the SNP & Greens, and write off the Labour Party as dead. I disagree on both counts: the SNP & Greens can pose as “left” under the Tories and with a Labour Party looking to “middle England”/ the “middle classes” (etc), but I have no illusions in them; and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).

So what do others think? Given that there is not even a vaguely left candidate for Leader, will Labour become a pathetic rump – or can it recover? Meanwhile, it’s come to something, hasn’t it, when the record of a former SDP’er and leader of the Lib Dems, is much braver and more left-wing than any candidate for leader of the Labour Party?

JD adds: and, at a human level, a thought from Gaby Hinsliff in today’s Graun:

All those people getting cheap laughs on social media out of Kennedy’s last erratic performance on the BBC’s Question Time, or rejoicing in his defeat on election night, were just a visible example of a culture which not only stigmatises people with mental health problems but treats public figures – politicians or otherwise – as if they were somehow less than human. If Charles Kennedy’s death leads one or two to pause before unleashing mob scorn or fury, if it prompts an ounce more compassion for people whose lives might well be more complicated than they look – well, a fine liberal legacy that would be.

10 Comments

  1. februarycallendar said,

    Absolutely right about the whole culture of dehumanisation.

    To see his own party complicit in something he must have despised – the polarisation and division of Britain to the point where it becomes impossible for a party led by a genuinely Left-leaning Scot to win multiple seats in south-west England, as was actually possible only a decade ago – must have hurt him even more than the rest of us.

    • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

      You are a bleeding heart. The people vote and Charles would have accepted that considering they voted for him on many occasions in the past. It is not a lifetime job and should never be. In the end his constituents shit on him inspite of their admiration for him and voted in the worst sort, a petty nationalist saltire waver.
      However politics moves on and only his real friends and family will remember him.

      • februarycallendar said,

        Perfectly happy to be a bleeding heart in the context of what is happening to England, partially as a result of the Lib Dems’ Faustian pact.

        When the Lib Dems were strong, they were able to breach ancient feudal divides within these islands as Labour probably never really could. It is a tragedy that they chose, even under the pressure they were under to create a de facto majority government, to take that away from us.

  2. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    England has voted Tory and Scotland has voted conservative. So capitalism moves on unabated. The idea of Socilalism is dead and gone on the Islands. Charles was not a radical but a man who just wanted fairness. He was probanly a labour man at heart but knew he would never be elected in the conservative highlands with that ticket.

    • februarycallendar said,

      Maybe a Labour man at heart, but you didn’t have to be massively right-wing to think the SDP were a better option when he was first elected in 1983 … the real problem there was FPTP of course.

      I’m not sure I’m a radical in the pure sense … maybe I have a radicalism driven by conservatism and vice versa. Which is probably precisely why those who have absorbed admass without really thinking about the implications of their actions didn’t vote Labour. They were neither radical enough *nor* conservative enough.

      There’s something depressing about seeing the first three sentences of your post written in such indifferent, “heigh-ho, life goes on” tones. Personally, I cannot imagine writing them in anything other than a tone of quiet anger and rage, frustration, enervation, collapse.

      • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

        You have to say it is as it is, why not. It is not indifferent it is fact. Charlie was a decent bloke that is fact but he would never have made a good prime minister as that involves doing nasty things.

  3. John R said,

    I’m don’t know what Gaby Hinsliff is refering to when she criticises people for “rejoicing” at Charles Kennedy’s defeat at the General Election. If I was an SNP supporter (I’m not) I’ve have been rejoicing. That’s politics.

    There’s a difference between that and getting a cheap, nasty laugh at his expense after his appearance on Question Time.

  4. RDS said,

    … and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).

    The difference between Labour and PASOK isn’t deep/shallow roots but the scale and intensity of the economic crises and the role each party played in said crises. The only reason SYRIZA jumped from ~4% of the vote to becoming a governing party in the space of a few years is because PASOK literally destroyed their country by inflicting devastating attacks on their own political and social base. Nothing of the sort occurred during the same time frame in Britain — Labour was the main opposition party, austerity and cuts were administered by a right-center coalition of Tories and LibDems, and the economic crises was not nearly as bad or intense to begin with. Writers (like Lenin’s Tomb) who dwell on “the PASOKification of Labour” are engaging in wishful thinking; what they’re wishing for is “the SYRIZAification” of the British left and as you correctly point out, nothing of the sort is in the offing. Perhaps if the Socialist Workers Party hadn’t suddenly pulled the plug on the Socialist Alliance to jam RESPECT down the left’s throat, if the Scottish Socialist Party Scottish Socialist Party hadn’t wrapped itself in knots around Tommy Sheridan’s over-eager pecker, and if George Galloway hadn’t destroyed first RESPECT and then himself things would be different on that front. But they’re not and there’s no indication that projects like Left Unity are going to even enjoy the extremely modest success of the aforementioned failures.

    Given all of the above, you’re very right that Labour is still very far from exhausting itself whether we like it or not.

    • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

      The Labour and Trade Union movement changed the concience of many but did not and could never get rid of people aspiring to personal greed. You can legislate for many things as Labour did but it will be forgotten as we seen at the last election.

  5. Steven Johnston said,

    The Labour party went to war in Iraq…then won the next election.
    The LibDems and tories were opposed to it and lost it.
    What is there to learn here?

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