M'lord Mandelson should be being praised by the Labour Party for his vainglorious revelations, not vilified. I should confess that I have no intention of paying for the Times Online to read extracts from his soon to be published memoirs, entitled 'The Third Man, and so vividly illustrated by Steve Bell's cartoon in today's Guardian, so I will have to be careful about what I say. But the more we know about the recollections of the key characters in the New Labour drama, the more likely the centre-left is going to appreciate what has to be done to ensure a return to winning ways.
The idea of choosing a Leader and abandoning any form of accountability should be stone dead after 13 years of New Labour, otherwise the Labour Party is in serious trouble. David and Ed Miliband favour the creation of a post of party chair elected by the whole membership. It is too eary to say whether that is an appropriate response, as it could so easily obscure the need for reflection. The Party Chair idea, I fear, has more in common with the Westminster habit of legislating in haste. If we haven't learned that lesson either, we will be in further trouble. We should avoid knee-jerk reactions to the plight we find ourselves in.
So is the Labour Party currently empowered to hold its Leaders to account? Indeed, it is. But the NEC, in its wisdom, put one means of doing so on ice back in 1997. Individual members and affiliates in the trade unions were all denied the means of registering a protest about the Leadership. As a result members left in droves. On 18 May 2010, the NEC had an opportunity to make it possible for all members to have a say in the Leadership of the Party. It messed up the timetable by setting a ridiculously short deadline for PLP nominations, and refused to offer members maximum choice by changing the threshold for PLP nominations. Worse, the majority of members of the 32-member body (one less than usual until a new Leader is elected) voted against issuing nomination papers for the Deputy Leadership.
What have nomination papers got to do with accountability? They encapsulate the rights of a member to vote in favour of an incumbent by proposing her/his nomination, or, if I am dissatisfied with that person, propose an alternative. This needs to put centre stage. And it could be at any time by any of the leadership candidates or the NEC itself.
A Damascene-conversion to the merits of the annual issue of Leader/Deputy Leader nomination papers would further animate the debate about the future of government, not just of the Party, but the country. The ConDem coalition is led by two white forty-something men who both think that they know better than their respective parties what is best for the country. Sounds and feels very familiar to anyone who has endured 13-years of New Labour. The ConDems are planning to bed in for five years.
To break the mould I suggested here on this blog that Deputy Leader Harriet Harman should lead the way. She declined. Worse, given her legal training and qualifications, she allowed the General Secretary to rely on some 'legal advice' unseen by NEC members to justify not issuing the nomination papers for her position.
The NEC has a chance next week to shed it role as the Praetorian Guard for the Leadership, and (re-)adopt the mantle of stewardship for the Labour Party on behalf of all stakeholders between Conferences. That really could bury the TB/GBs sooner rather than later. More importantly, it would show the country that Labour now understands the importance of holding its Leaders to account annually to stop power corrupting them, which led directly to catastrophes like Iraq, and the privatisation of public services.
But who is going to have a quiet word in Harriet's ear?