The title of this post comes from a Bruce Cockburn song called Give it Away from the album Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu. I thought of it when listening to Ian Lavery, the party chairman, on the radio yesterday as the Labour Party Annual Conference was getting under way. Truly, the Labour Party is now a mixture of saints and fools, and often, foolish saints, Lavery and Corbyn the most foolish. I love the Labour Party, and have all my life. Apart from occasional forays to the Greens and Plaid Cymru, parties whose policies were less neo-liberal and more social democratic than the Blair government, as they often were in the 1990s and early 2000s, I have always voted for them. Until now, when they have begun to make serious efforts to render themselves unelectable. The anti-semitism issue, denied still by huge swathes of the party, is a blight on a social democratic party many of whose policies are a lot more sensible and worthy of attention than the leadership of the party that espouses them. It is becoming a graceless organisation, saying it is a broad church but feeling more like a dangerous cult in its level of self-delusion. Lavery even said yesterday that he “didn’t care about YouGov polls.” Foolishness in the extreme: see how far that gets him. I have some sympathy, by the way, for the left in the party. The desire to broaden democracy in the party has always been its strength, when it has had an effective leader. As much as I warm to Jeremy Corbyn, he is not effective at leading his own party, and his failure even to say how he would vote in a second referendum (staying neutral on a national policy issue that is the most important constitutional issue for the last 50 years is not wisdom, political savvy or honesty: it is abdication of leadership and cowardice).
It is more than obvious to a swathe of highly-informed commentators that any decent social democratic party, broadly based, honest about its failings, moderate about its hopes and intent, and committed to the common good, would likely be in power by now, such is the paucity of wisdom in the ruling cabal. The fact that we have still got the current bunch in power, where fools outnumber saints by a considerable margin, and who are likely to hold on to that power, is the greatest shame that the Labour Party have to endure. Only the Labour Party can be that social democratic party. Nobody else has the support, skill, or record to match it.
Political parties have to earn our vote, either with honest well meaning intent and good people, or with policy changes that intend to remove the worst of the previous administration. At the moment, I cannot see a political party that has either.
A while ago, after hearing Maurice Glasman at an event sponsored by Together for the Common Good, I wrote a post called Grace for the resurrection of the democratic nation – a quote from Glasman himself. It was a comment about the role of the church in our national life, and indicated precisely why the church should be fully involved in politics. At the moment, we only have graceless parties, defined more by what they are against than what they are for, and narrowing the “acceptability” base of who can truly be said to be representative of them. This is as true for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens (where does a Lib Dem or Green member who is a convinced Leave voter go?) as it is for Labour and the Conservatives. The Brexit party, naturally, is founded more on Farage-worship than a political program, and has space only for worshippers.
It has to be up to the church to speak grace into the political world at the moment and to insist, as Christian MPs on both sides are saying, that there has to be more to be found and gained in dialogue than in the current obsession with ideological purity.
A postscript to the above…a day later.
John Crace commented this evening, after watching the debacle of the Brexit decision at the Labour party conference, that there were no more wise people left in the Brexit debate, so the political situation was making fools out of fools. If this is even half true, then it is the church, as repository of God’s wisdom, who might be forced to speak.