Back to the days of toxic factionalism in the Labour Party – will they ever learn?

I’ve always felt that the Labour Party would be much more effective if they could put their energies into fighting the problems the country faces rather than fighting each other. We all remember the schism between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair from Day 1 of their administration which overshadowed everything they did. Do you remember the time when they decided to show everyone what good friends they were in the run up to, I think, the 2005 election, sitting  together uncomfortably on the GMTV sofa.

Today the Sunday Times (£) shows us that toxic factionalism is still alive and well in the Party. Brown and Blair couldn’t even get on when things were going well for them. The two Eds, Miliband and Balls are apparently at daggers drawn and Balls may face demotion after recent blunders:

A shadow cabinet member said if Miliband becomes prime minister he should move the shadow chancellor and accused Balls of behaving with “contempt” towards colleagues and “undermining the leader’s agenda”.

Frontbenchers attacked Balls last night for committing Labour’s two worst gaffes of the election campaign so far.

They said his reputation as a “safe pair of hands” had been shattered when he failed to name a single Labour business backer and told voters they should get a receipt for work done cash in hand, both of which attracted ridicule.

Senior figures also expressed frustration and incredulity that Balls has dug his heels in over funding a cut in English tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year — three years after Miliband first backed the policy and with the announcement due at the end of this week.

Insiders say a meeting between Miliband and Balls last Wednesday, which many hoped would settle the policy, had “ended badly”.

Liberal and Conservative values are wildly different but we have been able to govern, for the most part, without too much personal rancour.  Each party has set out where it’s coming from in the issues of the day in a way that a single party government would not be able to do. The biggest rows have been actually within the Conservative Party. Nick Clegg and Michael Gove’s former Special Adviser Dominic Cummings have had some words on the pages of various newspaper but that’s about it. That’s not to suggest the government is perfect harmony but it is working professionally and generally in a grown up manner.

Labour do not appear to have learned how to do that yet, which is a worry. If Ed Miliband ends up as Prime Minister, he’s going to have his work cut out making his own team play nice, let alone keeping the country on track. Maybe that’s why he’s brought the Prescottinator back into play. That’s not to say that David Cameron is going to have it any easier. His right wing has been kept on a leash for five years and is desperate to assert itself.

You wouldn’t think so from reading comments threads on this site, but given the costs and consequences of  being in Coalition, this party has been remarkably together and able to function in a grown up manner. I’d as happily go for a pint with Jeremy Browne as I would Linda Jack despite having profound disagreements with both of them. Our ministerial team has largely kept its arguments behind the scenes. If we are going to have a chance of rebuilding the party across the country after the election, we will need to continue in that spirit of honest debate without personal poison.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Alisdair McGregor 22nd Feb '15 - 12:02pm

    Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

  • I think The Times is probably over-egging it. Much as I dislike Balls, his failure in a Newsnight interview was more that it gave Cameron a memorable winning line, and his reluctance to commit to a tuition fee reduction is that he knows it is impractical and would rather Labour took the hit now rather than in government. He probably calculates that even without a tuition fee reduction and whatever the strength of rational arguments, emotionally, the issue will be a net winner for Labour. Balls would probably have preferred vague platitudes in a manifesto and is upset that the issue has arisen at all. In that regard, it is right for Lib Dems to highlight the failure of Labour to propose a better alternative.

    That said I do think there are New Labour types who are keen to pin blame on Miliband in the event that Labour do fail to get a majority, but their criticisms tend to be coded and accompanied by the obligatory statement supportive of Miliband. I suspect there are also those in the Lib Dems who are giving themselves room to position themselves after the election. Possibly even your good, publicly loyal, self Caron?

  • You seem to be assuming that an article in the Murdoch press about the Labour party, published shortly before a general election, and consisting entirely of paraphrased opinions by unnamed “insiders”, is to be taken as Gospel fact.

    This seems an odd leap of faith given that just a few days ago you were complaining about how inaccurate another newspaper article (about the Liberal Democrats) was.

  • If you really want to know how divided Labour are on this You cant do better than read the comments over on Labour List, their equivalent of LDV. They have a different culture with personal attacks of the sort we only allow if they are on Nick Clegg.

  • Bill Chapman 22nd Feb '15 - 12:57pm

    I see the Labour Party as remarkably united. I am surprised that Caron Lindsay has taken this so-called story on board.

  • Well said Stuart.

    @Paul Barker – don’t assume the comments on Labour List are by Labour supporters. I’ve seen you comment oer there on several occasions.

    I know of plenty Labour members who won’t post on that site because of the invasion of trolls that Mark Ferguson refuses to deal with.

  • Philip Thomas 22nd Feb '15 - 1:57pm

    The more dis-united and ineffective the Labour party, the more I feel comfortable with the prospect of them being in government. Who would want a united, effective Labour party, implementing their true policies? Not me (the same could be said of the Tories except the Tories do show some signs of unity and effectiveness).
    But I agree that one story in a Murdoch newspaper is hardly conclusive.

  • Passing through 22nd Feb '15 - 2:25pm

    “Liberal and Conservative values are wildly different but we have been able to govern, for the most part, without too much personal rancour.”

    TBH I think that’s part of the problem right there as all that does is cement the perception that it is all “not a cigarette paper between us” Rose Garden chumminess in the Coalition.

    The Liberal Democrat voters and ex-voters would have preferred to see the party fighting its corner better rather than the perception, rightly or wrongly, that it was simply rubber-stamping Tory policies such as the Bedroom Tax and the NHS reforms either to avoid rocking the Coalition-boat or out of genuine but un-admitted ideological agreement.

  • Philip Thomas 22nd Feb '15 - 2:41pm

    Well, there’s more in common between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives than either of us have with, say, ISIS or the Chinese Communist Party. “Wildly different” seems too strong to me.

  • Tony Greaves 22nd Feb '15 - 2:41pm

    I really do not think we should pay attention to stories in the Sunday Times, that sleazy Murdoch gutter rag, tabloid in all but size.


  • Andrew Watson 22nd Feb '15 - 3:46pm

    Thanks to Tony Greaves for hitting the nail on the head

  • Paul [email protected]

    I think you will find that Labour List has a much less draconian moderation policy than this ‘liberal’ site and allows more in the way of personal attacks to be posted & left online, and has been pointed out above, not all LL posters are Labourites.
    [Hopefully my post will escape the blue pencil or my point will be made.]

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Feb '15 - 6:25pm

    I seem to remember Milliband insisting on enquiries into various forms of corruption, particularly in the Murdoch press, before which Murdoch looked like the most powerful man in British politics. I cannot imagine why one of his papers might make up a story against the Labour party just before an election. Wait…actually I think I can.

  • Goodness me! It is not just The Tmes, Anne McElvoy is at it as well in The Guardian: Either journalists are playing ‘follow the leader’ or disgruntled voices are active in the Labour Party.

    I think journalists would love it if Lib Dems insiders were similarly indiscreet, so Caron is right to make the point that the ” party has been remarkably together and able to function in a grown up manner”.

  • Martin 22nd Feb ’15 – 8:16pm ….Goodness me! It is not just The Tmes, Anne McElvoy is at it as well in The Guardian: Either journalists are playing ‘follow the leader’ or disgruntled voices are active in the Labour Party…..

    Goodness me it’s in the ‘Guardian’ so it must be true….So strange then that, a few days ago, Caron wrote about a ‘distortion’ of the LibDem’s position ( Guardian’s coverage of Liberal Democrat General Election campaign accentuates the negative)… Still, it’s always different when the media are reporting on LibDem problems…

  • “Goodness me! It is not just The Tmes, Anne McElvoy is at it as well in The Guardian”

    That’ll be the same Guardian Caron said was writing rubbish in an article a few days ago, when they wrote about disarray within the Lib Dems.

    I find it a useful rule of thumb to be sceptical of anything I read in any newspaper.

  • Given how little was said during the last government about the behind the scenes discord this is probably an under estimste. Not that any of this stuff actually matters the Labour party had huge personal dislikes with each other for the whole of the last government but they still “won” (I know it was through a distorted system) three elections on the trot.

    At the end of they day if attacking other parties the bad policies and unrealistic assumptions they have would be fertile territory (though they will have a ample ammunition against the libdems). Focusing on their personality issues won’t help the Lib Dems.

  • Chris Manners 23rd Feb '15 - 10:00pm

    Wow. Terrible. Rumour of politicians not getting on.

    cf your lot chucking out two leaders via Parliamentary plots.

  • Chris Manners 23rd Feb '15 - 10:03pm

    By the way, that seems to be two politicians disagreeing.

    Where are the “factions”?

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