Labours of Letters: the Alex Hilton & Hopi Sen correspondence

At the risk of intruding on private grief, I feel I should draw the attention of Voice readers to an excoriating broadside against Ed Miliband’s leadership published on LabourList last night.

Entitled ‘Losing faith’, it is an open letter from Alex Hilton, twice a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of the Labour Home website, to ‘Dear Ed’. It weighs in at 1,457 words — here are just a few of them:

I no longer have any faith that the Labour Party will make a better society – or even wants to do so. This is a feeling that I have been trying to ignore for some time, but I think it is time to raise it with you. Firstly, the party’s attitude to democracy is pitiful. Internally, it’s a joke and the people and factions competing for power seem to despise party members. …

Your election as Leader also upset me because the party was so desperate to elect someone who would recant the sins of New Labour that they refused to consider whether you actually meant it or whether you would be any good at the job of leading. It shocked me that anyone believed your proclaimed principles when at no time in your career had you espoused them before standing for the leadership. It shocked me that party members, unions and MPs would back you regardless of the fact that you were so clearly not up to the job, have no vision for Britain and can’t communicate very well. That said, I hoped I would be proved wrong once you had won.

Your leadership has shown me how lacking in vision you and Ed Balls are in particular but your team is in general. … You won’t countenance policies to help the many if the few who will pay are Daily Mail reading swing voters in marginal seats.

This is the core of your problem. Because you believe in power over principle, you can’t tell the difference between vision and triangulation. You think you can keep the left just enough on side through pointless attacks on individual bankers’ bonuses or honours and that you can win the centre ground by attacking the unions and embracing austerity. This ridiculous lack of vision means that I have to wait to see what your latest quote is to know whether – this week – the party’s left wing or right. …

I have come to fear that you might actually win the next general election. Your absolute lack of a vision for Britain or any leadership qualities, and in particular your willingness to dissemble about your beliefs to win the Labour leadership makes me fear what you would do if you had any actual power. I don’t believe you know what you would do with power and I fear what you would do to keep it. It’s a formula that would lead to a government with a similar inertia to that of Gordon Brown. Except that you don’t have Gordon Brown’s talents. …

We’re an illiberal elitist capitalist party with no taste for democracy and a misplaced belief that the masses are better off in our care than that of other parties.


Alex’s disillusion doesn’t wholly surprise me. The last time we spoke was at the 2010 Lib Dem conference, the week before Ed’s election as Labour leader: I was quite happy with the prospect. Alex wasn’t.

His diagnosis of Labour’s malaise is, in one sense, right. The party lacks any real internal democracy; it lacks any commitment to real democratic reform; it is failing to communicate a realistic positive alternative to the Coalition. Yet to dump all this on Ed is a little harsh: he has positioned himself squarely in the comfort zone of his party. Even if there were greater internal democracy, even if members could shape policy (as happens in the Lib Dems), it’s hard to image Labour’s muddled message changing much.

The Labour party currently is paralysed by confusion. Many of the Coalition’s most controversial policies — on the NHS, schools, welfare — are extensions of the Labour governments’ policies. As a result, Labour is having to argue against itself, opposing for opposition’s sake.

And on the deficit — where the actual differences between what Labour would have done if re-elected in 2010 and what the Coalition is now actually doing are slim — Labour is hamstrung by being blamed by the electorate for the original mess: to oppose cuts appears as denial, to support them appears as betrayal.

Any leader would be struggling to square this circle, to de-toxify their inheritance.

A fellow Labour blogger, the excellent Hopi Sen, has set out a reply to Alex’s cri de coeur here, ‘Sticking’. It’s not an impassioned defence of Ed Miliband’s leadership — few Labour members appear to be able credibly to make that case — but it is a clarion call for party members to fight, fight and fight again from within:

There’s a better one. There’s the choice to fight, not for what you want Ed Miliband to be, but for what you want Labour to be.

I’ve made my choice, to do what I can, to help the leadership where I can agree, to critique as constructively as I can manage if I honestly cannot.

I may be wrong about this, I may be being cowardly. Perhaps I should trumpet my dissent and mute my approbation, but that is the choice I made, to fight a quieter battle.

“To fight a quieter battle” — I like that phrase. It’s one with which I suspect all of us who are members of political parties, and stuck with them through thick and thin, can identify. Because, ultimately, achievement in politics comes from making common cause, not alienating people.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Leaving aside the question of whether oppositions ever win an election if the government hasn’t already lost it, Tony Blair (along with Brown, Mandelson and Gould) managed to make Labour electable again by ditching most of Labour’s traditional ideology, probably something that was inevitable after the collapse of communism anyway. The Blair/Brown governments were not devoid of progress towards greater social justice, but the Labour Party’s values were overshadowed by Blair’s messianism and Brown’s hubris, their authoritarianism, and the ultimate failure of their managerialism. Thirteen years was long enough for that approach to government to run into the sand. Ed Miliband has inflicted upon himself the task of redefining what the Labour Party is for, but without Blair’s option of ditching its historical values so that it might be proclaimed ‘New’ because there are no values left that could be ditched. A return to ‘Old’ Labour values would appeal to those who kept faith with the party despite Blair, but would invoke an atavistic shudder amongst the electorate as a whole.

  • What is the point of Labour?

    It’s clients no longer vote.

    It disavows the socialism its intelligentsia espouse.

    It hamfistedly misappropriates Liberal ideas then fails to deliver.

    It micromanages to incompetence.

  • Tabman

    You forgot to add that it continued the Thatcherite reliance on the city, which led to the further erosion of manufacturing and it’s union base.

    The most striking (and hopeful) thing to come out of this recession is the way private companies have done everything possible to avoid lay offs, with worker/union support.

    By contrast, previously rational public sector unions have assumed the militant mantle, and aided and abetted by Balls, totally ignored economic realities.

  • paul barker 18th Feb '12 - 9:49pm

    Hiltons article, while very funny is also rather sad, his frustration comes across all too clearly. To me he sounds like someone struggling to change, iether to leave Labour or, more probably to abandon Politics altogether.
    The reason Ed isnt very good is the same reason Foot, Kinnock & Brown werent very good. They were all chosen for not being someone else, for not being divisive. Half of Labour want to go “Left” & the other half “Right”, The “Leader” has an impossible job.

  • If these people are unhappy in the Labour party they should take the advice that their leaders gave members of our party – they should leave it!

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Feb '12 - 11:21pm

    The trouble is, people like me have no -one else to vote for if we want to get this horrid government out.

    My daughter was one of those who could not vote in Sheffield Hallam because they turned up too late.

    She is now grateful for the fact, as she and her friends intended to vote LIb Dem.

  • @Jane Mansfield
    I’m sorry your daughter feels short-changed, but she might like to reflect on what would have happened if students in places like Sheffield Hallam hadn’t voted Lib Dem.

    The Tories would have won an overall (Parliamentary) ‘majority’, and that really would have been horrid: more defence spending, Trident renewed, Heathrow expanded, the environment wasted, human rights and democracy ignored, Europe and international law flouted, BBC politicised, even deeper cuts in welfare and education, a systematic programme of social and ethnic cleansing, unlimited tuition fees, more tax cuts for the rich and increased inequality, the NHS privatised.

    In other words, all the Sun/Express/Daily-Mail-pleasing policies Labour was planning to introduce.

    And you can be assured that this government will end at the next election whichever party you support, and you will almost certainly get back a good old minority-backed government, Labour or Tory it doesn’t matter, governing in the narrow party interest rather than in the public interest, and the rest of us can go hang.

    In the meantime, despite having inherited a particularly ‘horrid’ mess from its predecessor and the terrible hand dealt to the Lib Dems in particular (7 million votes giving us just 57 MPs against 11 million votes giving the Tories nearly 300 MPs), we have managed to make this government probably the most open and democratically accountable this country has ever had.

    As for Alex, good for him, he’s set out exactly the reasons I would never want to join Labour. Politics for the Lib Dems isn’t about who can offer voters the biggest bribe: it’s about achieving a genuinely free, fair and open society. Given his support for genuine democracy, I have never understood why he joined Labour in the first place.

  • Wow the top 3 stories on LDV all concern the Labour party.

    Good thing Lib Dems aren’t tribal.

    Good thing that Lib Dems are riding so high in the polls (Labour must be doing really badly)

    Good thing there isn’t a massive NHS reform bill going through against the wishes of most of the electorate supported by the Lib Dem party leadership but hardly anyone who voted for you.

    Every time I visit this site I regret my GE vote even more.

  • Richard Swales 19th Feb '12 - 2:49pm

    Alex Hilton used to be very tribalist, but he has to be admired for doing this at the Tory party conference.
    AH – “I’m a parliamentary candidate, can I have a photo?”
    DC – “Of course!”

    Well, DC forgot to ask which party he was a candidate for.

  • Oranjepan respect, dude.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Feb '12 - 10:49am

    The only party with a vision at the moment is the Conservative party. I am quite clear what they stand for and I don’t like it.

    When this government has finished destroying all that was good about Britain including our NHS, perhaps a vision will emerge from some quarter that will have resonance with those of us who are already suffering because of government policy.

    It is my experience that Britain is becoming a meaner, less pleasant country, with scapegoating used as a means to divert attention from the inequality that is woven into the fabric of our society. The poor are blamed for being poor. The disabled are suffering because they are perceived as scroungers, the elderly are bed- blockers and live in houses (family homes ) which those on high think are too big for them, and the Muslims and foreigners are always good for a dose of blame.

    Neither Labour or the Lib Dems offer me a vision of a better Britain that I can vote for a the next election. Whereas I have voted Lib Dem in the past, the Lib Dems are too compromised for me to do so again.

    If Ed Milliband stopped being scared of his own shadow ( or the Blairites), and started to articulate a strong vision of a better, fairer and more decent Britain, he would probably win the next election.

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