The John McDonnell Column
Ed Miliband’s latest gaff in being photographed holding the World Cup copy of the despicable Sun has yet again called into question his leadership qualities. I didn’t vote for any of the candidates for Leader. Once the Parliamentary Labour Party had stitched it up so that I couldn’t get on the ballot paper again I just couldn’t find anyone on the ballot paper who had my politics and whom I had any confidence in.
I didn’t buy the argument of voting for the lesser of the evils because I didn’t have the confidence that if I gave my support to any of the candidates there wouldn’t come a time in the future when I would be ashamed of being in any way associated with them. So for one of the very few occasions in my life I couldn’t bring myself to vote. Of course whoever is the Leader of the Labour Party is critically important. But what is being proven consistently is that real leadership is coming not from leaders but from grassroots activists and campaigners. The people who are leading now are the ones who have the courage to stand out from the crowd even when few others are willing to, and stand up for a principle even when not many at first share that view.
Atos was defeated and forced to withdraw from its contract to administer the Work Capability Assessment because a small group of disabled people set up DPAC and Black Triangle and built a campaign to expose the brutality of the system.
The Labour Party has announced it will scrap the Bedroom Tax because across the country small numbers of people recruited others to create large scale protests against the grotesque unfairness of this tax and the harm it is causing so many families.
For years the need to tackle tax avoidance and evasion by rich corporations was argued for by the Tax Justice Network set up by Jon Christianson, Richard Murphy and Prem Sikka, but few listened. Then a few small gatherings of UK Uncut activists occupied the shops and offices of the main culprits and even George Osborne had to sit up and listen.
This is the type of political leadership we now have and it’s proving to be increasingly effective. Under this system of leadership, it is the leaders that are led. It is a reversal of the concept of leadership. Because the Labour leadership is either so fearfully timid or so hidebound by its outdated neo-liberalism, we have all got to become leaders now.
There is a magnificent example of grassroots leadership taking place in Hull. Hull is a community that has been hit hard over the years and has suffered from high levels of unemployment, poverty and deprivation. Since the Coalition came to power Hull has been targeted for cuts in council spending as funds are redistributed from deprived northern towns to leafy suburbs in the South. The criteria for the distribution of resources to local councils have been manipulated to ensure that the North and areas of London that dare to vote Labour are losing vast amounts of government grants to be given to the Tory and LibDem controlled shires. This is a covert and subtle form of class war by proxy.
Just like the campaigners of DPAC, or the Bedroom Tax protestors or UK Uncut, two Labour councillors in Hull decided that they had to make a stand for justice. Dean Kirk and Gill Kennett were elected as members of a Labour Group committed to opposing the cuts in services that the Coalition was trying to impose on the community of Hull. They won their seats like all the other Hull Labour councillors promising to fight the cuts.
As Dean said “I didn’t want to walk through the ward that I represent and be stopped by people telling us ‘You told us you were about fighting the cuts and now you’ve voted them through.’ ”
Both Dean and Gill are rooted in their communities. They know what impact the cuts are having on their town. For voting with their conscience against the cuts they were initially suspended from the Labour Group and, after forming their own political group on the council, they have now been expelled from the Labour Party. Dean and Gill are both leaders in the finest tradition of our movement. They are showing the Labour leadership exactly what leadership is and what needs to be done to restore the credibility of Labour in areas like Hull that are under attack from UKIP. The tragedy is that they are not allowed to be within the Labour Party.
We need Dean Kirk and Gill Kennett back in the Labour Party. They are exactly the grassroots leadership Labour needs if we are to be elected and more importantly if we are to be an effective socialist government.
John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington and Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and of the Labour Representation Committee