I thought about writing this last night. I didn’t, because it’s generally a good rule that when you want to write something really angry, you should wait twenty four hours and see if you’re still just as angry then. Also, I didn’t want to leave myself open to accusations of hypocrisy by effectively acting in the same way as you have. However insignificant I am in this Party of ours (and believe me, that’s insignificant), I do not bear my responsibility towards it lightly. I did not want to publish this before polls closed.
We have never met. I am a party member of ten years standing, hardly active enough to be called an ‘activist’. I’ve delivered a few leaflets, served in a few branch positions, occasionally written vaguely supportive things on this blog. I’m extremely happy that for the past six years of my professional life I have worked alongside Labour politicians from every wing of the Party, all genuinely committed to helping the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised. There are real and deep ideological debates within our Party and we debate those forcefully, but we are united in the knowledge of a common aim and a common enemy. We do not, as a rule, engage in public character assassination. However, comrade, by your despicable actions yesterday, you have – in the eyes of many members – forfeited that protection.
Those of us who sat through hustings meetings in the last deputy leadership contest (no fewer than three in my case – I know I’m sad, but I enjoy elections) will have had the pleasure of hearing you harangue the audience, and indeed several of the other candidates, on the duty of loyalty that we owe to the party and its leadership. This, indeed, was very much your USP. I did not and do not share your hardline views on cracking down on ‘dissent’ within the Party. Slavish loyalty to the Party leadership is destructive and dangerous. But in the position you held until yesterday, there was one very distinct duty of loyalty that you held.
Is it to the leader? Not especially. If you feel it necessary to precipitate Gordon Brown’s resignation, then fine. His future may be one of the few things on which we agree.
Is it to the activists? Again, not especially. I don’t think those of us who join the Party voluntarily or campaign voluntarily can really demand much from ministers. We want out vote, and we want our say in policy matters, but we all came into this with our eyes open.
No, the duty of loyalty you owed was to those councillors, MEPs and candidates who today, in the face of the most difficult circumstances the Labour Party has faced for decades, have gone out to face the electorate. In your actions yesterday, Hazel, you stabbed all of them in the back. Are you proud that your final action as Secretary of State for Local Government was to destroy any lingering chance that high-performing Labour run county councils might somehow escape the scythe? Your ministerial experience will have taught you what happens when the Tories take control in local authorities: they slash and burn, they tear up networks of social support, they engage in ideological witch hunts through the local third sector, they reject investment and generally refocus councils on helping the few not the many. How many thousands of people have your actions yesterday condemned to this sort of treatment?
You will argue that the die was already cast, the damage done, Labour heading for a rout. To a degree, you would have a case. But in council elections and closed list European ballots, every vote counts. Just a handful of voters switching as a result of this morning’s newspaper headlines about division and dissent could make the difference between Labour clinging on and defeat. Far more importantly, a few Labour voters, disappointed and disillusioned by your actions who sit on their hands today could be the tipping point that means your beloved Salford is represented in Europe by racist lout and Holocaust-denier Nick Griffin. A happy prospect, is it not?
I do not care what personal injury you suffered at the hands of the Prime Minister. It matters not to me who briefed what about who. Maybe your position had indeed become untenable – I will give you the benefit of the doubt. But there can be little doubt that you could have stuck it for a further twenty four hours. Your decision to resign when you did was calculated to damage the Prime Minister. Ironically, you may instead have strengthened him, whilst damaging the Party and its candidates. This is unforgivable self-indulgence.
You may have guessed that I did not vote for you in the deputy leadership contest, although my partner did buy one of your “Nuts about Hazel” t-shirts for a friend who shares your first name. I am very glad that the Party proved itself to be free enough of nuts to not elect you – the damage you could have inflicted yesterday as deputy leader would have been far greater. And therein lies the silver lining to all this. I am entirely sure that these actions, combined with those over your tax bill, will mean that should you ever run for a position of leadership ever again, you will be subject to a still more inglorious defeat than that inflicted upon you two years ago. We do not demand an excess of loyalty to our leaders: they are human and therefore fallible. But we do expect loyalty to those our Party seeks to serve. Yesterday, comrade, you breached that duty of loyalty.
Yours, in pretty much equal measures of sorrow and anger,