Are we looking for a political hero in the labour party?
Churchill, JFK, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Thatcher – depending on your politics, they were all political heroes. We place them on a pedestal because their special qualities set them apart. Through far-sighted action, they persevered and succeeded (mostly) in the face of adversity and often ridicule.
Much has been made of the depth of public disillusionment with our current democratic system. After all, who would we say are our political heroes now? The well is almost dry here in Mauritius. This is evidenced by opinion polling showing trust in, and respect for, politicians at record lows across the four corners in Mauritius.
The Labour leadership contest has begun, at least the writing has been on the wall for some time now but not a pretty sight. The ‘Ramgoolam surge’ has been accompanied by mounting vitriol across the factional divides, who accuse each other variously of being two faces and phonies in need of a ‘heart transplant’. Whilst some level of rancor is to be expected in any political contest, there are worrying signs that the peculiarly progressive obsession with purity will doom Labour to the political wilderness.
There is an irony at the heart of many forms of progressivism that whilst outwardly championing diversity and difference, progressives seem to love nothing more than defining themselves against their enemies and competing for who can most aggressively shun those with views outside the ‘acceptable’. But two possible challenge can arise, the first is that it is in the end self-defeating as a way of combating extreme or unpleasant views amongst the labourites. Refusing to engage or dialogue with individuals or groups that hold ‘non-progressive’ views is a terrible way to challenge those ideas, as it tends only to strengthen conservative forces who can easily develop a narrative of persecution which feeds off ostracism.
The second problem is that it is politically suicidal, as Labour may be about to find out. In a democracy, politics is ultimately a game of building consensus around a particular project, whether that’s a policy, a person or a party. For whoever ends up as the next Labour leader, the task of building a big enough tent to pose a serious challenge in 2020 and onwards is already a daunting one. If the walls of that tent are set so high that anyone who has voted for the MSM or MMM are deemed hopelessly neoliberal or reactionary then it’s very difficult to imagine anyone winning enough ‘pure’ converts to build political momentum.
Whoever Labour’s new Leader is, if they can’t help the Party develop an authentic yet open attitude to dealing with difference then the forces of progressive purity could in the end be crippling. Because the future of the Labour Party may well depend not just on which person gets to the top or which policies get promoted, but also whether it becomes a Party of a genuinely broad-based movement for change. Despite not in power over that last five years some Labour executives still have some attitudes and have demonstrated an astounding level of arrogance. Their sense of justice, moral obligations are fast vanishing. Gossipers, amateurisms, paranoias and superman mentality with psychiatric disorder are probably what’s left.
But heroes are more than just about reputation and credibility. In the hero’s journey, redemption is a central part of the story. Heroes overcome their personal flaws by acting decisively and strategically to create a better world. But this means having the scope and time to think coherently and deeply about this future world. It means heroes having at their disposal the economic and social policy levers that they can deftly shift to deliver on their vision. It means taking control of the future by leading the rest of us bravely into a world where we otherwise would not dare to venture.
Can the Labour Party ever win again?
Labour is hardly a mass party today. To get their house in order the Party need to accommodate some new intelligent executives with their profile fully checked, who can think outside the box and perhaps a ‘New Labour Party’ should emerge with their leader as Arvin Boolell or Yatin Varma to name a few. It is high time to have a sound democratic organizational structure, to set up several committees for policy forum/writers, policy makers, preparation and coordination of public speech instead of speaking to the public with a tongue that wags and brags more than necessary, set up workshop on leadership traits, ethics, governance and management, public speaking and to update the Party’s constitution. Thus, only then the Labour Party can win an election.
Navin Ramgoolam will for sure be recognized for his contribution to the Party and the country but he is no more the messiah, manna, or the saviour of all time, but would the Party be better off without him? You balance the equation savvy.