The recent resignation of Labour MP Alan Simpson from Parliament, is a loss to British politics. The Labour party now has even fewer politicians with the conviction to stand up for its principles. When I read the reasons Alan Simpson gave for his resignation, I was reminded of some of the things Tony Benn said when he retired from Parliament in 2001. There is a similarity in their statements and the reasons given are a damning indictment of what Parliamentary politics has become under Nu Labour.
Tony Benn on his retirement from Parliament:
It is difficult to get this [the issues Benn had pledged to fight for that brought him into conflict with his party] across inside parliament at the moment because politics is reported in such a shallow way… The issues that face us are difficult, challenging and interesting—and the level of political discourse is shallow, abusive and personal…
I am not retiring from politics, but I believe the work that needs to be done now to rebuild the Labour Party is best done from outside. If you are in parliament at the moment you are asked to do a lot of things that run absolutely contrary to the pledges I gave my constituents and to my own convictions. All progress has always come from outside parliament.
Alan Simpson MP on the announcement of his resignation from Parliament:
“I never went into Parliament to have a career. I went in to change the world. I’m leaving because I still want to change the world, and I don’t think you can do that in this Parliament,” he said. In a letter to his Nottingham South party, he said: “My worry is that it has become a comfort zone in which MPs are paid more and more to stand for less and less…
“There are good people in the Parliamentary Labour Party; just not enough of them. Many MPs complain of a government that no longer listens to the party, but they dutifully walk through the division lobbies to vote for whatever regressive measures Downing Street asks for. At times I feel that colleagues would vote for the slaughter of the first-born if asked to.”
Mr Simpson is giving up a relatively safe Labour seat with a majority of more than 7,000 at the last election. Asked why he does not stay and fight, he said: “Because I don’t think the changes are going to be driven inside Parliament. There is a desperate short-termism that consumes you. Parliament is dominated by playground games: who’s gang are you in?
“I think the danger is that Parliament becomes a politics-free zone, where people are more interested in their careers than the issues that really matter to people outside. People position themselves around loyalty and career opportunities and the debate is arranged around short-term options – should we lock up more prisoners, not should we be looking at alternatives to prison?”
If politicians of conviction feel that they can no longer fight for the issues they believe in inside Parliament and think they have a better chance of affecting change from outside, what does this tell us about Nu Labour and our Parliamentary system at the moment? And what danger does this pose for the future? For me this highlights an urgent need for change in our political system. Perhaps things might improve once Tony Blair has left office but I doubt Gordon Brown will be much different. As Alan Simpson says:
Choosing between Blair and Brown is like choosing between Saddam and Uday … They’re as bad as each other.
Another interesting quote from Tony Benn illustrates part of the problem with Nu Labour:
It’s very interesting to me that some ex-communists in the Labour party have been able to shift from Stalin to Blair and it hasn’t been much of a shift… the shift from Stalin to Blair is a minor adjustment.