I’m not a Labour supporter – that’s important to note because I’m about to comment on their latest leadership election and I want to come clean before I start. I have no dog in this race.
It’s clear these are tempestuous times for the Labour Party, and at the heart of it seems to lie not just a battle for control of the party, but a genuine search for a sense of identity. As people find themselves split between two camps, it’s not just about who should lead, but who they are.
I’ve been fascinated by the contest so far, but at times, confused and frustrated by one particular argument. You see, it’s clear that both candidates have positive attributes and reasons why they would be a great leader of the party and it’s also clear that both candidates have some less positive attributes and reasons why they wouldn’t be a great leader of the party – sadly in such a divisive election finding many campaigners who’d even agree to that statement is painfully difficult. But the battle lines seem to be drawn most regularly at the question of winning a general election, of leading the next government. And I’m not convinced that’s a good toss to argue.
You see, while Smith (or anti-Corbyn) supporters are keen to point out how “unelectable” Jeremy is, his own followers are shouting about how brilliant a prime minister he’ll be and how greatly he’ll win the next general election for the Labour Party.
The truth is neither of them know. Each can produce a poll – guessing in pie chart form – backing their case, and everyone knows someone who would or wouldn’t back him, but if pushed, they would have to admit that they have no idea.
And, for me, I wonder why it’s become so important.
You see if politics becomes only about winning, then there’s a danger that opposition becomes a loser’s game.
If the only reason to form a party is to be the government then it leaves no room for any satisfaction to be found in calling the government to account, or representing the opinions and interests of the millions of people who didn’t vote for them – often with the narrowest of margins between the two.
If the only reason to be in politics is to be on the ‘winning’ team, then it leaves no room for local passions, constituency-specific goals, and so many other reasons that drive brilliant and genuine people to stand.
If the only reason to vote for someone is because they can convince more people nationally to back your party’s vision, then it leaves no room for your party’s vision to not be the majority position right now.
Of course, the Labour Party want to govern again, but in an age where it feels like more and more as a nation we’re leaning to the right, especially in elections, surely the goal should be standing firm and representing something else, an alternative…dare I say: “hope”?
And it’s not just in politics, more and more it seems that opposition is viewed as the losing position. Or worse, a place of only protest. Taking a stand against conventional wisdom or the majority opinion is somehow seen to be fighting a battle having lost the war already.
Minority viewpoints are believed to be less valid because they can’t convince more people to jump on board. And yet, history teaches us that it is often a minority opinion that changes things, hearts and minds first – both Columbus and Darwin would have struggled to win a mandate from the majority of people. That it is often from the fringes, in the unpopular places, the seemingly lost causes that the most remarkable change can occur.
And while, when faced with opposition, our instinct might be to fight it or strategise around it, to squash it or perhaps even pray it away, we may be wiser to engage it, explore it and, at times, even embrace it.
Because if we’re not careful, we’re in danger, in so many areas of our lives, of making opposition the enemy, our enemy. Like the worst thing that could happen is that we are opposed or we find ourselves opposing something else.
Of course not all opposition is good. We need to learn to do it better, how to ‘oppose well’, and to know when to oppose and when to graciously concede. Most importantly we need to learn how to agree with those we oppose and remember that just because we differ on some things doesn’t mean it’s our default position.
Do we have the courage to congratulate our opponents when they deserve it, to back them when they ask for it and to support them when they need it?
Because, while the position of power, the popular win, the conventional wisdom, the done thing, will always feel like strength, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with finding yourself on the other side of the aisle.