Long way to go to emulate Obama

Labour has come under fire from the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, who said: 'If Barack Obama had lived here I would be very surprised if even somebody as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold on power within the Labour Party.'

Alex Hilton

This has been reported as though Labour is the barrier that prevents a talented black leader from emerging in Britain. This is an unfair portrayal of the Labour Party, which has driven the equalities agenda in Britain and provided the vast majority of gay, female, black or disabled politicians who have ever existed in this country. But maybe that is why we have the responsibility to do more.

Obama’s election was at no time pinned on his colour. The defining characteristic was the empowerment and inclusion of ordinary people in his campaign and the promise of a continuation of that philosophy into government. Under this tenet it is clear that politicians must be drawn from among the people, not from an elite which, in America, is often described as the military-industrial complex.

Phillips cites the structures of the party that prevent equal participation; the unions, the socialist societies. In truth, no part of the Labour Party seeks to disenfranchise people but collectively, Phillips may be right. Power in the Labour Party is wielded by the political elite in negotiation with the unions. Together they overwhelm the voice of ordinary members.

This means that Labour is almost completely unresponsive to its members and the union members have little day-to-day influence over their own leadership’s negotiations with the Government.

But can Labour adopt Obama’s philosophy and return to power? Yes we can – but that means understanding that this requires the dissolution of our political elite and opening the doors to politics and empowering the public. And we cannot credibly promise to empower the public when we refuse to empower our own members.


Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blogs Labourhome and Recess Monkey

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