IntegrityFebruary 3rd, 2016
Integrity is the integration of thought, word and deed. Integrity preaches what it believes and practices what it preaches.
Like a stick of Blackpool rock, integrity is the same all the way through – from the outside all the way to the deepest depths of the human soul.
Integrity is prepared to count the cost – be that a reputation, a promotion, a relationship, a job – or even a life.
Integrity was my grandfather when he resigned from his job at the pit. He was a checkweighman: it was his job to weigh the pieces coal and sort them accordingly. One day he saw some of his colleagues siphoning off coal for their own use. As an honest man, he wanted no part in their deceit. But as a socialist and proud trade unionist, he could not and would not betray his work colleagues. So, for him, the price of upholding the principle of solidarity was resigning his job. Because he resigned, he wasn’t able to claim the dole, and he also found it almost impossible to get another job. His young family endured absolute penury – surviving on crisp sandwiches – until he eventually got a labouring job onsite at Windscale (now Sellafield).
An even more extreme example was my ancestor, George Lapsley. A notorious and firebrand Scottish Covenantor, he faced a certain death sentence for his beliefs. Nevertheless, the historical records state that he stood in the court and gave a “very bold” defence of his faith in full knowledge that this defence would condemn him to death. The historical records don’t say what happened next or how his descendants ended up in Ulster. But the account of his integrity remains for posterity.
We’ve said for years that we want more politicians with integrity. We demonstrated this when we elected Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party. Corbyn is a politician who has integrity flowing thick through every vein in his body. He has stood by his political values for the whole of his political career – regardless of the cost. He counted it nothing to have never been offered a Ministerial or Shadow Ministerial position. He faced everything that the Blairite and Brownite machines could throw at him. When Blair threatened to withdraw the Whip over a planned meeting with Gerry Adams, it was Gerry Adams who pulled out. I’m quite sure he would have faced deselection with characteristic dignity.
However, having elected Corbyn as leader, we have now decided that we don’t want politicians with integrity any more. We value loyalty more. In so doing, we are in danger of reclaiming the very worst aspects of Blairite groupthink.
Perhaps the problem is that we don’t think moderate Labour folk have principles. And it’s true that it doesn’t take particularly strong principles to be loyal to a party when you are in fundamental agreement with its platform.
But today’s Labour party does raises issues of profound principle: our fundamental duty to always act in the national interest both at home and abroad; a responsibility to protect our citizens from the perils of our dangerous world. And our abiding obligation – under Clause 1 of Labour’s Constitution – to win political power so we can deliver real change for the people we were founded to represent. Deliberately choosing unelectability is “walking by on the other side” to those of us who came into politics because we wanted to transform lives and communities
But today, many Labour members are behaving like the only people in the party who have principles are Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. As if socialism is – or has ever been – a narrowly defined creed that claims absolute truth. We are expecting MPs to offer Corbyn 100% blind loyalty when that was something Corbyn never offered to any party leader – which was why he was so respected!. When MPs resign on points of principles, instead of respecting their deeply held convictions, we considered them traitors to the cause.
When MPs have offered even the mildest constructive criticism, they have faced deselection threats, notwithstanding the fact that Ed Miliband faced almost constant public criticism and even the odd attempted leadership coup – and Labour was ahead in the polls! Party leaders – especially Leaders of the Opposition – have always been insecure in their job when the party they lead is behind in the polls.
I am coming to the conclusion that there is really only one way that moderate MPs and members can respond to this situation: and that is to show integrity. Look squarely in the face everything the current Labour Party can throw at us and stand firm in our convictions. Let us not be cowered by the trolls but respond by just continuing to say and do the right thing.
If integrity means anything then it must transcend both history and politics: it must mean more to me than my current membership of and activism for the Labour Party. After all, I stand on the shoulders of giants. George Lapsley could have been sensible and not been so bold in his proclamation of his faith in the courtroom. He could have decided to stay silent so he could lead a quiet and peaceable life. But it is because he and others like him chose integrity that Presbyterianism had the fortitude to make it to the New World, survive the American Frontier and help forge the American nation. If George Lapsley could look a death sentence in the face then I can sure as hell survive a bit of trolling!
And the story of my grandfather’s resignation taught me – even as a toddler – both the meaning and the importance of solidarity. When I hear the word “solidarity” so casually thrown about by those on the Left (and I can be as guilty as anyone), I am reminded of my grandfather’s sacrifices. Can we really claim the mantle of solidarity without being willing to lay everything down for our comrades?
As I reflect on the lives of my grandfather and of George Lapsley, I am left wondering whether it’s even possible for our values and principles to endure without sacrifice.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Perhaps it will be necessary for Labour MPs to face deselection in order that their values and principles can endure within the Labour Party for future generations. Perhaps the salvation of the Labour party lies in the willing sacrifice of its current MPs. That they earn their place in history not by their place in the Shadow Cabinet but by their integrity.
It has been said that Jeremy Corbyn has given the Labour Party back its respect. I see things differently. The one thing guaranteed to make me lose my self-respect is for me to betray my deeply held convictions for the sake of a quiet life within the Labour Party. As a Christian, I believe I face Divine Judgment for every thought, word and deed. But I know that I will also face the judgment of History. And I cannot and will not betray future generations of people who will need a Labour Government.