Last week, I listened to a phone call from Mike in New Cross to the James O’Brien show on LBC. It would take someone with a heart of stone to not be moved by Mike’s plight: http://http://www.lbc.co.uk/heartbreaking-call-the-man-too-poor-to-eat-101623. There are many stories like this in the news, but what cannot be replicated in print was the despair in this man’s voice – not a victim, but a casualty of neo-Tory ideology, with its emphasis on firmly only helping only those Orwellian pigs with their noses already in the trough. Over the four years of Coalition mis-rule and ideological ruthlessness, there have been stories of this ilk that have angered me and filled me with despair – the attacks on the disabled through the punitive Bedroom Tax, the privatisation of the NHS (a service which every taxpayer already pays for through national insurance), the attempts to silence protest and lobbying through the gagging laws, not to mention the lack of action on re-regulating the banks.
But what has, more than all this, infuriated and angered me as a moderate left-winger, is the seeming apathy and disinterest from the Labour leadership to actually do anything about this. As an interested politico, there is a distinct absence of any fire in the belly of Miliband HQ, and this, within the six-month run-up to a general election, is worrying. For any informed left-wing voter, this next election is a conundrum, even before it begins. What does Ed Miliband stand for?
I will admit, I have been dubious about MiliEd from the start. Committing the political equivalent of fratricide is never a good narrative to engage with your core voters as a leader; however, a candidate with more definition and charisma could have overcome the innate mistrust that created by now. Mr. Miliband is possessed of neither unfortunately, and even the Tories attempts at painting him as militant and ‘Red Ed’ ring hollow when the public, and more importantly, Labour’s core voters are more left-wing than him on a number of issues. While many of Labour’s core voters will inevitably drift to other parties (possibly the Greens, possibly UKIP, definitely the SNP in Scotland), it is true that may lead to a second Tory term given the voting system in the UK. Even David Axelrod, one of the wunderkinds of Obamaism has not been able to change the public perception – or non-perception – of the Labour leader. So what to do?
This is a question that has gnawed at my political soul on a number of counts. Firstly, I have to add a disclaimer. Voting any of the main parties in will only provide a relatively temporary stop-gap in terms of relief from redundant political ideologies, and it is a case of choosing between the least bad, rather than the best, options as things currently stand. But after 4 years of right-wing rule, it is clear that on so many levels – social, political, ideological – a left-wing government could not be worse and should be marginally better than the Tories/UKIP. It is true – if things are too truly change in the long-term in UK politics it will require much more than the cosmetic change of replacing one white privileged Oxbridge male for another. And Miliband lacks connectivity with the public, if his media appearances in the last 4 years are anything to go by. But Polly Toynbee in the Guardian last week is right in many ways – given the barely democratic voting system in the UK, to vote anything other than Labour in the next election runs the risk of voting in the Tories for a second term. The left-wing voter faces many unpalatable options.
Triggered by the despair I heard in Mike of New Cross’ voice, the answer started to form itself in a way that has eluded me. Labour may have an unimpressive leader – but so do most of the other parties (barring UKIP, where Farage is deeply unimpressive, but at least distinctive, if for all the wrong reasons – his whole campaign seems to be based on the premise that all publicity is good publicity). However, I live in the same borough as Mike – Lewisham – and my MP is Jim O’Dowd. As far as I can see, he has done a good job in the borough. The same can be said for Chuka Umunna in Streatham; Stella Creasy in Walthamstow; and David Lammy in Tottenham, all who will appeal (if marketed correctly) to the multicultural and in Creasy’s case, the female vote. Kate Hoey in Vauxhall is someone I admire, and for her stance on defending women’s rights, Harriet Harman in Camberwell and Peckham. Glenda Jackson not only has visibility and stature from having been one of Britain’s leading actresses, and used her considerable performing skills to launch blistering attacks on the Coalition, an example of which is here: http://youtu.be/9Jckm3X5MXo. Diane Abbott and Debbie Abrams have also been vocal and persuasive on the failings of the Coalition. Alan Johnson of Hull and Wessle is the epitome of the working man made good in society – a real life rags to riches story. These MPs are just for starters – there are many more who have proven themselves at grassroots level within their local communities.
The logical conclusion is that it will not benefit Labour to base their election campaign on a leader that has yet, even 4 years on, to fully register with the public; but what Labour does have, in abundance and beyond all the other main parties, are several star turns on which to base a successful campaign. The more I thought about it from this angle, as a disillusioned Labour voter, the more it made sense – the party of Miliband was also the party of a huge number of Labour politicians that I admire, agree with, and indeed, have voted in. I’m sure I’m not the only left-wing voter to feel the same – and while in frustration, it might seem like a good idea to throw the baby out with the bathwater, the very likely possibility is after another 5 years in Vic-Tory-an Britain the average Jo/e Soap may have no bathwater to do any throwing with. Or any soap. It is too late for them to change leader; but to win the next election outright it is vital that Labour and their spin doctors change tack. Given the rise and severity of social and fiscal inequality over the last 4 years, it is not overstating the case to say that the future of Britain truly hangs in the balance.
Labour is still suffering the hangover of the Blair/Mandelson/Brown years, and those voices must be silenced outright over the next 6 months for the sake of the PLP as they seem to be PR and electoral cyanide. What is at stake – essentially the improved social legacy to the UK of the post-war generation via the NHS and the concept of human rights – is far too important to be at the mercy of the architects of political centrisation. There is still time to address and redress the considerable damage wrought on Britons by the Bullingdon thugs, but Labour must galvanise and strategise according to the sum of its parts, and quickly. They must actively demonstrate what they, as individuals within a party stand for, and appeal at grassroots level. Raise the visibility of those MPs with charisma, verbal acuity and a strong track record, and take the focus away from their flailing leader. Otherwise, the last person to leave Britain will have to turn out the lights – as if the Tories inveigle their way back in, there will be no one left able to pay the bill.