What has happened to the Labour party? Once the proud defender of the working classes, it has been steadily showing its true blue colours since it assumed the mantle of the now defunct and destructive ‘New Labour’ project. This culminated in Harriet Harman’s failure to oppose the government’s welfare cuts, which seems a bizarre type of own goal, considering she is the deputy leader of the now blindingly apparent nominal ‘Opposition’.
Let’s make no mistake about it: these Tory-lite tactics cost Labour the election. Certainly Labour had a weak messenger in Ed Miliband, who in almost 5 years failed to define what he, or the PLP under his leadership, stood for. Moreover, when he did define what he stood for – it turned out to be a carbon copy of a UKIP anti-immigration policy. But the Labour Party’s biggest failure under his leadership, in my opinion, was the failure to be an effective opposition and challenge the lie of austerity. A failure that Harman and anyone cut from that Blairite cloth seem absolutely intent on continuing.
Part of me is in absolute despair at the state of British politics, and I believe what we are witnessing is the absolute exposure of the endgame of the freemarket capitalism – the new feudalism. Class war has never been so obviously played out, and clearly most of the political elite at Westminster are hopelessly out of touch with what is actually happening in the country. Homelessness has been on the rise; food bank usage has been on the rise by the working poor; child poverty has been on the increase; at least 49 benefit claimants have killed themselves directly related to welfare cuts. This has all happened since 2010, and the link with ideological, unnecessary austerity is brutally transparent. And where is the Labour Party on all this? Our supposed Opposition is towing the government line on austerity, sucking up to the Bullingdon bullies like an erstwhile gangly-limbed teenager trying to ingratiate themselves in a gang. Teenagers have an excuse for this; elected MPs who are voted in by the public to oppose wrong-footed government policy do not.
Like many others, the wasteland of the Miliband years have left me feeling increasingly disenfranchised from a party which, as a centre-Leftist, should feel like my natural political home. The problem, I suspect, is that while my political views have not changed much (I believe in a healthy mixture of socialism and capitalism – note the word ‘healthy’) the party has been pulled so much to the right as to be indistinguishable from the Tories (who in turn are being pulled to the right by UKIP, and UKIP have ended up taking the place of the BNP, with more legitimacy than the BNP ever had). Here’s what would make me support Labour again, and what I believe would increase their supporter base:
1. A clear mandate opposing ideological austerity, and exposing in no uncertain terms the economic and societal vacuousness of pursuing those policies in terms of economic recovery.
2. Proper and independent regulation of the financial sector and the media. While every sector should be regulated it has recently struck me that there is a huge disparity between the eagerness Cameron has in regulating and gagging, let’s say, the Third Sector and his cronies and party backers in big business and the media.
3. Closing tax avoidance loopholes, which are costing the UK upwards of £12bn a year. Compare this to the proposed welfare cuts, which will save the UK the comparatively measly sum of £1.2bn. The lack of logic behind this alone should prove to be a godsend for any Opposition, which Harman seems to have blithely ignored.
And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that the Labour Party is in disarray. And yet, if this is Labour’s untimely demise, it has come at the worst time possible, because never has it been so badly needed. The thirst among friends, even those that would sway more to the Right than I would, for a new kind of politics that will stand up for the non-millionaired majority of the electorate, has never been so keen. Where has the party of Hardie and Attlee disappeared to? As short-lived as his leadership was, of John Smith? If we spend every goddamned year in the United Kingdom eulogising the dead and veterans of World Wars I & II, why are we not protecting their legacies of the welfare state and the NHS, where no child would go hungry, and the vulnerable would be protected, rather than letting the same legacies be used and spat out by the evil (or should I say, EVEL) of Cambornian ideology? Where is the political warrior that will go into battle day in, day out in Parliament for the next 5 years and stand up for the working and middle classes? Because ultimately, that is the direction the Labour Party should be taking now. Otherwise its MPs may as well hand in their red rosettes and join the Tories and have done with it.
Out of all the candidates for the Labour leadership, there is only one that may potentially fulfil that criteria. I don’t buy into the notion that Corbyn is unelectable; and, quite frankly, I’m not so concerned with the election in 2020 as I am with the damage the Tories are currently wreaking on the fabric of British society and how to oppose and stop that. If a week is a long time in politics, five years is an eternity; and the candidate that appeared unelectable yesterday may very well crest the wave of capturing the Zeitgeist in a few years. In recent years, Obama is the proof positive of that.
The best way to revive Labour’s fortunes is not to follow the trajectory it has been on since Blair, but to revive its beating heart, and that lies not in Westminster (yet) but in the people in the wider UK who still hope that political heart exists. The victory of the SNP, and the left-wing policies they espoused shows that there is a hunger for an alternative to Toryism. Politics is changing; and rather than doing what is politically expedient and towing the redundant New Labour line, Labour must now find a new voice. If they do, they might be pleasantly surprised at how the electorate respond in kind.