Following its executive meeting this weekend, leading centre-left Labour grassroots organisation, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), has today called on Jon Trickett MP to stand for the Labour leadership, and has urged party and trade union activists to join the call.
CLPD members have reported that there is widespread dismay amongst party activists at the uninspiring nature of the leadership election campaign, with candidates queuing up to apologise for the alleged overspending by the last Labour government, and still failing to challenge publicly the neoliberal narrative on austerity which is the primary reason why Labour was ultimately judged wanting in its handling of the economy.
Those on the Blairite wing of the party may well believe that narrative but, like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper might not. And yet, with no left candidate putting an anti-austerity case, there is no chance of them showing any more courage than their predecessors, nor of properly exposing the reasons Labour lost this election. They will do nothing more than espouse right-wing policies in order to chase right-wing votes. A left candidate is essential to changing the nature of this election.
The Labour Party desperately needs a candidate who:
is working class – we are rightly concerned about the numbers of women and black people amongst our leaders, but we routinely underestimate the importance of leaders who are genuinely working class and not merely capable of pointing to “working class roots”;
is an active trade unionist – not just a union member to get the union’s backing in their selection – who sees trade union rights and organisation as something a Labour government should positively encourage rather than something which can only be discussed in private;
is against austerity and will commit from now on, whether they win or not, to present the case against austerity, whether it comes from a Tory government, a Labour government, or for that matter an SNP government.
will commit to turning Labour into a movement again – not just a voter ID army but a real insurgency, the sort that can’t be run from the leader’s office in Westminster, that utilises the vitality of street protest, of trade union mobilisation, of the anger of tenants and disabled people whose lives are threatened with devastation by corporate greed and Tory cuts, that speaks with passion of a message it believes;
will commit to ending the centralisation of power within the party – with no effective internal democracy, no serious challenge or questioning through a democratic structure, it is easy for the policy wonks, spin doctors and focus group facilitators to fall for their own propaganda.
There are two obstacles to having a candidate who fits the bill: the first is that too many MPs, including MPs on the Left, have already declared their support for other candidates. The second is the absurd requirement that only those who are nominated by 15% of the parliamentary party (currently 35 MPs) are permitted to stand – a barrier to standing which CLPD opposed from the start.
In 2010, when the threshold was only 12½ %, candidates had to be “lent” nominations in order to stand, which provided clear evidence that the threshold was already too high. But in the Collins report, an increase was proposed to 20%, later reduced to a still higher 15%.
Nevertheless, the party must have a real choice. Shadow cabinet member Jon Trickett, in CLPD’s estimation, is the one best placed to fit the bill. Join the campaign now. Help us urge Jon to stand, and then help him to win.
Labour MP John Healey has an article on the Guardian website entitled “Why Labour must win back working class voters from Ukip”. He argues that the Tories won the general election at least in part because Labour lost many of its voters to the xenophobic right, and he outlines polices he says can regain their electoral support.
Healey wraps up his anti-Ukip message in progressive-sounding language, for example by referring to the need for “active trade unions to protect the pay and conditions of workers” in order to combat Ukip. He also talks about “an entrepreneurial industrial policy that creates good jobs”. Maybe I’m being unduly sceptical, but that strikes me as mostly window dressing.
Healey is hardly going to support the repeal of the anti-union laws that have contributed to the weakening of trade union organisation, is he? Nor is he likely to advocate the level of state intervention in the economy that would be necessary to restore the UK’s manufacturing base.
In practice, I suspect, Healey’s anti-Ukip strategy will concentrate on stepping up Labour’s anti-migrant rhetoric. By giving legitimacy to Ukip’s stance on immigration, that would have the effect of strengthening Ukip’s appeal to voters, not undermining it.
In his article Healey heavily hypes up the threat Ukip poses to Labour, asserting that “Ukip hurt us in Tory-Labour marginals by eating into our working-class support”. That possibility cannot be excluded – it may be, for example, that an increase in the Ukip vote contributed to Ed Balls’ defeat in Morley and Outwood – but in the absence of an empirical study of voting patterns in those seats all Healey can offer to substantiate his claim is anecdotal evidence and guesswork.
He finds it significant that “the Ukip share of the vote was higher in Labour-held seats than in Conservative-held ones”. But that is what you would expect, given Ukip’s appeal to C2 and DE voters, who tend to make up a larger proportion of the electorate in Labour constituencies. It does not follow that Ukip drew more of its support from working-class Labour voters than it did from Tory voters.
Healey writes ominously: “I saw this rising Ukip threat in my own South Yorkshire constituency”. He fails to mention that he coasted home in his Wentworth and Dearne seat with an absolute majority, winning 56.9% of the vote. It is true that Ukip finished in second place, having increased their vote by 16.7% compared with 2010. But their candidate still finished well behind Healey, with 24.9% of the vote.
In order for Ukip to pose a real threat in Healey’s seat, they would need to make serious inroads into the Labour vote. But there is little evidence they are doing that. Ukip’s advance in Wentworth and Dearne was at the expense of the Lib Dems and Tories, who lost 13.5% and 2.7% of their 2010 vote respectively. Healey, by contrast, increased his vote by 6.3%.
Healey’s views presumably carry some weight within the parliamentary party, as he was appointed to the Labour taskforce set up last year to address the electoral threat from Ukip.
As part of his campaign to alert Labour to the Ukip menace, Healey tells us, he “got Dr Matthew Goodwin, one of the co-authors of the excellent Revolt on the Right, to discuss Ukip with Labour MPs”. But Goodwin is the last person Labour MPs should be listening to, given his record of grossly exaggerating Ukip’s popular support and electoral prospects.
Basing his forecasts on visits to Ukip’s target seats, he said: “My view is that Ukip is likely to win six Parliamentary constituencies. They have pretty much got three or four seats now in the bag unless there is a monumental mistake and a car crash before May 7.”
Prof Goodwin – one of the most widely respected experts on the rise of Ukip – said national polls, which show Ukip’s support on around 14 per cent, tended to underestimate support for the Eurosceptic party….
Prof Goodwin forecast “a far more convincing win for Farage than people currently acknowledge” in Thanet South, where his campaign was being run in below the radar ward by ward public meetings.
This all turned out to be complete nonsense, of course. As we know, in reality Ukip got 12.6% of the vote nationally and just a single MP, while Nigel Farage was easily defeated in Thanet South, gaining 32.4% of the vote compared with 38.1% for the victorious Tory candidate.
One of the Labour-held seats that Goodwin repeatedly warned was under serious threat from Ukip was Great Grimsby. Based on the 2010 general election result this was a highly marginal constituency, where the incumbent Labour MP Austin Mitchell had just held on with 32.7% of the vote, only narrowly ahead of the Tory candidate on 30.5%.
In April last year Goodwin went so far as to assure the local paper that “Great Grimsby is probably the most favourable seat for Ukip” and helpfully offered his advice to Farage that the Ukip leader should consider standing there. Austin Mitchell dismissed Goodwin’s comments as a “joke”, and he wasn’t far wrong. Ukip in fact finished in third place with 25% of the vote, well behind the successful Labour candidate Melanie Onn who got 39.8%.
If he takes his inspiration from Matthew Goodwin, it’s no wonder Healey’s analysis of Ukip’s challenge to Labour is flawed. I’m all in favour of an objective assessment of the effect that the rise of Ukip has had on the Labour vote, but Healey’s evidence-free, Goodwin-inspired scaremongering is certainly not it.
I don’t care what anybody says, whoever was responsible for the Hatton Garden safety deposit box heist, whether those who’ve just been arrested for it or not, they deserve a medal for audacity.
Absailing down a lift shaft for men of advancing years, if true, preparatory to breaking into the safety deposit boxes of people for whom tax is up there with poverty as words belonging to a foreign language, is surely the stuff of a sixties British caper movie. I’m thinking here of the original Italian Job starring Michael Caine. In fact ever since the heist took place, I’ve found myself breaking out into regular renditions of “This is the self preservation society” in a bad Cockney accent.
Despite the efforts of the Met to put a positive spin on the recent flurry of arrests in connection with the heist, how many of us can honestly say that their admiration and sympathy has lain with the police and not the men they arrested as prime suspects?
An entire industry built on the criminal escapades of mafia hoods, East End gangsters, hardmen, and old lags – consisting of books, plays, movies, documentaries – could not exist without mainstream society’s fascination with those who make their own rules and live outside the law. Crimes such as Hatton Garden – where no violence is involved – allow us to experience the vicarious thrill of confounding the dull conformity that governs everyday life. When the world’s most famous miserabilist, Nietzsche, wrote, “Morality is the herd instinct in the individual,” perhaps he had a point.
The romance associated with the outlaw has always been a feature of human society. Legends surrounding those who rebel against authority, against society and all its mores and conventions, are passed down from generation to generation.
Where does the admiration for such people come from? Is it the product of a latent anti establishment and anti authoritarian instinct which resides within more of us than society would care to admit; and which, when push comes to shove, holds the police and the law more as an oppressive factor in our lives than the glue which holds society together? Does this then lead us to view those individuals who fight the law and rebel against society as representing our own latent desire to be free of its constraints?
The amount involved in the Hatton Garden heist is said to be around £200million. Compared to the £122 billion in taxpayers money in response to the financial crisis caused by their greed and recklessness, it’s a mere drop in the ocean.
Yet when did we see news footage of a phalanx of police officers descending on the leafy mansions of those responsible for the banking crisis, a crisis that in turn plunged the entire UK economy into recession, leading to years of austerity and despair for millions up and down the country? As for those who point out that there was no criminal intent involved in the banking crisis, the Libor scandal is your answer.
The German playwright Bertolt Brecht made the point that it’s a “far greater crime to own a bank than to rob one.” Who could possibly disagree given what we’ve been through these past seven years?
The most dangerous criminals in society are not those who go up ‘against’ the system, it is those who uphold the injustice ‘of’ the system. And you’ll find many of those with titles and letters attached to their names, parading themselves as virtuous paragons of decency.
Don’t be fooled.
The £12billion in further cuts to public spending by a freshly-installed and red in tooth and claw Tory government will wreak far more havoc and damage to society than a hundred jewel heists could ever do. This is the contradiction at the heart of an economic system that treats poverty as a crime and wealth as a virtue. Greed, selfishness – we’ve been conditioned to view both as virtues rather than the symptoms of sociopathic behaviour. The consequence has been the atomisation of communities as more and more are delivered into the arms of destitution in the name of fiscal responsibility. The unemployed, the disabled, and migrants are the enemy, we are told, while the rich are the cream of the crop.
Sorry, I disagree.
I’d rather be a Hatton Garden jewel thief than a banker. In fact, doesn’t it have a ring to it? I can just hear it being sung on the terraces at football grounds up and down the country.
The TUC are today publishing vital polling information, which throws light on the areas where Labour needs to improve, if we are to win the next election.
The polling was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on behalf of the TUC, straight after the election. The findings are available as interactive graphs, allowing users to compare different subgroups and questions at: http://www.gqrr.com/uk-post-election-1
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“We commissioned this poll having no idea of the election outcome. But the unexpected result means that there will be much wider interest, and we are pleased to put its results into the public domain. It will be fascinating to see how Labour’s leadership candidates respond to some very challenging findings, just as we can see other parties acting on the same issues that their own polls will have revealed.
“What comes through is that this poll offers no simple set of solutions for a new Labour leader – the attitudes revealed are a fascinating mix that shows voters are on the left on some issues and on the right on others.
“The challenges Labour now faces are very different from those in the past. Voters back a lot of the trade union agenda on living standards and an economic policy based on investment and growth, rather than the deep cuts we now face. But on welfare and immigration their views are very challenging.
“Interestingly, voters are not greatly worried about Labour being against aspiration or anti-business, despite these emerging as themes in Labour’s post mortem. But they did see Labour as a risk and doubted their competence to run the economy, despite being unenthusiastic about Conservative cuts.
“There is no simple formula for a Labour victory here. But to find a route, the party will need to start with the kind of map this poll provides.”
There are a number of positives for Labour. For example, 18-34 year-olds voted for Labour by 39 to 30 over the Conservatives, with UKIP and the Greens each getting 8 per cent. Labour is also seen as being on the side of ordinary people (a 31 point lead over the Conservatives among voters) and the NHS (a 17 point lead). Labour also fared generally better among women than men, although even among women the Conservatives had a 2% advantage (36% to 34%), compared to a 10% lead for the Conservatives among men (39% to 29%)
The current leadership debate seems to be developing an early consensus that Labour needs to address “aspirational” voters. In fact, as Chris Dillow has perceptively observed,
Alan Johnson’s lament that Labour is no longer “a party of aspiration” confirms […] that Blairism is not so much wrong as just out-of-date.
[…] back in the 90s, it was easy to be a party of aspiration. The IT revolution was promising a bright new future, so talk of aspiration, modernity and newness chimed with the zeitgeist. And the world economy was growing well and a favourable supply shock – a falling China price – was boosting real incomes. A government could thus deliver rising living standards simply by not screwing things up too much.
But now is not then. Labour productivity has been flatlining for years and the intelligent talk today is of secular stagnation, not of a new economy. This changes everything. In a world of zero productivity growth, people’s real incomes can rise only in one of three ways: by moving from unemployment to work (which whilst a good thing is not what Mr Johnson means); or by getting a lucky supply shock such as falling commodity prices, which might not happen; or if one person’s income rises at the expense of another’s.
When productivity is flat, “aspiration” is a zero sum game.
What the TUC polling shows is that 13 % of voters considered voting Labour before choosing another party. It is reasonable to assume that this group who considered but rejected Labour are the key swing vote constituency that Labour must win over. Of this group, just 8 % of them say their biggest doubts included that Labour being ‘hostile to aspiration, success and people who want to get on’. This was dwarfed by concerns over Labour spending too much, and being hostage to the SNP.
Contrary to the argument coming from some leadership contenders, by 42 to 22 voters thought Labour was too soft on big business, not too tough; and this rose a ratio of 50 to 15 among voters who considered Labour. By 46 to 35 voters thought Lab should increase taxes on the rich rather than worry about driving investors abroad.
There is also evidence that many voters have a very instrumental view of politics. For many voters, the deciding issue will be which party gives them confidence that they and their familly will maintain or improve their standard of living. The conservatives benefited from incumbency, at a time when most people see the economy recovering, and low interest rates benefit mortgage payers. The Conservatives are seen to have a good track record in government by 54 per cent of voters, perhaps explained by the fact that 60 per cent think the economy is improving and more think their personal finances are improving than think they are getting worse.
Labour is 39 points behind on economic trust despite the fact that the poll suggests Labour’s potential growth arguments are more persuasive than a right-wing focus on the deficit, red tape and tax.
Interestingly, the evidence is contradictory when it comes to evaluating the claims from “Blue Labour”, that a new social model of reciprocity and mutuality should be central to Labour’s vision. By a ratio of 77 to 15 voters are looking for ‘concrete plans for sensible change’ rather than ‘a big vision for radical change’ from political parties. However, by a ratio of 62 to 20 voters want Labour to be tougher on immigration rather than more positive, and a similar margin exists on welfare. This would suggest that to be successful, Labour does need to engage with the collective sense of shared national identity and its values, but this needs to be done organically, rather than trying to sell a big “vision thing”
Where Labour does have an advantage, is that it already has an organic link with some 3 million trade union members, through the affiliated unions; and those unions retain their members by addressing the day to day concerns and problems of their members. While trade union activists are perhaps sustained by a shared ideology of mutuality, and even socialism, the relationship that these activists have with the wider membership is a more complex one, and the art of trade union leadership is to present the case for collectivity and solidarity to members who have a much more instrumental attitude, and a much weaker relationship to the union than the activists do. This is something that Labour needs to learn to do better, it is necessary for the party to create a vision of a fairer and better Britain, and develop that into detailed policies, but it is also necessary to persuade millions of potential voters, who don’t already identify with Labour, that a Labour government will result in not just a fairer society, but also one where they, and those they care about, are more prosperous, and less exposed to economic risk.
on hearing tell of his column in Sunday’s Observer
Easy to say,
you’d rather make loud love
to Lord Prescott, or have
your face smashed between
Sir Cyril Smith’s quivering cheeks
than read Tony Blair on how
the motorway to the mountaintop
he envisages lies
through the centre ground;
when you know neither
gentleman’s available, right
here right now, to take you.
We need to make voting Labour pleasurable
for call centre managers and
estate agents of a certain age
as lowering their roasting
into a nice cold bath.
To this end, we need a leader
with ideas thrilling
as a dripping cistern,
a man (or woman) likely conceived during
a Conservative Association dinner
somewhere in darkest Buckinghamshire;
who, while his or her fellow students
were thoughtlessly dancing the blues,
bravely danced the beige;
a person of exemplary character apart
from that one conviction for stealing
the brass handles off
their own father’s coffin.
We must offer hope
to those who aspire to shop
for gourmet sausage meat
at Waitrose, and not
waste time on people who perspire
as they rifle through packets
picnic ham at Aldi.
Kevin Higgins’s poetry features in the generation defining anthology Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets (Ed Roddy Lumsden, Bloodaxe, 2010) and in the recent anthology The Hundred Years’ War: modern war poems (Edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe April 2014). The Ghost In The Lobby (Salmon, Spring 2014) is Kevin’s fourth collection of poems. Kevin’s blog is http://mentioningthewar.blogspot.com
Formally announcing his candidature via a Facebook video filmed in the centre of Swindon, it was pretty obvious what Umunna was trying to do – refute the charge that he only appeals to a London metropolitan elite. Just in case this message was missed, he then sledge-hammered it home by insisting: “I also, frankly, wanted to get out of London and say what I was going to do here, because of course, we’ve got to be winning in a place like Swindon”.
Unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired effect. The video, which appeared to have been shot on an iPhone, made Umunna look a bit like a student embarking on a media studies project. In fact, as the good people of Swindon circled obliviously around him – he looked a bit like a documentary maker producing a film about an obscure Amazonian tribe: “Chuka’s World”. The overall effect was that by attempting to rebut a negative he merely ended up focusing attention on that negative.
I have some understanding of Swindon’s politics, being chair of the Local Campaign Forum there, and having actively campaigned in the key marginal of South Swindon during the election. While our general election results were unexpectedly poor in the South constituency, our reverse in North Swindon was expected, where I had predicted a sizable swing to the Conservatives before election day.
On the Borough Council we held our own, winning a council seat in the Lib Dem stronghold of Eastcott after years of campaigning there, but losing one to the Conservatives elsewhere. In the marginal council ward of Liden, Eldene and Park South, where I spent election day, we ground out a narrow victory, by turning out the promises through organisation and hard graft.
I wasn’t intending to comment yet on the leadership election, as I am still assimilating and thinking about last week’s results. Indeed, I think that the opinions of those who already made their minds up by Friday 8th May might not be as reflective as we might hope.
GMB’s standing in this community has been founded on our campaign against exploitation and shakedowns of Carillion staff by supervisors working at the Great Western Hospital. This led to 21 days of strike action by around 150 members during 2012, and a number of court cases are now in progress on behalf of these GMB members. On 10th July 2012, Chuka agreed as Shadow Business Secretary, along with his colleagues, Iain Wright – then Shadow Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Ian Murray – then Shadow BIS Employment Affairs, to address a public meeting in the House of Commons, in support of these workers. At this point, 10 GMB members who had given evidence to the employer about how money and gifts had been demanded by a supervisor in exchange for shift changes, holiday approvals and overtime, were being threatened with dismissal by Carillion, and though the union did successfully defeat this intended victimization, on the date of this meeting the situation was still highly tense.
We consequently organized a coach load of our members from Swindon, hospital cleaners, overwhelmingly women of South Asian origin to go to the Commons to hear Chuka speak.
On the very day of the meeting, with our members already on the coach, Chuka contacted the union to say that not only was he pulling out, but he was instructing all the members of his shadow BIS team to do the same. He had come under pressure from elsewhere, and he didn’t have the moral courage to honour his commitments to these vulnerable, low paid, and exploited women workers.
Fortunately, Ken Livingstone and Katy Clark stepped into the breach at the last minute, but in my view Chuka’s betrayal of these exploited women was shameful. Labour does need to deliver for our voters, and in my opinion Chuka showed that he was not prepared to do that.
More recently, Chuka attended a gala dinner fundraiser in Swindon. From my observation, it seemed more than usually difficult to sell tickets with Chuka as the star turn. The local GMB branch had recently taken a delegation of members to the European Parliament, who work at the M&S Distribution Centre in Swindon. They have a compelling story to tell of exploitation though Swedish Derogation contracts. I therefore spoke to a senior member of the Labour Party, and asked whether it would be a good idea for Chuka to meet them while he was in Swindon. I was advised it would be better not to put our members through that experience, as they would be demotivated by his smarmy indifference.
Now of course, my criticism here is that Chuka failed to engage with the “core vote”, and I concede that winning in a town like Swindon requires Labour to reach out beyond that constituency. So how do we judge Chuka by that criteria?
We do indeed need to win over those who are in well paid or professional jobs, and who are attracted to economic competence. We do indeed need to win over those who are less interested in abstract ideals of social justice, but who will listen to the political parties who address what they see as the best interests of themselves and their families. My experience of past campaigning in North Swindon, is that the electorate there is more than usually transactional.
However, time and again during the campaign, I was struck by how weary so many voters are with slick professional politicians, who see being an MP as a career, and don’t understand the lives of those who work in the real world. This is particularly true of those attracted to UKIP. It is reasonable to question whether a privately educated, London solicitor is the best person to connect with such voters, especially as Chuka talks the language and uses the jargon of a metropolitan policy wonk. Seeing him in Swindon’s town centre, he looks as at home as if he had just been beamed down from the Starship Enterprise.
Which brings me to the bizarre decision by Chuka to launch his campaign with the endorsement of the defeated North Swindon candidate, Mark Dempsey. North Swindon was from 1997 to 2010 a Labour seat held by Lord Wills, which the Conservatives won with a 7060 majority in 2010.
While those of us in the Labour Party, or active in Swindon’s political life, might have a different opinion, the sitting Conservative MP, Justin Tomlinson is seen by voters as a likeable enough bloke, who before becoming an MP ran a successful local business, who energized the local Conservative Party, who is seen as genuinely being committed to Swindon, and is relatively clever and articulate. He does have his vulnerabilities, but Labour failed to exploit them over the last 5 years.
The Labour candidate, with whom Chuka has deliberately sought to associate himself, is just a Poundland Justin Tomlinson, even lacking some of Justin’s strengths. He did not unite the local party, he divided it, and fell out with at least some of the unions. He was timid, and failed to establish himself with the local press as the Labour PPC, and failed to land a glove on Tomlinson during the entire long campaign, because he was too afraid to publicly disagree with the Tories over issues of substance. The result was a 4% swing to the Conservatives.
Chuka Umunna’s leadership pitch therefore seems to be that he believes that Labour can win in places like Swindon by promoting weak candidates that fail to challenge or differentiate themselves from the Tories. This is a one way path to electoral extinction.
Paying for your own healthcare, the abolishment of the human rights bill, and the only real winners; super-rich businessmen and Eton-schooled Tory politicians; that’s what you’ve just voted for. So firstly congratulations on making use of our wonderfully fair Western democracy system that we are all so fortunate to have. As for those who voted UKIP, well done for succumbing to right-wing media propaganda largely, overseen by one of those foreigners you don’t like (Rupert Murdoch, for those wondering) so again, congratulations on the hypocrisy.
I’m not going to underline the painfully obvious ‘secret’ plans of the Conservative government to break to country down into bite size, powerless chunks with the common goal of feeding the financial elite. Anyone who has ever read anything worth reading, or watched anything worth watching with regards to politics, should have known about this way before the election. Evidently for almost half of the electorate, this isn’t the case.
The first question you might ask is ‘well it will only affect the working class, I’ll be fine won’t I?’ the simple answer, no you won’t. Take a basic look at the economic make-up of this country; the zero-hour contracts, the lack of any UK based manual labour industries, there is no real ‘working class’ anymore, there hasn’t been for generations. Thatcher saw to that before most of us were born. The lower-middle class are the new working class, those on the average wage or just above, those that are nothing more than comfortable. These are the type of families most of us are brought up in, and you can all stop pretending you are anything more than that now for the sake of pride and pretentiousness, and more importantly, for the sake of the country. Yes, according to the de-humanised, economic outlook of the Conservative party, the lower-middle class are ‘better’ than the working class. The bottom line is though, we are dispensable, and if the elites are the beneficiaries, they are only too happy to dispense with us.
If you are a student and you voted Conservative, just take a look at your current situation: You are paying a ludicrous £9000 a year in fees, you might well do a minimum wage part time job, for a huge business with a billionaire, tax-evading owner who will have you sacked if you phone in sick once or twice. You probably live in a small terraced house in an area treading the poverty line, surrounded by those people whose lives your vote has just severely affected. Chances are when you graduate, the best you can hope for is what at the moment, would seem to be a comfortable job with a slightly better than average salary, until probable healthcare insurance and rising energy bills will make it difficult for to make ends meet. If that is you, you needn’t read any further, hopefully by the time of the next election you will be able to make a better informed choice, providing you haven’t taken the understandable and non-too farfetched decision to emigrate.
Perhaps though, there is some good to come of this, the twisted and depressing reality that you wouldn’t wish on anybody. There will be more jobs lost, more benefits cut to those who rely on the system the most, people will become homeless, small businesses and more importantly, families will be torn apart. Most tragically of all there will be deaths, lots of deaths. It’s no exaggeration to suggest for at least the next five years (god forbid they stay in government after the next election) are going to be the toughest of the average working person’s lives. In case you are wondering, no, on the face of it that isn’t the ‘good’ that is going to come of this. But perhaps this is what is necessary for people to see the bigger picture, to understand the dangerous truth of right-wing politics, we’ve had our warnings, and we didn’t heed them. We are now about to pay for the elitist, materialistic, every-man-for-himself society that we have gradually built.
Perhaps a more forgivable reason for the upsurge in Tory support is disillusionment with the Labour party, completely understandable; the Blair/Brown era was hardly a success, the war in Iraq was nothing more than a tragic farce. Involvement in Afghanistan comes under continued, rightful, scepticism, and yes, the poorly planned and frankly ridiculous spending of non-existent money and the de-regulation of banks greatly contributed to the financial mess the country has been digging itself out of. But let’s not forget, the Labour government could hardly bare sole responsibility for the global financial meltdown.
It’s true that those at the top of the Labour tree have not in the main represented the working people they claim to, nor have they reflected the party’s core values. The truth of the matter is though, we live in a two party system, whether we like it or not, and that isn’t about to change. Before going into further detail, it has to be noted that in a political system with growing mistrust from the public, Labour is the significantly lesser of two evils. You may not have faith in them being able to keep to their promises, but at the very least the breaking of those promises aren’t going to severely affecting the living conditions of huge numbers of the population.
Now let’s look at Labour’s (supposed) main principles; strong community, reward for hard work and social justice are just some of the values listed on the party’s website, admirable, and one would hope reflect the beliefs of most of the population, a labour party represented by the right people would exactly what this country needs. A party is only a product of its members and those who choose to represent it, perhaps its high time more well informed and educated, but ultimately average people took a stand and properly spoke for the masses, maybe then the country could finally move in the right direction, maybe instead of sitting back and complaining about the situation, more of us should get involved. Every small contribution counts, the more people willing the speak their mind, the more will be heard, controversial as it may be, UKIP have proved that.
This is country of hugely different cultures, beliefs and levels of wealth, and yes, there is no doubt, if working harder and showing more ambition than the majority means you are wealthier than the majority, fair enough, you deserve it, but you’ll be far more deserving of that wealth if you are happy to contribute to a society that looks after those less fortunate, the country will only benefit as a whole.
The malaise within the Labour Party runs deeper than even its most sternest critics could have conceived. It is measured in the fact that Ed Miliband’s defeat in the election and demise as leader was a cause for celebration not only by a victorious Tory Party but also by the Blairites within Labour’s own ranks. The sound of those champagne corks popping in the early hours of May 8 was not restricted to Tory Party HQ. It was also heard at gatherings at which Blair’s name is still associated with everything that was good about Labour rather than bad.
Coalescing within and around the party’s Progress faction, this staunch redoubt of the Third Way post-ideologial doctrine championed by Tony Blair has identified an opportunity to return to prominence in seeing one of their own elected Labour’s next leader in an upcoming battle that will determine the future of the party as no other has since 1994, when Blair took up the reins.
Crisis precedes opportunity, they say, and the voices of Labour’ recent past have been quick off the blocks in making the case across the media for the party to abandon the left orientation of Ed Miliband and return to the centre ground.
Peppering post-election interventions by the likes of Jonathan Powell, Alan Johnson, John Reid, Alastair Campbell and Blair himself have been words such as ‘aspiration’, ‘middle class’, ‘ambition, and ‘centre ground’. In other words, Mr Blair and his cohorts would have us believe that Labour’s defeat was down to the party shifting back to prioritise its base with a return to something approaching the core principles upon which the party was founded.
The world has changed, they tell us, and Labour can only win by appealing to a middle class and the business community in a coalitional arrangement that mirrors the aspiration (that word again) of people to do well for themselves and their families. It is a manifesto of selfishness, a smokescreen employed to justify the embrace of Thatcherite nostrums when it comes to the economy and the role of government as an enabler of market forces, rather than a necessary check on its unfettered drive for profit regardless of the human, social, or environmental cost.
Further, it is an analysis that collapses upon the rocks of the reality of Labour’s decimation in Scotland. The electoral hiding the party has just received north of the border had nothing to do with it being too left wing or failing to appeal to middle class swing voters. Its drubbing in its former industrial heartlands had everything to do with its past record under Blair and the abandonment of the very core values that once ensured its dominance in Scotland could be taken for granted.
Under Tony Blair, Labour abandoned the social base upon which it was founded in search of another one. This ‘other one’ comprised middle England, vying with the Tories for the votes of those driven by the principles of ‘me’, ‘myself’, and ‘mine’ instead of ‘us’, ‘we’, and ‘ours’.
The shedding of members and votes Labour experienced over two decades of Blairite domination of the party is a matter of record. Five million votes were shed over three elections upon ever-lower turnouts, as Labour voters in Scotland and throughout the country stayed at home, preferring a non vote to a vote for a party that no longer represented their communities and lived experience.
In Scotland the emergence of the SNP as a social democratic alternative to Labour – however justified when its policies are placed under scrutiny – has culminated in the most seismic political shift in British electoral history. It was no overnight occurrence and will likely take many years to reverse. The election of a Blairite as next Labour leader will only guarantee that it will never be reversed.
Scotland is not in the grip of some post-rational nationalist fever, as many commentators south of the border have postulated or inferred. The huge surge in support for independence last September was not driven by narrow nationalism but by an opportunity to break with parties and a Westminster system that had locked out working class communities from the political process, not only in Scotland but across the UK.
Alienation, marginalisation, and social and economic injustice has been the norm for large swathes of the country since
Thatcher’s revolution set about uprooting the foundations of the postwar settlement. The Iron Lady’s oft-repeated statement that one of her greatest achievements was New Labour is as true now as it was when she made it. The party of the millions was transformed into a party of the millionaires, responsible for inequality going through the roof as it eagerly attached itself to the coattails of big business, the City, and media barons such as Rupert Murdoch.
The expenses scandal, phone hacking scandal, cash for questions scandal, and of course Britain’s shameful attachment to Washington’s rear-end – these were the consequences of the Blair years. As for Iraq, this remains a stain on the British establishment that will not be eradicated until Tony Blair is held accountable for it. It was a criminal war that left a mountain of dead bodies in its wake, leading inexorably to the abyss in which Iraq and its people exist today, 13 years on.
The coming struggle within Labour between right and left is long overdue. And as it begins the right and those who adhere to the values espoused by Mr Blair should be under no illusions that they own the word ‘aspiration’. On the contrary, it is the very word that describes the hard years of struggle that won working people the justice and quality of life which they and their communities are now seeing assaulted under the rubric of austerity.
Individual aspiration or collective aspiration. Strip away the embroidery and this simple statement describes the contours of a struggle not only for the soul of the Labour Party but the country as a whole.