Sunday, May 16, 2010

Where now for Labour?

Another leader coming from the robotic, bureauspeaking, professional-politician inner core of New Labourism would finish the party off for good.

After 13 long years in power, and what looks now like a totally different political landscape, it's time for Labour to start all over again.

And while the Lib/Con coalition is looking shaky right from the start, Labour should not take it for granted that a few months or years in opposition will automatically return them power.

While the Blair years produced an unprecedented three consecutive election victories, the overwhelming popular impression became that the party was clinging on to power for power's sake - with Blair and the New Labourite clique cutting increasing bits of ground from the party's feet.

For a start, like this blog advocated just over two years ago, Tony Blair (and Gordon Brown to a lesser degree) gradually chipped away at Labour's reason to exist. Today, Labour is left with little ground of its own.

Two or three examples. Imagine the new government increasing tuition fees (which they will). Labour will have no credibility to oppose it in the Commons. Because not only did they introduce top-up fees but, with a notorious about turn on a manifesto pledge, they also tripled them.

Iain Duncan Smith in charge of Work and Pensions seems - in spite of what rose-tinted-spectacle-wearing Lib Dems may say - a truly scary prospect. But the memory of James Purnell in charge of "welfare reforms" is also too fresh for Labour to take any moral high ground.

Or imagine new anti-terrorism laws and curtailment of freedom in the wake of, god forbid, a terrorist attack. After thirteen years of one draconian measure after the other, any opposition coming from the Labour Party benches would look like a joke.

And so on.

The good news is that, with the Liberal Democrats jumping in bed with the Tories, there is at the very least one million voters (roughly the numbers that Labour lost to the LibDems since the days of Iraq and tuition fees) squandered by Nick Clegg's new course that could prove crucial for Labour's future electoral success.

But, in order for Labour to woo them back, a clear break with the past is absolutely essential. The party is in desperate need of fresh leadership: people who are able to effectively oppose the new government without the embarrassing burden of having sat at the core of thirteen years of Blairism and Brownism.

Take, for instance, a new Labour leader apologising for the Iraq war, saying that it was a bad mistake never to be repeated. It was one of Barack Obama's winning cards. Can you imagine the energy it would re-ignite on the centre-left?

Which is why the prospect of someone like David Miliband as leader is the worst possible mistake, and one that could actually finish the party off for good on two grounds.

One, presentationally, as good chunks of the electorate (and most progressive voters) have had enough of disconnected, patronising, professional "think tank" politicians waffling in bureauspeak (which New Labour's Cabinet was stuffed with).

Two, factually: David Miliband has been a senior partner throughout the entire New Labour project, presiding over and actively defending some of their worst decisions.

Widely described as a firm "Blairite", Miliband would hardly represent an alternative to Cameron and Clegg, with the added deficiency of being spectacularly uncharismatic.

The same can be said of Ed Balls, or Milband's little brother Ed. The latter's younger age means he didn't have enough time to be associated with New Labour's machinations in full. Still though, we're talking about the difference of a rizla in terms of policies, with the added worrying factor that Ed Miliband's leadership bid was stuffed with proto-Daily Mail drivel about immigration and unemployment. Again, we've already seen where that road leads when New Labour embarks on it.

I know that the last decade has meant a purge of Labour MPs from ordinary backgrounds (note I'm not using the expression "working class") but, quite simply, why can't Labour just elect someone normal? A person who's held an ordinary job. A person who speaks without sounding like a posh robot or a professional politician unable to give a yes or no answer. A person who doesn't come across as aloof, who doesn't do constant triangulations. Who can debate with balls, without fear that the Daily Mail-reading classes may not vote for them (they just wouldn't anyway!).

Have you noticed, also, that -during the election campaign- Labour's most effective tricks (and those they were constantly clinging on to) inevitably referred to their earlier period in power? The minimum wage, SureStart, LGBT legislation, tax credits.

Labour are at their most popular when they just get on with their own flagship policies and original beliefs without any fear or hesitation. Labour scrapped Section 28 and brought in civil partnerships against a sceptical public opinion. Now, society is overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT equality. It was a battle that Labour won hands down and made history, as even David Cameron conceded. The same can be said about the minimum wage.

This doesn't mean going for a far-left candidate (which is nevertheless brilliantly advocated for by blogger HarpyMarx). For better or for worse, that would never work electorally.

Yet an MP who's never served in the Cabinet, who has the humility to accept that the Iraq War was wrong, who's not interested in courting the right-wing tabloids and their illiberalism, and who can speak the language of most ordinary people...this type of person could seriously save the day.

I say John Cruddas is the best candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party.


asquith said...

I suppose I might as well just say that I am vaguely supportive of the coalition after hearing its policy statements. (Though obviously prepared to slag them off whenever they deserve it). The worst but probably is the welfare "reform". But I think David Freud's jumping ship, for the sole reason that the Tories were more likely to put their ideas into practice than Labour, says it all about the party "divide". Anyone who in recent years was refused the new ESA, or DLA, overpaid these here tax credits, seeking asylum, denied a means-tested benefit for old timers, single & childless so unable to get tax credits, will be forgiven for wondering whether it could get any worse.

I don't hate Labour like some, I want them to really rediscover what they are there for. I am more liberal than socialist so I doubt I'd support them but we need a strong opposition shorn of the authoritarianism that has bedevelled them.

Looking at Cruddas' record on They Don't Work For You he has been quite authoritarian on all the issues for which I slagged Blair & Brown off. I have reservations about him unless he truly regrets his earlier role, & where's the evidence that he has shifted on anything other than Iraq?

You've seen a fair few of my comments, I also comment on right-wing sites & have kept an editorial line of my own throughout. I am not a ringlicker for anyone. So I am thinking that I want Labour to change, obviously, & then to reassert themselves as the sort of oppsition Tories didn't provide in the late 90s or early 00s, that Democrats couldn't provide when America needed someone to call Bush a cunt, & so on.

We are not in a period of endless one-party rule any more. I am glad that the Tory gloaters didn't get what they said was going to happen about this time last year. But the mounting of a strong challenge from opposition, which is what the country needs, I am dubious about Cruddas providing it.

PS- We also need to be vigilant for secularism. I don't for one minute think the coalition will promote it, neither party really impressed me on the issue apart from a handful of individuals.

Plaid Panteg said...

Enjoyed this post.

Fundamentally Labour has to embrace pluralism for it to survive as a party of Government.

This goes further than PR, although that is vital.

The problem is that the New Labour project saw positioning things far more important than planting roots in certain values. It is why, as you describe, they will find it hard to act as a progressive bulwark or even supportive opposition to the new administration.

By embracing pluralism, Labour may feel it does not have to treat its own left as the enemy. For years New Labour defined itself by whether the left of the party did not like it. As if they were a barometer to what not to do.