Do we need another left of centre political party?

by Ray_North on May 29, 2013

imagesLet me, by way of permeable, make it very clear that this website is not collectively promoting a left of centre party to rival the Labour Party – there are, amongst those of us who contribute to these pages, some who are affiliated to various parties including Labour, and some who are not. Me: I’m not. And for those who are members of the People’s Party, a rival, at this stage of the electoral cycle, would be as welcome as One Direction at an Undertones Fan Club meeting – and I understand that.

But. (and this article will hinge on the success of a number of ‘buts’)

The question I pose is this – at present we have an electorate that is underwhelmed by all three mainstream parties; and, although Labour, has a very difficult job – it must oppose the government, because that is what it’s role is; and it must provide a voice to the people; and, it must also set out an alternative for the nation to vote for at the next general election; many people do not warm to Labour and do not trust them to really address the problems that they face.

Now, it’s true that Labour is in a tricky position – I accept this: show too much of your hand and you’ll have your cards pinched or ridiculed; be too bold and you risk alienating parts of the electorate and giving succour to what is, a government that desperately needs to be defeated.

But, the problem Labour has, is that, there is a whole section of society, both those who would describe themselves as natural Labour voters and those who are generally positively disposed towards them, who do not feel as though Labour is providing a clear enough voice on some very important issues. These are the people who feel that the economy does need to be fundamentally changed from being dependent upon the financial sector; those who feel that taxation should be properly progressive; those who feel that education should be about quality rather than choice; those who think that we spend too much time waging war on drugs; and, those who are entirely comfortable with the notion of the state, just as long as it does its job properly in looking after us and promoting harmony and where it can leading our nation.

These people aren’t necessarily swivel eyed loonies of the left, they might not even describe themselves as socialists, but they would describe themselves as being fed up with a society that is becoming increasingly socially diverse, unequal and unfair.

And, indeed, if these people went to the Labour Leadership and said, this is what I think, I don’t doubt that the Labour Leaders would nod encouragingly and say that they didn’t disagree with any of that – then there would be a pause and a big but, before a worthy monologue about aspirations, realistic expectations and the importance of sticking to the middle ground etc, etc.

Sadly, when in government, Labour was extremely good at sticking stoically to the middle ground; it was very good at promoting realistic ambitions and expectations, indeed, in government, and since, the Labour Party has become a very comfortable centrist party. I mean when was the last time that Labour did something that was really progressive? I bet you can think of many examples of radical things it did during the Blair years that pushed the agenda rightwards (think Academies, tuition fees, reform of NHS, terror laws, criminal justice bills, foreign policy), but, alas, there are few examples of Labour moving the policy agenda to the left in the last two decades (perhaps devolution and the minimum wage are the best examples, there may be others).

Should Labour be a safe centrist party? Is that where its members want it to be? It can be argued that it was forced into that direction in the early 90′s. But, now, things have changed – now, perhaps Labour’s instinctive reticence to do or say or promise anything that is truly radical has been brought about by habit.

Now, just say that there was a populist party of the left. Not, a conduit for one person’s ego, like George Galloway’s Socialist Party, or an outmoded relic of a long dead sociological debate, such as the Socialist Workers Party, but a party that was prepared to put at its forefront a commitment to public services, progressive economics, full-employment, free education, liberal social policy and real equality of opportunity.

Such a party would allow many of the left who currently feel disenfranchised and underwhelmed with the current political establishment to have a voice.

But.

What effect would that have on the realpolitic?

Well, we can see the effect that UKIP is having on the Tories, and it isn’t pretty – it’s not hard to imagine Labour happily getting itself side-tracked by entering into ferocious civil war with an alternative political rival, and no one wants to see that.

But, the presence of such a party could also have a galvanising effect upon Labour, especially it was able to articulate the fears and concerns of many sectors of society – it would force Labour away from the cosseted safety of the middle ground and perhaps start being bolder in its policy making.

It may also allow for the debate generally to move away from the orthodox wisdom we have at the moment that market is best, that public spending is wrong, that the City is sacrosanct, and that the state is (at best) a necessary evil rather than something that can be a force for good.

As I said, this website is not endorsing the sudden arrival of a left of centre party to rival Labour, but, if one was suddenly to spring up, and it was saying the right things in the right way, I, for one, would be tempted.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Green Christian May 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm

You know, the party you are describing sounds an awful lot like the one I belong to. Sadly, the effect on Labour in areas of the country where we have done particularly well (e.g. Brighton and Norwich) has been the same panic-led attack-dog response that the Tories have had to UKIP.

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Ray_North May 29, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Yes I think there’s a lot in both the points you make.

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Alex w May 31, 2013 at 11:16 am

We really need 4 party political system, i no longer can see a point to the lib dems. Surely a more moderate conservative party would be the best place for some, and the rest can join a left of centre labour party. Ukip could represent a right wing home for the old tory right and a new green/socialist party could grow on the left. Gvt would then naturally be formed by coalitions of the right/left or outright majority of the centrist parties?

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