Dreams and Realities ahead of the Labour Party Conference

by Ray_North on September 18, 2013

images-1I’m listening to Nick Clegg, but I’m thinking about Ed Miliband.

Like Charlie East-West, I’ve totally given up on the prospect of the Lib-Dems winning back my vote. As I listen to Nick Clegg I am uninspired and confused in equally measures – no actually, I’m more uninspired than confused, which means I’m not that bothered by my confusion, probably because I am past caring. I listen to the likes of Vince Cable tell me how callous the Tories are, I hear Nick Clegg say that the Tories only care about some families and he cares about all families, and I ponder to myself, if you think this, then why on earth have you provided them with power.

But, we’ve been over this many times on these pages. And, as such, as I said, the more I listen to Nick Clegg, the more it makes me think about Ed Miliband and his Labour Party. Because like Charlie East-West, I am also less than inspired by the ‘People’s Party’ – and this is worrying: for them, because they need the votes of disaffected Lib-Dems like me if they are to win the next election, and me, because I need a party of the left in whom I can trust with my vote next time around.

If you’d have asked me this time last year about in which direction my vote was going, I would have told you that I was very impressed by Ed Miliband and would have happily suggested that I had pretty much made up my mind about where my ‘X’ was going to go – but, a year on, things don’t seem to straightforward; a year on and the Labour Party is exasperating rather than inspiring – and that, as I’ve said is worrying.

Next week, the Labour Party will gather for its annual shindig up in Brighton. It’s an important week for Labour, because, if they are not careful, they are in danger of being destroyed by the biggest whopper in political history – the one that goes, ‘the coalition have saved our economy from the perils of the left.’

So, how does the Labour Party react to that? Well, here is what I hope we will get from them: Leadership.

Yes, Leadership with a big ‘L’ – and by this, I don’t mean clever photo-ops, I don’t mean a bagful of cliches, I don’t want gimmicks about doing speeches without notes with lengthy contrived passages about some desperately personal stuff that I will instantly forget, no, what I mean is true leadership, and for me that means the ability to persuade others to follow. You don’t manage that by simply telling people what you think they want to hear, you manage that by engaging properly and sensibly and maturely and intelligently with your fellow man, and by being prepared to forgo the politician’s instinct to placate everytime you are met with opposition. It means being brave.

And, for Ed Miliband, in practical terms, it means a continuation of the theme he started to warm to this time last year – when in his leaders speech he coined the phrase ‘One nation labour’ and started to suggest that inherent and structural problems contained within our socio-economic system, had to be addressed if we were going to create a better and fairer society. Sadly, nay, infuriatingly, he hasn’t been able to progress that narrative or analysis in the intervening year – sadly, what he and Ed Balls have done is whimper like mice about austerity, pretty much accepting the coalition’s arguments about the need to reign in public spending. I am afraid that that is not leadership, that’s an unimpressive surrender. I want to see Labour say loudly, boldly and clearly that they understand that there are deep-seated global economic problems and that they are not afraid to tackle them.

The other thing I don’t want to see is the Labour Party’s continuing self-flagilation – the 1990’s have gone, the 2000’s are history – yes, there were mistakes under Blair and Brown, some of them huge – but, by continuing to bend over and invite the electorate to give them six of the best, the Labour Party are making it very easy for the Tories to blame everything on them. Let’s see some fire – let’s see some passion, let’s see Labour start to lay the blame at the feet of those who were truly at fault – the City bankers, for whom greed became so all encompassing that it rendered them fundamentally unable to do the job that they are there to do – look after our money. Most people of the left are appalled by the activities of the city and genuinely petrified at the prospect that if the Tories are elected for another term, either on their own or with the Lib-Dems, there will be greater de-regulation and more incentive for risky gambling in return for massive bonuses at the expense of intelligent investment that will assist us all. Labour needs to take on the City and global capitalism – in fact, Labour needs to define a new socialism that has at its heart sustainability, renewal of ailing areas, fairness and opportunity for all.

And that will include a positive role for the state. One of the many mistakes made by Tony Blair was his refusal or inability to reject the Thatcherite view of the state as an alien concept that should be discouraged at all costs. New Labour bought into that – but Ed Miliband doesn’t have to, Ed Miliband needs to remind people that it is the state that has, for most of the last century, been responsible for looking after them when they are ill, educating them when they are a child and providing for them when they are unemployed or impoverished. The Labour Party should be proud of the NHS and the Welfare System and state education and the fact that it is the State that has provided the stimulus for much of the good research and development that has taken place in our land. The Private Sector has its place, of course it does, entrepreneurialism and big business has its place – but that place must not be at the expense of the fair, benevolent and democratic institutions of the state.

What else do I want? I want to see Labour talk about the UN and internationalism and the need for people to work together and not be exploited by the massive companies who can now dominate so much of our economic and social lives.

What don’t I want? I don’t want to see a patronising love in with the trade unions where middle class professional politicians talk with faux fondness about a working class that they don’t really know or understand and probably doesn’t really exist anyway. What I want is a constructive discourse with the trade unions (and indeed all other pressure groups and professional organisations) in which Labour uses their knowledge and their expertise in a positive way – bringing people inside the decision making process, forming a truly inclusive coalition of interested groups that reaches from industry to the arts and everything in-between and would enable Labour to become far more relevant to ordinary people than it currently is.

Do I want to see an attack on the Tories or the Lib-Dems – not really, though I accept that part of leadership is pointing out the folly of others – but, I don’t particularly want to see Student Union style gags and jibes, I’d rather see the Tories and Lib-Dems destroyed in a few clear and memorable sentences.

I want to see all this because, I don’t want to go into the next election thinking, sod it, I’ll vote Green or Plaid or for the Independent guy who wants to save the local community centre – I want to feel confident that the official opposition is going to make a good fist of articulating my worries and aspirations and I want to feel truly inspired.

Come on Ed – pull your finger out.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth September 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Let’s imagine…

The Tory Conference is dominated by voices attacking the Lib Dems & suggesting the end of the coalition and a snap election. Cameron breaks the coalition off and introduces a Bill to dissolve the current Parliament straight away.

Clegg says he’ll vote against it: he thought he had a deal. What do you want Ed to do?

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Ray_North September 18, 2013 at 9:02 pm

He has to vote to dissolve Parliament – no other option surely.

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George_East September 18, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Absolutely right. He has to do just that. And given the Ashcroft marginals poll Labour win big if it happened now, which is precisely why it won’t. The Coalition will dissolve on the last day of this parliament, not a second before.

I don’t think you have to worry too much about a love-in with the unions. In case you hadn’t noticed, relations aren’t that great at the moment after the Falkirk fiasco.

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Charlie_East_West September 19, 2013 at 9:27 am

I am not expecting much from Ed Miliband at the Labour Conference. Labour comsistently fulfil the old adage of:- you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

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Hugo September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Hmm! I was pleasantly pleased to hear what Nick had to say, although I confess to Having only heard what the 10 o’clock news deemed necesary to share with the nation. But I got the impression that the Lib Dems were dropping the Dem and returning to good old fashioned Liberalism. I like the idea of coalition and I agree that GB is better with a centre party anchoring the other parties to the middle. An end to the extremes of the Tory’s and Labour can only benefit the Country with no more lurches from left to right which has done immeasurable damage to the NHS and Education, to name but two of a very wry long list. The Liberals have my vote next time round.

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Charlie_East_West September 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

It was coup d’état Orange Booker Liberalism rather than the Social Liberalism that I grew up to love and support. Someone give me my party back!

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Charlie_East_West September 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I thought Clegg’s speech was awful.
I was within an inch of shooting the telly last night. All that was missing was a revolver and an Elvis fancy dress outfit.

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