The ideological decline of the Labour Party

by Charlie_East_West on January 22, 2015

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“Comrades, this week in which our Conference meets is the 333rd week of Mrs Thatcher’s government. In this average week in Tory Britain 6,000 people will lose their jobs, 225 businesses will go bankrupt, £400 million will be spent on paying the bills of unemployment, 6,000 more people will be driven by poverty into supplementary benefit; and in this week in the world at large over $10,000 million will be spent on armaments and less than $1,000 million will be spent on official aid; and in this week over 300,000 children will die in the Third World. These are the real challenges that we have to face, at home and abroad. These are the concerns of our nation; they are the crises of our world. These are the problems which we in our party address and must address this week and every other week. Only we will address them this week and every other week, because that is what our party is for.”
Neil Kinnock, 1985.

Quite, Neil. Quite.

Fast forward 30 years and we now have a Labour Party that might talk this sort of talk, but sadly, are not walking this sort of walk.

Over the past 10 days, the Labour Party have walked arm and arm through the House of Commons voting lobby with the Tories. The majority of Labour MPs have voted with the Tories on implementing another £30billion of austerity & cuts and supporting the £100billion price tag on Trident renewal.

Labour have completely outflanked themselves. Strategically, this is a complete mess. They will now go into the forthcoming election on the pro-austerity and pro-Trident ticket, as well as muttering some pretty grizzly right wing rhetoric on immigration.

To me, Labour now looks like Tory-lite/Red Tories. Labour are not offering the electorate any real point of difference in ideological choice. Combine the Lib Dem collusion with the Tories since 2010, and what we are now facing is the three main political parties all offering different shades of neoliberalism. Three cheeks of the same backside.

So where the hell did it all go wrong for Labour? I blame New Labour. The old election winning machine of the Labour Party under the auspices of Tony Blair still has a resonance within the upper echelons of the Labour Party. The obsession with capturing the hearts and minds of the British electorate through winning the battle ground of the centre still has a persuasive legacy for Labour. What they have failed to understand is that the centre ground in British politics is actually right wing. It endorses smaller state, free market privatisation, anti-immigration and hawk like foreign interventionism. What Labour have failed to realise is that we are not living in 1997, we are living in 2015 and the economic and social landscape of Britain has fundamentally changed. In recent history, we have seen the banking system collapse, the worst recession in living memory, Iraq, MPs expenses, austerity, the dismantling of the state towards privatisation and an ever increasing gap between the rich and everyone else.

The politcal zeitgeist has moved and despairingly, Labour has not moved with it. Labour is still stuck in a 1997 Blairite vortex because they think that this method will win in 2015. Perhaps it will, but only by luck rather than good guidance.

I suggest that if Labour had moved away from an ideological strategy based in the foothills of 1997, and pressed the rewind button back towards its founding principles, they would get significantly closer towards creating a narrative that separates themselves from the other main parties, whilst providing a clear voice that millions of people would connect with.

I suggest five key policy components that would radically shift Labour towards where it should be:-

1. Labour should categorically dismiss austerity as a social and economic failure, that is purely designed to dismantle public services and the welfare state and therefore granting the opportunity to marketise the economy, privatise the state and destroy the social fabric of this country.

2. Labour should be calling for renationalisation of certain public necessities such as utilities – but run privately. Norway’s state owned North Sea oil and subsequent sovereign fund and Germany’s NPower are two successful examples of this. Such renationalised organisations would be able to tender for global contracts, whilst putting back profits into the hands of the state and providing a welcome boost to the balance of payments.

3. Scrap Trident. We now have a disgraceful situation where Britain houses Trident at an annual cost of £3billion a year and with a £100billion renewal price tag. Scrapping Trident would free up enough money to keep every single NHS A&E unit open for the next 40 years. Trident is nothing more than an imperialistic virility ego trip. It should be scrapped.

4. Tidy up parliamentary procedure. Labour should state that no MP is allowed to serve the state if he or she has any outside corporate interests. MPs are there to serve us, rather than corporates. Also, all MPs expenses should be completely transparent and published annually on their websites.

5. Abolish the House of Lords. The British taxpayer pays around £77million to keep this affront to democracy open. In this day and age, why should we put up with an antiquated unelected house of cronyism?

Will Labour do any of this? No chance. They are Red Tories rather than Red Labour now. They have failed to understand that there is a huge progressive open door that they could walk through to capture the hearts and minds of millions of people on the left. They have ignored their ideological roots and walked in completely the wrong direction.

The leadership of the Labour Party isn’t red. It is beige. It is stuffed full of bland machine politicians who come across like they have been on a management consultancy course on how to speak robotic politics. Ideological zeal has been replaced with risk free rhetoric. Where on earth are all the larger than life ideologically sound left of centre Labour politicians? Heavyweight individuals like Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Jimmy Reid would have been a huge asset towards structuring the political discourse in 2015. The sad fact that Scottish Labour is now led by Jim Murphy tells its own story. Jim Murphy is no Jimmy Reid.

The impact of all of this is still yet unknown. It appears that the penny has dropped in Scotland, where Labour are rather toxic at present, and face the prospect of the SNP hovering up many of their seats – which could significantly compromise their ability to win the General Election in May.

Labour have had five years to move away from New Labour’s neoliberal tendencies, and instead have embraced it. This strategic misalignment is one of the great tragedies in British politics in 2015. Neil Kinnock’s rallying call to Labour in 1985 seems dispiritingly hollow in 2015.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East January 22, 2015 at 10:56 am

On number 2 – the railways. End of story. All polls show it is hugely popular. The East Coast mainline when in public hands paid money to the exchequer. Instead we just subsidize Branson with billions for trains consisting of 8 empty first class carriages and people hanging from the luggage racks in second class, at eye-watering ticket prices. If it costs me more to go second class to Birmingham than it does to fly to Berlin, something is going badly wrong.

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John Stone January 23, 2015 at 6:17 am

Yes, agree with all that you say. Labour are selling a hard right neoliberal agenda dressed up with a few market distorting bells and whistles.

In reality what we have seen in the last 10 years is theft by the wealthy and powerful on a massive scale. First through leverage and then through the imposition of austerity. And Labour seems unable to diagnose the problem, much less propose any solutions.

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Mike Killingworth January 23, 2015 at 8:55 am

If the election result is the mess that most people seem to be predicting, I wouldn’t rule out a “grand coalition” of the sort they had in Germany in the 1960s. (I think Cameron will walk it easily.)

And John, Labour have diagnosed the problem all right: the problem that people are no longer willing to pay for a social-democratic state. It is worth recalling that this state, implemented by the Attlee government, was a war memorial (just as Universal Suffrage was in the previous generation). It was a different world. When the NHS was introduced bread and petrol were still on ration. Male life expectancy was under 65 (to-day it is 79). Fast forward to when Thatcher left office – tax rates were still far higher than they are to-day. It can also be argued that in t0day’s global economy national governments have too little power to introduce, or perhaps I should say re-introduce, even the mildest of “socialist” measures – far less than Joseph Chamberlain had as Mayor of Birmingham in the 1870s.

And behind all that lurks the question none of us like the look of: if it isn’t racist to provide a “cradle to grave” safety net in England in Okehampton or Oldham but not in Ougadougou, exactly what does the r-word mean?

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John Stone January 23, 2015 at 9:28 pm

I don’t buy that diagnosis, Mike, largely for the reason that people aren’t even being offered a genuine choice.

I’m not so blind as to see no need to reform the structures of the welfare state, but at the moment we’re subject to an orgy of doctrinaire service destruction that wasn’t in any party’s manifesto, but has long been the wet dream of the neoliberal right. And this is being imposed on the back of the weakest political position of any Government in my lifetime, with the possible exception of Feb 74. Amazing!

But you’re right. Globalisation is the issue to which Labour has failed to respond. Our taxation system is completely unfit for purpose in a globalised world. And this has allowed 1% of the population to squirrel away 50% of the wealth, whilst giving the population the illusion that their living standards are being maintained through (1) cheap imports and (2) tax cuts that increasingly exempt them from taxation completely, which frankly helps nobody in the long term. Real net incomes for most have stagnated. And frankly, it’s the same globalisation that is hurting the people of Ouagadougou just as it is those in Oldham.

At the moment UKIP is offering the snake oil that leaving Europe and shutting the drawbridge will answer all our problems. Part of me (a very small part) wants to see them given a chance to wreak some of their mayhem, for indeed, mayhem is what will ensue, and quite possibly hurting some of those who have stoked their fire most of all, but no, when I step back, it’s clear UKIP has no answers either.

So we hurtle on towards the point where the house of cards can no longer be made to stand. The point where inequality is so demonstrable that society breaks down and the way the rich have stolen the poor’s (who will increasingly include people who considered themselves middle class) present and future becomes clear to all. And that’s the point where our very own version of Syriza will emerge.

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