Friday, 4 February 2011

Labour's Greatest Opportunity is Now

In the spirit of true bi-partisan co-operation, I want to quote both Tony Benn and Ann Widdecombe this morning.

Tony Benn reminds us here that the greatest challenge lefties face is our own and others pessimism that real change can ever come. Widdy calls it the theory of "The Shrug."

Oh, "The Shrug." You find the shrug on most doorsteps at election time. You find it when talking to friends or family, you slam right into it every time you try to run a local campaign or form an action group. The shrug says "Who cares?" "They're all the same" "It doesn't matter to me, they don't do anything for me" "Nothing will ever change."

You can't debate with the shruggers, you can't persuade them to your point of view and you can't just list facts because they don't believe them. They are beyond politics, disenfranchised and contemptuous.

2010 was the most extreme "Shruggers Election" I'd ever taken part in. Young people shrugged, low income families shrugged, ex-Labour supporters shrugged, Tories unconvinced by Cameron shrugged and the "Shruggers" very nearly made up a majority.

Labour has a massive debate in its future. Not shilly-shallying around the edges of policy, not a short term squint at what went wrong in the last few years of a tired government, but a fundamental debate that asks what it is for? What does it want to do and why?

We became so terrified of that debate in the early 90s - for good reason - that we put it on ice indefinitely. We needed to prove that we could unite and run a competent government. We pulled together and from Union radical to maroon-champagne-socialists, we formed a cohesive force in UK politics.

Today, at a time when the entire global credit infrastructure has faltered, when free market ideology has stumbled, when we face a stark black and white choice between more of the same, or a bit of innovative thought, fearing that debate might deny Labour of the chance to be an enormous force for good.

The debate has changed, it's centre of gravity has lurched wildly off course and where it would have been suicide to consider a more mutual or co-operative or socially democratic form of society in 1995, is it really suicide to at least discuss it now? Is the world not screaming out for a way to combat terrible social division? Is it not searching wildly for a way of making finance and banking more sustainable, less arrogant and most importantly, less toxicly dangerous?

I was a fully signed up, card carrying Blairite. He was exactly what Labour and the country needed in 1997, but Lehman's hadn't folded then. Nor had Northern Rock or AIG. The "centre ground" began to look very much like the "status quo" and continuing to jostle to occupy it increasingly makes our politicians looks like drowning men clinging to a sinking ship.

In fact the centre ground is exactly where the winning political party needs to be - but the debate we need to have is about where it is today. Was it centrist to cling blindly to free market orthodoxy that meant the rich got spectacularly richer while the poor floundered? Was it centrist to fete a business class that invested in finance bubbles rather than long term investment and infrastructure? Was it centrist to ignore terrible housing shortages and damaged subcultures and overpopulated, hopeless estates?

Labour has its greatest opportunity to be relevant and socially democratic. There will never be a better time to put forward radically progressive solutions to some very, very broken systems. There are literally millions of non-voters out there waiting for them to do just that and all the answers can already be found in Labour's core values. Discussing them doesn't mean abandoning all the progress we made during the 90s ad 00s, it means realising that the teens and 20s will be an era all of their own. If even Blair wishes he'd been more radical, then surely we must have the courage of our convictions now and dare to frame them in a way that inspires a new generation.

I'm convinced that there is an enormous body of people out there just waiting for Labour to inspire them again - to really inspire them. To stand up and say "There's a better way than this, we can do better than this." A lot of the country need persuading that Labour still stands for anything at all - not just its core voters, but that very "squeezed middle" and "alarm clock Britain" that want to aspire but are no longer sure who they're slogging to prop up.

Blair spoke for them, but he couldn't speak for them today, that's ridiculous. We need to dare to represent the country again, and the country are crying out for an alternative to cynical corruption and an insatiable economic monster that chews them up and spits them out. Just saying that didn't produce any "Militant Goblins" honest.

Wherever the centre ground is today, it certainly isn't sitting underneath Mr Cameron or Mr Osborne.  Labour need to remember that "centre" doesn't mean "right-wing" any more than trying to redefine it makes you a communist. If our politicians adopt the "shrug" too, they will never achieve anything great or lasting again. You can't build the NHS on shrugs or revolutionise the status quo - if you believe that, then you've just given up.

UPDATE : Today, no less than Warren Buffet calls for higher inheritance tax to tackle "entrenched plutocracy" If even Mr Buffet is accepting things need to change, then Labour will not  shoot back to 1984 by doing the same. 


  1. NO sorry the people of this country are not as silly as they were once upon a time, for god sake Nye Bevan was a brilliant uneducated politician helped to produce the NHS, welfare with others of course, but once he got down to talking about a living wage the labour party decided he was a liability and actually kicked him out of power, it always annoyed him.

    I've lived through a number of labour governments, we always expected a lot but ended up thinking what the hell went wrong.

    I've spent 46 years in the labour party, through some of the good times although not many to the bad times of seeing troops go to war on a lie.

    But thats not the worse the worse is seeing MP's telling us they are hero's our troops are hero's, yet hero's on the min wage.

    troops were paid a pittance for losing arms and legs mental health problems having to go to court to get higher benefits. not forgetting our troops have to go through the new medicals, if as Labour wanted to end DLA he was also talking about the troops as well, what a bloody disgrace.

    The fact is what can labour now tell me that would make me think labour is the party for me, well they cannot now say welfare reforms are wrong, because they brought them in so Miliband has said he will back them.

    Your wrong about being in the center does not mean your right wing, because new labour was right wing.

    Once you start locking up children in detention camps somethings gone wrong, once you have a leader who thinks using words from the BNP is correct you know your heading for the exit.

    Labour has a problem it's serious, Cameron is Blair.

  2. I know many people are fiercely loyal to their political party, no matter what it comes up with, so I think I understand your loyalty to Labour. But you haven't convinced me to break my life long tradition of voting Green.

  3. Vanilla Rose - my loyalty is to the ideals of Labour - whoever's in charge might get those wrong, but Labour values are always right IMO.

    Robert - I think your comment echoes SOOOO many previous Labour supporters - if you read what I wrote, I'm actually speaking for the millions like you who felt Labour stopped being....well, Labour.

  4. Difficult one, Sue. I have been in the Labour Party around about as long as Robert. I can't say that I am happy with it at the moment although all in all I am probably happier with it now than in any time for the last 15 years or so. So why have I stayed around?

    Well membership of just about anything demands a degree of compromise, otherwise we would all be in political parties, tennis clubs and religions of one. And I also believe in the 'if I ain't in it, I can't change it' philosophy. So if I had left the party when it was really annoying me, in the mid to late '90s say - well I couldn't have claimed any credit if things got better [in my opinion of course!] And if things got worse - I would not have had the right to complain, would I?

    So I am still here, fighting my corner in that I still defend the policies in which I believe and argue against those I feel are detremental. But what I won't do is wash my dirty linen in public - which is something too many of us party members are good at. Sure I complain privately! But this is still the party with whom I feel most at home, the party as Robert pointed out of so many of my heroes [and some of whom I am just old enough to remember!]: Aneurin Bevan, Michael Foot, Tony Benn and oh so many more!

  5. Elizannie - I feel just about the same - i've always believed you have to be "in it to win it"
    No good moaning from the outside.

  6. Exactly! Like those who don't vote - don't moan then!

  7. Funny though - they moan the loudest.

  8. If i can go just off topic sue but my mp would like to know that if you find anyone that has committed SUICIDE out of despair by the cuts to the DLA/IB/ETC could you post the links to any blogs that you find with the details so that i can forward them on to him plus we ourselves will have a record

  9. My best friend keeps putting it to me like this; "Why bother? One voice won't make a difference." And to a limited extent she is right, of course we all know that as a group that voice is louder, but it is a malaise that infects so many. They no longer believe, like my parents did Post-War, that their voice counts.

    Look at the massive demos of recent years, beginning of course with the anti-war demo of February 2003. If a government should listen to protesters at any time, that was it. The law of averages means that of those over a million souls, another several million were probably supporting them at home. As an aside, I had massive pride in Charles Kennedy's stance and appearance at the demo, and I do NOT believe he would have led the LibDems into a Tory government as Clegg has. But I digress.

    Did Tony listen? No. And herein lies the rub.

    The problem, as I see it, is that people are tired of being ignored by successive democratically elected representatives who have made it to the top of their particular brand of political ideology.

    I have recently come over from the LibDems to Labour thanks to the junta at the top of the party prostituting themselves before the altar of slash and burn, I didn't come over earlier because quite frankly, I didn't like Tony Blair's agenda nor his ideas and leadership style and felt Gordon Brown wasn't the right man for the job, though I actually liked him.

    Come to 2011 and I see things differently. Perhaps now my voice will matter to those with the power, as all ours will, but we must stop these piecemeal protests and coalesce into something more definitive. It's the Tories that are destroying our lives, it is they we should be protesting about.

    Give the voter a central, organised and truly democratic campaign with no ideological leanings, such as that of the Egyptians (or the Poll Tax protests), and you are onto a winner (as the Poll Tax protests demonstrated and as the Egyptian protests will demonstrate)and will reap the benefits of participation as everyone feels important, that their voice counts and that they are respected and included as individuals.