The Labour Delusion
I’ve noticed recently a couple of people leaving the Green Party and joining Labour. It’s sad to see some people who broadly share my political beliefs make this switch because I think ultimately, for anyone on the left, the Labour Party is a spent force which stopped being anything of worth quite some time ago.
I’ve spoken to people who believe that Labour is the best vehicle to affect change because it is the left-wing party with the biggest membership and most resources.
In theory, this stands to reason, and yet I see no significant breakthroughs for the left in the Labour Party, largely due to its bureaucratic machine, centralising of power, undemocratic nature of its internal elections and weird control-freakery from those at the top (see the fate of Ken Livingstone and Rhodri Morgan in 1999).
Whilst many would agree that the New Labour project was an almost total rejection of many of Labour’s core values which maintained and continued the neo-liberal reform agenda of Thatcher’s Conservatives, are we really to believe that the party under Ed Miliband has changed significantly?
The current Conservative/Lib Dem government is attempting a serious realignment of our welfare state and public sector, seemingly believing that hammering the poorest and most vulnerable in society is preferable to asking the wealthiest to carry some of the load.
It’s grotesque and it’s destroying people’s lives, yet what is Labour’s response?
“My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts.”
Ed Balls, interview with the Guardian, 13th January 2012
The stated policy of the Labour shadow chancellor is that society will be no fairer under Labour.
They won’t reverse the cuts, just as Tony Blair’s government were content to keep Thatcher’s reforms and light-touch banking regulations.
At a time when the most vulnerable in society are under attack from ‘welfare reforms’ which strip away help for cancer patients, adversely affect people suffering from mental illness and demonise the unemployed as scroungers “languishing on the dole”, despite the pitiful job market and large public sector redundancies, how are Labour helping?
The short answer is, of course, that they’re not. Liam Byrne, the shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, wrote an article for the Guardian oozing with the kind of ‘scrounger’ rhetoric which would be more at home in the Daily Mail. He wrote:
[William Beveridge] would have been horrified at the long-term unemployment breaking out all over Britain, with over a million young people without work, and appalled at the spiralling cost of benefits. He would scarcely have believed housing benefit alone is costing the UK over £20bn a year. That is simply too high.
Yet this is attributed to “idleness” according to Byrne, not the disastrous policies of the current and previous governments.
He also fails to recognise that high housing benefits are the result of high rent prices in the private sector, and could be tackled by regulating rents and creating more affordable social housing, not slashing benefits.
Labour seem to think the ‘scrounger’, ‘something for nothing’ rhetoric is such a hit with the right-wing press that it’s surely a vote-winner.
In short, they have capitulated on this, just as they have on cuts, they’ve decided to stick with right-wing consensus and stereotypes about benefit claimants rather than make an alternative argument themselves.
It’s pathetic and it betrays the very people they claim to represent.
If left-wing people who join Labour seek to create change from within and move the party to the left they should look to the evidence of the past.
How did the left-wing of the Labour Party achieve change from within in the build-up to Iraq?
How successful were they in persuading Blair to stop cosying up and selling arms to oppressive Middle-Eastern regimes, or to reconsider his stance on Palestine?
How about forcing a re-think on the UK’s restrictive trade union regulations, or putting a stop to Labour’s love affair with PFI? All of this was when Labour held majorities of 100+ and the main opposition were in disarray.
I could go on. In the end, it’s sad to see people my age with lots of energy and enthusiasm chose to join Labour, because it just seems such a colossal waste of time.
You can attend all the party conferences you like, vote for the left-wing candidates on the NEC and join the LRC, but what do you get out of it in the end?
How do you go about making people’s lives better when your policies are at odds with those of the people who lead the party and wield the power?
Ralph Miliband argued that the socialist heart of the Labour Party was incompatible with parliamentary politics and a capitalist system, and so everything it did would end in compromise.
Since Miliband Sr’s time, the Labour Party has moved even more to the right. It focuses now on following opinion polls rather than making arguments itself.
It cuts down radical voices in its ranks and values those who play the game over those who are democratically elected but don’t tow the party line. I cannot see how any change can come from within, or how joining Labour would result in anything but a watering down of personal principles.
Even if you’re OK with being a part of the party who were involved in mass-murder of civilians in the Middle East and elsewhere, oversaw a crackdown on our civil liberties and the rise of social division and inequality, it’s surely nothing more than the political equivalent of banging your head against a brick wall.