Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Mind the gap (Labour's anti-Corbyn brigade STILL don't get it)

The Labour Party have a lot of building to do, and they're trying to do it on shifting political sands.

Parties in countries with strong economies can continue to cling onto the centre ground, for now at least. In many countries across Europe, under weak economic conditions, electorates are primed for change and unhappy voters look for anyone who they believe is offering it. Political parties often detect but rarely manage to capitalise quickly enough on the desire for fresh ideas and those on the right, whose simple ideas are seemingly accepted without serious consideration or detailed analysis, take advantage. In some countries, the rise of the far right has mobilised a similar movement on the left. Disillusionment with centrist governments and mainstream opposition parties grows due to austerity and falling living standards and with clearly different politics on offer, a chasm begins to appear in the centre ground where once most voters found a viable party to vote for. The Labour 'moderates' want to take that ground but fail to see that the electorate have had enough of one-size-fits-all politics (after losing general elections in 2010 and 2015 and losing the leadership election to a rank outsider you'd think they might have taken the hint).

I am not saying that Labour's 13 years in power were not successful: I have been a member in the past and have voted for them at every general election since I reached voting age. However, I do feel that they lost touch with their priorities: Labour, above all else, should support the interests of the majority of the British public; the Conservatives will always look after the richest first. Anyone wishing to dispute my thoughts on this should consider that whilst the economy on the whole was growing, those at the top took a hugely disproportionate share of the rewards. Under Labour, income inequality grew out of all prior proportion (in the modern era at least). House prices started to become unaffordable for ordinary people. Wages stagnated for everyone except those at the top (the minimum wage was a great thing but did not keep up with the rising cost of living). Long-term unemployment increased. Areas destroyed when industries collapsed under Thatcher are still in long-term decline. The financial industry benefited from the woes of every day people whose lives were not improved by the economic boom. Personal debt via loans and credit cards soared as people sought lifestyles sold to them as achievable. Labour lost touch with its roots. We are constantly hearing how 'traditional labour heartlands' have started voting UKIP and how they overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU. Centrist New Labour left millions of people behind.

With the conservatives using our economic woes to sneak quietly yet relentlessly to the right ('Go Home' vans, the EU referendum - pledged to fend of Farage's right-wing UKIP surge, the 'Snoopers' Charter, cutting back of state services across the board, attacking Union rights, the list goes on), Labour's response was to cling desperately to the centre ground and though they failed to bring in David Milliband, the management of the party managed to keep Ed Milliband under control. His own more left-wing ideals were stifled and the 2015 manifesto was a mess of austerity-lite and confusing messages on immigration. Instead of arguing against Tory policies, they legitimised them with their own slightly-less harsh manifesto which was not clear on how they would improve the lives of the majority of British people.

The 2015 election result was a surprise at the time but after getting over the shock of seeing a right-wing Tory party win a majority, it became clear that the centre ground was not a safe position for any of the traditional three major parties.

UKIP's surge created a centre of gravity that has dragged the Tories further to the right - and many in the party are only too willing to shift in that direction. In doing so, the Tories retained support amongst those sold on the ever-more reactionary Daily Mail and Sun newspapers' tales of immigrants and poor people out to steal from them, change their way of life and maybe even blow them up.

Labour actually did surprisingly well in England, with many people (myself included) choosing to vote for them knowing that they still provided the only hope of keeping the Tories out. Not so in Scotland, where there was an alternative. The SNP had failed to convince the country to vote for independence but they had convinced the Scottish people that the Westminster parties did not act in their interests. Their manifesto came across as anti-austerity and progressive while Labour's offered little hope after five years of Tory cuts. Labour were destroyed, losing all but one of their 41 seats.

The Lib Dems, the traditional centre party, were annihilated right across the UK and only managed to retain 8 of their 57 seats.

We live in an age where trust in politicians is at an all-time low. Most people are no longer content to vote for a smartly-dressed career politician, trying to please everyone with well-rehearsed soundbites. The era of the neoliberal consensus, where Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agree to look after the few at the top while letting our climate suffer, our industries die, wages stagnate, homelessness rise, and our public services crumble and fail, is almost over.

Labour members realise this and voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn last year and look set to do the same again. Despite their attacks on him, the anti-Corbyn brigade in the PLP (and associated groups, such as Progress) realise it too. This is why, after failing to force him out, they have decided to promote a hitherto unknown opponent without any awkward political history, such as supporting the Iraq war, for example. And despite a CV that really doesn't sound like that of a socialist, his campaign is all about how he is "just as radical" as Jeremy Corbyn. Members will not be convinced that a Labour party led by him would really push for left-wing policies because they see the people behind his leadership campaign are those who wanted Corbyn out from the start and who don't want Labour to return to the left.

Talk of Trotskyite entryists and other hard-left infiltrators is a distraction. Perhaps there are small numbers of new members who Labour might not want amongst their ranks but there are probably also a few members whose opinions might fit more neatly in the Conservatives or even UKIP but who, perhaps for reasons of family background, chose to become Labour members. Instead of focusing on a tiny fraction of the membership, the 'moderates' should get their own house in order and mount their own credible campaign to excite and appeal to new members and voters. The hard fact is that Corbyn came from nowhere because he offered something fresh and genuine, whilst his leadership opponents - then and now - haven't convinced anyone that their soundbites will translate into actual credible policies which will benefit the ordinary working people of this country.

The idea that Labour need more effective leadership has some truth but those behind the party 'moderates' couldn't organise a fire in a match factory. They lost in 2010. They lost in 2015. Three leadership candidates were trounced by someone who most people had never heard of and who they claim is unelectable. They organised a coup and failed. They tried to keep the incumbent leader off the ballot paper and failed. They appealed and failed. They changed rules to prevent new members getting a vote in the leadership election and had that decision overturned. They have wasted members' money and turned the party into a laughing stock at a time when the opposition should be holding the Tories to account.

The 'moderates' will lose the leadership campaign again and if they break the party apart and head for the centre ground, they could find themselves lost in a political netherworld that they themselves helped to create.

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