Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Will the Labour Party Exist in 30 Years?

by Will Dry

The Ghosts of Labour Past
Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol tells the story of three spirits showing Ebenezer Scrooge scenes that occurred in past Christmas periods. Each vision highlights the need for Scrooge to change his ways. The New Labour ghosts continue to haunt the Labour party. It took Peter Mandelson, architect of the Blair era, just three days post the election to say that it was a "terrible mistake" for Miliband to ditch New Labour. Alistair Campbell was more humble, experiencing a lifetime-first by admitting he was wrong - to believe that Labour could win. To merely stab Miliband in the back after the election was not enough for Tony Blair. Ever the messianic figure, he decided to prophesize that the election would be "a traditional left-wing party competing with a traditional right-wing party with the traditional result."  Like Scrooge, Labour must learn from the lessons of these hated winners - or it will sentence itself to a life of misery itself. 

It has been 49 years since a Labour leader who is not Tony Blair won a workable majority in the House of Commons. It will be 49 more if the Labour party votes for a candidate who wants to drag the party back 40 years. Owen Jones, Russell Brand, and any other deluded nutcase who claims Labour lost because it was 'not left wing enough' have their place in the world - imprisoned into a corner of Twitter where they can favourite each other's tweets and share links of Guardian or LabourUncut articles. They are a tumour that is too dangerous to cut out because it would cause civil war within the party, but even more dangerous to allow to spread. Years of leftie Question Time audiences, shy Tories not speaking up, and students banding around Green Party membership badges like a social accessory tricked some into believing that the country had shifted onto the left side of the spectrum. Some even considered Miliband as the next Thatcher - the one who could break the consensus, and transform Britain into an offshoot Nordic colony. As Blair predicted, when the country was offered this vision, the country comprehensively said "nej tack." 

The Labour beast was bloodied and wounded on May 8th, left dying and decaying on the track.  The most scary part of this dystopian vision-come-reality for Labour is that the crop of leadership-hopeful maggots emerging from the carcass offer nothing but vacuous platitudes and ignorance. 

Andy Burnham, the current favourite, believes '2015 was the best manifesto I have stood on.' A rather profound statement considering Burnham was elected as an MP for Leigh in 2001 - on a manifesto which delivered a Parliamentary majority of 247 MPs - in contrast to the 2015 manifesto, which left Labour 99 MPs behind the Tories, and which lost 24 seats in the process. This is the problem with the Labour party; it has forgotten its raison d'etre: to win elections. Politics, elections, parties, are all about winning. Labour has to be unashamedly proud of that, or post-2020 it will find itself in a similar situation to the current one, where it is unable to genuinely help those in zero hour contracts, unable to close the dangerous gap in the income distribution, and unable to help those who its activists sacrifice their Sundays to knock on doors for. 

Currently, Burnham, seems to have a healthy attachment to painkillers, depriving himself, his personal supporters, and quite possibly his party, of a reality that he knows to exist but is not brave enough to face. He seems to have deluded himself into believing that by being a prettier, more human, more able to eat a bacon sandwich with sufficient dignity, version of Miliband he will walk into Downing Street come 2020. In his apparent view, it was not the manifesto or policies that lost Labour the election, but the presentation. This stance would turn Labour into the equivalent of an alcoholic, day-by-day securing its own slow demise by drowning the sorrows of reality with temporary delusion. On the other hand, it could be worse, they could swallow a cyanide pill - or the equivalent electoral manoeuvre, elect the arch-socialist more Miliband than Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn. 

Labour needs a Blairite who is courageous enough to propose ideas that will re-define the centre left ideology with their own surname. In some respects, radical politicians such as Thatcher and Blair had it easy - they could redefine the rules, Thatcher ditching the post-war consensus, and Blair dragging the Labour party to the centre ground, and be labelled bold. Now that the rules have been defined, however, the mantle of radicalism is a much harder one to wield. It can be found not in a broad radical ideology, but by finding radical brave solutions to the complex problems that British politicians will have to overcome: an aging population, increased competitiveness of emerging economies, the use of technology in manufacturing, adapting education to suit the 21st century, and inequality. These cannot be solved by Thatcherism, socialism, or any -ism for that matter. 

At a left-wing conference in 2014, a Guardian columnist idolised by many on the left, Polly Toynbee, was on stage. The crowd consisting of Owen Jones, Russell Brand, and their adoring deluded fans. While in the company of each other, the conversation bathed in the stench of their intellectual arrogance, patronising UKIP voters who are of course secretly left-wing but just 'need hope' and blaming Miliband's failures on those who restrain his inner-socialist. The much-hated Daily Mail was not excused from the firing line - "Does anyone here read the Daily Mail?" Tonybee joked. Among a sea of derisive laughter, and hands firmly rooted to hips and chairs, a sole hand was raised by a new Labour MP called Liz Kendall. 

Liz Kendall is the dark horse in the Labour leadership campaign; having been the first to announce, the first to seize the Blairite mantle, she went from being an unknown shadow health minister - to the candidate of the 3 ghosts of New Labour.  While some have accused her of 'swallowing the Tory manifesto', she has in reality merely swallowed the scale of the defeat. Kendall has a simple strategy to win the general election, and to govern, and it all stems from her mantra that people want "something to do, somewhere to live, something to hope for, someone to love." She understands that what matters is what works, not what matters Len McCluskey says matters. 

The MP for Leicester is the only one who gives the electorate the respect democracy merits it. Liz is acutely aware that the Daily Mail spouts some vitriolic drivel, but understands that its worth reading solely by virtue of the fact that 3 million voters read it on a daily basis. Liz can take the Labour party to the position where its members aren’t laughing at Daily Mail readers, if a status-quo Miliband-continuum candidate wins, the Tories, and the Daily Mail, will have the last laugh. On May 8th, the left wing community was not laughing, it was protesting - and defacing war memorials in anger at... democracy.  

All the candidates agree that now is the time for soul-searching. In my opinion, it is more a case of soul-choosing. Labour has a choice between a soul that delivered 3 election victories on the bounce, or a soul that hasn't won a working majority since 1964 Labour must refrain from choosing a leader that can unite the party but not the country. They need a leader who will refrain from indulging in intellectual self-aggrandisement. While the three New Labour spirits may be toxic to the party membership and public, their message is not. Labour must learn the lessons from the Mili-mare: if it truly wants to serve its members, it must ignore the corrosive core which wishes for the party to violently swerve leftwards - off the electoral cliff and into the abyss.  

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