The last few days have been monumentally important for the Labour – we’ve found ourselves the perfect opportunity to reshape the party the way we want it, and I for one have taken up this opportunity. If you’ve read anything else I (Seb) have written on this blog, you could probably guess what I’ll be pushing for, but we’re not all unanimous in our opinions here in the Great and the Good.
This series of articles, which will be released segment by segment as the Labour leadership campaigns rage on, will see me, a Red Labour socialist, go up against my co-writer Stan, a social liberal Blairite, in an effort to answer the question “Is a return to the centre necessary for Labour?”. Stay tuned!
Stan (the centrist)’s Opening Statement
A return to the centre for Labour is not just an ideological preference, but both an ethical and strategic necessity in order for Labour to progress. Chuka Umunna quite rightly comments that politics shouldn’t be a vehicle for taxation and punishment, but rather one that encourages aspiration and improvement. A desperate, badly executed attempt at a return to the left allowed Labour to lose, rather catastrophically, two elections, and this is why:
A lurch to the left is usually a vanity project or righteous crusade fuelled by a misunderstanding of who is actually responsible for problems. I find it of little surprise that Labour chose to begin a war on Nom-Doms after a 2 year period in which they had received no donations from them (when they had received donations previously, very little attention was paid to such an ‘outdated and unfair’ system). Whatever your view on nom-doms, they are obviously not the main cause of Britain’s problems, and this is just one example of random changes in moral standpoints we see from parties that aren’t rooted in the centre of their spectrums. I would go so far as to say that in most cases a lurch to either the left or the right of a party has been preceded by an occurrence that has upset someone who happens to have power. To this end, a return to the centre for Labour is a return to stability and progress.
They sell houses. They sell food. We have electricity. The issue is not so much the lack availability of these assets, but rather the lack of means for most people to access them. The solution is not to punish those who can, but to create a future where everyone is able to have aspirations and, most importantly, achieve them. We can’t do this by adopting anti-business policies as part of a moral crusade that will ultimately lead to self-destruction. Without business, there are no jobs, and without jobs, no money. If we want people to have more money, we can’t do this by re-nationalising a whole swarm of sectors, such as energy and transport to drive down prices. Not only is this unsustainable but is damaging for future generations – nationalising services removes the need for sectors to be profitable and even setting arbitrary ‘freezes’ and ‘quotas’ on certain industries endangers not only the economy, but also international trade.
The concept of ‘the broader shoulders bearing the heaviest load’ is one that works in theory, but not in reality. It is an idea that unsettles those in every social class. The richest feel as if their savings are being held to ransom for issues they have had nothing to do with whilst those who are less well of are unsettled by how unsettled everyone else seems to be (the letter from 100 business chiefs, regardless of its legitimacy, certainly rattled labour-voters across Britain, and we can’t simply ignore the distinct lack of trust in a non-central Labour). Regardless of one’s opinion on who should or shouldn’t feel confused, worried or even guilty, when deciding on either a lurch to the left or the return to the proven track record of the centre, we must also work with what works. People must not feel afraid of a Labour government that is simply out to ‘make them pay’, but rather support one that is able to move forwards into the 21st century, rather than retreat back into a bleak past.
Seb (the socialist)’s Opening Statement
Labour is at the crossroads. At last we have the opportunity to shape our party into what we want it to be – and I for one will be pushing for a return not to Blairism and centrism (which arguably we never really left) but socialism.
Why? To put it simply, it’s not only the moral option, but the logical one in terms of policy and the strategic one in terms of winning elections.
First though, I will focus on it as a strategic advantage – though not dwell on it for too long (this may be expanded on in later parts of the debate). Blairites often claim to us that we lost the last election because we had ‘swung to the left’. The essential fallacy at the heart of this is of course the delusion that Ed Miliband was some sort of left wing zealot, and this, of course, is nonsense. Miliband, though obviously to the left of Blair, had a hotchpotch of left wing, centrist, authoritarian and libertarian policies – though key promises to install a mansion tax and clamp down on non-doms obviously sat on the left, Labour’s immigration policy was somewhat authoritarian, and an attachment to austerity was a clear capitulation to neoliberal economics. So though Labour was teetering towards the left, there was hardly the swing that centrists go on about.
So why did we lose? Quite simply, Labour didn’t have a clearly defined position – there were UKIP-lite policies, Tory-lite policies and Labour-lite policies, but no proper ideological stance. The “there’s no difference between them” and “red tory” myths started to develop, and as a result, there was no chance we could combat the rhetoric of the SNP in Scotland for instance, while in England, we shed votes to the Greens, UKIP and apathy. People wanted a proper alternative to the Tories, but couldn’t find it in Labour.
This is why it’s essential for the party to return to the left in tactical terms – if people want austerity, they’ll turn to the Tories, if they want immigration controls, they’ll turn to UKIP – not the watered down offerings of Labour. The party’s neither here nor their message didn’t entice anyone – not the left, right or centre. A radical alternative to the status quo though would not only put us on a level pegging in Scotland, which was lost by a combination of Blairism from Labour and nationalism from the SNP, but also win over apathetic voters.
Take a look at this map –
In it, ‘not voting’ is posited as a party in the FPTP system, and look where it’s winning the most seats – Labour’s heartlands. It’s clear that Labour’s confused message has not only weakened us down south, but in areas of the country – the north in particular – where people are baying for a better deal from the Labour party.
There’s more to say on why it would be a tactical advantage to return to the left, especially in reference to the Blair years, which I hope will come up in later segments, but it’s time to move on.
Morally, a return to the left is vital. Neoliberalism and conventional capitalism have failed the people of Britain – it failed us under Cameron, Thatcher and under Blair. Though obviously New Labour had many great achievements – reducing child poverty for instance – the consequences of third way politics, such as the disastrous PFI contracts and cementing neoliberalism as British’s politics’ overarching economic ideology have been a drain on Britain, and are shackles that have to be escaped.
Only then can a proper programme of progressive policies be put forward – a plan for everyone, not just the ‘aspirational’ middle class, that can not only win votes and improve the nation but reestablish Labour as the party it was founded to be and the party it should be.