But we cannot cling to the old dreams anymore,
No we cannot cling to those dreams
— The Smiths, Still Ill
I was going to publish a longish piece on the general election; why the Tories won, the wrongness of Ed Miliband as leader, trust, competence, shy Tories etc. etc., but you’ve probably read too many of these articles already. A few of them are excellent – and what do I know?
So I thought I’d write something a bit more personal about the Labour Party, of which I’m a member.
It strikes me Labour is first and foremost a party of contradictions. All parties are relatively broad churches with left and right, moderate and hardline wings. But the basic Tory raison d’etre is a relatively simple sell: it’s the party (to paraphrase) of hard work, aspiration, reward, responsibility, low tax etc.
Can we define Labour’s purpose so easily? What’s it for beyond appeasing opposing views? It tries to ape Tory rhetoric while harking back to 1945 and beyond. Obviously, ideas such as aspiration and investing in education aren’t contradictory, it’s just that, in policy terms, Labour has been unwilling to reclaim them from a right wing interpretation. I’m not normally a huge fan of Owen Jones, but he absolutely nails it in this article. Instead, Labour has tried to have its cake and eat it by being neoliberal, but in a caring way. That’s bullshit on a grand scale.
This has two effects. Firstly, it spawns a weird, evasive language I imagine the public finds baffling at best and alienating at worst – I know I do. A better plan. Controls on immigration. What controls? Why? Better than what other plan? Even in his resignation speech, Ed Miliband couldn’t rid himself of this double speak, and his goodbye email to the party was not from email@example.com but firstname.lastname@example.org Again – why? What the fuck does one nation politics actually mean beyond a clever clever play on an old Tory idea?
Secondly, us members are unenthused by the party’s policies. Why stay with Labour when it fails to offer a clear alternative to a damaging, decades old orthodoxy? The occasional nod to a mildly non–neoliberal idea isn’t enough; nor is nostalgia for 1945 and not liking the Tories a lot. We’re a loyal bunch, but this passivity gets us precisely nowhere – as in 2010, prospective leaders will address us at hustings and apologise for fucking up so badly.
How can you trust a party that can’t even appeal and talk to its own supporters?
We’ve been unable to move on from 1994, when triangulation and defensiveness were enough to secure comfortable political majorities. But things are different now: Scotland has gone and UKIP and the Greens offer distinct, albeit sometimes crazy and downright dangerous, alternatives to the status quo. And let’s not forget the new orthodoxy doesn’t allow for tax credit band aids or investing in new colleges.
There’s also the small matter of not even stopping the Tories. I’m sure they often feel the same way about their party, but at least they can cobble together a coalition or small majority. A dismal 35% strategy doesn’t cut it when you’re pulled in so many directions.
Years of disciplined, centralised communications and policy making have stagnated the party. God knows what form new ideas will take – whether they’ll be more or less left wing – but what members don’t want to hear is Tristram or Peter going on about reconnecting with ‘aspirational’ voters as if it’s 1992 all over again.
A lot of us joined the party in 2010 because we really feared the Tories. We weren’t wrong. I’m sure many more will join this time round, but I’m worried we’ll just go down the same road of dutifully leafleting and supporting whatever more or less hapless leader we elect in the hope we can get rid of ‘them’.
One final thought on leaders – regardless of what we’re thinking and proposing, let’s choose one who’s half credible. And if they’re not up to scratch let’s not be afraid to ditch them.