Whatever happened to the Labour Party?(67 Posts)
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These days the people Labour exists to represent work in shops, call centres and offices rather than factories and mines. But they need a voice now more than ever
What is Labour for? If you could pay a visit back to 1899, a railway signalman from Doncaster called Thomas R Steels would certainly have been able to answer. Exasperated at the lack of a political voice for working people while the wealthy had the Tories and Liberals to stand their corner, he drafted a resolution for his local union branch. It called on the Trade Union Congress to assemble a conference with the support of all the cooperative, socialistic, trade union and other working-class organisations to look at how it could win a better representation of the interests of labour in the House of Commons.
It was a controversial idea. The first socialist MP, Keir Hardie, had only been elected a few years ago; as he entered Parliament for the first time, a policeman eyed his working-class clothes and asked him if he was working on the roof. No, on the floor, he answered. Many on the left felt the best bet for working-class people was to piggyback on the Liberals, forcing them to introduce social reforms. But the TUC approved Steels motion and a few years later, the Labour Party was born.
As Labour delegates gather in Manchester, they might struggle to see the relevance of Steels. Britain has changed beyond recognition: peering out of their hotel windows, they can see that many of the industrial warehouses of Steels time are now luxury penthouses. But while the people Labour exists to represent today work in shops, call centres and offices rather than factories, mines and docks, they still need a voice. By the end of this government the most naked government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich since Steels was alive they are projected to be poorer than at the turn of the 21st-century. If Labour cannot champion their interests now, of all times, it may as well sing The Red Flag for the last time, and go home.
Ed Miliband is often derided for his wonky manner, but it's just one symptom of a problem with the whole political establishment
When the Tories gather next week, they can feel assured they have a clear vision: to drive back the state as far as possible. How many Labour delegates feel confident their party has an equally compelling vision? The never-ending economic crisis is often called the Great Recession, but the Great Reverse is a more accurate description: the stripping away of a welfare state that Labour built. But even as its legacy is dismantled, Labours leadership remains impotent or even worse complicit.
Austerity has sucked growth out of the economy, sending borrowing Osbornes key test surging. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has compared the Governments approach to a medieval doctor bleeding his patient, observing that the patient is getting sicker, not better, and deciding that this calls for even more bleeding. If there is a time for Labour to present a coherent alternative, it is now. Instead, Ed Balls has promised the next Labour government will be ruthless about public spending, after pledging earlier this year that it was going to have to keep all these cuts.
The Government has imposed a pay freeze on public-sector workers that given the cost of living amounts to a substantial pay cut. As well as many nurses and teachers facing a drop in real income of 16 per cent by the next election, it is helping to suck desperately needed demand out of the economy. Scandalously, Labours leaders have lined up behind it.
In part, the Labour leadership has not come to terms with why it lost the election. New Labour strategy was based on keeping so-called Middle Britain on-board, which didnt mean those living on the median annual income of £21,000, but affluent types living in leafy suburbs. But while five million voters abandoned Labour in its 13 years in power, the Tories only won a million more. According to Ipsos-Mori, there was only a 5 point drop in support from middle-class professionals; among skilled workers, it was a 21 point drop. If Labour cant win back these working-class voters, it will never win another general election.
Labour could bring down welfare spending without cuts that destroy lives
Part of the problem is that the Party leadership is not representative of the people it exists to champion. Ed Miliband is often derided for his wonky manner, but its just one symptom of a problem with the whole political establishment: full of politicos who have never worked outside the Westminster bubble.
But in the here and now, Labour must offer a coherent alternative that defends those it was founded to represent. A motion from Unite calls for the RBS and Lloyds/TSB to be properly nationalised and transformed into a public investment bank. Such a bank could be linked to a new industrial strategy, building a renewable energy sector and could create hundreds of thousands of green-collar jobs.
Labour could bring down welfare spending without cuts that destroy lives: £21bn of taxpayers money is wasted on housing benefit, lining the pockets of landlords charging extortionate rents. The money could be used to build modern council housing, creating jobs, stimulating the economy, and bringing down the 5 million-strong social-housing waiting list. A living wage could reduce the billions spent on tax credits. And rather than focusing on benefit fraud worth £1.2bn a year, or less than 1 per cent of welfare spending Labour could launch a clampdown on the £25bn lost through tax avoidance by the rich.
It would be naïve to expect the Labour leadership to do this off its own back. Im working with a new trade-union-backed think-tank, Class, bringing together economists and academics to flesh out an alternative. But above all, it must come from pressure from below. Power concedes nothing without a demand, said the 19th-century African-American statesman Frederick Douglass. It never did and it never will. Steels is long dead, but his dream of a party that champions working people lives on. But it must be fought for.
I think this pretty much summarises how many people in England feel about the dire state of the two-party system and the state of the Labour party in particular.
The Tory filth obviously have a clear agenda to roll back the state and the public's hard-earned rights and welfare back to the Edwardian or Victoria era.
Labour has failed to set out a clear vision for a fair and more just society. They need to make the case clearly and unequivocally that the vast majority of the country would benefit from doing things like protecting workers rights, raising the minimum wage, raising the tax threshold, and going after tax avoidance. It can't continue to be Tory scum light, or it will continue to lose votes along with the other mainstream parties.
I don't think their current unpopularity is solely because Labour have failed to set out a clear vision. I think it's because we've just emerged from 13 years of their tender, loving care knowing full well that they made an almighty hash of it. They can promise to protect workers' rights, therefore, but the fact that they put workers' rights a poor second to making benefits more lucrative is a big reason why they lost votes. They can promise to raise tax thresholds but the memory of the 10% tax debacle is still relatively fresh. They can promise a fair and more just society but the reality of the first decade of the 21st century was lower social mobility. With the unions snapping at their heels threatening disaster and withdrawal of support if they freeze public sector pay, no-one's going to vote for a return to the socialist fundamentalism of the 1970s. 'Been there done that'...
I'm very disillusioned with the Labour Party to be honest but I think one of the main battles they have is making people who they should be representing REALIZE that they should be represented by Labour. Many of the poeple in the call centres and the shops and the public sector think that the problems in our society are caused by benefit recipients, immigration, political correctness blah blah. Some of them do think that some of the problems are down to horrible bankers and politicians but they think there is nothing that can be done about that because "it's just the way things are." Few of these people realize the huge political leverage they could wield if they started to act together and demand a change. Thus, the call centre workers are cross with teachers who strike as it causes them inconvenience and teachers will be cross with baggage handlers who strike for the same reason. Each group sees their own problems but is easily convinced that others "have it easier and are just being lazy." Thus the Labour Party is seen as the party for lazy strikers, benefit scroungers and bogus asylum seekers rather than the party that could help people like them have a better standard of living.
I think there are 2 main reasons for this:
1. All of the above attitudes are peddled by the media either outageously so or more subversely through the sheer fact that these attitudes have become the norm. The media and the status quo are nearly always more right wing leaning so the Labour Party is already at the disadvantage of having to overcome these prejudices before it even sets out its stall - thus the "OK yes we accept all the cuts" mantra - the equivalent of saying "OK don't panic we are not going to go back to giving all your money to benefit scroungers."
2. Education. The majority of the public, for whatever reason, have not been educated to a high enough standard to be able to recognize bias/ propaganda when it appears in the media, in a discussion down their local on or, indeed, should it come up and slap them round the face. Why haven't they been educated to the required standard for that? Well there's a whole new debate in there but the fact is they haven't and so the very people that Labour need to get their message across to are very likely to lack the skills required to understand that message in the first place.
What rosabud said. Well put.
I agree with you on the education point Rosa.
Your average person in the street simply doesn't understand economics enough to really grasp what is happening and who is really at fault. To be fair many are not particularly interested either.
People such as my ex-GF probably couldn't tell you which party is in government and once declared she was going to vote for Tony Blair because he had a nice smile.
So to millions of people they form their opinions on soundbites they catch briefly between flicking channels on worse still on the pages of the Sun/DM.
And here we have constant blame on immigrants, benefit recipients and of course bankers. The latter is now the modern day bogeyman.
Many people don't understand the difference between the deficit and the debt and even fewer know how large our annual deficit is. It's all monopoly money.
I really hope this will change. I actually think the personal statements which was publicised a while back will help on this. It's hard for us to understand when we hear £1 billion here, £500billion there. But if we each get a statement that says "You paid £1000 in tax. £300 went on welfare, £100 went on defence...." and so on that it will put things into perspective for people and make people suddenly realise how their money is being spent.
Not what rosabud said.
Could it be that the people are far cleverer than you think? That they can sniff out an awful stink? Could it be that they can see the progressives coming and understand the name of their game? Could it be that they have seen their "education, education, education" and have said enough dumbing down already? Could it be that they have seen through the progressives' propaganda and spin, with pagers, spin doctors and all the rest of their sorry spinning machine? Could it be that the people don't believe the progressives when they say that there are only 50 days left to save the planet? Could it be that the people are wise to their game? Could it be that the people know whose side the progressives are really on with their light-touch regulation of the high and mighty, but their tight regulation and control of ordinary people - their billions to be spent on DNA databases and ID cards while people are denied life-saving cancer treatments due to postcode lotteries and while some elderly die of dehydration on hospital wards? Could it be that they are immune to the progressives' "education", propaganda and spin? Could it be that they choose to read the Daily Mail in their millions to apprise themselves of the facts?
' Education. The majority of the public, for whatever reason, have not been educated to a high enough standard to be able to recognize bias/ propaganda when it appears in the media, in a discussion down their local on or, indeed, should it come up and slap them round the face.'
The public are educated enough to spot the rank hypocrisy of the pious progressives who have slapped them in the face repeatedly with a wet kipper in the manner of a home flipper, while sending their kids to private schools.
'Whatever happened to the Labour Party?'
It was taken over by progressives, champagne socialists and privately educated posh people from Fettes and beyond. They screwed the unions and didn't care a jot for ordinary people, that's why they rail at the good folk who read the Daily Mail.
Why do you think one of Miliband's advisers came up with the term 'Blue Labour'. They want to start taking Labour back to its roots, to put the focus back on ordinary people and blue-collar workers rather than the privately educated lawyers, hedge fund managers and investment managers courted and knighted by New Labour. Blue Labour, not New Labour, is true Labour.
Don't know much about 'Blue Labour', but reading wikipedia, it looks like it is losing the battle of ideas and that the posh elite progressives like Blair, Mandelson etc. of New Labour are winning out.
But there are some labour figures who seem to support it.
'Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham and the party's policy review co-ordinator, argued that New Labour's focus on 'the progressive new' resulted in the party embracing "a dystopian, destructive neoliberalism, cut loose from the traditions and history of Labour". Chuka Umunna, the Labour Shadow Business Secretary believes Blue Labour "provides the seeds of national renewal"
No, Clag, I genuinely don't think that people are being educated enough to be able to spot the rank hypocrisy at all! That's the problem! And even if they do detect the rank hypocrisy, they don't have the skills to be able to reason what they ought to do about it - another result of being poorly educated. By progressives, do you mean people who support education?
Niceguy My point was not that people need to be educated on economics but that they need to be educated in the kind of literacy skills and critical/analytical thinking that will enable them to detect bias, see points of view in perspective and be able to make their own reasoned judgements. I think it goes deeper than making people "realize how their money is spent" and is more about helping people to realize how the information they recieve is being sourced from a particular perspective.
'By progressives, do you mean people who support education?'
By that definition, Gove is a progressive.
'I genuinely don't think that people are being educated enough to be able to spot the rank hypocrisy at all'
I don't think people are stupid. They don't know all the details of the Westminster bubble and the expenses and the home flipping, but they do know enough to know when they are being conned. They are not fooled by "humanitarian wars" and the elite's proclamations that they really want to "save the planet" for us. They know that they often break their manifesto promises and do the opposite of what they said they would do. That's why they don't hang on their every word or their "education" about the planet and the polar bear, they know a lie when they see one. They know that they are often only given one side of the story; the side the elite wants to promote.
'helping people to realize how the information they recieve is being sourced from a particular perspective.'
I agree with that, but nearly everybody knows that they are being spun and conned, that's why only the naive believe what they say.
The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph and the Tories have their spin. But the clever people who think that the Guardian is above that, have been deceived. Most people know to take it all with a pinch of salt.
When Gordon Brown decided to give wealthy people tax credits and upset great swathes of his grass roots that wasn't the hoi polloi lacking reasoning skills & misinterpreting a hypocritical media, that was ordinary people saying 'wtf?... why does someone on £55k need a handout?' When the media runs stories about benefit scroungers and 'floods' of immigrants, the reason it gains credence is that, like it or not, it often chimes with the fears, prejudices and experiences of real people. That doesn't make those people stupid, bigoted or easily led.
This is quite an interesting read...
Interesting article, ItsAllGoingToBeFine.
Don't know anything about Scottish politics, but I think that the SNP is a populist party that reflects the wishes of the people and gives them policies that they want. Labour is not a populist party, which is why it will reject Blue Labour, which would win it more of the public vote. Labour is a party that decides what the people want. In fact, it is not enough Labour who decides, it is the elite who control Labour that make the decisions. That is why they oppose the SNP on their populist and popular policies, because they have no choice in the matter, since that is what the elite wants them to do.
Parties have little room for manoeuvre, they have little choice, they follow a script. They can dupe and fool teh public once or twice, but that is a risky strategy because it will lose them any credibility and lead to them being wiped out at the next election. So they have very little choice apart from ramping up the spin and hoping that the public falls for it.
'Though the SNP's policies, such as no tuition fees, and free prescriptions, are extremely moderate, they press to the limits of the neoliberal constraints accepted by all the main parties. Labour, unwilling to break these constraints, attacks the SNP on priorities.'
Labour has no choice. They do as they are told. It is their misfortune that in Scotland they are up against a party that is out of the fold and doesn't have to do what it is told. Labour are not used to that. In England, all 3 parties are in the fold and in agreement on the essentials - the rest is just theatre.
The problem, to me, is that Labour have no alternative vision to project at the moment. This coupled with their lack of credibility in Economic issues (given the mess they have made of the public finances) makes them very unattractive to many voters.
Symptomatic of this lack of vision, was Ball's 'big' idea announced yesterday - A stamp duty holiday FFS! Apart from being solely designed to appeal to middle Britain, this pathetic, trifling idea, would, if implemented simply hand more money to property sellers.
Where is the alternative voice in British politics?
"the SNP is a populist party that reflects the wishes of the people "
I see it more as a Faustian pact. Reflecting wishes today but doubtless reminding the electorate 'you owe us' when it comes to the independence issue.
When the media runs stories about benefit scroungers and 'floods' of immigrants, the reason it gains credence is that, like it or not, it often chimes with the fears, prejudices and experiences of real people. That doesn't make those people stupid, bigoted or easily led.
I do not think people are stupd or bigotted and I don't think they are easily led but I do think it is possible to lead them because of the lack of critical/analytical skills which I mentioned before. I also think it is eaiser for the parties that support the "status quo" (ie poor people should be poor, rich should be rich, benefits scroungers and illegal immigrants are ruining your country attitudes) to do such leading because it is what people have naturally been led to expect for a very long time. Parties which would like to change this status quo are, therfore, facing an uphill struggle to get their message across before they even start. Whether or not the Labour Party a party which is actually trying to change the status quo is, I think, what is at the heart of the original post. I would imagine that Claig thinks not, or certainly not at the moment. I, too, have my doubts these days but I have offered my opinion as to why Labour may find it difficult to "come out of the closet," as it were, and really be that party of change.
I think Labour can only tinker with change - that is real politik. They have no alternative if they want to win power. Miliband was very good on the Andrew Marr Show and said he would take on vested interests and split up retail and casino banks. He said he would stand up and do what is right for the country. It was a fine show, and let's hope it is for real. But if he intends to do that, he will face huge opposition from the elite and the powerful. The press will turn against him and having the public on his side won't be enough. There is such a thing as real politik, which is why everybody cosied up to Murdoch.
Labour can adopt the rhetoric of Red Robbo if it wants, but that will consign it to the dustbin of history, because the elite will mass against it. So Labour has to accept the Faustian pact and only tinker with change if it wants to get into power at all.
"I also think it is eaiser for the parties that support the "status quo" (ie poor people should be poor, rich should be rich, benefits scroungers and illegal immigrants are ruining your country attitudes) to do such leading because it is what people have naturally been led to expect for a very long time"
I don't think the popluation has been naturally led to expect the status quo at all, far from it. Everyone wants to feel better off or that their opportunities or their children's opportunities have expanded. Wasn't the Labour Party anthem in 97 'Things Can Only Get Better'? They promised to change the status quo at the time and one reason they were booted in 2010 is that they changed it for too many of the wrong people. Eliminating child poverty being a case in point.... lots of very bad unintended consequences to that one. There is certainly a healthy realism in the electorate and I think we're no longer so naive as to think politicians can wave wands and make lives better. The party that will be most successful will be the one that gives us the full story, treats the electorate like adults & stops promising quick fixes.
Apparently Labour's plans, should they be elected, include raising income tax and cutting VAT. Effectively penalising those that work so that those that don't work have less tax burden (VAT is paid by all, not just those that work, whereas income tax is only paid on a salary).
Typical Labour, raise taxes and spend, spend, spend (other peoples money).