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Whatever happened to the Labour Party?

(67 Posts)
ttosca Mon 01-Oct-12 19:55:35

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, Labour’s leadership remains impotent or – even worse – complicit.

Austerity has sucked growth out of the economy, sending borrowing – Osborne’s key test – surging. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has compared the Government’s 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, Labour’s 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 didn’t 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 can’t 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 it’s 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. I’m 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.

ElBurroSinNombre Tue 02-Oct-12 16:03:33

Just listened to most of Miliband's speech - only heard one policy in 30 mins - to separate venture capital banking from high street banking. He will have to do a lot better than that. Does Ed really think that he deserves to be elected just because he went to a comprehensive school?- seemingly the message of his address. That is not very different to Cameron et al. who Ed criticised because they think that they were 'born to rule'.

niceguy2 Tue 02-Oct-12 16:09:14

And the only reason he's suggested the split is because banker's are still about as popular as a fart in a lift. Therefore banker bashing is still considered to be a safe bet and unlikely to lose any real votes.

What you won't hear him say clearly is under any future Labour government they will have to implement further draconian budget cuts.

The scary thing is the other Ed's idea that he will use the proceeds of the 4G spectrum sale and instead of paying our debts off, spend it instead. What that tells me is that Labour are still the spend spend spend government we kicked out and clearly don't get it.

ElBurroSinNombre Tue 02-Oct-12 16:47:32

Yes can't believe that the other 'big idea' announced by Balls was to have a stamp duty holiday - as if that will help anyone apart from a few lucky home owners!

I was interested by an article by Frank Field in this month's Prospect - the basic idea was to link benefit payments to contributions made by the claimant. I would be much more excited by something like this - and it would have a popular appeal.

breadandbutterfly Tue 02-Oct-12 17:04:17

I think the Labour policy to build more affordable housing could be a big vote winner if done correctly - the high cost of housing is a big issue and getting bigger every year that passes - any govt with the courage to deal with this will be on to a winner.

I think Balls is absolutely right that what is needed is to put money into the real economy by investing in building, providing jobs and homes BUT the focus should be on council homes and 100,000 is a drop in the ocean. still, a step in the right direction.

breadandbutterfly Tue 02-Oct-12 17:06:16

As someone who teaches young people due to vote for the vote for the first time at the next election, don't underestimate their lack of knowledge and political involvement; they could tell you all about the latest reality show stars but know nothing about politics or economics - bread amd circuses indeed.

claig - afraid you over-estimate today's youth at least.

breadandbutterfly Tue 02-Oct-12 17:08:35

niceguy - Osborne's draconian cuts have worked so well, haven't they? hmm

Clearly what is needed are more draconian cuts...

CogitoErgoSometimes Tue 02-Oct-12 17:19:30

Back in 2002 Prescott promised hundreds of thousands of new homes. They never happened and that was in a boom period. Why have any more faith that this promise isn't just as empty.

MammaBrussels Tue 02-Oct-12 20:46:42

Totally agree with breadandbutterfly & Rosa - people lack the intellectual skills to question what they are told and young people have no interest whatsoever in politics and economics is only taught as an optional subject, increasingly at A level. Economics and Politics should, in my totally unbiased opinion as a teacher of G&P and Econ wink, be compulsory in secondary education rather than being taught as part of PSHE.

MammaBrussels Tue 02-Oct-12 20:48:08

Sorry, that made no sense. It should say: Economics is taught as an optional subject, increasingly only at A level. Economics and Politics should, in my totally unbiased opinion as a teacher of G&P and Econ, be compulsory in secondary education rather than being taught as part of PSHE.

claig Tue 02-Oct-12 22:28:23

'Totally agree with breadandbutterfly & Rosa - people lack the intellectual skills to question what they are told'

Mamma, a lot of people say that, but if that is the case, then how can you explain that despite all of the BBC programmes and newspaper articles on global warming and saving the planet and all the warnings that there are only 50 days left to save the planet and that we have passed the tipping point, that the majority of the public don't believe a word of what they have been fed?

I believe, like Orwell, that hopes lies with the proles.

marshmallowpies Tue 02-Oct-12 22:39:54

claig on the climate change issue, unfortunately I think the public don't want to believe what they've been told. The concepts are so abstract and seemed so far into the future, people didn't see what it had to do with them in the here and now. Suddenly it has all become a lot more NOW and urgent and still the attitude seems to be 'heads in the sand'.

I genuinely don't understand why it's not being taken more seriously. The travails of the Labour party are pretty small beer in comparison.

niceguy2 Tue 02-Oct-12 22:46:50

niceguy - Osborne's draconian cuts have worked so well, haven't they?

Well they've only really scratched the surface of what's needed to balance the budget. In reality the level of cuts made haven't been as deep as the Tories would have liked and in fact are about as much as Gordon Brown & Darling pledged they'd make if they got back into power.

So draconian...maybe to you. Necessary, yes. Enough? Unfortunately not. We've another five years of spending cuts to look forward to.

claig Tue 02-Oct-12 22:51:10

marsh, the proles didn't believe Big Brother either in 1984, and they were right. The public have an inner sense, that is the great thing about democracy, the elites have to give the proles a vote and the proles are usually right in their choices, which sometimes annoys the elites, as they find it difficult to get their way. Then the elites increase the spin, they warn of tipping points that will destroy the planet, but that's when the proles know that they are right because as young children they learnt the story of the boy who cried polar bear.

marshmallowpies Tue 02-Oct-12 23:12:34

claig, sorry, I don't agree. It's not about the proles vs the elite, it's about humanity and the very real possibility we might be on the verge of runaway climate change.

If there is an elite in this scenario, it's the oil industry. They are the group with a vested interest in the continuing exploitation of fossil fuels.

claig Tue 02-Oct-12 23:19:50

marsh, the spin doctors for the elites told us of the "45 minute dossier" and no one except the MPs who voted believed it, then the spin doctors of the elites told us that we had "50 days to save the planet" and no one but the MPs and TV bosses and newspaper editors and government funded scientists believed them. There was no panic in the public about both claims; the only panic was from the spin doctors when they saw that their spin wasn't working.

marshmallowpies Tue 02-Oct-12 23:32:06

claig the two things really can't be compared. The 45 minute dossier was fudged by spin doctors and politicians who wanted to justify their decision to go to war. The information was shoddy to begin with and on top of that was twisted to suit their own ends.

Climate scientists on the other hand have a vast amount of data and years of analysis - and a pretty clear consensus across academia about what is going on. Unless you think the NASA satellite pictures of the Greenland ice cap melting were faked?

In any case, politicians the world over are pretty much ignoring climate change so it's hardly top of the 'elite's' agenda. Politicians are in thrall to fossil fuels and the oil industry, and climate scientists are the outsiders here.

I don't blame people for ignoring the news - we all like getting on planes and driving cars - but the latest news about the arctic ice cap melt has terrified me. And it terrifies me that the rest of the world is ignoring it.

Sorry for derailing thread. Going to bed now.

claig Tue 02-Oct-12 23:39:53

'In any case, politicians the world over are pretty much ignoring climate change so it's hardly top of the 'elite's' agenda.'

It's because the public haven't fallen for it. Even the elite won't continue flogging a dead horse. Climategate was only the beginning of the end.

Good night.

marshmallowpies Tue 02-Oct-12 23:45:17

I'm the public. I believe it. So do my parents. So do many of my friends. Please don't assume everyone agrees with you. Some of us think differently and we are the public too.

claig Tue 02-Oct-12 23:49:06

When I say the public, I mean the majority. Obviously Gordon Brown and the spin doctors believe it, but as the New Statesman said, the majority of the public don't.

MiniTheMinx Thu 04-Oct-12 18:34:17

I'm with breadandbutterfly & Rosa in terms of postulating that people on the whole lack critical thinking skills. Should Politics and economics be taught in schools....possibly but how could we ever be sure it was being taught without bias. Economics is taught in universities but the prevailing emphasis is on the defence of capitalism.

I also think post modernism, multi culturalism and liberalism in general has split people into smaller and smaller groups with an emphasis on identity politics, so that people of colour, LGBT, feminists white working class, middle class.....all feel that their "oppression" or experience under a political system is unique and specific to them. That suits the elite because it is increasingly difficult to organise on the left.

MiniTheMinx Thu 04-Oct-12 19:21:01

Here is a perfect example of how "education" is used as a cover for propaganda, which is why I would be very cautious about introducing either into the curriculum.

"One of the most striking findings of the Demos survey was that 18-24-year-olds were one of the most likely age groups to call for government controls on how benefits are spent"

MammaBrussels Thu 04-Oct-12 20:15:26

Mini we have to teach Government & Politics in an entirely objective way. Economics students do have to look at the failings of markets as part of the GCSE and A level courses. These are such important subjects - they shouldn't just be left as options in some schools.

notenoughsocks Thu 04-Oct-12 20:41:05

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

I worry about this since it appears to me to be open to quite a lot manipulatin in terms of presentation. To take the example you have given.
You might say £300 on 'Welfare'. Or you might say '£x on pensions and pension credits, £x on benefits for the unemployed, £x on benefits for low paid workers, £x for the disabled etc.' One heading invites the thought 'Scroungers' The other invites more constructive conversation. Where would you cut? How much?

To take the defence example, you might lump it all togther under 'Defence'. Or you might subdivided this into 'armed forces pay', 'nuclear defence' etc. (I know almost nothing of defence spending'.

Anyhow, what I am trying to say is that unless the set up was agreed by all Parties, the proposal worries me. It could so easily end up as cyncial spin disguised as transparency.

claig Thu 04-Oct-12 20:48:40

They don't want you to do real critical thinking, they want to do your thinking for you.

Mini thinks that there is a bias to teaching capitalism etc., but most of teh revered professors and historians and thinkers are leftwingers, not rightwingers. Your Sartres, your de Beauvoirs, your Hobsbawms etc. etc. are leftwing and some are Marxists. The much acclaimed Michael Moores etc. are leftwing. There are very few rightwing thinkers who get the same publicity or access on the BBC or in the LSE as the leftwing thinkers.

Real critical thinking would require you to hear both points of view, to debate both sides and then to make up your mind.

Stewart Dimmock, a lorry (HGV) driver and school governor from Kent, was a real critical thinker, but you have probably never heard of him, the BBC probably didn't give him much TV access.

What they call critical thinking is leftwing thinking. Even though the majority of teh population don't believe in global warming, the BBC don't give equal access to sceptics who use critical thinking compared to scientists who make films of the polar bear.

Real critical thinking involves open debate of both sides of the coin, but the non-critical thinkers don't want you to hear the other side, because then they will lose their power to frame the debate.

'Introduced by State GOP Senator Josh Brecheen, SB 1742 would force the state board of education to assist school staffs in promoting “critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning” and says that teachers “may use supplemental textbooks and instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.'

claig Thu 04-Oct-12 20:54:35

Correction. There are rightwing thinkers and many write for the Daily Mail - Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens etc., but they often attract abuse from the "critical thinkers".

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