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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.

claig Thu 04-Oct-12 21:09:32

The image our media gave us of Mitt Romney was of a gaffe-prone politician. They had most of us believing it. But if you watched the Presidential Debate, you will have seen that he was a master of critical thinking and nearly all pundits have said that he won the first debate. The picture our "critical thinking" media painted of him, was false. They didn't want you toi see the other side, but they couldn't hide it, because the debate was broadcast to 60 million viewers.

claig Thu 04-Oct-12 21:12:09

Real critical thinking would require you to question the bias in our media, would require you to spot the spin, to question why they do it.

rosabud Thu 04-Oct-12 21:23:35

No critical thinking is not leftwing thinking. Critical or analytical thinking is a skill which involves being able to look at information and consider it from many different angles including its context, or the way it is presented etc For example you can critically analsye a novel or a film or a picture without necessarily thinking of it in a right wing or in a left wing way. It is one of the higher order thinking skills and it's something which a lot of people simply cannot do. I think that is because they have not been taught to do it and also because they are not expected to do it in their daily lives. The reasons for this are a whole new debate of which one argument is, "they (presumably you mean the authoritites and the government) do not want people to think for themseives, they want to do your thinking for you." Possibly. Personally I would partly agree with this, but I also think there are many other factors including the overlaod of information which people are subjected to and which discourages them from thinking for themselves. For example if you watch a popular TV show like X Factor, it is very tailored to directing the thoughts and emotions of the audience to one particular outcome rather than encouraging individual thought or judgement. Of course, this makes the show hugely entertaining but it actively discourages the kind of critical/ analytical thinking that being able to make discernible judgements about politics requires. And much of our popular culture is currently structured this way .

claig Thu 04-Oct-12 21:35:37

I agree. We all know that the media is powerful and influences opinion. They sold us their story about Mitt Romney and I fell for it too. When I actually watched the debate, I was staggered at how good a thinker, speaker and communicator he actually was. I watched Fox News analysis, and they were obviously hyping up how well TRomney had done, but they were also right, it was true. Our "critical thinkers" will tell us that everything Fox says is rubbish, just because it is Fox, but that is a lie.

To think critically, people need to be educated well, and to be exposed to two sides and to be used to seeing issues from someone else's shoes. "They" don't want you to question their key political views such as global warming, because then they would not be able to pull the wool over your eyes.

claig Thu 04-Oct-12 21:44:54

Some people knew about MPs' expenses, but they sat on it for years; some people knew about Hillsborough, but they sat on it for years; some people knew about Savile, but they sat on it for years. They didn't want you to think critcally and question the image they sold.

MiniTheMinx Thu 04-Oct-12 21:52:25

perhaps revered is key to this?

but most of teh revered professors and historians and thinkers are leftwingers grin but why?

I think our culture prevents critical thinking in lots of ways and would include
consumerism and instant gratification. Over time we have become units of production and consumerism and not much more. People are too busy, too distracted, too introverted and people value themselves and others purely as economic units where a persons value and status is attributed by wealth alone.

I agree with Rosabud and would add that the situation suits those elites, if the "middle" classes were to acquire critical thinking skills the first thing they might discern is that they are working class!

claig Thu 04-Oct-12 22:06:34

'but why?'

smile. It is because that is what the elite, and the media that they control, want you to believe, just as they want to to believe in global warming. They want to influence your thinking, to lead you down the path that they have planned for you.

' Over time we have become units of production and consumerism and not much more.'
Agree, this is the atomisation of society, in order to lead you more easily.

'if the "middle" classes were to acquire critical thinking'
But the middle class in great numbers read the Daily Mail - it don't get much more critical than that! That's why the 'critical thinkers' and their TV channel bosses give those good people so much abuse!

MiniTheMinx Thu 04-Oct-12 22:18:48

grin that's why my father's brain is so addled critical, he reads the mail.

I agree that some of our most eminent thinkers have been left wing but economics at the LSE has been very much influenced by free market rhetoric for a long time. I think marxist economics is gathering more favour now but in recent years it has been considered dated and to have been "proven" wrong. So whilst marx might be covered in the sense of this is what Dialectical materialism is, students will not have been invited to use this method to analyse changes in the markets or the business cycle. There is a huge difference between getting a potted history of some theory and actually being granted time to fully study it and apply it.

ttosca Mon 08-Oct-12 18:13:12

Poor claig.

claig Mon 08-Oct-12 23:34:34

Patronising ttosca

ttosca Tue 09-Oct-12 12:48:53

When you're bigging up Fox news, you're truly beyond help, claig.

If you were in the USA, you'd be a tea-party member: ignorant, frightened, populist and reactionary. You think you're sticking up for 'the little man' against 'the elite', but instead you're just a tool for wealthy and powerful who laugh at you behind your back and hold you in contempt.

claig Tue 09-Oct-12 19:03:27

ttosca, you should watch Fox News to broaden your political horizons and listen to views that may challenge your entrenched position.

Isn't Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, a Tea Party darling? Let's see how he does in the debate against Biden.

I am a Daily Mail reader, we are tools for no one except the people. Many of us do not believe the wealthy and powerful when they tell us that we have only 50 days left to save the planet. The real wealthy elite probably laugh at tools who believe it.

ttosca Wed 10-Oct-12 15:36:01


claig Wed 10-Oct-12 16:02:52

I suspected you were

ivanhoe Mon 22-Oct-12 20:38:08

The traditional Labour party was forced to ditch it's core values to get elected 1997, because the new middle classes ditched Labour through the 80's and 90's and jumped on Thatcher's right wing free market.

Those among the middle classes moaning now about child benefit cuts, are the initiators of their own displeasure.

If only they could see it.???????????

ivanhoe Mon 22-Oct-12 20:40:20

The Daily Mail, The Sun, right wing propogandist garbage.

ivanhoe Mon 22-Oct-12 20:43:02

Brilliant. I would add that the greed, selfishness, and introspection of Britain's middle class Tory voters really makes me puke.

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