I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for long enough now to see that there are some stark divisions internally. In fact, there is probably more infighting within Labour as there is between Labour and any other party. But these divisions appear to be blurring and humanising themselves somewhat. But, alas, it’s still, to this day, the Blairites v. Everyone else.
The funny thing is, the party is still being run by people who’s politics are now irrelevant to the Labour party, seeing as Tony Blair hasn’t been the leader, or Prime Minister for six years. I don’t know if the Blairites got the memo, but Tony is gone, and has been for a good number of years.
I suppose you could say the same thing to the Bennites and the Footists, the Smithists and the Kinnockites, but those of us who are on the left of the party are at least trying to get with the times.
The members on the left do their job. They tell the party, however indirectly, what they should be doing as a political party. And even though the left tell them, the force, will and power of the Blairites and beyond is rather more than the power of the left. The Blairites will nod and smile to new proposals like the planned welfare cap on certain benefits, but the left will tell the party that they’re not getting it quite right and suggest a better way of doing welfare.
This blog post is intended to be about what Labour should be doing in opposition.
So, following on from nodding and grinning, that is absolutely not what people should be doing. We should not be keeping to the centre ground either. Thirteen years of being in the centre ground for policy brought us a decreased election turnout and a decreased amount of seats in every election after 1997.
In 1997, Labour won an amazing landslide, with 418 seats in parliament. 178 sitting Conservative MPs were unseated and lost their jobs. Labour’s victory was largely due to the charisma of Tony Blair, but was mainly due to Conservative sleaze and disaffection with eighteen years of Tory rule.
After the victory, we saw brilliant things, like a national minimum wage, paid matenity leave for women, increased spending on education and health and rising employment and economic growth. Good times, I hear you say. As early as 1998, people began to be disaffected with Blair and the New Labour government, largely due to the removal of single parent allowances in many benefits.
But it wasn’t until 2001 when people really started to criticise Blair and Labour and it came at the worst possible time. On September the 11th 2001, the world was rocked by the shocking attack from Al Qaeda on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Almost 3000 people died in these attacks and it prompted a worldwide backlash in measures of counter terrorism and various wars that are still ongoing.
By 2003, Tony Blair had taken Britain into wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The British public were starting to fall out of love with Blair and Labour, but still had a blatant distrust of the Tories as we saw in the 2005 General Election. By rights, Labour should have lost the 2005 election, but they didn’t.
What we did see, was that the party was starting to lose seats. In 2001 Labour lost five seats. However, in 2005, Labour lost a whopping 47 seats. And of course, in 2010, Labour lost the election with the worst result they’d ever had since the second World War.
So why was this? Labour failed to see a victory like 1997 for a number of reasons. Firstly, the public were distrusting of Tony Blair, who sent Britain into an illegal war, that he lied about. In order to fight the war on terror, he curtailed many of our civil liberties. Tony Blair also failed to reverse any of the Tories’ privatisations and actually privatised more things, favouring PPP and PPI to build schools and hospitals instead of raising money through general taxation.
People didn’t feel like Labour was on the side of the working people anymore. They had fears about immigration, jobs, the economy ammongst others that they felt Labour had let them down on. The 2010 general election just about showed the general public felt let down by politicians in general due to their inability to elect a majority government.
So, fighting on the centre ground hasn’t really worked for Labour. Centrism has lead to a decrease in the number of seats, a decrease in the turnout and a decrease in the share of the popular vote. With so much anger geared towards Cameron’s government, the Labour Party would do well to move themselves to the left. How do they differentiate themselves if they simply regurgitate Tory policies with a kinder face? What’s the point of that? There has been a huge resurgence in left wing thought and one of the most prominent thinkers of our age, is Owen Jones, a staunch leftie who personifies the anger brewing in Britain. So what would the problem be?
Moving to the left would be advantageous where areas like the economy, the NHS, jobs and education are concerned. The British public tend to be socially democratic where these areas are concerned, and a tad more conservative when areas like welfare, immigration, justice and taxation are concerned. Not that Labour should pander to this, npbut use it’s influence to debunk stereotypes and myths in the right wing press.
It’s a long shot, but with the right spirit and idealism, there’s a chance we may be able to reclaim the party again.