Sunday, 27 March 2011

Labour's mistake

Yesterday Ed Miliband made a number of silly errors - mentioning various uncomparable 'movements' in the past, and suggesting the current protests were all part of the same - but they pale in significance compared to the mistakes the Labour Party has made and is still making.

Here are a few of them, off the top of my head:

1. Ed Miliband. Inextricably linked to the big GB, less charismatic than his brother, and seemingly desperate for union approval. Not that the last thing is necessarily a bad idea, especially in the eyes of some Old Labourites, but when it's being done in a political climate where it seems to be opportunist first, ideological second, then its damaging. It also puts off the middle:

2. Putting off the middle. Elections aren't won by hard-core supporters of either side - they're won by getting the approval of the swing voters. Just because this or that party member agrees with this or that item of the government/opposition's agenda doesn't mean the public will. The centre ground is allegedly hated by the press and by people bemoaning the fact that there isn't a choice between parties any more - but it's where elections are won, and ignoring it is dangerous.

3. 'the alternative'. What alternative? Every cut seems to be opposed (even those which would be more likely to be Labour than Tory policies - like the child benefit change). Labour doesn't (and shouldn't) oppose every cut - but without an alternative proposed, Labour risks aligning with the far left, anarchists, and the like. I'm sure there are some in Labour who want this, but this will not win elections. New Labour is a reality, and whatever the next buzz word is (Next Labour - sounds a bit crummy), it has to follow on from New Labour. This is all as much about PR (not proportional representation, of course) as it is about real policy - and as much as people hate that, it's the political world we live in. Release a nice booklet saying what Labour's priorities are - and use that when arguing against specific cuts. It's not full blown policy, but it tells the voter - this is what Labour stands for, this is what we should preserve, and this is how we would do it. Not rocket science.

4. Say sorry. YES the bankers screwed up (partly down to lax regulation that was enacted by Labour and supported by the opposition); YES there has been a global crisis; but YES there was overspending by the last government - a Labour government (not that it was checked AT ALL by the opposition). A Labour government often over-spends - for good reason. When the reason for governing is improving the quality of life, and life chances, of the worst off in society, money needs to be spent. It's political suicide to raise taxes (perhaps a reason that Labour governs for shorter than Tories in general), but money has to come from somewhere. But we've learnt, to our peril, that over-borrowing is also damaging. Say sorry, mean it and bury the past, move on, promote a different course to the government, become an effective opposition. Simples.

Labour is unelectable, even at a time when the government is despised by a lot of people, when the Lib Dems are going to absolutely bomb in the next election, and when there are very deep cuts. So what are you waiting for?

1 comment:

  1. 1. I haven't watched Ed's speech yet but from what you're saying I assume he was being arse-licky to unions. Paying attention to unions is a good thing but I'll watch out for how he goes about that.

    2. I do believe that political parties (when there are so few) can't afford to be insular because it is the public that they need to win over, not their own members. However, I think that unions need a bit of good PR so the public doesn't hear "unions" and switch off immediately. Most people of working age are working and unions' agendas are something they should be taking note of. I also don't know how far a party should compromise what it sees as "its own principles" for electability. If you have to scrap your ideology to get a job in politics you may as well be a civil servant.

    3. Agreed. Ed has been a bit too grassroots for a bit too long, now. He needs a vision. Only dogmatists can support something amorphous just 'cause it has a Labour stamp on it.

    4. I can't confidently speak about economic issues but I do want to hear Labour talk about its own spending. Not necessarily in a condemnatory way, but in a way that at least acknowledges the link between political decisions and economic consequences, and vice versa.

    It is frustrating that Labour is, as yet, unelectable. It is frustrating that Labour can't propose a centrist/centre-left alternative, because it discredits their opposition to the government as opportunistic, knee-jerk and shallow. There's still a lot of time until the next general election, however, and I still have trust in Ed. Maybe this slow grassroots attempt at policymaking will result in something stable that's neither Old nor New Labour.