Monday, 13 July 2015

British Labour - what's the point of it?

So, Harriet Harman has indicated that the British Labour Party should not oppose the government's programme of cuts and caps, which are designed to leave the poorest - even the working poor - worse off.

Let's just pause to consider that statement again.  The first unalloyed Conservative budget in 19 years. And the Labour Party will accept it without demur.  Even though it is calculated it will hack over 10% out of the income of a family on £20,000.

Harman's justification is that the voters have rejected the alternatives offered by Labour twice, with catastrophic defeats in 2010 and 2015.
Labour will not vote against the government’s welfare bill and should not oppose limiting child tax credits to two children, the party’s interim leader, Harriet Harman, has said, provoking a storm of criticism including from some its leadership candidates.

She said Labour should also not oppose certain conditions in the planned cap on household welfare benefits.

The party simply could not tell the public they were wrong after two general election defeats in a row, she said, adding it had been defeated because it had not been trusted on the economy or benefits.

In what was clearly designed as a watershed interview on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, Harman seemed intent on shaking the party out of what she fears is a reversion to its comfort zone after election defeat. “We cannot simply say to the public you were wrong at the election,” she said. “We’ve got to wake up and recognise that this was not a blip; we’ve had a serious defeat and we must listen to why.”
Only, of course, the voters did no such thing.  In 2015, two thirds of the electorate cast a ballot, and of that two thirds, just over a third cast voted Conservative.  Three quarters of the electorate either passive or actively refused to endorse this government, and the Labour Party would do far better appeal to them, rather than competing with the Conservatives for a sliver of the quarter that did.

If Labour was seriously defeated, so was the government on an ideological level.  Thatcher commanded 44% of the vote in 1979. The share won by Cameron is almost the same as Ted heath won in 1974, when the Conservatives were DEFEATED. If Labour is a spent force, so is Conservative.

After all, in a fight over the 'floating voters' in the Conservative camp, the likes of the Mail and the Sun are going to support the Tories in almost every situation.  And if the Labour Party does manage to ape the Tories sufficiently well to win the support of the right wing media ... well, we saw how that ended up.

A decade of Blairism was a de facto Tory hegemony for 18 years, followed by the facto version from 2015.  The biggest loss of the Blair years, democratically speaking, was the failure to revitalise and energise their voters as a social democratic force, voting positively for a strong, fair and just society.  Instead it was taken for granted, neglected and frittered away, until in the end it simply refused to turn up or looked elsewhere for representation.

Three of the leadership candidates have voiced opposition to Harman's attempt to drive the Labour party further into oblivion - Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper have signalled disagreement, though they might be more convincing if they were to stand by these principles and quit the Shadow Cabinet, rather than remaining in.  After all, it is easy enough to say you oppose something, far harder to actually do something about it.  We've really had enough of politicians mouthing platitudes, chaps.  Hitting the poor is not something the Labour Party should be doing, and if you are really opposed to it, then quit the Shadow Cabinet.

Jeremy Corbyn, of course, has the advantage of being the perennial outsider here, and has spoked pretty forthrightly about it:
If it is proposed that Labour MPs are being asked to vote for the government’s plans to cut benefits to families, I am not willing to vote for policies that will push more children into poverty. Families are suffering enough. We shouldn’t play the government’s political games when the welfare of children is at stake.
Frighteningly, the perennial outsider os starting to sound more and more like the voice of sanity in the shambles that is the Labour Party.

I think opposition to child poverty would be a profoundly good thing to campaign on. People actually understand fairness when it concerns children. Not many people - not even the 1 in 6 of the electorate who voted for the government, are in favour of child impoverishment. They voted for the Conservatives because they thought it was the better option for Britain; no-one thinks pushing children into poverty is good for the country, however.

Perhaps, in a way, Harman is right. Perhaps she - and several others - should heed her own advice. Labour has been twice rejected. On both occasions they were campaigning as Tory lite, the nicer version of the nasty party. They were rejected,by their core vote, for being too like the Tories, and by the contestable vote for loking like a bunch of hollow, hypocritical chancers.

Maybe Harman should go, and take the revenants of the Blair / Brown years with her and let that strategic blunder fade from memory. Maybe more people will be inclined to vote for the party if they aren't constantly being reminded why they grew to hate it in the first place.

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