Labour (rightly, in my opinion) claim that the Oldham by-election represents a rejection from the public re the ConDem’s cuts, whilst the LibDems pretend to be confident and contented seconds (they argue that by-elections are rarely won by the government against opposition parties, despite the fact they moved the writ with the explicit expectation to win) and leading Tories are trying to silence their dissenters who are rightly criticising the Tories for their rather non-existent campaign.
Arrogance was definitely on the table last night, as well; the Tories were blaming the weather for their poor campaigning whilst Labour celebrated with flowers before the result had been called. However, Labour cannot afford to be arrogant. Oldham’s result provides more questions than it does answers. It is obvious that the public are hardly accepting the cuts line – even with the ousting of a racist MP, the public still decided against punishing Labour (all the “it’s Labour’s fault” in the world aren’t seeming to work). Even David Cameron is beginning to accept that the public aren’t accepting the ‘necessary’ cuts as he had expected.
Sadly, however, Labour’s ‘alternative’ is poor, as mentioned yesterday – Ed Miliband has reinforced his adoption of the neo-liberal line of cuts as the solution. As Len McCluskey said, it is ineffectual to protest on the basis of cuts later and slower (Emily Thornbery’s response is a good example of this error). There is no factual need for cuts. Labour may be benefiting from the public’s hatred for the cuts – but it is time for them to really carve out why they would be so different.
This is where the Greens’ disappointing result comes in. The problem relates to the Greens inability to build a base in the north similar to their southern base; their anti-cut message is failing to penetrate within the areas that are set to be the most affected. Too often, Greens are deemed to be isolated environmentalists. The environment however, does run through all aspects of our policy – as do social, political, economic and cultural issues, at large. The commons is a great expression of how these different layers interact; judging things such as the environment in isolation is central to why the environment is commodified and divorced from wider contextual influences.
Noted, there are issues with funding and resources re the Greens’ ability to progress in the north. However, there are serious questions needing attention in relation to how we communicate our policies to the broader population and connect with more movements, including working people, to build a bigger base in the north. It wont be easy, and given that we are growing in the south, it will need careful consideration. However, it is definitely something we should be thinking about, especially given Labour’s poor ‘alternative’ of just basically cuts at a slower pace; our alternative should be having a better effect than it is – nor can we simply blame the electoral system.
However, as I mentioned previously – our resistance is enclosed from mainstream space given that we are one of the few mainstream parties to actually voice strong opposition to the cuts and argue there is a real alternative. Labour are relying on the public’s disgust of the coalition, but they really need to start carving out a narrative to counter-pose the government’s existing one. But if they are going to go down the line of justifying the cuts, the oppositional forces through mainstream channels – especially up in the north given the Greens’ weaker base and structure – is narrow. However, this is where a complementary political ethic is important when challenging the political structures that construct dominant misleading lies about what is needed in the ‘national’ interest.
The by-election poses questions for all parties as well as ruptures regarding parties’ given directions. Positive reflection and resistance to enclosure needs to become the focus for Labour; whilst the Greens need to place more consideration on how to build a greater base in the north given that racist parties such as the BNP are beating us.