Sitting back in ignorance isn’t a ‘vote winner’…

Labour have a problem. Well, they have many. But this one relates to the recent poll where whilst 49% of the respondents blame Labour for the the £81bn cuts, only 26% blame the perpetrators – the Coalition. I have raised the problems that Labour’s faux promotion of a supposed ‘alternative’ causes, especially its inability for countering the dominant neoliberal hegemonic discourse.

It is clear to see why people blame Labour. They don’t appear to be any different. In fact, they would be initiating similar cuts to the Tories this year. Whilst the Coalition goes further through aiming for an eradication of the structural deficit in a Parliament, Darling even argued that Labour’s plans would have resulted in cuts ‘worse than Thatcher’. With no clear alternative being purported by the mainstream parties, apathy and despair sets in. However, this isn’t to deny the ability people have for progressive resistance. But, Labour would be wrong to assume they can ignorantly sit back and take the protest vote without articulating a different direction.

Labour are even blamed more than the banks for the cuts, 31% to 29%. Given Labour’s inability to critique the obscene levels of bankers’ bonuses, the banks’ ability to offset their loses through corporation tax (set to be very low compared to other Western developed countries) and the government’s plans to allow banks (and other organisations) to escape paying extra corporation tax if investing from a foreign country, this is hardly surprising. Especially given Labour’s own record regarding bank ‘regulation’. Instead, Labour cherry pick the things they wish to ‘challenge’.

However, 70% of the respondents believe the cuts are being implemented too quickly – something Labour will be quick to highlight. But here we have a situation where people are actually against the Coalition’s plans, but they are instead blaming Labour for these policies with many believing the Conservatives have the best economic policies. Why? Well firstly, the last Labour government failed to articulate and defend why it did what it did. Secondly, Labour have been in a state of flux ever since Ed Miliband was elected. He fails to inspire, alongside supporting a dangerous proliferation of the dominant neoliberal paradigm.

Interestingly, the state of the global economy was blamed more than the Coalition for the cuts – 18% to 10%; providing traction for further mainstream criticism of the global economic system. I referred to these problems the other day in relation to France, and the rise of the far right. But as long as the Ed Miliband’s get scared away from saying anything that might go against the neoliberal grain; join in with the Warsi bashing of the labour movement; fail to defend those being scapegoated in the name of welfare reform; and act like love struck puppies with the banks – then Labour will fail to challenge a damaging economic hegemony.

However, all is not lost. What we do have is people power (and the Greens!). We don’t need to only mobilise through self-interested and bias political structures, whilst it is often necessary. As demonstrated, we need to continue to build the movement against the government from below; as frankly the top down approach is failing.

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11 thoughts on “Sitting back in ignorance isn’t a ‘vote winner’…

  1. Hi Jane,

    First of all, great blog. The depth of your knowledge and insight is actually quite intimidating! Anyway, I came across your good entry on the Labour Party (‘Sitting Back in Ignorance…’) and thought I’d respond.

    There is very little I would disagree with what you have written. What has to be borne in mind is that there’s nothing particularly “new” about “New Labour” both in terms of general politics or the internal politics of the Labour Party as well. The Labour Party is unique in that it almost always has to entirely re-invent itself every couple of decades or so. British political history is littered with almost apocalyptically optimistic statements of intent from Labour leaders whether they were announcing the “white heat of technology”, that they were “the masters now” or – slightly more pertinently – regaling us with the end of “boom and bust”. In this context, Harold Wilson was just as “new” as Blair, if not more so. And like his later successor, Wilson had but the bare bones of a ‘legacy’ to fall back on or take pride in; their plans for economic democracy shelved if not appropriated by the Conservatives, the economy in disarray.

    Which brings us to Milliband and the “alternative” that he purports to embody. We should view this message with the same scepticism as we now view the above pronouncements. Listening to Milliband and his shadow cabinet and you would think that the thousand flowers of thought have bloomed, the ideas are flowing. In fact, what is almost certain is that any Labour “alternative” will be even more to the Right of Blair, which is going some from an allegedly progressive Party.

    All of which addresses neither the problem of the economy in general terms or the well-being of the people of this nation. And if – come election time – Milliband somehow wins outright, it won’t be because he’s singing a particularly good tune; it will be because by comparison, Cameron will by then sound like he’s warbling sea shanties through a cracked karaoke machine.

    • Hey,

      Thanks a lot for the comments re blog! Means a lot:)

      That is a very interesting analysis of Labour, and I tend to agree. You should write your own blog about that, if you haven’t already!

      As you say, when looking at the facts Labour’s alternative doesn’t amount to anything substantially different. Even Darling today argued that the budget would have been similar to a Labour one. Sadly, whilst Labour have had a history of reinventing themselves, they have forgotten their base along the way; the labour movement.

      The problem with Labour likely to just be reelected is that our politics is based upon a very biased unfair voting system. But aside from that, I think the problem is more profound and systemic in that we preside in a political economy based upon neoliberal values that are hard to permeate with alternatives to the neoliberal dream.

      • “I think the problem is more profound and systemic in that we preside in a political economy based upon neoliberal values that are hard to permeate with alternatives to the neoliberal dream.”

        Absolutely. One of the major difficulties that any alternative ideology like the Green Party’s has to conquer is getting people to look beyond accumulating material goods at as little cost as possible, and realising what the true cost of these items are: to society, to the environment, and in terms of ever dwindling finite resources. The consequences long term are catastrophic. Yet clearly we need radical alternatives and imaginative thinking to drive a change of attitude and action both as individuals and collectively. We cannot look to the Labour Party to supply this direction after 13 years of New Labour, and now with talk of “Blue Labour”. With the electoral system we have, the only realistic “alternative” to the Tories and their Lib Dem sheep, is a Labour Government. Highly depressing as it equates to more of the same ultimately. The following clip just about sums them up perfectly although Nye Bevan would be spinning in his grave to think those words were attributed to him, and to see where his beloved Labour Party has ended up

  2. Can’t argue with the above!
    Labour are failing to do the right thing in certain areas of policy, especially on the economy and welfare, when bold thinking and policy changes really are needed!
    Rather than being positive and inspirational, to win the faith of the people, Labour are more afraid of losing votes. The Labour Party being timid and negative and partisan, is not an edifying sight!

    BUT the absence of oppositional leadership from Labour does create a vacuum in which people power movements can grow and establish themselves, and the Green Party can make serious headway – hopefully becoming the third party, nationally.

    It may be of interest and encouragement to hear that support for the Greens is rising in the South-West of England – see details below, as lifted from UK Polling Report :

    New Poll of South West England.
    21st March 2011
    […] regional voting intention polls are a pretty rare creature. However, today we have a poll of the South West from MarketingMeans.
    Voting intention in the South West (with changes from the vote shares in 2010) currently stands at CON 39%(-4), LAB 29%(+14), LDEM 18%(-17), UKIP 6%(+1), GRN 6%(+5).

    The pattern is broadly the same as the country as a whole, with Liberal Democrat support collapsing towards Labour. […] Also noteworthy is the significant boost for the Greens, who also seem to have benefitted from the Lib Dem drop.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      I totally agree with your assessment of Labour, sadly people’s hate for the coalition will grow so strong they wont care what Labour say but will vote for them to get the lot in out. This is the standard practice of politics but it is a very damaging one. We have no real change, everyone keeps to the hegemonic line. This is why we have a vacuum when it comes to challenging the current economic path. But yes, as you say, that vacuum provides room for parties such as the Green to form. I just feel, as it stands with the system, there needs to be changes in Labour’s way too. However, that is not to undermine the ability of the Greens and people power!

      The problem with us rising in the South is that we need a better strategy in the North. We are too often seen as middle class out of touch dreamers rather than people really representing the views of say the working person. We have got work to do in relation to our image.

  3. Cheers for the comment, Andy.

    I totally agree, well said. It is going to take time, but what Labour is offering is simply more the same.

    And hahahahahhahahahahh that video is amazing! Thanks for sharing.

    • I am slowly plodding my way through Michael Foot’s excellent biography of Aneurin Bevan, I don’t seem to have the time these days to read as much as I’d like. Anyway I am into Volume 2 which is basically from 1945 until his death.

      It is interesting to see from Foot’s fine research, the internal wranglings of the Labour Party back then. Most in the party were surprised at the huge landslide (and therefore mandate) they received in the 1945 General Election. Yet despite this mandate for change, some feared adopting some of the radical policies proposed which eventually delivered the Welfare State, NHS, nationalisation of industries and utilities etc. Not Bevan, he sensed what was coming because he was in touch with the feeling in the country amongst the working classes. He knew that after a war they wanted something far different and much fairer than what they had in the 1930s.

      Throughout his career in the Labour Governments of 1945-51 (and beyond) he had many fierce opponents from the Right of his own party. He was despised by some for resigning on principle over the introduction of some charges for certain NHS services. They accused him of putting his ego before the party, and as a result helping end Labour’s years in power. Many did not forgive him for that back then. Where now he is party hero. But it is striking to see even back then during these fabled years of the party’s history, that the Labour Right (and leadership – leading Ministers and Cabinet in the main) were prepared to compromise principle, philosophy, even achievements to maintain political hegemony. Bevan resigned because of prescription charges for dental care and spectacles. And why were these proposed? To help pay for the huge amount of money Britain was to spend fighting in Korea to help the USA. Even back then a Labour Government was prepared to cut public services to pay for wars. So NMW above is right to suggest there is little new about Labour, and I’d add that apart from the 1945-51 Governments, and the leadership of Michael Foot, it has rarely shown anything approaching socialism. The Right has usually dominated.

      I stumbled across the video clip hunting for some footage of Nye Bevan’s speeches, inspired by reading them in the biography. Sadly not many seem to exist on film. The Bremner, Bird and Fortune sketch is funny as it is sad. There’s so much truth in it, and it is excellent satire, but it is a sorry state of affairs given the traditions of the Labour Party and the likes of great men like Bevan who believed so strongly in what it could do for ordinary working people.

      • To follow-on from what I wrote before and the good replies above – particularly Andy P’s – it is true that what Labour sacrificed (or sold) when appointing someone like Blair as leader (and consequently Prime Minister) was virtually all their sinewy, historical connections to the working class. This is not to suggest that their policies were solely skewed to a middle-class demographic but more that Blair clearly found so much of the baggage of “old” Labour (Durham Miners Gala, Clause 4 etc) to be pointless and anachronistic flummery.

        This was and is unfortunate for both Labour and for the educated working class voter in this country who strenuously wanted “New” Labour to succeed for both personal and national reasons. And, as I say, what seemed to be an abandonment of past ties with a shrinking industrial working class voter-base, now looks like the kind of short-sighted blitz on tradition and good sense that was the hallmark of Thatcher at her worst. After all, did anyone, anywhere really switch sides or vote for Blair in 1997 because Labour scrapped Clause 4? Or because he refused to attend a miner’s gala within spitting distance of his own constituency? Of course not. And the latter just strikes me as poor politics and nothing else. The end result was always going to be a slow-burning but high-yield resentment amongst those voters, especially when they realised that such was not just a result of a political sea-change (which might have been forgivable) but because Blair was attempting a switch of Labour’s polarity from North to South: a pipe dream at the best of times.

        These, more than anything else, is the reasons why working -class voters are more than willing to now vote for the parties on the extremes of British politics, and why those parties (usually those on the far right) appear attractive. Only a measured and extreme form of political desperation would force a life-long Labour voter to throw their weight behind, say, the BNP, and it’s that desperation that Miliband has to address before anything else.

    • I had my my own “Clause IV moment”. A member of the Labour Party from my late teens due to a belief that they were the party of the working class and defenders of the vulnerable in society, it was the ditching of Clause IV that caused me to end my support for Labour. I had my doubts about Blair from the outset and to me the party was growing embarrassed of socialism, looking to ape the Tories rather than offer something radically different.

      I grew politically apathetic in the mid 1990s, however naturally taking delight in the Tories being unceremoniously flung out in 1997, while wary of their replacement. 1997 was the year I first bought a Green Party manifesto (available in WH Smith would you believe) and what I read interested me. Later more in depth study of their policies made me realise that this was a party that most closely matched my beliefs. They got my vote in local elections, although I voted for Labour one more time in the 2001 General Election, not as any kind of endorsement for Blair, but keep the “Old Labour” Harold Best in Parliament having won the Leeds NW seat from the Tories in 1997. In subsequent years I’ve voted Greens where they’ve stood, or independent Socialist / Green candidates in General Elections. The election of Caroline Lucas as Leader of the Green Party (England & Wales) in 2008 was the trigger that converted my Green Party support into actual membership.

      If is often a disheartening experience knowing that you are up against larger, established parties that have money, backers, and greater exposure to the media. But ultimately you have to believe that one day the Greens will attract greater support, and certainly on principle I could not support any of the three main parties. They say nothing to me about my life, offer no real solutions to the problems we face. I rather be in the minority fighting to be heard but speaking the truth than in power lying, cheating, and ruining the lives of working class people in exchange for big profits for business. The challenge for my party is to show ordinary people that we stand for them and the planet before the profit motive and big business. Show them policies of hope, not the hate of the BNP, as an alternative to particularly Labour, but all the main parties because they have all let us down and have little to differentiate themselves from each other following 30 odd years of neo-liberalism.

  4. I can see why Clause 4 and Blair in general turned you right off Labour!

    Interesting journey regarding the Green Party, I can see why Lucas finally captured your membership. The libdem’s betrayal did it for me, but can’t say I wasn’t interested in the Greens before then.

    And my thoughts exactly, politics should be about your belief not seizing power. Let’s hope it wins in the day.

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