A nasty authoritarian streak

I’m going to say this now and nip it in the bud, I’m no fan of the Blairite think-tank Progress. But ultimately, this post is not on the ideological flaws and merits of Progress and any personal problems I have with the think-tank. This post is about the continuation of plurality within the Labour party.

In the last week, the Trade Union, GMB, called for the expulsion of Progress as an affiliate organisation to the Labour party. Now whatever you may think of Progress this is indeed a nasty authoritarian streak by the GMB leadership. The Labour party has always prided itself on being a broad church and it’s only through open and fair debate within the party that we can come to a united progressive/social democratic/socialist agreement and movement. Yes, I’ll admit in the last twenty years or so this open debate and communication between different segments of the party has often subdued or ignored. But as a party pluralist and a man of consensus this is the ideal way forward.

If GMB is really not a fan of Progress, how about an open and honest dialogue to attempt to come to a common agreement or even to persuade members of any ideological flaws they may have.

We are stronger united as a Labour party and yet we are still entirely capable of having our own internal disagreements and discussion. Childishly excluding segments of the party will only take steps to further alienate ‘factions’ and even lessen our electability.

Max

Will there be more upset results on May 3rd?

Thursday 3rd May sees local government elections across the country, most importantly for 40 of the 120 Birmingham City Council wards. Currently holding 56 seats, the Labour group stands poised to seize back control after eight years of Tory-Lib Dem rule. A net gain of five councillors will tip the balance; hopefully we win even more.

The mood on the doorstep is promising – those who voted Labour in 2010 and 2011 (and who successfully voted in several new councillors) are staying with us. National-level polls look promising, even with just under four weeks to go. However what is most noticeable is the level of anger directed towards the government, both by our supporters and those of no declared preference. In the latter instance a dislike of the Tories does not mean support for us. Too often I hear the common refrain “They’re both as bad as one another”. This is frequently coupled with “they’re all in it for themselves”, or “there’s no difference between the main parties any more.” Tragically these clichéd anti-political statements are most common in the more deprived areas.

Why? It is true that in government we were perceived as forgetting our traditional base. It is probably true that Labour neglected those less well off while pandering to the already privileged middle classes. Where we did immeasurable good (the minimum wage, proper funding for health and education) people have already adjusted their base levels and forgotten what existed before. Some people simply grew bitter as we failed to live up to high expectations. None of this justifies the intellectual laziness of the anti-politics sentiments, but it perhaps helps to explains them.

In short, just because people are learning anew why so many of us hate the Tories, a Labour vote is not inevitable. There has been enough analysis of the Bradford West result to be sure of that. YouGov’s fortnightly “Best Prime Minister” question shows that while Cameron has dropped to 30% (-8), Ed Miliband has only risen to 19% (+1). The difference has gone to the “don’t knows”. Most striking of all was today’s Survation voter intention poll which puts UKIP joint with the Liberal Democrats on 11%. All three main party leaders have negative approval ratings among the general public. Barring any great enthusiasm for Labour, the May elections could be a good time for the minor party protest vote.

Looking to Birmingham, the Statement of Persons Nominated was released earlier in the week. All three main parties have candidates in every ward. The Greens (for whom I have a fair amount of sympathy) have also put forward 40 candidates. The BNP and UKIP have both put forward 18 candidates each. In addition there are ‘80s throwbacks the Social Democratic Party and the National Front (both with 4). Add to this one Independent, the Socialist Labour Party (2), and general anti-cuts groupings (3 between them). Finally, don’t forget one lonely English Democrat. None of these minor parties currently have any representation in the City Council. Respect, which does, is fielding no candidates, a decision they may now be regretting.

Will any of these minor parties do well on May 3rd? The excellent Political Betting does a good national analysis for this question. Specific toBirmingham, I would imagine not. The vote margins as they currently stand are too large – only someone withGalloway’s personality cult and the publicity of a by-election could achieve the swings needed. Looking at many wards there still exists a two party system straight out of the 1950’s – it genuinely is a “two horse” race in many cases, no matter how infuriately those dodgy bar charts are. Quinton ward last year saw Labour and the Tories win 89% of the vote between them. If I were a partisan I might be glad that we don’t use some fancy preferential voting system – the power of the “wasted vote” is strong indeed.

Will there be Green (or UKIP) councillors in the Council House after May 3rd? My judgement is “No”. On the other hand, I can easily see the minor party vote having a spoiler effect on one or two results. Looking at last year’s Harborne result, the difference between winning Labour candidate and losing Tory was smaller than the total votes won by the Greens. In a two-way fight one could assume that Green voters would favour Labour over Tory, but you can never be certain. Minor parties from left and right could be responsible for many split votes this time around. It might not cost us a majority, but it could cost us seats.

We should never assume that just because voters are anti-Tory, they are pro-us. We are not the only opposition, and we have to earn the trust and support of the electorate, otherwise there could be more Bradford-style upsets in waiting.

Why Turn Blue When Just ‘Labour’ Will Do?

As Ed Miliband gathers opinions and considers the future policy direction of the Labour party as part of the Policy Review, there has been much debate recently about whether or not to pursue ‘Blue Labour’, as proposed by the academic and Labour peer Maurice Glasman. Blue Labour, a response to ‘Red Toryism’, aims to put co-operatives and the community at the heart of the lives of ordinary British people, and is a rebuttal of New Labour’s strangling embrace of neo-liberalism, which left swathes of grassroots Labour supporters feeling alienated and ignored by the party leadership.

Glasman has a point, for throughout the history of the ‘people’s party’ there has been a split between liberals, state socialists and those who favour co-operatives and more local organisation – many Labour MPs today are also members of the Co-operative Party, and since its inception at the turn of the twentieth century the Labour movement has been associated with local organisation and mobilisation.

Martin Pugh in his 2009 book “Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party” argues persuasively that the real dilemma for Labour through its history has not been attracting liberal support, but attracting hard-working but low-paid voters from the temptations of the Conservatives: many ordinary working class communities share the Tories’ patriotism; love of the armed forces (many of them have close relatives or friends serving in Afghanistan); desire for home ownership and a tough stance on law and order – why did so many vote for Margaret Thatcher in 1979, read the Daily Mail, and in a few cases drift to more extreme parties through fear of their jobs because of immigration and globalisation? Pugh stresses that when Labour came into being many voters were torn between it and the Tories because of these economic concerns, plus social beliefs like temperance or the role of the Church in schools.

Where Glasman takes the wrong path, in my view, is in his attempt to respond to Cameron’s Big Society by mimicking it and advocating a further retrenchment of the state, along with a return to a 1950s-style focus on the family, the flag, and feminism being almost unheard-of. That’s not ‘Blue Labour’, that’s just conservatism. If we as social democrats want to see equality of provision across the board, we need to expose the Big Society for what it is: a cover for cuts dreamt up by Steve Hilton when the Tories needed to be seen to be shedding the aura of Thatcherism.

If Labour is to win elections again without ditching our principles – to do so would be an insult to people like the families of those killed in Norway – we need to ‘re-connect with the grassroots,’ to use the spin-doctors jargon, by addressing, or at the very least appreciating, the legitimate concerns of the hard-working folk who keep the economy growing and keep money coming into the Exchequer. Instead of Big Society initiatives, we need to take the lead on key issues like housing, providing ample employment for deprived communities and young people generally, and not simply dismissing people’s concerns about migration and welfare dependency. That does not mean leaving the EU, saying we should only have British jobs for British workers, or undertaking humiliating fit-for-work tests like those currently going on under Iain Duncan Smith. It just means listening to those too well-off to be on benefits but on low wages, as well as staying true to  proud values like tolerance. If we go some way to pointing out these worries in opposition, whilst criticising the Con-Dems’ unfair cuts, the sought-after swing voters will follow, and we may just wake up to find ourselves in government again.

Unite Behind The Unions

This week, the ominously-titled Business Secretary, Vince Cable, quickstepped down to Brighton to address the conference of the GMB Union, and calmly warned delegates, in no uncertain terms, that they can either lay back and take the savage cuts from the coalition government or face the consequences, which will take the form of more draconian anti-union legislation than even Maggie could dream of.

The coalition’s plans to pre-empt any upcoming Seasons of Discontent include only allowing official strike action to be valid where over 50 percent of members vote to withdraw their labour. This despite the fact that turnout in May’s AV referendum was only 42 percent; if the rules being drawn up for the unions were applied to that particular plebiscite we would now be going through that shambles of a campaign all over again. Perish the thought.

However over the last twelve months we have come to expect this sort of hypocritical posturing from the government, aimed at punishing the ordinary working man and woman for the 30-year poker game that took place in the City of London. We have even got used to the fact the the Liberal Democrats are happy to do all the dirty work while the Tories get on with the more important matters of screwing up the NHS, the Royal Mail, higher education and so on.

What is most worrying is the deafening silence coming from the Labour party over the last week.

It seems Ed Miliband, frightened by the response of the reactionary media after his speech at the March for the Alternative in Hyde Park earlier this year, has taken cover in the vain hope that all will blow over and the coalition will make itself so unpopular by 2015 that he will be swept to number 10 to save the day. It is not going to blow over. The Con-Dems will continue on their crusade against the public sector in the coming years, and can be forgiven for believing they have no effective opposition – when the only public figure speaking up for public sector workers is the Archbishop of Canterbury, you know Labour is in a bit of a pickle.

It’s time we got over the 1983, defeatist attitude and spoke up for ordinary working people who face falling wages, living standards and an uncertain future. This does not mean retreating into an unelectable, hard-left cocoon; it means not forgetting those who founded the Labour party in the first place over a century ago.

Wolverhampton Labour

It was only very recently brought to my attention that the West Midlands Labour Students region has the honour of welcoming another Labour Students Club to its ranks. The University of Wolverhampton (or Wolverhampton University, not sure which) Labour Students. This brand spanking new society has already received under a 100(!) new members even though only being set up in December. That is nothing less that phenomenal work.

WULS (like BULS, a shortened name) like us has set up their own website (http://wolveslabourstudents.wordpress.com/) which we as the only Labour Students blog to reach the Top 100 Total Politics Labour blogs of 2010 will encourage and nurture. Ultimately, recent ties we have made will help create the great ‘West Midlands Network’ Chair-elect, Dan Harrison, is so keen to create with the already advertising event of an International Women’s day event in early March (me thinks) at Wolverhampton University.

We wish them best of luck and hope to work closely alongside our comrades in Wolverhampton.

Max

Divided we fall

I admire Laurie Penny. I really do. But her latest blog on the New Statesman is counterproductive. Labour are NOT taking this lying down. Labour is the natural home for those who have been left out in the cold by the cuts, but more generally everyone who hasn’t been taken in by the talk of necessity must unite to oppose the spending review.

As the official opposition ours must be the loudest and most credible voice, the most potent ideas in creating alternatives, the bravest actions defending those who need to be defended. We must work together with the Lib Dem rebels when they emerge, with the unions, with the sensible media, the organisations facing decimation and the local councils. Because the Tories’ real mantra is not “we’re all in this together” but “Divide and Rule”.

It’s a clever strategy because stricken groups have started thinking “it’s us or them”. So the owners of art galleries might argue their case at the expense of theatres or museums. The NHS can campaign as being more essential that higher education. Those struggling to get onto the housing ladder can blame all those “benefit cheats” they’ve been hearing about.

Meanwhile we’ve been “benefitting” from a little Lib-Dem devolution in which local councils can decide exactly which services to cut from their budgets. This may lead to competition, but is more likely to lead to poor management and bankruptcy.

From division by group in society to division by area of the country the coalition has got us covered. But the protests are just beginning…

Suzy

That was it and now this will be it…

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Ed Miliband, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and MP for Doncaster North has been elected leader of the Labour Party and is now also leader of the Official (and truly only) Opposition. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the media mobbing Ed and also seeing him make his victory speech was rather surreal and even a bit odd (though not in any bad way). His victory was won by the narrowest of margins, 1.3%(!) over his brother, but whatever the system and whatever the margin, a victory is still a victory and is now vital that despite whoever you wanted leader, we all  back him.

Special commiserations for his brother, for being tipped for the last three years as the obvious successor to Brown and then to come so close must be almost heart breaking, but he was mature (and loving) enough to claim that “this is Ed’s day”, so I do hope he can keep his role as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

One thing I did notice, was the apparent glee from the Tory ranks. Apparently, Ed is somehow a return to the 1980s, a “Red Ed” and handing the Coalition electoral success on a platter. Really? For one Ed served Gordon Brown for 13 years as a policy adviser, he’s certainly a far flung from the militancy from that era. And also, they underestimate him at their own peril, hell; 3 years ago barely anyone had even heard of Ed, to turn everything around against all expectations (and his own brother) are something to be taken seriously.

It’s safe to say “New” Labour is truly at end, it is time for Labour to move on from the Blair-Brown era and let the new progressive era dawn very soon. Now bring on the real change and 2015!

Max