Monday, 12 August 2013

Where is the Labour Party?

or One nation, but how many Labour Parties?

An article on The Backbencher entitled Why I'm Leaving Labour will delight supporters of the Coalition. Of course, for every Labour member snipping angrily at her or his card, there are probably three Lib Dems doing the same as well as cohorts of Tories. Nevertheless, Mr. Oliver's protest is one of a growing number of warning bells which must by now be reverberating quite loudly in the heads of the Eds.

The problem is this: people are starting to ask, where is the Labour Party? Miliband the Younger was neither the bookies' favourite to win Labour's 2010 leadership contest nor in fact the favourite of its membership. Trade Union votes tipped the scales and thus poor Ed - previously a loyal, centrist Brownite - was dubbed 'Red Ed' and the Tories had a field day.

But while the right wing of British politics and press were rolling about in the result like swine in mud, the left was asking rather more nervously, is Ed up to it?

Well, not all of the left: as a Lib Dem supporter, the defeat of David by Ed filled me with relief. The younger sibling seems very much the lesser sibling. The prospect of young Ed as Prime Minister brings to mind this fantastic scene from Blackadder - not a good sign.

But Ed worked hard to shed his 'lefty' imagine and has largely done so - he is now seen as somewhat obscurely centrist. This has not ended his woes: effecting to remedy the former charge, Ed only exacerbated the second. He traded lefty-ism for ineffectuality.

Even his own MPs are unimpressed. And polls consistently beat him up as the least inspiring, least consistent, least PM-worthy of party leaders. His 'flip-flopping' (a term originally reserved for Mr. Clegg) has been continuously pounced upon, yet his occasional boldness on issues like party funding and Europe has been largely ignored.

All this makes woeful reading for Labourites. Yet reading Mr. Oliver's aforementioned article, one realises that there exists a more fundamental disconnect. Many of Labour's members never really wanted the sort of centre-right politics of Blair et al. The party, although badly factionalised, still has decidedly 'lefty' instincts and might, one hopes, be proud of them. From thence Labour came and to there, some say, it should return. But having taken such pains to shed his 'red' image, can supporters really expect Ed to be the one to take them back?

So perhaps as well as asking where Labour is, we might also ask what Labour is. Leftist? Centrist? Pro-austerity? Anti-cuts? The sad answer, I think, is that Labour knows very well that British politics has become steadily less ideological and more 'Who's going to fix this?' in tone. Leaving behind the indignant militancy of times gone by, we have now entered an epoch of political trench warfare, trapped in the burrows of an anachronistic electoral system, stalemated, periodically trading lacklustre fire, nobody willing to go over the top first.

So Labour say only what they imagine voters are listening out for.

And maybe that's all they can do. Because - if we're honest - we all know that if any party can break this stalemate, it is not Ed's new-old-Conservative-old-New-Labour Party.

1 comment:

  1. Good post - I like the trench warfare metaphor, I feel that's particularly apt. While Labour do seem to have the potential advantage right now of being the only party who are true, in effect, to their own manifesto, I completely agree in questioning whether 'Miliband the Even Younger' is the man for the job...