Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Labour - what are they for?

Labour, it seems, needs a new leader. The current one, apparently, is "not electable". But what difference will a new one make? What is the problem with the policies of the current leader that has driven rebellions and resignations in the parliamentary party since the day he was elected? Surely nobody can seriously suggest the day-one wave of resignations and subsequent chorus of complaints were about his leadership style...

Even the current rebellion, incubating since the start, is not about any particular leadership failing. It was going to happen after his first by-election, but Labour did well. It would have happened after the council elections, but again, the results were not bad enough. Now, after Corbyn campaigned for remain while Hilary Benn stalked the Shadow Cabinet for people to join the revolt, the excuse is the very division the dissidents fomented.

This is quite clearly not about leadership, or unity. It is about Corbyn, and what he stands for. But what alternative is being offered? What will Angela Eagle offer instead, apart from platitudes about Leadership, Unity and perhaps Apple Pie?

The Labour party's problems between Corbyn, the Parliamentary party, the Unions and the Constituency parties are just a symptom of a wider failure to understand and articulate what is the point of Labour. A failure that has lost them two general elections, and caused the massive alienation that lost the referendum  campaign in their previous "heartlands".

I suspect that before they can agree on a leader who can take them into the next election, however soon that may be, there are some fundamental questions they need to answer.
  1. What caused the current Great Recession? The Tories argued that it was Labour overspending or incompetence or some such. During the election there was no clear counternarrative.
  2. Why did Labour lose the last general election? Were they really too left wing? Was it Ed's face or bacon sandwiches? Or did Labour voters fail to turn out for a programme that was economically and philosophically indistinguishable from Tory neo-liberalism, with slightly less austerity? Were voters afraid Labour would crash the economy again? (See question one)
  3. How will Labour address the very real grievances of the north of England who voted in such numbers for Brexit, against the (however muted) advice of the party elite? Because I'm not sure privatising a few more public bodies and mortgaging infrastructure in additional public private "partnerships" is going to cut it.
  4. What alternative, if any, will Labour offer in Parliament and in their public advocacy to the current Conservative economic philosophy of austerity and what seems like free market fundamentalism?
The instincts of the PLP members who nominated Corbyn in order to have a wide-ranging debate were sound. It is tragic that during the campaign and following his election to the leadership this debate did not happen. If Labour is to survive as a political force in the UK (or at least in Britain) it must move the debate beyond platitudes about electability and leadership, and onto why anyone should elect them!

What is Labour for?

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