jonesblog

Archive for the ‘Labour’ Category

LabourList: A call to arms

with 7 comments

This article first appeared on LabourList

For those who stand outside the austerity consensus, reading Len McCluskey’s columnon Tuesday was like coming up for air.

It is a cause of deep frustration that, as the Tories’ economic policies are shown to fail (in terms of jobs, growth, consumer confidence, economic inactivity and borrowing levels), the Labour leadership has moved to legitimise them. I’ve written elsewhereabout why Ed Balls’ declaration that “My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts” is politically disastrous, and indeed it was jubilantly used by David Cameron to beat Ed Miliband across the head with at today’s PMQs. But in truth, it is difficult for even the most diehard leadership loyalist to sum up Labour’s current strategy on the cuts and the deficit. The Tories are shaping the argument, and no coherent alternative is being offered.

What is perhaps most galling about Balls’ intervention is that it came as Standard & Poor of all institutions offered the missing coherent case against austerity as it downgraded the credit ratings of nine European nations. Justifying its decision, it said: “We believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating, as domestic demand falls in line with consumers’ rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues.” Balls has referred to it in passing, but it was of course eclipsed by the rest of his statement.

The commitment to a public sector pay freeze may have even worse consequences. Given the rate of inflation, Labour has committed to a pay cut for dinner ladies, nurses, teachers, bin collectors, and so on. A false choice is being presented – that it’s either pay or jobs. But if millions of public sector workers have less to spend, consumer demand will be hit, and considerable numbers of private sector workers will almost certainly lose their jobs as a consequence. Labour’s position is more than symbolic, though. Now the Opposition is committed to the Government’s position on pay, it completely undermines the union case against it. Labour’s leadership has allowed itself to become an outrider for the Government.

Given Labour’s failure to challenge the Tory agenda, the fact that Len McCluskey has acted as a voice of sanity at a time of economic madness is welcome in itself. Miliband talks a lot about a return to the 1980s, but McCluskey more accurately points out we’re experiencing a 1930s Comeback Tour: when all main parties converged around the same disastrous economic course. But McCluskey’s intervention is far more significant in other ways.

Many party activists and trade unionists may not happy with the direction of the Labour leadership. But the truth is that it is an expression of where we’re at politically. The left and the broader labour movement were battered and beaten in the 1980s, and never recovered. Today, there exists no left either with mass support or a coherent alternative, either within the Labour Party, or outside it. There’s lots of pressure dragging the Labour leadership towards the Tories’ position: the presence of hardened Blairite elements, a hegemonic government, the media, big business, the City, and so on. I’m afraid it also includes broader public opinion which, while believing cuts are too far and too fast, still believes them necessary: unsurprising after years of being bombarded with pro-cuts propaganda, with no alternative being offered.

If the left wants the Labour leadership to change course, it has to build pressure that currently does not exist. And that’s why McCluskey’s intervention is important and should be built on.

There is currently a divide in the labour movement between those who accept the underlying case of what the Tories are doing, with just nuances to separate them from the Government: or the Surrender Tendency as I call them. On the other hand, there are those who want a coherent alternative to the Tory agenda: I can’t think of a good label for them, so I’ll stick with the Alternatives (even though it sounds a bit like a girl band). The problem is the Surrender Tendency happen to be concentrated in the Labour leadership. The Alternatives have a lot of support in the broader membership, but they are not organised.

McCluskey’s intervention should be treated as a kick up the backside for the Alternatives. We need to organise so we can put pressure on the Labour leadership, challenge the Tory and media consensus, and shift public opinion.

McCluskey is in a good position to help lead this charge. He can’t be dismissed by Tories and Blairites as the mouthpiece for public sector “vested interests”: although his union represents thousands of public sector workers, most of its membership are private sector workers who are themselves being hammered by the crisis.

We need to get the Alternatives together: party activists, MPs, trade union leaders and members, activists from community and campaign groups, journalists, bloggers, and so on.

Then we have to move from ‘There Has To Be An Alternative’ to ‘There Is An Alternative’. We could start by calling on the likes of Nobel Prize-winning Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, both trenchant critics of the suicidal economic strategies of British and European leaders. We also have progressive economists we can draw on here, such as Graham Turner and Richard Murphy. Rather than a fragmented ideological objection to what the Government is doing, we need to develop a coherent alternative economic argument that can be communicated in a way that resonates with people. Let’s call it The Plan.

Not all Alternatives will be happy with The Plan. Some will have to treat it as a start. But we have to stick with one clear, convincing message that we can hammer away at with every given opportunity.

We’ll then push The Plan everywhere: through supportive journalists, social media, in party and union branches, stalls in every town centre, poster and leafletting campaigns, newspaper adverts, and so on. It will give the Alternatives something to unite around in the labour movement – and crucially, drag the leadership away from a course of surrender.

My fear is that – if we do not act – the Labour leadership will spend the next few years continuing to retreat to the Tory agenda. That will cement David Cameron as the third transformative Prime Minister of post-war Britain, after Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. It will be argued that there is ‘no going back’, that reversing the Tories’ programme is politically impossible. Cameron will have transformed Britain irreversibly.

That’s why we have to get our act together, and why we should treat Len McCluskey’s piece as a call to arms. Let’s stop our sulking, and get organising.

Written by Owen Jones

January 20, 2012 at 10:34 am

New Statesman: Ed Balls’ surrender is a political disaster

with 12 comments

This article originally appeared on the New Statesman’s Staggers blog

I never expected to become a defender of New Labour’s record, let alone against its own most zealous supporters. At this point, I should clarify that I haven’t been kidnapped by Peter Mandelson and transformed into a Blairite drone. What I mean is that among all the disappointments and betrayals of the New Labour era, there were genuine social advances. They are now being shredded at lightning speed by a radical Tory government – but with the increasing complicity of the Labour leadership.

Just after news broke on Friday that Ed Balls had regretfully announced the next Labour Government is ‘going to have to keep all these cuts’ and declared his support for the Government’s public sector pay freeze, I spent my evening debating Tory ex-Minister Edwina Currie on Stephen Nolan’s 5 Live show.

Currie was in full-on triumphalist mode, gloating that Labour had accepted that the Tories were right all along. I couldn’t blame her. Before coming on air, I listened to a spokesperson for the hard-right Taxpayers Alliance similarly praising Balls to the hilt. At the same time, I scrolled through Twitter, wincing as prominent Tories and Liberal Democrats proclaimed victory. ‘You lose,’ tweeted right-wing blogger Harry Cole to Balls’ political advisor Alex Belardinelli.

Tory MP Robert Halfon couldn’t contain his glee, either: he promptly cobbled together a blog post entitled ‘Ed Balls comes out… as a Conservative’, bragging that the Shadow Chancellor had appeared ‘to sign up to Coalition economic policy’. ‘After months of opposition, the Labour Party appear to have conceded defeat,’ he boasted, adding that he thought ‘Coalition Ministers will be able to sleep safer in their beds in future’.

The stifling of Labour’s internal democracy is taken so much for granted that no-one has even bothered to pass comment on the lack of consultation before Ed Balls’ announcement. One leading MP was stunned, telling me that the Parliamentary Labour Party was given no prior warning and would be ‘shellshocked’ when they returned to Westminster. As for trade unions or party members — well, you are well within your rights to chuckle that I’ve even bothered to mention them.

Ed Balls’ surrender is a political disaster. It offers vindication for the Tories’ economic strategy, even as it is proven to fail. Growth has been sucked out of the economy. Consumer confidence has plummeted. Unemployment is soaring, with no sign of the promised ‘private sector-led recovery’. Even on its own terms, the Government’s austerity measures have failed disastrously: George Osborne will borrow more than Alistair Darling’s plan, so derided by the Tories at the last general election. As for the impact the cuts are beginning to have on our communities and those groups being pummelled hardest (women, young people, and the disabled, for instance) – well, that’s simply incalculable.

But rather than trying to push a coherent argument against this disastrous austerity programme, it is now being treated as a fait accompli. Sure, the cuts are now necessary because of George Osborne’s mistakes, but they are nonetheless here to stay. Labour can no longer talk about how these cuts are inherently destructive, because otherwise it would have to commit to reverse them. Neither can it aim fire at their ideological nature, as when Cameron announced they were permanent before the election: that is, after all, now Labour’s starting point too.

And it will surely fuel the sense that the Conservatives are making the necessary tough economic decisions, and Labour are simply playing catch-up. This is a large part of the catastrophe that has befallen Labour since the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s began. The Tories were allowed to transform a crisis of the market into one of public spending because Labour failed to offer a coherent alternative narrative. The role of collapsing tax revenues and rising welfare spending as unemployment rose barely got a mention; the Tories managed to get away with the fact they backed Labour’s spending plans pound for pound until the end of 2008.

When I complained about this suicidal strategy – or, rather, suicidal absence of one – to a shadow minister at Labour Party Conference in September, they responded quick as a flash that we did indeed have a deficit because Labour overspent. I confess that – at this point – I felt that if senior Labour figures were happy to accept dishonest blame handed out by the Tories, then it was hopeless.

This latest surrender to the Tory cuts agenda comes after a protracted struggle at the top of the leadership. One faction argued that, once you started specifying cuts, there would be a loss of focus on their deflationary impact, and that the Tories would come back for more and more detail on Labour’s spending plans. We now know this argument has been decisively defeated.

Arch-Blairite Jim Murphy – who harbours ambitions to stand for leadership should Ed Miliband fail – began rolling out the new strategy earlier in the month by calling for Labour to avoid ‘shallow and temporary’ populism over spending cuts, setting out his own proposed cuts as an example to his colleagues. The equally devout Blairite shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg has partly endorsed Michael Gove’s attacks on the scrapped Building Schools for Future programme, and has outlined £2bn of his own cuts. And Liam Byrne has committed Labour to a renewed attack on the welfare state, currently being hacked to pieces by the Government. I bet the word ‘vindicated’ will be used liberally around the corridors of Conservative Campaign Headquarters next week.

And so former arch-critics of Blair and Brown such as myself are forced to defend large chunks of their record from their acolytes. New Labour’s major departure from Thatcherite orthodoxy was investment in public services. It is now being torched with the approval of Blairites and Brownites. Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher headed the two transformative governments of post-war Britain, each establishing a new political consensus by forcing their oppositions to accept the key tenets of their programmes. Cameron looks set to follow in their footsteps, with New Labour an interregnum that temporarily tinkered with the Thatcher consensus, much like the Tory governments of the 1950s and the Attlee consensus.

As the usually thoughtful Tory Peter Oborne put it:

A sea change is at work. In practically every area of British public life – state spending, the economy, education, welfare, the European Union (where Ed Miliband refused to condemn Cameron’s pre-Christmas veto), mass immigration, law and order – Conservatives are winning the argument and taking policy in their direction.

It is not inevitable, of course. It is being allowed to happen because there is a lack of countervailing pressure from below. If a broad coalition of Labour activists and trade unions united around a coherent alternative and put concerted pressure on the leadership, this surrender can be stopped in its tracks. With the Shadow Cabinet set to continue its suicidal course, time is running out – but it is the only hope to stop Cameron transforming Britain forever.

Written by Owen Jones

January 16, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Posted in cuts, economy, Ed Balls, Labour

LabourList: We need to talk about Socialism

with 3 comments

This article originally appeared on LabourList

I’ve written enough posts bemoaning the genius of the right in transforming a private sector crisis into a crisis of overspending, Yes, it sucks. I’ve also whinged about the failure of the Labour leadership to offer a coherent alternative to the Tories’ attempt to re-order society even further in the interests of the wealthy than it already is. That sucks too. But both problems have a common source: the disappearance of the left as it was traditionally understood.

We need to talk about socialism. No, I don’t mean the “socialism” that made a guest appearance during the Labour leadership debate, when (to caricature slightly) the contenders defined it as people basically being nice to each other. I mean the vision of a different society to the one we currently have – one organised in the interests of working people. For generations, that’s what motivated large numbers of Labour activists – as well, of course, as addressing the basic bread-and-butter issues of the people the party exists to represent. The “vision thing”, if you like.

Times have changed so dramatically that to even talk about “socialism” risks being dismissed as a fringe nutter. In large part, that’s because the left was caught up (cliché alert) in a perfect storm. In the 1970s, capitalism was – like today – in crisis, but, as Peter Oborne puts it: “For a while, it was wholly unclear which side would win, and indeed for long periods it appeared that the Left was in the ascendancy.” Then Thatcherism swept all before it; the Labour opposition fractured; the trade union movement – the backbone of the left in the broadest sense – was pummelled; and then the Soviet collapse unleashed a tidal wave of capitalist triumphalism that swamped even democratic leftists who abhorred Stalinist totalitarianism.

The combination of these factors appeared to rule out even the possibility of an alternative to capitalism. And – because it all happened when the neo-liberals were the ascendancy – it seemed to write off even the cuddlier welfare capitalism established in the rubble of World War II. As author Mark Fisher puts it: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Even after three years of perpetual capitalist crisis – a crisis that remains without any obvious end – that simply has not changed. Capitalism can collapse all it likes, but there does not seem to be any apparent alternative to nip in and take its place.

It’s easy to explain the long-standing existential crisis of socialism. But why do we even need a Labour left? Well, I’d argue that it’s even in the interests of those Labour activists who don’t place themselves on the left of the party. It would help drag the whole political consensus to the left. And it could give the Labour leadership political space it simply does not currently have.

It’s easy to attack Ed Miliband over, for example, buying into the caricature of welfare scroungers. But accusing him of betrayal is pointless, because there is no mass movement to betray. Where is the grassroots movement making the case for the unemployed in modern Britain? The truth is that he is simply tapping into a prejudice that is widespread – including (and in some cases particularly) in working-class communities. If you are in a low-paid job you don’t particularly enjoy and just scraping by in life, the idea of so-called “welfare scroungers” often annoys you more than anyone else.

If there was a strong Labour left, it could make the case about so many people being on benefits because (radical idea here) there aren’t enough jobs to go around; that benefit fraud is exaggerated (costing £1.2 billion compared to £70 billion lost through tax avoidance); and that it is an often complicated phenomenon.

When a business lobby group rounded up 20 right-wing economists to sign up to a letterurging the scrapping of the 50p tax band for those earning £150,000, a Labour left could have counter-attacked by demanding the threshold was dropped to £100,000. It would have transformed the debate.

But of course a socialist wing of the Labour party would not simply jump on bandwagons, or be purely defensive. It would have to outline a coherent vision of a different society – just as the neo-liberals do.

It would need to make that relevant to people’s everyday lives, of course. In truth, most people do not think in terms of left and right: they think of issues that need to be addressed. The right have been so successful that, for many, “the left” simply means taxing them more individually, and subsidising minority groups that aren’t them. A socialist left would have to communicate in everyday, commonsense language, and addresses people’s basic concerns. That would mean socialist answers to issues often abandoned to the right – like crime and anti-social behaviour which (after all) working-class people are more likely to be victims of.

It would have to demonstrate that it could marshal support, too. Blairites are successful at marginalising the left because they portray them as an electoral liability: as self-indulgent radicals who would keep the Tories in office. That’s in part how Tony Blair managed to get away with so many violations of traditional Labour principles: those who experienced 18 years of Thatcherism were desperate to get rid of the Tories, whatever the cost. I remember that desperation among my own (ex-Trotskyist activist) parents. A socialist movement would have to build and demonstrate mass appeal and support.

The actual substance could not just be a regurgitation of 1970s Labour leftism, because British society is completely different. Its starting point would be challenging a society organised around the profit principle. The answer to that isn’t old-style nationalisation, which was bureaucratic and top-down, and didn’t involve either workers or consumers. Instead, it could build a model of social ownership – where representatives of workers and consumers helped manage, say, the railways or the energy companies. It would mean economic planning, but it would be democratically organised – not run by a bunch of bureaucrats in Whitehall, as happened in the past.

It would have to think in international terms. Capitalism has globalised at a dramatic speed, and it has stripped national governments of autonomy over their own economy. That means the threat of de facto strike action by capitalism against policies that challenge it – through capital flights, for example. This has to be answered by a globalised labour movement – and socialists have to be at the forefront of fighting for it.

I’ve been intentionally vague, because it would be arrogant of me to draw up a detailed agenda for a new socialism. But a new socialism is what needs to be debated. It would be good for Labour and it would be good for working people. And – above all – it would offer an optimistic future, instead of the gloomy austerity being promised by neo-liberalism.

Written by Owen Jones

October 6, 2011 at 8:22 am

Posted in Labour, socialism

Labour needs to remember what it is for

with 7 comments

This piece originally appeared on LabourList

As we approach Labour’s 106th annual conference, it’s worth remembering what Thomas R. Steels envisaged the party was for. Steels was a railway signalman from Doncaster and, in 1899, drafted a motion for his local branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants calling for the TUC’s Parliamentary Committee to assemble a congress with the support “of all the cooperative, socialistic, trade union and other working class organisations” to look how it could secure “a better representation of the interests of labour in the House of Commons.”

At the 20th century approached, there were two major political parties in Britain: the Liberals and the Tories. They both represented particular wings of the ruling class. Working-class people, on the other hand, lacked a meaningful political voice. But Steels’ motion was deeply divisive: there were those trade unionists who felt the best way of serving workers’ interests was by supporting the supposedly progressive members of the Liberal Party. Steels’ proposal was passed at TUC Congress, but by a relatively narrow margin – 546,000 votes against 434,000 against. The Labour Representation Committee was formed with the specific brief of, well, giving labour representation; and, in 1905, the Labour Party was born.

With Britain in the midst of the greatest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, many would today struggle to define exactly what the Labour Party is for. Thirteen years of New Labour muddied the water: although there were reforms that – however limited – certainly benefited working-class people (like the minimum wage and increased public spending), Blairism accepted the key tenets of Thatcherism. Low taxation on the wealthy and big business; the rule of the free market; weak, shackled trade unions; many communities still bereft of secure, respectably paid work; historic levels of inequality – all of these remained in place.

During the leadership election, Ed Miliband certainly alluded to the original purpose of the Party in a way that very few senior Labour politicians had during the New Labour period. He spoke of a “crisis of working-class political representation” – a phrase that had, until then, bounced off the walls of thinly attended left-wing meetings for years, and I should know, because I attended many of them. We haven’t, however, heard much of this since he was elected leader (I’d say “safely ensconced” but, with the ever-powerful Blairites continually biting at his heels, that’s not true).

But, if this Conference is to demonstrate that the Labour Party is relevant, we need to reaffirm its original purpose: to give working-class people a voice, and to fight for their interests. What’s more, it needs to do this with the same grit, determination and cleverness the Tories are capable of when fighting for their lot – the people at the top.

Of course Labour’s working-class base is very different to what it was in Steels’ time. Rather than working in docks, factories and down mines, people are more likely to work in shops, call centres and offices. Retail is now the second biggest employer; there are around a million call centre workers – as many as there were working in pits at the peak of mining. The working-class has changed in shape, but it remains Labour’s actual and potential base.

While the average Britain is experiencing the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1920s, it remains boomtime for the people at the top. Last year, the income of FTSE 100 chief executives went up by 55%. “There’s class warfare, all right,” as billionaire American Warren Buffett put it, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” It’s not about Labour waging the class war – it’s about accepting that it’s happening and working out which side it’s on.

For years, the New Labour mantra was that, unless the Party kept onside ‘Middle Britain’ (i.e. affluent voters, not the real Middle Britain who are the median income of £21,000 a year) it would never win an election. After all, working-class voters had nowhere to go, or so New Labour advisers thought. But this strategy died its final death in 2010. Five million Labour voters disappeared between 1997 and 2010, but the Tories only won a million.

The ‘ABC1DE’ model of social classifications used by pollsters has all sorts of flaws, but it certainly gives us some understanding of who abandoned Labour. While Labour support among the middle-class professional ABs went down by just 5 points over thirteen years of government, among skilled and semi-skilled workers (the C2s), it collapsed by 21 points; among DEs at the bottom, Labour lost 19 points. Much of this is to do with the fact that working-class voters are increasingly sitting on their hands rather than vote: the class gap in turnout grows with every election. Universal suffrage is unwinding by stealth.

As Ed Miliband himself pointed out during the leadership election (but not, again, since), if Labour had just kept hold of its DEs, it would have emerged as the biggest single party at the last election.

So how does Labour win those voters back? It’s far from straightforward, however easy some of those on the left like myself might sometimes claim. The left barely exists as a political force in this country; three decades of Thatcherism has, undoubtedly, had a profound impact on social attitudes; and we remain dominated by a right-wing media that regarded the 50p tax (one of the most popular policies of the last government) as new wave Bolshevism.

But it means addressing the lack of work; job insecurity and the lack of rights in the workplace; the fact that wages were stagnating or declining even before the crash; and a housing crisis that has left 5 million people languishing on social housing waiting lists. All of this means defying the free market system that New Labour was virtually married to.

And at a time of economic crisis, it means developing a coherent alternative to the Tories’ attempt to use the crash to re-order society and – in the process – send Britain off the same cliff Ireland jumped off. We face a generation of austerity that will leave a generation of working-class young people without a secure future and, therefore, hope; and millions facing the threat of unemployment, declining living standards and ever-deteriorating living standards.

That’s the debate Labour needs to be having next week. Because of all the assaults on Labour Party internal democracy over the last generation and how stage-managed its Conference now is, I doubt it will happen. But the truth is, unless Labour remembers what it is for and makes that purpose relevant in these crisis-ridden times, it will never win an election again. This is no longer about principle; it’s about survival.

Written by Owen Jones

September 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm

LabourList: Who Governs?

with one comment

I’ll be honest. A couple of weeks ago, I was in utter despair with Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party. I bet many of you reading this were, too. He was stuck on repeat (literally) attacking public sector workers driven to strike by the government, leaving it to PCS leader Mark Serwotka and the BBC’s Evan Davis to shred Francis Maude’s fatally flawed arguments. He looked weak, directionless, spineless – and with no apparent prospect of leading Labour to victory at the next election.

But the British political scene has been transformed in just a fortnight. The wrongdoings of News International – a criminal syndicate that has corrupted and subverted British democracy for a generation – have repulsed the nation. David Cameron’s links with the Murdoch clan have raised the first question marks over his premiership. And – against the odds – Ed Miliband has tapped into public anger and led a remarkable crusade against Murdoch’s empire – which played no small part in forcing News Corporation to drop its bid for BSkyB.

What Ed Miliband has done is not without risks. Much of the power of Murdoch’s empire depends on terrifying politicians, not least with the presumption his goons have a bigger file on them than MI5. His advisors have already been warned by the empire that are seeking revenge.

Read the rest at LabourList

Written by Owen Jones

July 14, 2011 at 8:03 am

Sign up: Labour members backing our public sector workers

with 301 comments

If you are a Labour Party member and you back public sector workers who have been forced to take strike action by the Government, please sign below: just leave your name, CLP and any relevant position you hold. All signatures are in a personal capacity unless otherwise stated.

“As members of the Labour Party, we want to express our wholehearted support for our public sector workers who have been forced to take strike action by the Government’s unjustifiable attack on their pensions.

The Government has claimed public sector pensions are unaffordable. This is untrue. As the Hutton Commission Interim Report makes clear, public sector pensions as a proportion of GDP will fall over the next fifty years. The deal negotiated with the Labour Government and trade unions in 2006 ensured that public sector pensions are sustainable, saving the taxpayer £67 billion.

In reality, the Government is imposing a pay cut on public sector workers to help pay off a deficit they had no role in creating.

It has also been claimed that public sector pensions are “gold-plated”. This is completely untrue. For example, the average pension for civil servants represented by the Public and Commercial Services union is just £4,200 – or £80 a week.

The Conservatives’ other argument is that pensions in the public sector are much better than in the private sector. It is true that private sector pension schemes have gone into collapse over the last ten years. Two out of three private sector workers get no employer help in building up their pension. This is a scandal. But the Government’s argument amounts to supporting a “race-to-the-bottom”. Rather than dragging public sector pensions down, we should fight for decent pension coverage in the private sector.

Strikes are always a last resort. Taking industrial action is not a decision workers take easily. But we believe that the scale of the attack on public sector workers has left them with no choice. We fully support them in their campaign, and will do all we can to make sure that the Government is defeated on this issue.”

Written by Owen Jones

June 30, 2011 at 8:04 pm

The debate shouldn’t be whether to resist, but how to resist

with 2 comments

In thirty years time, school kids studying history will be asked to answer the following question: “How did the British Conservative Party transform a private sector crisis into a crisis of public spending?” However it is answered, the maddening injustice of what the Tories are trying to pull off will scream through the ages. An economic collapse caused by neo-liberalism is being “solved” with the most extreme dose of neo-liberalism yet. A catastrophe unleashed upon us by a deregulated banking industry is being used to hack further chunks off the welfare state established by the 1945 Labour government. A nightmare triggered by the greed of the wealthy elite is being used to kick working people and the poor.

Resistance to this project isn’t just a right: it’s a duty. The last time the Tories won an election was 1992. I remember it well: I was 7 years old. My teachers all came to school dressed in black. The Tories lost the 2010 election, despite the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and a ludicrously unpopular Labour Prime Minister. They won just 36% of the vote, and – in any case – they did not put their extreme policies before their electorate. The government has no democratic legitimacy for what it is trying to do, and it must be forced to retreat.

That’s the moral case for resistance, if you like. But the political case is equally compelling. Unless the Tories are stopped now, there’s every chance their policies will remain in place for a generation or more. As Thatcherism forced Labour to capitulate to its key tenets, Cameronism wishes to do the same. The political consensus will be driven even further to the right.

Read the rest at LabourList

Written by Owen Jones

June 24, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Labour hasn’t learned the right lessons from Iraq

with 2 comments

The last of Britain’s troops left Iraq on Sunday with just a cursory mention in the press. What a contrast to eight years earlier, when they poured across the border with Kuwait in a hail of missiles, bombs and bullets, the international media following their every move.

It’s true that a national debate on Iraq has raged ever since it was clear that London and Washington were determined to take the country by force. But I still don’t think that Labour has learned the right lessons in its whole approach to foreign policy.

It’s worth noting the role that Labour members played in the struggle against this bloody and unjust war. Activists across the country marched against the war. Such was the strength of the mood in the party that 139 Labour MPs – in the face of huge pressure from the party leadership – voted against the war. British bombs only fell on Iraq on the back of Tory votes.

The war was a damning indictment of Labour’s Blairite faction. From the beginning they claimed to be moderates, pragmatists, those who resisted the supposed unbending extremism of left-wing ideologues. And yet they wholeheartedly backed a war initiated by the most right-wing US Presidency of modern times; a war that was in direct violation of international law – as former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan has pointed out.

Read the rest of the article at LabourList

Written by Owen Jones

May 26, 2011 at 10:22 am

The Blairite ultras would lead Labour to surrender. They must be stopped

with 44 comments

I never thought I’d say but it but, Christ, I don’t half know how Thatcher felt. Until her administration came and put the ‘Great’ back into ‘Great Britain’ (and all that), post-war Britain was a picture of despair for Maggie. The Tories had capitulated to the political settlement established by Clement Attlee’s 1945 government, with just a few tweaks. Post-war politics were a “socialist ratchet”, she claimed: “Labour moved Britain towards more statism; the Tories stood pat; and the next Labour Government moved the country a little further left. The Tories loosened the corset of socialism; they never removed it.”

When I read an article by Labour’s former General Secretary, Peter Watt, calling on the party to accept the Tories’ cuts agenda wholesale, I was reminded about how much this has all been turned around. You could say: “The Tories move Britain towards more neo-liberalism, New Labour stands pat; and the next Tory Government moved the country a little further right. New Labour loosened the corset of neo-liberalism, they never removed it.” If the likes of Watt have their way, that is what will happen if Labour win the next election.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Owen Jones

May 19, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Ed Miliband, Labour, New Labour, Tories

Tagged with

The Tories: fear them, hate them by all means, but be in awe of their genius

with 19 comments

For many Labour supporters who woke up this morning, this is what ‘schadenfreude’ was introduced into the lexicon for. The smell of toast Lib Dem wafted through their windows up and down the country. In the year since Britain fell back under Tory domination, the most passionate vitriol has been reserved for the Lib Dems: it’s the sense many had that, after all, you expect to be screwed by the Tories, but the Lib Dems should really know better.

That’s suited the Tories just fine. They have ingeniously crafted the Lib Dems into human shields, allowing them to absorb rising popular anger at the Government’s onslaught against the welfare state.

The Lib Dems are stuck. If they withdraw from the Government, an election will be held which will wipe them out as a major political force. The Tories know this, and they also know that Labour is completely unprepared – financially as well as politically – for a snap election. With a gun to the Lib Dems’ heads, the party can occasionally squeal in staged attempts to distinguish themselves from their Tory allies – as Paddy Ashdown has done – but they are trapped in power. For a party that has been trapped out of power for such a long time, there is something deeply ironic about the Lib Dem plight.

These results have exposed a lot about the Lib Dems. Their support was always soft and, unlike the Tories and Labour, they have no real identifiable, substantial core vote to speak of. Yes, they functioned as a kind of South West regional party; in the North, they won by posturing to the left of Labour; in the South, they presented themselves as a more acceptable, rational alternative to the Tories. After a year of being allied to the Tories, many of their disgusted Northern erstwhile voters have returned to the Labour fold. Sheffield (the city I was born in) and Stockport (where I grew up) are among those who have kicked the Lib Dems out of office.

In the South, some have gone blue: after all, this Government’s programme is so polarising, if you support it, why not just vote Tory?

And, when the referendum results later show that the Alternative Vote has been rejected – forever, in all likelihood – the total humiliation of the Lib Dems will be confirmed.

It’s difficult to know where this baseless party is headed. It has a habit of splitting, with factions being absorbed by the Conservative Party. That’s what happened to Joseph Chamberlain’s Liberal Unionists in 1912 and the National Liberals after World War II. It’s certainly easy to imagine the likes of Nick Clegg and David Laws eventually defecting to the Tories although, given the plummeting Lib Dem vote, they may end up representing them in the House of Lords.

Protected by the Lib Dems, the Tory vote has remained steady (currently projected at around 35%, or around what they got in the general election a year ago). They’ve even made some gains. In other words, the Tories’ political strategy is working pretty well. Although it was easy to forget when they were languishing in the doldrums under the leaderships of William Hague and Iain Duncan-Smith, the Tories are the most successful political party on Earth. They governed for two thirds of the 20th Century. They don’t just lust for power: they expect it.

It was always comforting to pretend that anger over cuts would end up with the Tories being turfed out of power. But Labour has yet to present any coherent alternative to the Tory agenda. It hasn’t really won back those working-class voters who abandoned it, costing it the election.

It’s of course easy to overstate what has happened in Scotland, where Labour got a kicking at the hands of the SNP. It says more about Iain Gray’s woeful leadership – it seems as though the only substantial policy being offered by Labour was being tough on knife crime – than it does about Labour nationally. I strongly doubt the results would be replicated at a general election, and opinion polls suggest not. The SNP has stitched together a coalition of dedicated nationalists, disillusioned Labour supporters attracted by social democratic aspects of Alex Salmond’s leadership and, particularly in this election, former Lib Dem supporters.

But it does provide a case study of what happens to Labour when it fails to win back its natural supporters. Anyone who thinks that a lurch into hardcore New Labour territory will win Labour voters back from the clutches of the nationalists needs their heads examined.

Labour has made decent inroads in much of England and Wales. There were landslides in cities like Manchester, where it looks as though all other parties have been purged from the council. Those who believe it is not enough progress need to be quickly reminded that the party suffered its second worst result since the fall of Hitler just a year ago. The idea we were ever going to win a landslide after systematically alienating many of our supporters over so many years was always bonkers, no matter how much the Tory press cynically talked it up. And again, people need to be reminded: we lost 4 out of the 5 million voters who went AWOL between 1997 and 2005 under Blair. Blairites must not be allowed to whip up the idea that these are disappointing results in an effort to retreat to a failed New Labour policy agenda.

But, that said, there can be no underestimating just how potent a threat the Tories remain. They are political geniuses who are determined to remain in power at all costs, and unless Labour provides a convincing alternative that wins back its working-class voters, then Cameron’s cabal may well achieve that aim.

Written by Owen Jones

May 6, 2011 at 11:12 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,221 other followers