It’s almost too easy and far too tempting for those on the progressive left to point at the Labour party and be amused at it’s misdirection and (from our perspective) poor choices. However, this is not something we should be overly happy or risk being smug about.
Firstly, Labour are traditionally THE party of the progressive left and even in their slide to the right over the last twenty years they’ve still done a lot of good – the national minimum wage, the human rights and freedom of information acts as well as actually starting the ball rolling on devolution amongst other things and as such are not an entity we should discount or dismiss lightly, let alone gleefully.
Secondly and more importantly, if Labour are to implode then who steps up as a meaningful opposition to the neoliberal right?
We have to remember that a Labour collapse in the next general election makes a Conservative (or more likely Conservative-led coalition) government all the more likely, but is that reason enough to vote for a party which has abandoned it’s roots and seems adrift in it’s course, merely attempting to seem less nasty than the Tories and UKIP while proposing largely the same policies?
It’s also worth remembering that unless something truly remarkable happens in the next few years, Labour will be either the largest party or leader of the opposition in both Westminster and Holyrood. If that’s what a crisis looks like, I know a few political parties who would quite like to endure one.
The red ties might well be at a crossroads, but they are likely to be one of the most significant parties in UK politics for at least another generation, even if their stock is on a downward trajectory.
Labour’s problem isn’t one of loyalty or a mass UK-wide loss of voters, as they are haven’t polled much below 30% since the election in 2010, but rather one of inertia, lack of ideas and generally a failure to mount an effective opposition to an unpopular and evidently fractious coalition government.
Seriously, has a party of opposition EVER had such an easy target as the current government and so spectacularly failed to take advantage?
Even saying that, it also seems likely that Labour will win the election in England & Wales and a failure to win an outright majority in Westminster will stem from almost unheard of losses in their Scottish heartlands.
This makes the party’s choice of Jim Murphy as their new leader in Scotland one of the most important they have ever made.
Few could argue against assertions that Murphy is a career politician, a Blairite, a proponent of Blue Labour and one of those figures most reviled by Yes supporters and the Labour party’s most traditional support base amongst trade unionists (as evidenced by his rejection by party ‘Affiliates’ in the leadership election) and left wing thinkers.
Going forward, this positions Scottish Labour to the right of the SNP – who are by no means an especially left-wing party – which seems to be in line with the UK party who seek to remain merely one step to the left of the Conservatives.
It’s not that silly a policy, as shown by three successive election victories under Tony Blair and a less than total defeat under Gordon Brown in the face of the most significant economic crisis in recent times.
Indeed, the idea that by positioning themselves as marginally less objectionable than the Conservatives, while still occupying much the same space in terms of policy (especially re: austerity & immigration) they can convince the working & middle class to see them as the ‘least bad’ option while retaining their corporate and media support is a pretty sound one.
It does rely on the proven tendency of people to vote tactically under First Past The Post (i.e. voting against your enemies, rather than for your favourites) rather than inspiring support with bold and/or popular policies but it’s sadly been shown that fear wins elections more often than hope.
The tactic seems to be likely to founder on the breaking wake of political awakening in Scotland, as the schtick of ‘not as bad as the Tories’ is no longer enough to inspire a more informed, active and passionate electorate, especially in the face of the SNP’s canny management of turning the loss of the referendum into a member and vote winner.
The predicted loss of anywhere between twenty and thirty five seats to the SNP in May could well be enough to deny Labour a majority and require them to treat with other parties in order to form a sustainable government.
Having your heartlands turn from you and the rest of the country only marginally feel you are preferable to the least popular government in a generation is not exactly the biggest endorsement of such trimming policies.
Yet, Labour’s travails are not to be gloated over because they are symptomatic of the ennui and disassociation which is afflicting British politics.
Voter apathy, tactical voting, corporate influence and media bias have resulted in established parties which are indistinguishable in terms of the policies they actually intend to apply and only meaningfully different in the terms of their invective.
Simply put, there is almost no voice in British politics for progressive, left wing and/or anti-authoritarian views as the debate is clustered around a gaggle of centre-right authoritarians bickering over semantics.
Labour’s job should be to break that dynamic, to offer the hopeful, egalitarian vision of the future but it seems that they have become so enamoured of their proximity to power that they are unwilling to reprise their old role for fear of alienating the middle class, or more importantly, their corporate sponsors.
While it will not happen overnight – indeed, Labour are likely to be at worst the largest party in Westminster next year – perhaps it is time for Labour to suffer a similar decline as that experienced by the Liberals between the world wars and for a new progressive entity to rise up and take banner of driving change in Britain forward.
Whether that is to be the Greens, a revitalized schism of Labour or some as yet unfocussed grouping remains to be seen but in an age of Red Tories and Blue Labour both looking to head off a bunch of purple garbed racists, few can argue that we need a change.
The old hero lived long enough to watch itself become the villain. Time for a new hero to rise.