Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lurch to the Left?

With all the current furore surrounding the Labour leadership contest, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that those on the right of the party currently waving their hands in despair and predicting the end of the party if 'left winger' Jeremy Corbyn wins, are basing their arguments upon a false premise: that of Labour's 'disastrous' defeat at the last general election.  This, they say was the result of the party's 'lurch to the left' and that further 'leftward' movement will make Labour unelectable for all time.  False premise number one is that the defeat was disastrous.  Despite the loss of seats, it's worth remembering that in terms of percentage vote, in England Labour had its best showing since the beginning of the century.  Indeed, overall, across the UK and despite the wipeout in Scotland, Labour's share of the vote was slightly up from 2010, whilst the Tory percentage share was slightly down. The disparity in seats won is, in large part, the result of the UK's antiquated 'first past the post' electoral system. 

False premise number two is the 'lurch to the left' and its supposed unpopularity.  Clearly, the 'Blairite' definition of left wing is very different to anyone else's - the fact is that Labour ran on what was effectively a 'Tory-lite' programme in 2010 which failed to comprehensively challenge any of the assumptions underlying the Tories' 'austerity' policies.  And it lost.  In fact, its worst losses  came in Scotland, at the hands of the SNP, which was running on an overtly anti-austerity programme. All of which indicates that, in some parts of the UK at least, there is an appetite for so-called 'left wing' policies.  Furthermore, the 'Blairite' lament that, in England, many traditional Labour voters rejected the party's supposed 'left wing' manifesto, thereby 'proving' their case, is completely nonsensical.  For one thing, it completely ignores the fact that it for politicians to persuade potential voters of the validity of their policies - they have to go out and make the argument.  Which is something Labour completely failed to do.  Indeed, by failing to lay out any coherent alternative to austerity, they didn't actually have an argument to articulate.  Moreover, a significant number of potential Labour voters didn't even bother to vote because they felt that no party was representing their interests - Labour needs to articulate a set of policies which give those people some hope that engaging with the electoral system might actually effect some positive changes to their circumstances.

Which is essential, as the entirely depressing and negative message that the likes of Tony Blair and his cronies give when they dismiss Labour's left of centre principles as being electoral poison, is that there is no possibility of meaningful change any more.  That in order to gain power politicians must ignore their obligations to represent the people in favour of always adopting policies which favour big business instead, as that will ensure 'prosperity' which, apparently, will solve all our other problems.  The bottom line here is that I'm not actually a Corbyn supporter - I have real doubts as to his leadership qualities and some of his views give me real cause for concern.  However, I'm tired of the way in which his leadership campaign has become the focus of attacks on the credibility of any kind of anti-austerity policies.  The fact is that his apparent popularity - which has got the Blairites scared - indicates that there is wider support for left-of-centre politics in the country than they care to contemplate.  Which scares them even more.

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