Wednesday, 15 February 2012

How Labour Must Be A Party Of Opposition

Today has been a good day.

I am not alone in thinking so. Today, one of the members of the Labour Left political discussion forum of which I am a member commented:
“I feel good about Labour today. Something’s changed – not tangible yet ... but I feel it will be soon.”
And I SO agree. I’m feeling good too. I feel a change too.

Today, also, I was out with Sedgefield CLP Campaign Team doing voter-id.
It was a REALLY nice estate – lots of Tories – but everyone was very pleasant and the Labour voters I met welcomed me like a long-lost brother!

I visited one old chap’s bungalow: ‘May I ask how you voted at the last election?’

Well – he hadn’t voted Labour.
Then, before I had a chance to say another word, he launched into a diatribe against the government – how their manifesto had been a pack of lies, how Cameron was a brazen opportunist, etc. etc.
EVERYTHING the government was doing was wrong … wicked … a betrayal.
He didn’t give them, as we say up here, ‘the lickings of a dog’.

Without pausing for breath, he then went straight on to attack the Labour Party – prissy posh boys who didn’t care about ordinary people.
“Where’s the opposition?” he asked. “There’s so much they could be attacking them on!”
‘Even recently?’ I offered. ‘Don’t you think that they’ve been doing better recently … for instance on the NHS?’

He paused and looked upwards reflectively.
“Perhaps,” he mused. “Yes … they have been better – they need to be.”
And on that, agreeing that we needed to do more to oppose these dirty-dog Tories, we shook hands and I was on my way.

What is Opposition?
But THAT’S the difference, isn’t it – Andy Burnham’s outright opposition to the NHS bill.

There are people throughout Britain, like my voter in Sedgefield, YEARNING for a Party which will oppose.

It’s not as though there’s nothing to oppose, either!
Tuition fees are a betrayal of our most able youth by a generation which was happy enough to take selfish advantage of its own much-more-generous university-provision.
The public sector pension proposals are a simple case of state theft-by-force.
The Welfare Reform Bill is a despicable attack on the most vulnerable and weak of society.
The unemployment figures – particularly youth unemployment – are an abomination and a waste of the nation’s talents.
The NHS Bill and Gove’s Education reforms are purely-and-simply Tory attempts to hand over the plums of the state sector to their business-buddies.
And so on...

Behold, Burnham!
Until Andy Burnham, the Shadow Cabinet has been shackled by a collective recognition that, all told, they would probably not have been doing so-very-much-differently. Consequently, they have stuttered and hesitated.
They have even appeared to admit that the Tories were right – no wonder my Sedgefield voter was dismissive!

But now Andy Burnham has changed the ball-game.
Because Andy Burnham has realised what no one else in the Shadow Cabinet seems to have yet realised – that to be a good opposition you do NOT need to set out the alternative policy you would follow if you were in power.

The job of a good opposition is to OPPOSE – to find the faults, the flaws, in the government’s policies.
And that, Mr Miliband, is what we want you to do.
And we want you and your colleagues to do so with all the passion and outrage and anger and frustration that we feel.
You are our representatives, and we wish you to rail against these blackguards who are trashing our nation with impunity … and getting away with it.

Hold the manifesto!
Eventually, of course, Labour will HAVE to sit down and put down on paper how it would propose to run the country if the electorate puts us into power in 2015.
But for the moment, there is no need – ‘Hold the Front Page’, as they say in those movies about newspapers.

Until that time, Labour should make free ripping to shreds these miserable, vindictive proposals that the Tories are bringing forward – attacking them in both the detail and in the round.
And THAT, Mr Miliband, is how you will make more and more of us ‘feel good about Labour’.

1 comment:

  1. You make some interesting points.

    I think that opposition alone works on areas such as the health bill, where stopping a change is a credible position – i.e. it is easy to understand that Labour is against the changes the health bill, and would keep the NHS more or less as is.

    However in other areas I think a successful opposition party does need policy direction – not detailed lists of proposed actions, but an indication of outlook. For example, on the economy and the welfare bill, I think Labour suffered from a perception of a policy void.

    Unlike the NHS, both these areas cannot be tackled by saying ‘we’ll leave it alone’. In the minds of the public the deficit needs tackling, and welfare needs reform. If Labour does not provide (and communicate successfully) a concrete alternative, their opposition to the Tories will be seen as denying that there are problems that need tackling in these areas.

    Part of the problem, I believe, is that Miliband isn’t very good at opposing. He either seems weak, or opportunist. I am unsure what he really believes in, but you get the impression that if Cameron stood up and said he was wearing a nice tie, he’d disagree completely with him!

    So, yes opposition is important, but alternative policy really matters in some areas – and Miliband may not be the right man to oppose and communicate this alternative.