Tuesday, 26 February 2013

We Need A Party Of Principles, Not Platitudes

The Bedroom Tax is crystallising for me a whole load of issues about what I want the Labour Party to do and say.

I’m slightly fed up with the national Labour Party at the moment.

Supporting the Bedroom Tax
We have lambasted local Lib Dem politicians for declaring their opposition to government cuts (and producing leaflets without the words ‘Lib-Dem’ on them)
 – even though their Party was in government and supporting/making the cuts!

Yet are we any better?

Many constituency MPs are coming out against the Bedroom Tax – my own MP has been fabulous in this respect.

But the national Party will NOT come out against the tax.

I went to a conference last weekend where the unanimous desire of the delegates was that the Labour Party might commit itself to abolish the Bedroom Tax as soon as it gets into power – to make that a fixed plank in its manifesto, and to commit to finding the money somewhere, somehow to do so.

Yet one of the MPs there – patronisingly, to be honest – gave us a little lecture on how we need to be careful what we promise, because we have to carry the electorate with us, and because we won’t accomplish anything if we aren’t in power in 2015.

Thus we have a Party which is no better than the Lib-Dems – ingratiating itself at local level, but dominated by polls and triangulation at national level … even in the teeth of a campaign which clearly has overwhelming public support!

Getting elected
It is a running-scared national Party, which at its heart believes that – unless its policies are essentially wet-Tory – it won’t get elected. A Party which is constantly chasing the majority opinion and saying what it thinks voters want to hear … because it believes it has to ‘find the centre ground’ to get elected.

I wonder what Aneurin Bevan – the architect of the NHS – would have had to say about that. 

Nobody is suggesting that we sink ourselves under an avalanche of unfulfillable pledges.

I don’t know anyone in the Party who wants to come out with a ‘loony left’ manifesto which will turn away voters.

Neither do I know anyone who does not realise that what we are able to do when we get into power will depend on practical, pragmatic things like the state of the economy, business confidence and the like. 

But we DO need a Party which stands for certain Labour principles. 

Principle and platitudes

Our national leaders have not yet worked out the difference between a platitude and a principle. 

A platitude is a statement of right-and-wrong made at the syrupy-sweet level – clichés such as ‘equality’, ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ – which everybody agrees with but which lack practical implementability.

A principle, by contrast, is a driving force to action.

Andy Burnham has declared that we will abolish the Tories’ NHS changes; we disagree with them on principle, and this requires a consequent reaction.

I know why that patronising MP feared to support the Bedroom Tax – she fears that, if we do so, it will give the Tories yet another chance to label us ‘the Party of the scroungers’, and that it will lose us the support of people who don’t agree with welfare benefits.

But I cannot see how we can even pretend we believe in fairness or justice, unless we come out as a Party against the Bedroom Tax.

Principles and pragmatism
And there is a point where principles become practical.

Principles are not hifalutin, head-in-the-clouds nonsenses that lose us support – they are essential to getting us elected.

FIRSTLY, because people know the difference between principles and platitudes. 

They know that phrases like ‘One Nation Labour’ mean nothing.
Constantly peddling concepts such as ‘fairness’ and 'opportunity' will win us sneers, not supporters. 

If we are to win supporters, ultimately we are going to have to tell them what these things mean in practice … and the benefit of doing so will be to define our supporters, but at the same time – by the very act of doing so – this will inevitably be at the cost of defining our opponents. 

SECONDLY, because defining our position more closely will improve the public perception of the Party.
At the moment, the Tories indeed do have us stereotyped as ‘the Party of the scroungers’. But what the Party leadership have to realise is that part of the Tories’ success is due to the lack of clarity of what Labour stands for – because people do not really know what Labour stands for, they fear (and are prepared to believe) the worst.
A more precise definition might actually win support, not lose it. Yes, coming out against the Bedroom Tax may lose us some votes from the right-of-centre. But at the same time – as we get clearer about what we would do and what we would not do – it might secure the votes of a body of people who say ‘Oh – is that all they meant … I feared they were going to do much worse’.
Ultimately, we have to be honest with the electorate. We cannot hope to get elected whilst MPs are openly saying that we must talk Tory, in the hope that we will get elected and be able to do Labour things – THAT is the way to not get elected, because it makes us the liars that the public think we are.

THIRDLY, because Party supporters need more than a nod.
Come 2015, that patronising MP is going to want large numbers of Labour Party members to deliver leaflets, man the phones, knock doors and get out the vote … to get her elected. Why does she think they are going to do so?
My MP is saying and doing wonderful things to oppose the Bedroom Tax. I will work hard to get him elected. But even for me it’s not enough to have an MP who opposes the Bedroom Tax … I want a government which will abolish it
. It is that, and the hope of other Labour-principled laws, that motivates me to campaign for Labour.
The Parliamentary Labour Party seems to have realised that Party activists will not work to give them the opportunity to go down to Westminster and implement a wet-Tory agenda. What they need to appreciate also is that many Labour activists are unhappy to campaign for fair words and fine promises which will actually turn out never to happen.

Common Sense
I am not going to let myself be tarred as a hard-left troublemaker who is going to lose us the next election. 

I understand the practicalities of politics and I am loyal Labour.

But, being practical, somewhere soon, Mr Miliband and his team have to be seen to stand up for LABOUR principles – because they are right.

And the Labour Party can start by declaring that it will abolish the Bedroom Tax as soon as it gets into power.

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