Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A Plea for Unity

Yesterday, the columnist Rachel Sylvester warned Times’ readers that ‘old Labour rears its rebellious head again’.  
She called the troublemakers ‘digital Bennites’ – an indeterminate label which had every Leftlinks blogger wondering whether they were a ‘digital Bennite’.

So what is a ‘digital Bennite’?
Even the author who picked up the term and ran with it in an online Progress article – Avoiding the lure of ‘Digital Bennites’ – was unable to help, offering merely:

Digital Bennites – I am sure you know who I’m talking about – are the bane of moderate (and, dare I say it, modern) Labour activists. They take a position of ‘in principle’ opposition to everything the government says or does because, it seems to me, it is a ‘government of millionaires’.
The fact that he can be no more specific than 'you know who (sic) I'm talking about', does not prevent the author then further stigmatising these nameless people as ‘deeply sad’ and wedded to ‘the politics of envy’ – a shallow and divisive stereotyping.

There is no need to read the article – it is the usual Labour-right plea that to regain the confidence of the electorate we must apologise for our past failures and agree with Tory principles:

A responsible opposition and a responsible Labour party must acknowledge that this government have not got everything wrong and, in some instances, have resonated with the general public.
Thus, with the bedroom tax:
We should, for example, be saying that the spare room subsidy is not necessarily wrong in principle... [etc.].
Hmm.  For all his assertion that he knows how to get us elected next time, the author seems unable to appreciate that the way to address a mass demonstration of people chanting ‘axe the tax’ is NOT to start off with the words: ‘the spare room subsidy is not necessarily wrong in principle’! 

He seems oblivious to the fact that – apart from places like the north-east, where we appreciate the importance of unity – Labour politicians got a rough ride at some of the ‘bedroom tax’ protests, where they were seen by some of the protesters as the enemy, not as the leaders, of the movement to get rid of the government.

And that is what we are meant to be doing, is it not – getting rid of the government?

Opposition on principle
At this point, the author tells us:

The ‘man on the Clapham Omnibus’ … starts from a position of whether a policy is right or wrong.
Here, actually, I totally agree. My question is why, then, if the ordinary voter votes on whether a policy is right or wrong, the Labour Party hasn’t been coming out much more strongly on a whole range of Tory policies which are perceived by people as ‘wrong’ in principle:
  • Thus the Poundland decision was wrong - the courts plainly said so.
  • And the 'bedroom tax' is wrong on a whole range of levels.
  • In fact, this Tory government has been since 2010 introducing many wrong policies – I have listed the 40 worst on this blog at:
What is perplexing the left - and most of the rank-and-file of the party, and indeed many men on omnibuses as well - is why, therefore, the Labour leadership refuses to come out and condemn them.

  • The decision to abstain on Poundland was, for many people, not just inexplicable, but the last nail in the coffin of their hope that a Labour government would ever 'stand up for the workers'. Whether this is fair or not, it is now a general and widely-held view.
  • Weak Labour positioning on DLA and benefits had already lost the support of many.
  • And, even with demonstrations all over the country and the support national newspapers, getting any kind of commitment to abolish the 'bedroom tax' when we come to power has been like drawing teeth. 
People want and expect an opposition to oppose, not to desperately 'seek the good' in the government's proposals. It does not need much sense to see that such a line will never get us elected.

The Tory Trick
The Tories have got the Labour leadership's measure with the simplest of tactics. They notice a general feeling in the country. They heighten and promote that feeling with a propaganda campaign. They then use that feeling as the excuse to introduce a piece of ideologically-driven right-wing legislation. Where the general feeling is things like hatred of the bankers, tax cheats etc., the Tory legislation is all smoke and mirrors, full of noble statements but really protecting their friends' position. Where the general feeling is against benefit cheats, the welfare state etc., the Tory legislation is directed and devastating, wreaking disproportionate and overwhelmingly unjust damage on poor and vulnerable people.

This strategy is so obvious and so unsophisticated that I find it astonishing that the Labour leadership has not got it sussed. All Labour needs to say is: 'this bit of legislation is not fit for purpose – it is broken beyond repair; when we come to power we will abolish it without compensation and replace it with appropriate legislation.

Such a strategy would not only win any argument (the Tory laws ARE broken beyond repair), but it reassure the Left and those who are suffering under the Tory attacks; and the words 'without compensation' would knock back those businessmen who are looking to take advantage of their puppet-government's new regulations.

Instead, our leadership, apparently terrified of upsetting some mythical constituency which agrees blindly with Tory principles, continually seems to feel the need to support the Tory proposals, or aspects of them.

Labour is in danger of Losing the Left
Surely the Labour leadership are aware that they are in danger of losing the Left? Not only have they failed to recruit those on the Left who abandoned the Party under Blair and Brown, they are continuing to haemorrhage people whose left-wing views are in fact quite moderate - but who have come to see the Labour leadership merely as 'wet' Tories-in-waiting. Surely they have noticed that - this very week – TWO new movements have been launched to try to provide a home for such people?

I have in my town a man, proudly left-wing in his views, who realises that the only hope lies in a Labour government, and desperately wants to join Labour and fight to get rid of the Tories. But he cannot find a single thing in any of the pronouncements or actions of the Labour leadership to hang his hat on.

The reaction of the Labour-right, however, is - not to seek accommodation, or to negotiate a stance on which all people of the centre and left can agree, to build a centre-left alliance under the auspices of the Labour Party which will remove this wicked government from power - no, instead they choose to stigmatise the Left with the label 'digital Bennites' as an abuse term, and to describe them as ‘the bane of Labour activists’.

They need to remember who the real enemy is.

The Left is in danger of Labour Losing
At the same time, you cannot be but horrified at stupidity of those on the Left.

One thing that struck me very forcefully when the Labour MPs abstained on the Poundland vote was that they came under far more vitriolic attack from the left-wing blogosphere than did the Tories who were enacting the bill!

The anarchists turned up and booed and berated the Labour MPs and Councillors who were out demonstrating against the ‘bedroom tax’ in Liverpool, but I scan their blogs in vain for a similar anti-Tory fury. It’s just so much easier to have a go at compromised and uneasy Labour MPs who turn up to be shouted at.

And the hugest irony of the week was a blog called LeftUnity supporting the formation of yet one more small, shouting-at-the-moon party of the Left, oblivious to the fact that this marks more fragmentation, not unity.

Movement needed on both sides
I am desperate for Labour to give the Left something to cling to. The argument that they will always vote Labour because at least we’re better than the Tories will no longer wash. Labour is in danger of losing the Left, and it needs to reach out to them and include some of their vision-for-the-future in the Labour offer. 

Labour needs to realise that the enemy is not the Left, but the Tories, and focus their attacks on them.

Equally, the Left need to see a bit of sense. All their attacks and fractiousness are doing is losing us the next election. The Left needs to support if not to join the Party, accepting the inevitable limitations of a ‘broad church’ organisation, and helping us win the next election for a Britain that has a chance of including some of their vision-for-the-future. 

The Left needs to realise that the enemy is not the Labour-Right, but the Tories, and focus their attacks on them.

1 comment:

  1. The left show greater anger towards Labour because, we expect the Tories to harm us, when Labour do it, it feels like a terrible betrayal. Most of the left would join a broad Labour church,if we saw a few more working class M.P's like Andy Burnham, and heard from a few more working class M.P.'s like John McDonnell.The left want Labour to give up the jiving, and role out some belt and braces policies in regards to the poor. Their idea, for example of offering everyone a job, gets my support so long as it pays a living wage. My message to Labour is,nail down your core vote, then we'll let you of the leash to play big business.