Over the past couple of days I’ve re-watched the BBC programme from the mid 1990’s, Labour – the Wilderness Years. As well as being a really well made and fascinating programme, it is particularly prescient. You can watch the series of 4 episodes on YouTube here, though please excuse the particular channel it is on!
When the programme was aired I had been a member of the Labour party for nearly 10 years. I am from a Labour supporting family and joined the party in 1986 in the midst of Thatcherism and with a sense of anger at how the cuts to the NHS had affected the way my dad had been treated as a patient – particularly as he was admitted to hospital – throughout his ultimately failed 18 month battle with cancer. I was an angry young man. I’m now an angry, I won’t say old but maybe middle aged man.
I left the Labour party about 2 years ago absolutely frustrated at the tribal nature of its politics (and I don’t just tar Labour with this particular brush) and its total lack of understanding of what was happening to real people. The make-up of Westminster (not just the Labour MPs) particularly frustrated me, and still does. Its preponderance for career politicians over ‘normal’ working people angered me then and angers me now. The way both major parties are quite happy to employ and enforce a totally discredited electoral system that means the votes of less than 1% of the electorate in 10% of the parliamentary constituencies matter above the rest angers me. The way that the county I live in is treated as third rate in comparison to the capital city angers me.
Whilst this country persists in employing an outdated and unfair voting system (and in the current climate this isn’t going to change soon) we need effective opposition and a party that is able to defeat the most ideological and tribal Conservative government since Thatcher in her pomp when I joined Labour. Labour is the only party able to offer this in the current political climate. Unfortunately, from my vantage point, they are absolving themselves of the responsibilities of opposition in favour of introversion and ideas that appeal to the sensibilities of the ‘right-on’ metropolitan elite at the expense of the rest of us and are delivering this country to the wiles and machinations of Cameron, Osborne et al. I now return to how I began this post – the programme Labour – the Wilderness Years.
I am a big believer in George Santayana’s saying that
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
To me the Corbynista Labour party are falling into the trap Santayana described. I’m old enough to remember the last time Labour decided to go with the far left agenda under a far more intellectually rigorous leader than Mr Corbyn. It led to Thatcher winning unprecedented (at the time) majorities, vast underfunding of the NHS and education and the heart and soul being ripped out of communities across the country but especially in the North.
We have been treated to a ringside seat of what the Corbyn leadership really means. We have the puppeteers in chief Diane Abbott, Ken Livingston and John McDonnell pulling the strings. We have the total and utter lack of leadership from Mr Corbyn himself conducting a reshuffle in the time it takes to read the whole of War and Peace – twice. The 1983 Labour manifesto, which was written by people of Mr Corbyn’s ilk, dubbed the longest suicide note in History (which it turned out to be) and this reshuffle being dubbed the longest reshuffle in History. The parallels are unbelievable – you couldn’t really make it up!
The particular circus running the current Labour party contains a shadow chancellor who would rather quote Mao than seriously challenge one of the most invidious chancellors we have ever had and let him off the hook as he pours unpleasant fluid on the working poor. We have the hypocritical and yes, vile and poisonous, Dianne Abbott chirping in the background in the sanctimonious manner she does so well. We have a shadow defence minister whose one claim to fame is being an unutterable metropolitan snob and only apparent qualification for the post is that she is Corbyn’s political neighbour and her brother in law is an officer in the army. Then we have the circus master in chief, Mr Corbyn who would rather discuss, discuss, discuss than actually lead and make a decision.
No, this isn’t an effective opposition – it really is Monty Corbyn’s flying circus – and they are making the same mistakes the Labour party did in the early 80’s. If they are allowed to continue along this path they will deliver us to the grasp of a tea-partyesque Tory party for the next decade at least. I’ve read a couple of interesting pieces in the papers today – one from Michael Dugher in the Times and from Dan Jarvis in the Guardian. (You will need a subscription unfortunately to read Michael Dugher’s piece) Mr Jarvis hit the nail on the head in his piece. The Labour party hasn’t really renewed itself since the mid 90’s and that Mr Corbyn was the only one of the candidates for leadership who had something different to say. This is why he was elected.
The country is crying out for something different. Only 24% of the electorate voted for this government and many of them did so with a peg on their noses because they didn’t believe in what Labour was saying or in those saying it. We have an opposition party that would rather look at its navel and chat about minutiae of party procedures rather than challenge the government on the ever widening gap between the haves and have nots, the crisis in health funding, the cuts that have resulted in flooding on a monstrous scale in the north. We have a Liberal Democrat party who have been reduced (unfairly in my opinion) to a rump and are now trying to sanitise themselves from 5 years spent working with the Tories who outplayed and out-thought them throughout the coalition period. Unfortunately no-one is listening to the Lib Dems anymore and won’t for many more years – it will be too late then.
Maybe we do need to go back to the future and tempt the fate outlined by George Santayana. Maybe what is needed is the creation a new party that can actually reflect what the people in this country want. A party that is pro-business but also pro-worker whose ideals are more John Lewis than Sports Direct. A party that challenges some of the rampant racism and discrimination that is embedding itself in the population around the immigration question yet puts together immigration policies and social policies that mean immigration works positively for this country and the piggy back issues of poor pay and housing are addressed. A party that listens to evidence rather than ideology when it comes to schools and health care. A party that will actually bring real democracy back to this country rather than the rotten decaying system we currently use.
For this to happen, it will require brave people to put their heads above the parapet. The omens are not good. Mr Corbyn won was because the other three candidates were saying the same things and no-one of any real substance decided to put themselves forward. These were good people peddling the same mantra’s that reduced the Labour vote by 4 million between 1997 and 2015. Are there any brave souls left in the Labour party willing to save us from Cameron, Osborne et al? I won’t hold my breath but I still haven’t extinguished all hope – yet.