Friday, 2 October 2009

Labour must continue journey back to its roots

So the recession is over we are told. Whatever happened to all those stories about it was going to be worse than the 1930s and last forever. Much it now seems was spin, no doubt created to fill 24-hour news schedules. All of course is not now right with the world. Unemployment continues to increase, the economy has retracted and there is now a huge debt to service. It has been this debt servicing that has dominated the agendas during the party conference season. The debate has moved strangely from the recklessness of bankers and the dangers of unregulated market capitalism to how to make everyone – including the poorest – pay for the mess.The Conservative Party have been most gung ho about the cuts they are going to make to public services. They have also made a few They have also made a few disapproving comments about banker’s bonuses. The Liberal Democrats also have been keen to cut, though less happy to see the burden dumped on the poorest. The Labour Government continues to lose the ongoing media battle with the other two parties. It suits the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to keep the public debate on the subject of cuts for as long as possible. For the government the cuts debate is bad news.
Gordon Brown ought to be taking some plaudits. The government has dealt well with the financial crisis. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Chancellor Alistair Darling and the Treasury took the right steps at the right time. The original projections of when the country would pull out of the recession have also proved correct. There is ofcourse the small matter of Brown having created the conditions for the crisis in the first place - with the cutting of regulation and general lording of business - but that aside he has done well.The big pity is that it has taken the financial crisis to get the government enacting real labour policies. So for example, some £1.5 billion has been pumped into housing. Powers to build new council housing have been devolved to councils and a new programme is getting underway. There are plans for programmes to expand transport systems. Small businesses have received help to get them going. There seems a genuine commitment at the heart of government to tackle climate change. It is difficult not to think that if many of these policies had come into play ten years ago and the country had not gone wading into Afghanistan and Iraq then Labour would be looking at a landslide victory, not almost certain electoral defeat.There are other dividends coming from the slump. The shortage of funds looks likely to claim unpopular initiatives like ID cards, Trident nuclear submarines renewal and it must be hoped the ongoing involvement in Afghanistan.Despite the aforesaid developments, many people in the Labour Party seem to be preparing for life in opposition. One of the problems no doubt has been that Labour has had the look of a defeated party for so long. There is a weariness born of 12 years in government. Some it would seem are looking forward to a spell on the opposition benches.Gordon Brown has failed to renew the party, instead his tenure in office has tended to open up divisions and breed that feeling of defeatism. This has helped land the Labour Party with more blame for the expenses scandal than it probably deserves.Another problem is as the right wing political commentator Peter Hitchens has pointed out an obsession in Fleet Street with getting David Cameron into 10 Downing Street. This seems to be allowing the Conservatives to practically dictate the political agenda on for example the need for cuts. The Labour Government has a perfectly robust response, which is that too much cutting will throw the country back into recession. The economy needs to grow to get people back into work and paying taxes. Increasing the tax take will cut the deficit and provide funds for public services. The big poll leads for the Tories are all the more amazing given that they have outlined very few real policies. Their main appeal is that they are not Labour.So all of these things make it very difficult to see what the Labour Government could do to pull things round before the next election. Labour would though have a better chance if it got back onto the agenda of dealing with the bankers. There is a correct perception that having got the country into this mess the bankers are now getting away with it. Interest rate cuts have only been passed onto savers not morgage holders. Everyone else has to pay for the banker's errors while they apparently live in a bubble where pretty much everything continues as before, including bonuses. Labour also needs to get across what it is doing right. Its competence in dealing with the economy, policies like council house building, investment in green technologies and transport expansion. A timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan and restoration of recently denied liberties would also no doubt help. A recommitment to policies like keeping the postal service public and returning the railways totally to public ownership could also prove popular. The success of Labour over the last year has been in managing the crisis and getting back to some of its old roots. To have any chance at the next election it needs to stop the Conservatives dictating the terms of debate and reconnect with more of those roots – then just maybe Labour could be in with a chance at the next general election.

1 comment:

  1. Remember both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats can be more 'gung-ho' about cuts, they are not in the driving seat at the moment.
    I agree that David Cameron is in the position Tony Blair occupied in 1978/79, his main attraction is that Cameron is not Brown, whereas Blair was not Major. I suspect that Brown was given his chance to squeeze another win, like Major did after Thatcher. The difference being that Brown & Blair were closely associated, but Major came from nowhere (and returned there!)
    Labour (what happened to 'New Labour'?) has cut it's bridges with it's roots, aside from having a hand in the union's wallet, though I think they prefer foreign millionaires.