Tuesday, 4 January 2011

High time the Labour Party began to oppose

The political landscape upon entering the new year looks uncertain. After making an assured start the Coalition Government began to rock around at the end of last year due to a number of indiscreet comments made to journalists by its Liberal Democrat members - most notably the Business Secretary Vince Cable. The comments followed growing signs of resistance from groups most effected by the cuts, like the students and public sector unions. What this spat and the resistance thus far displayed have shown is the weakness of the foundations underpinning the Coaltion Government.Given the aforesaid, it has been difficult to understand the approach of the Labour Party. After a blaze of publicity to greet his election as party leader, Ed Miliband appeared to go to ground. Little was heard from him, except seemingly when making interventions to point out he was not in the pockets of the trade unions.While the Coalition Government has been trying to dump the deficit at the door of the last Labour Government rather than the bankers, Miliband has been trying to make a clear break with new labour. This has meant denouncing certain former policies, most notably the Iraq war. This was no doubt the right thing to do but there is a very real danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It could create the perfect storm scenario of the Coalition Government seeking to lay the blame for the deficit on the last Labour Government while Miliband seeks to repudiate some of the past. The result being that much of the good done by the last government, not least in its response to the banking crisis, will get lost. In personnel terms, Miliband clearly tried to tie in the Blairite wing of the party by giving the shadow chancellor's job to Alan Johnson. He also seems to be testing the loyalty of Ed Balls by giving him the shadow home secretary's job in the short term at least - a role in which the former education secretary has remained incredibly quiet. The decision to consult over two years before coming up with clear policy can be understood but again could be construed as lacking definition. What all of this mood music suggests is that while the members of the Coalition Government are clearly unhappy with each other, the Labour Party opposition is in no hurry to exploit the divisions. Talking to many Labour Mps at Westminster it is difficult to find one who does not think that the Coaltion will run the full five year term. Yet recent events have show how brittle the Coalition really is and that it could be unseated at any time given a determined effort. The reality seems to be that the Labour Party does not want to be in government, it would far rather occupy the oppositon benches, while allowing the Coalition to impose the unpopular cuts. What signs there have been of where the Labour Party is heading have not been encouraging. When not attacking the unions, the leadership seems most concerned about what has happened to the "squeezed middle" - no doubt code for middle england. Clearly the Blairite strategists that argue the party has to take middle england to win power, never mind the traditional working class support, still holds sway.The reality is that all three parties reside on the right of centre wholly committed to the neo-liberal market agenda. They are about serving big business and capital to the cost of the mass of the working population. The Conservative Party are serving their traditional class interests. The Liberal Democrats have been exposed for the principle-less party they have always been. Meanwhile, the Labour Party continues struggling to find its soul.
The Labour Party though is not lost. What will be crucial is how it reacts in the coming months to the growing opposition on the streets from the different groups being hit hardest by the Coalition Government's cuts agenda. If it genuinely sides with the opposition and indeed is transformed by the spirit of protest, then a reconnection with its traditional values and support base is not out of reach. If however, the Labour Party continues to criticise the opposition, in the form of the likes of the trade unions and students, then it will remain a busted flush. There needs to be redefinition and clear differences established between the parties. So let's hope, the Labour Party can reconnect with its traditional base and come forward with some coherent alternative because a health democracy demands a decent opposition.

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